In Depth

Queen's Speech 2016: From prison reforms to spaceports

New laws targeting hate preachers, and a care system shake-up, also announced

The Queen has unveiled a raft of planned new laws during the annual State Opening of Parliament this morning.

A radical shake-up of the prison system, a crackdown on extremism and reforms to the care system were at the heart of this year's Queen's Speech.

Prime Minister David Cameron described the package as a "One Nation Queen's Speech from a progressive, One Nation, Conservative Government".

But details of some of the 21 bills set out this morning are already coming under scrutiny, with anti-extremism proposals and plans to replace the Human Rights Act long proving divisive.

"The speech is being seen as an attempt to secure a legacy of social reform for the prime minister but critics say it will be overshadowed by the [EU] referendum," reports the BBC.

This afternoon, MPs will begin debating the plans. "After the gilded regalia is gone and the red carpets are stripped away a more prosaic political reality returns," says the broadcaster's Tom Bateman.

Here are some of the key announcements:

Prison reform

Pitched as the "biggest shake-up of prisons since Victorian times", the government is planning to make six major prisons semi-autonomous. This will allow governors greater financial and legal powers, giving them control over budgets, family visits and partnerships to provide prison work and rehabilitation services. Some satellite-tagged inmates could be sent home on weekdays under the plans.

"Today, we start the long-overdue, long-needed change that our prisons need," said Cameron. No longer will they be warehouses for criminals; they will now be places where lives are changed." But The Guardian points out that his plan could draw criticism that it "takes a step towards privatisation of prisons by the back door".

Crackdown on extremism

Sweeping new laws targeting hate preachers are expected to prevent people with extremist views from working with children. "The plan is designed to stop radicals infiltrating schools, colleges, charities and care homes, where they could brainwash vulnerable young people or disabled adults into violence," says the Daily Telegraph.

The new laws would also give the government new powers to ban extremist organisations, allow councils to shut premises used to promote hatred and ban radical preachers from posting material online. But senior opposition MPs have expressed concern that the bill "could alienate Muslims and contain too broad a definition of extremist activity", The Guardian reports.

Care system shake-up

Radical changes to the care system have been unveiled, including planned laws to prioritise adoption, as well as a mentorship programme for young people leaving the system. "This is a relatively uncontroversial measure that few could disagree with," says The Guardian.

Replacing the Human Rights Act

Controversial plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights were announced in the Queen's Speech last year, but they were soon put on hold following opposition from senior MPs and human rights campaigners.

The government now looks set to move forward with its proposal after the Queen announced a consultation on a new bill of rights. However, it stopped short of original plans for Britain to quit the European Court of Human Rights. "Government insiders say that, if they had tried to quit the ECHR altogether, the legislation would not get through Parliament – with a sizeable number of Tory MPs opposed to the idea," the Daily Mail reports.

Science and technology boost

Driverless cars, drones and a British spaceport also featured in the Queen's Speech. Proposed new laws would allow self-driving cars to be insured under ordinary policies and see more government support for businesses investing in pilotless drone aircraft. Plans to build the first commercial spaceport were also outlined.

It might seem like something from science fiction, said Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, but the "economic potential of the new technology is huge".

Other measures announced
  • A new tax on sugar-rich fizzy drinks will come into force from April 2018
  • Every household will have the right to high-speed broadband
  • More – but not all – schools will be forced to become academies
  • It will be a criminal offence for corporations to fail to stop staff facilitating tax evasion
  • Plans to make it easier for new universities to open as well as a funding reform
  • New offences to stop dealing in objects looted from war zones
What has the reaction been so far?

Much of what was announced was "eyecatching but wholly uncontentious stuff," says ITV. "Who could object to spaceports, tighter control of drones or faster broadband?"

But the speech was "certainly not" what some Tories would have hoped for, said the Daily Telegraph's James Kirkup.

"Traditionally-minded Conservatives packed into the House of Lords for the Queen's Speech today could be forgiven for thinking they are in the wrong room," he said. "To some Tories, it will sound like a programme the last Labour government could have conceived."

Indeed, the plans faced immediate criticism from former cabinet minister and leader Brexit campaigner Iain Duncan Smith, who accused Cameron of deliberately avoiding controversy ahead of the vote on EU membership.

"Many Conservatives have become increasingly concerned that in the government's helter-skelter pursuit of the referendum, they have been jettisoning or watering down key elements of their legislative programme," he said.

Ukip deputy leader Paul Nuttall, another prominent Brexiter, said the absence of a Sovereignty Bill in the Queen's Speech exposed Cameron's renegotiation of the UK's EU membership as a "con job".

Meanwhile, SNP MP Joanna Cherry told the BBC that it was "ragbag of proposals" many of which had been "recycled from last year"

There was a mixed response from Labour, with the prison reform, sugar tax and the cabinet's U-turn on forced academisation of schools welcomed by leader Jeremy Corbyn.

However, he vowed to fight certain plans, including proposals to reform the House of Lords, and said he would judge the delivery of the Queen's Speech on whether it creates an equal society and an economy "that works for everyone".

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