A crackdown on crime dominated the first Queen’s Speech of Boris Johnson’s premiership.
With the UK Prime Minister pushing for a snap general election the legislative programme presented at the state opening of parliament is being seen as a bid by Mr Johnson to set out his campaign agenda.
As well as law and order issues, immigration and the environment were also major elements of the programme, which had already been extensively trailed.
The package of 26 bills include seven relating to crime and justice.
These include legislation to keep serious criminals in prison for longer, impose tougher sentences on foreign offenders who return to the UK and provide better protection for victims of domestic abuse.
The Queen said:
“New sentencing laws will see that the most serious offenders spend longer in custody to reflect better the severity of their crimes.”
A Sentencing Bill will change the automatic release point from halfway to two thirds for adult offenders serving sentences of four years or more for serious violence or sexual offences.
Other measures include strengthening environmental protections, reforming adult social care and improving the NHS, and raising living standards through increasing the national living wage to £10.50 an hour.
At the same time ministers are preparing to rush through a bill to ratify any Brexit deal Mr Johnson is able to agree this week in Brussels in time for Britain to leave on the EU on October 31.
Ahead of the speech, Chancellor Sajid Javid announced he is planning to hold a Budget just six days after the UK’s scheduled Brexit date.
Mr Javid tweeted:
On 6th November I'll deliver Britain's first Budget after Brexit and set out our plan to shape the economy and deliver our infrastructure revolution. https://t.co/Lca2V0RaaL— Sajid Javid (@sajidjavid) October 14, 2019
With no Commons majority, it is questionable how much of the proposed legislation in the Queen’s Speech ministers can get through Parliament before a general election.
And there is a major question mark over whether MPs will pass the legislative programme, which will go to a vote after several days of debate.
The law and order package includes a bill to “drastically” increase the sentences for foreign criminals who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order, a move ministers say will help disrupt the activities of international crime gangs.
Proposed legislation will make it easier for police to arrest internationally wanted fugitives who are the subject of an Interpol Red notice without the need to apply for a UK arrest warrant, a process that can take a minimum of six to eight hours.
Initially it will only apply to those issued by a limited number of countries with trusted justice systems, the other members of the Five Eyes intelligence group, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and two non-EU European states, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
However the UK government will be able to add other countries by statutory instrument.
The programme includes a “Helen’s Law” bill, named after 22-year-old Helen McCourt who was murdered in 1988, to deny parole to murderers who withhold information about their victims.
The British government will also bring back the Domestic Abuse Bill which fell as a result of Mr Johnson’s unlawful suspension of Parliament last month.
Mr Johnson said in a statement:
“People are rightly horrified by the spate of violent crime plaguing our streets, including the sickening rise in knife-related homicides.”
Other measures in the speech include:
- Environment Bill setting legally binding targets to reduce plastics, restore biodiversity, improve water quality and cut air pollution.
- Immigration and Social Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to end freedom of movement and introduce a points-based immigration system from 2021.
- Railway reform with a white paper setting out proposals to overhaul the current system of franchising and creating a new commercial model.
- Action on building standards in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire with the establishment of a new regulator with powers to impose criminal sanctions for breaches of building regulations.
- NHS Health Investigations Bill will create a new independent body with legal powers to ensure patient safety.
- Mental health reform to reduce the number of detentions under the Mental Health Act by ensuring more people get the treatment they need.
Mr Johnson is promising to deliver on a pledge by his predecessor Theresa May to ensure all tips are paid to waiting staff following an outcry that some major restaurant chains – such as Giraffe and Prezzo – were keeping as much as 10% of tips paid by card.
The Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill will put a legal obligation on restaurateurs to “pass on all trips, gratuities and services charges to workers without deductions”.
Labour has dismissed the decision to hold the speech before the British government goes to the country as a “cynical stunt”.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “This Queen’s Speech is farcical.
“It is just an uncosted wish list which the government has no intention and no means to deliver, and nothing more than a pre-election party political broadcast.”