New environment laws in Queen’s speech

Media captionQueen outlines government’s Brexit plan

Boris Johnson’s government has set out “ambitious” policies on crime, health, the environment and Brexit in a Queen’s Speech that opposition parties have dismissed as an “election manifesto”.

Plans for tougher sentences for violent offenders and legal targets for cutting plastic pollution are among 26 bills set out at Parliament’s State Opening.

The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg said it was a “long shopping list”.

But with the PM having no majority, many of the bills may not become law.

Our political editor said the PM was keen to focus on “bread and butter issues” like investment in schools and the NHS, or coming up with, at long last, a new way of funding care for the elderly.

But she said there was no guarantee the legislative programme would be approved by Parliament. If MPs reject it, it will trigger renewed calls for a general election.

During a debate in the Commons later on Monday, Mr Johnson said his plans offered “a new age of opportunity for the whole country”.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the speech was “a propaganda exercise”, adding: “The prime minister promised that this Queen’s Speech would dazzle us. On closer inspection, it is nothing more than fool’s gold.”

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Despite continuing Brexit uncertainty, the government has said it is determined to press ahead with its plans, announcing its intention to hold a Budget on 6 November.

Negotiations over the UK’s departure, with Mr Johnson trying to secure an agreement that will enable the country to leave by 31 October.

The government says if it can strike a deal with the EU, it will introduce a withdrawal agreement bill and aim to secure its passage through Parliament before the Halloween deadline.

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The Queen was accompanied by the Prince of Wales

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PA Media

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The origins of the current State Opening date back to the 1850s

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The prime minister’s partner, Carrie Symonds, was among those watching

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Labour described the Queen’s Speech as a “party political broadcast”

The Queen’s Speech is famous for its pageantry – with the monarch 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.

Mr Johnson 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.

A shake-up of the rail franchising system in England is also being proposed to improve service reliability, reduce “fragmentation” and introduce a “greater distance” between ministers and the day-to-day running of the network.

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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.

He told the Commons: “At the heart of this speech is an ambitious programme to unite this country with energy, optimism and with the basic common sense of one-nation Conservatism.”

But Mr Corbyn criticised a number of the proposals, saying mental health care was “getting worse and worse”, social care proposals “offered the same promise after two years of inaction and failure”, and plans for education were “shockingly weak”.

He told MPs: “There has never been such a farce of a government with a majority of minus 45 and a 100% record of defeat in the House of Commons, setting out a legislative agenda they know cannot be delivered in this Parliament.”

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The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, focused his criticism on the PM’s plans for Brexit, saying the UK had “entered very dark days”.

He said the EU was “the greatest example of political co-operation and peace – leaving behind the scars of war, the pain of loss, and instead choosing to take the hand of friendship across this continent” and to leave would be a “tragedy”.

Former Tory cabinet minister Dominic Grieve, who now sits as an independent after rebelling over Brexit, said the PM would find it “very difficult” to govern until Brexit was resolved.

That was a very long shopping list of things, but the unsaid reality, of course, is that the biggest question hanging over it all is Brexit.

The Queen may have said the government’s priority is to leave on 31 October, but there’s no way anyone in this square mile can be sure that happens. Whether it happens – and how it happens – is a much bigger influence than anything we’ve just heard being said.

In many ways, it’s a Queen’s Speech from a parallel universe – one in which Boris Johnson gets his way. Where he definitely gets his deal with Brussels by the end of this week, he definitely gets it through Parliament on Saturday and definitely gets all the Brexit legislation passed. It’s also a world in which he definitely gets the general election he wants in the next few weeks and then definitely gets a Conservative majority.

We shouldn’t dismiss this speech – it does mean something, but what it means is this is what we are likely to see as the basis for a Conservative manifesto whenever that election does come.