The Queen opens a new session of Parliament

Queen Elizabeth II has opened a new session of Parliament today with a speech focusing heavily on criminal justice. The Queen arriving at the Palace of Westminster in a carriage procession and delivering her speech from the throne in the House of Lords, flanked by the Prince of Wales.

Queen Elizabeth II

The Queen delivered her government-written speech from a throne in the House of Lords as part of a ceremony rich with centuries of British tradition.

In her speech, the Queen said the Government’s priority “has always been to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on October 31”

Adding  “My Government intends to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, based on free trade and friendly co-operation.”

Of the 26 bills announced, seven related to crime and justice. It includes a crackdown on violent criminals, with proposed new sentencing laws seeing serious offenders spend longer in custody.

Mr Johnson, who will lead a debate on the proposals later, said his government was focused on “seizing the opportunities that Brexit present”.

The 26 bills include:

  • Seven pieces of Brexit-related legislation, including measures to establish new regulatory frameworks for fishing, farming, trade and financial services, and a bill to end freedom of movement and bring in a points-based immigration system from 2021.
  • Seven criminal justice bills, including measures that will increase sentences for about 3,000 serious or violent criminals by ending automatic release at the half-way point, tougher penalties for foreign national offenders who try to return to the UK after being deported, and greater protection for police officers. Domestic violence legislation will also be carried over from the last session.
  • Plans for an independent NHS investigations body with legal powers – the Health Service Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) – to look into “serious healthcare incidents”, and a pledge to update the Mental Health Act to reduce the number of detentions.
  • An environment bill to “enshrine principles in law” and set legally binding “improvement targets” to reduce plastics, cut air pollution, restore biodiversity and improve water quality. A separate animal welfare bill to outlaw trophy hunting.
  • Proposed reforms to the divorce laws to minimise the impact of family breakdown on children, and changes in employment law to require restaurants and cafes to give waiting staff “all tips” owed to them.

There is also a commitment to reform adult social care in England, although no legislation planned at this stage.

New measures will also be brought forward to tackle electoral fraud, including requiring people to show an approved form of ID before voting in general and local elections.

Mr Johnson said the programme, which includes four bills carried over from the last session, demonstrated Brexit was not the limit of the government’s ambitions.

“The people of this country don’t just want us to sort out Brexit,” he said. “This optimistic and ambitious Queen’s Speech sets us on a course to make all that happen, and more besides.”

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was a waste of time. “Having a Queen’s Speech and a State Opening of Parliament is ludicrous,” he said. “What we have got in effect is a party political broadcast from the steps of the throne.”

The SNP’s Joanna Cherry said it was “an election manifesto for the Conservative Party, which will almost certainly be rejected in Scotland”.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband accuses the Tories of “an obvious US voter suppression move” with their plans to require voters to show photo ID at polling stations, as included in today’s Queen’s Speech.

Dr Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society, says:  “BAME groups – as well as many young and elderly voters – are likely to be hard hit by this ‘show your papers’ policy.

“These plans risk excluding huge numbers of marginalised voters – including many elderly and BAME voters – from our democratic processes and risk undermining free and fair elections…”

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