Queen's Speech 2013: Stricter immigration regime ahead
But Government's plans 'obliterated' from news headlines by shock retirement of Labour-supporter Sir Alex Ferguson
Published 08/05/2013 | 12:02
The Government's plans for stricter immigration controls have been outlined by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament.
In scenes of pomp and ceremony in the House of Lords, she also set out plans to cap bills for social care, introduce a flat-rate state pension, extend consumer rights and cut the regulation burden on small businesses.
But the traditional highlight of the parliamentary year risked being overshadowed by the shock announcement that Sir Alex Ferguson is resigning as manager of Manchester United.
Former Cabinet minister Peter Hain hailed the "nice timing" of the Labour-supporting football boss, predicting that Fergie's departure would "obliterate" the Government's plans from the news headlines. And backbench MP John Mann immediately called for Sir Alex to be made a peer.
But a Queen's Speech which was light on new policy - featuring 20 bills, including some in draft form or carried over from the previous session and others which are largely technical in scope - was anyway notable as much for what it omitted as what it included.
Despite the hopes of eurosceptic Conservative backbenchers, there was no legislation to pave the way for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. MPs are now likely to be queuing up to table their own Private Member's Bills to give legal force to Prime Minister David Cameron's promise of a public poll by 2017.
Home Secretary Theresa May's cherished plan to allow police and security services to access records of individuals' internet and email use has been ditched, after being branded a "snoopers' charter" and coming up against the opposition of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
There was no place for mooted health protection measures to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes and minimum unit prices for alcohol - though Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted this morning that no final decision had been made to kill off the proposals.
Development charities will be dismayed that the promised move to enshrine in law the pledge to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid has once more failed to reach the legislative agenda.
And the Queen made clear in her speech that the Government's "first priority" remains restoring Britain's economic health, something which cannot simply be legislated for.
Although the speech was finalised before the UK Independence Party's spectacular surge at the expense of Conservatives in last week's council elections, the focus on immigration will be seen as a response to growing public concerns that the Eurosceptic party has highlighted.
The Queen told MPs and peers that an Immigration Bill will aim to "ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deter those who will not".
Measures in the Bill will regulate migrant access to the NHS and ensure that temporary visitors make a contribution, prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driving licences, introduce tougher fines for businesses using illegal labour, and require private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants.
The Bill will make it easier to remove people from the UK, limiting rights to appeal against deportation and specifying that all foreign nationals convicted of serious crimes will be removed except in "extraordinary circumstances". Legal force will be given to changes to rules announced by Mrs May to prevent the abuse of the right to family life by those seeking to avoid deportation.
A Care Bill will introduce a £72,000 cap from 2016 on the amount people in England have to pay for social care, to end a situation where pensioners have to sell their homes to pay for care in their final years.
Millions of people caring for elderly and disabled relatives in England will be given the right to receive support from their local councils.
In response to the Mid-Staffordshire health scandal, the Bill will introduce Ofsted-style ratings for hospitals and care homes and gives the new chief inspector of hospitals more powers to identify problems with the quality of care and ensure action is taken more swiftly.
A Pensions Bill will introduce a single-tier pension, worth around £144 a week at today's prices, and will bring forward to 2026 the date at which the retirement age rises to 67.
Measures to reduce crime and disorder will include tougher controls on dogs which are dangerously out of control, a new "community trigger" to ensure action is taken on persistent anti-social behaviour, larger fines for illegal importation of firearms, and making forced marriage a criminal offence.
Meanwhile, there will be new measures to encourage the rehabilitation of prisoners after they leave jail.
Businesses will be assisted through a Bill to create a £2,000 annual employment allowance to reduce National Insurance bills for every company and charity.
And a Deregulation Bill will aim to reduce the burden of excessive red tape on business, public bodies and individuals by repealing legislation that is no longer of practical use, and placing a duty on regulators to have regard to the impact of their actions on growth.
Self-employed people whose work activities pose no potential risk of harm to others will be exempted from health and safety law.
Paving legislation will put in place for further necessary measures for the construction of the high-speed rail link between London, Birmingham and the north of England.
In an introduction to their legislative agenda, Prime Minister David Cameron and Mr Clegg said the Queen's Speech was "all about backing people who work hard and want to get on in life".
They said: "In May 2010, we came together to govern in the national interest. We knew the road ahead would be tough and so it has proved to be.
"But three years on, our resolve to turn our country around has never been stronger. We know that Britain can be great again because we've got the people to do it. Today's Queen's Speech shows that we will back them every step of the way."
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "Today's Queen's Speech should respond to the deep problems the country faces. On the evidence so far, it is not up to the scale of the task."
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "There is little comfort in this programme for the young, the unemployed, the working poor, the sick, the vulnerable or the millions who have seen their living standards fall drastically since this coalition Government came to power.
"It's a typical Tory tactic to distract attention from the real problems we face by fostering a 'blame immigrants' culture, instead of tackling the huge divide between the rich and the poor.
"This Government should face facts and accept that its policies are not working for the majority of people."