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Queen’s Speech: the key bills

The government outlines its controversial plans for greater health powers, policing protests and voter ID

The Queen has today set out the government’s agenda for the year ahead in a scaled-back ceremony that served as a reminder of the Covid-19 crisis that has gripped the country for over a year. 

The speech, which is the 67th the Queen has presided over, focused on recovery from the pandemic and detailed Boris Johnson’s plans to “build back better” and “level up” struggling regions of the country. 

Usually, the Queen’s Speech is the centrepiece of the State Opening of Parliament, ushering in a new session for MPs in an annual event that occurs in the spring or after a general election – although it did not take place last year. 

In the prime minister’s introduction to the written legislative programme, Johnson said: “We must harness the ingenuity and resolve that has been revealed in the struggle against Covid-19 and use it to create a stronger, healthier and more prosperous nation,” the BBC reports.

Some key priorities for the government included a boost to adult education, reforms to the fixed-term parliament act, and new legislation to protect the environment post-Brexit. 

Health care

A headline piece of legislation for the government is the Health and Care Bill, which aims to help the NHS better integrate health and social care in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. 

The legislation will hand more powers to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, who has previously argued that the pandemic “illustrated the need for stronger political oversight and better connections between health and social care”, according to The Telegraph

A highly anticipated commitment to reforming adult social care was not forthcoming, however, with the government failing to introduce a specific bill to overhaul how the sector is funded, instead saying reforms will be “brought forward to 2021”. 

Education 

Central to Johnson’s plans to boost adult education and training is a “lifetimes skills guarantee” introduced through a new Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, says Sky News

The new legislation would bring in a new student finance system, in an overhaul of the current student loans system, giving every adult over 16 access to a flexible loan for higher-level education useable at any point in their lives.

Crime and online safety 

Carried over from the last session of parliament is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which was initially shelved in the face of “vociferous opposition” to it, says Sky News.

Demonstrations took place over the bill last month, as critics claimed it went too far in its attempt to put controls on the right to peacefully protest. 

The bill would introduce longer sentences for the most serious offenders and allow police forces to place wider restrictions on protests and public assembly, including imposing noise limits and start and finish times. 

A Telecommunications (Security) Bill will also mean new rules for mobile and technology companies to increase the security of their networks, as well as new powers that will allow the government to place controls on the use of services and equipment from firms deemed high risk, such as Huawei. 

Environment and animal welfare

A flagship Environment Bill is the “centrepiece” of Johnson's “legislative calendar as he seeks to burnish his green credentials ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November”, writes The Telegraph. 

The bill, which is also carried over from the last parliamentary session, will bring about the creation of a new UK environmental regulator, as well as give ministers the power to set binding targets on key environmental goals, among other provisions. 

The government has also introduced three pieces of legislation on animal welfare, which will increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty, recognise the capacity of vertebrates to feel pain, and ban the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter. 

Constitutional reform

In another piece of legislation carried over from the last session of parliament, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act is set to be repealed, paving the way for the Conservative government to call early general elections, instead of waiting for a five-year period to elapse, as under the current rules introduced by David Cameron in 2011. 

An Electoral Integrity Bill will also mean voters will be forced to prove their identity when voting, a move that has already sparked criticism from opposition MPs and campaign groups.

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