18 May 2016
The Queen’s Speech 2016
The State Opening of Parliament today marked the opening of the 2016-17 session of parliament. The primary focus of the event was the Queen's speech, in which she outlined the government's proposed policies and legislation for the next parliamentary session.
Bills continuing from last session
Several of the bills she introduced have been carried over from the last parliamentary session. Typically, bills that have not been passed through both houses by the end of a parliamentary session are dropped unless the House agrees to carry over specific bills. This year these include the Policing and Crime Bill and the Investigatory Powers Bill which will modernize laws governing the use and oversight of investigatory powers both on the local and national scale.
Other bills that were announced in the 2015-16 session but were not introduced were again announced. One of these was the Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill, regarding which the government's Counter Extremism Strategy was published last October. This is a key piece of legislation for the next session, but at this point the specifics are still vague and undefined.
There were also various draft bills announced in the last session that were announced again for the new session. One of these was for a consultation for a British bill of rights whose main purpose would be to curb the influence of European courts and give final say to Britain in cases where the UK and Strasbourg conflict. This would replace the Human Rights Act, but final proposals will most likely only be introduced after the EU referendum. Another bill, the Digital Economy Bill, will provide a broadband connection for every household, protect children from online pornography, and shield consumers from spam email.
New proposals and legislation
The Queen also announced several issues that will be the subjects of legislation in the new session.
One important aspect of the speech was the introduction of the Prison and Courts Reform Bill. This could be the largest overhaul of prisons since the 19th century, and would provide prison governors with more autonomy and independence. Thousands of offenders will be housed in new reform prisons that will replace old and decrepit buildings, and prison governors will be granted more freedom to make financial and legal decisions. The range of reforms will further the government's obligation to protect the public through cutting crime rates by reducing reoffending.
The government has previously announced a variety of measures relating to schools' policies, and these will feature in parliament either as an all-inclusive Education Bill or as multiple pieces of legislation. Because education policy is devolved to each country in the UK, this legislation would only apply to England. One of the issues previously addressed was the Department of Education's White Paper proposing, among other things, a system in which all schools would become academies. This proposal was later amended to say that only in specific situations would schools be required to convert to academies. Other issues included in the proposed policies are attention to school funding reform and emphasis for career advice in schools. Today, the Queen stated that the Education for All Bill will be introduced to create a foundation on which to provide educational excellence in all schools. It will also provide for more equal balance between schools.
Another subject that was introduced was a series of proposals to change care and adoption processes. Last year, the government announced that it was considering changes to adoption law that would ensure that decisions are made for the best long-term interests of the child. The Queen said that this year, the Children and Social Work Bill will allow children to be adopted without unnecessary delay and will improve the standard of social work and prospects for young people in care.
Other legislation will cover matters concerning a variety of issues. One such focus is transportation. The government will ensure that the UK is at the forefront of technology in this area, including research into autonomous and electric vehicles in the Modern Transport Bill. This Bill will also include research for an operational spaceport. Measures will be taken to boost economic growth, such as the development of a 'northern powerhouse' to promote economic growth in northern England, particularly in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle. This aims to reposition the economy away from south east England and London.
She also introduced measures that will be taken with regards to higher education to support the establishment of new universities and promote competition and wider choices through the Higher Education and Research Bill, to aid people with low incomes to build up savings through the Lifetime Savings Bill, and to introduce a levy on the soft drinks industry through the Finance Bill 2017.