Boris Johnson pledged to “get this amazing country of ours moving again” today with a wishlist of new laws in a Queen’s Speech that pointed to an early election rather than a realistic programme for a government with no majority.
The Prime Minister put the National Health Service and a cleaner environment at the heart of his appeal to voters, saying: “People are tired of stasis, gridlock and waiting for change … so we are going to get the gears on our national gearbox working again.”
The Queen’s Speech, unveiled with all the pomp and ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament, contained the outline of 26 Bills and other measures with an emphasis on populist topics such as law and order, school funding and spending on voter-friendly hospital and transport links — clearly intended to form the backbone of the next Conservative manifesto.
Most of the measures, especially on crime, were heavily trailed in advance but there were morsels of fresh legislative meat including new employment and pensions fund protection.
Labour MPs derided it as a “fantasy” programme, pointing out that Mr Johnson’s government lacks the muscle in Parliament to push through the more controversial promises, including a long-term rethink of care for the elderly.
Labour shadow minister Jim McMahon said: “Seems relevant to remind the Tories that currently they have a majority of minus 43.”
Writing in a foreword to the legislative package, the Prime Minister was resolutely upbeat. “As we get Brexit done we will re-energise and unite our country,” he claimed. “The mission of this Government is nothing less than making our country the greatest place on earth,” he said.
“The greatest place to live, to work, to do business. And this Queen’s Speech will set us firmly on that course.”
He hailed the NHS as the “one great British institution that has the emotional force to bring our country together”. Mr Johnson said a package of green measures would be “the huge star of our legislative programme … a lodestar by which we will guide our country towards a cleaner and greener future”. Former Tory minister Sam Gyimah, now a Liberal Democrat MP, tweeted: “Today’s Queen’s Speech is government by theatre. The Queen is being asked to deliver a Conservative Party election broadcast full of promises that are simply undeliverable.”
However, in a victory for eco-campaigners, an Environment Bill proposed legally-binding targets to tackle Britain’s toxic air scandal and deliver other environmental improvements.
The legislation would succeed the 1956 Clean Air Act, introduced in response to London’s Great Smog.
The Evening Standard led the campaign to tackle the nation’s toxic air crisis, revealing the level of the problem, how London pupils were particularly vulnerable given how many schools were in pollution blackspots, and the health impact on the population, particularly children whose lung development can be impaired.
The Environment Bill also includes greater powers for town halls to reduce toxic air, including by cutting emissions from burning coal and wood, and new charges for certain single use plastic items, following the levy on plastic bags, to encourage more sustainable shopping.
A new Office for Environmental Protection will be set up, recycling will be encouraged including with deposit return schemes and more effective legislation will be used to protect waterways from pollution.
The Prime Minister set out his long-term plan for the NHS which includes creating the “world’s first” independent patient safety investigations body. The Health Service Safety Investigations Bill proposes a body with legal powers to ensure patient safety.
The speech also included reforms to the Mental Health Act to reduce the number of detentions and ensure more people get the treatment they need. There was also a Medicines Bill aimed at making it simpler for NHS hospitals to manufacture and trial new drugs.
There were seven bills 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 an Employment Reform Bill to raise living standards through increasing the national living wage to £10.50 an hour, an Immigration Bill to end free movement and introduce a new points-based immigration system from 2021.
Also included was legislation to make voters show an identity document, which ministers said aimed to tackle electoral fraud.
A new building safety regulator in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire will have the powers to impose criminal sanctions for breaches. It also promises to give residents a “stronger voice” in the system.
An Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill will deliver on a pledge by Theresa May to force restaurateurs to “pass on all tips” to workers.