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Johnson’s Queen’s Speech branded pre-election stunt by opposition parties

Anti-crime measures dominate the legislative programme.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London (Victoria Jones/PA)
Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

By Shaun Connolly, PA Political Correspondent

Boris Johnson’s first Queen’s Speech as Prime Minister has drawn fire from the opposition as a pre-election stunt.

A raft of anti-crime Bills dominated the state opening of Parliament, as well as proposed legislation on immigration and the environment.

The Government used the set piece Westminster occasion to again insist making sure Brexit is achieved on the October 31 deadline is a priority.

With the Prime Minister pushing for a snap general election the legislative programme presented is being seen as a bid by Mr Johnson to set out his campaign agenda.

Ahead of the speech, the pre-election atmosphere intensified as Chancellor Sajid Javid announced a Budget on November 6 – just six days after the UK’s scheduled exit date from the EU.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford tweeted: “The Queen’s Speech was an election broadcast for the Tory Party more than anything else.

“A speech heavy on law & order from a Prime Minister willing to break the law.”

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said: “This Queen’s Speech is a charade.”

Labour branded the event “farcical” and a “stunt”.

New sentencing laws will see that the most serious offenders spend longer in custody to reflect better the severity of their crimes The Queen

In a heavily trailed package of 26 Bills, seven related 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.

The Queen made the short trip to the Palace of Westminster from Buckingham Palace in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach accompanied by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

On Brexit, the Queen said: “My Government’s priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 October.”

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 schedule.

Other measures outlined in the speech include strengthening environmental protections, improving the NHS, ending free movement of labour from the EU and raising living standards through increasing the national living wage to £10.50 an hour.

On adult social care, the Government has pledged to “bring forward proposals” for reform, but the lack of a specific Bill dealing with the situation is likely to draw fire from the opposition.

Labour former leader Ed Miliband accused the Government of trying to restrict access to voting with proposals on the use of photo ID.

He Tweeted: “Photo ID to vote without any evidence of a problem such an obvious US voter suppression move…plus in small print of briefing document making people re-apply for postal votes every three years….more bureaucracy to disenfranchise more people, particularly older voters.”

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The Queen leaves Buckingham Palace (Yui Mok/PA)

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.

People are rightly horrified by the spate of violent crime plaguing our streets, including the sickening rise in knife-related homicides Boris Johnson

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 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 Government will also bring back the Domestic Abuse Bill which fell as a result of Mr Johnson’s unlawful suspension of Parliament last month.

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Boris Johnson at the State Opening of Parliament (House of Commons/PA)

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.

– The 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 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”.

Meanwhile, ahead of the Queen’s Speech Mr Johnson received a winter flu jab.

PA

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