Queen’s speech ushers in new UK parliament

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LONDON

Queen Elizabeth on Tuesday unveiled the British government’s plans for the next term of parliament in a speech delivered at the House of Lords.

In what would have normally been a pompous ceremony filled with royal regalia, this year’s Queen Speech was a muted event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, delivered to a quiet chamber of about 74 people including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition Labour party leader Keir Starmer.

“My lords and members of the House of Commons. My Government’s priority is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before,” the queen said in her opening statement.

“To achieve this, my Government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services,” she added.

Unveiling Johnson’s new proposed laws for the coming term, the head of state said her government’s aim is to “level up opportunities” across the UK and to deliver a national recovery plan that will lift the population out of the despairs of the pandemic and onto a path of progress and development.

Controversial laws

The government set out 26 proposed laws in the crown’s statement. However, as the event is largely ceremonial, the vast majority of these bills have already been debated in the House of Commons and are on the way to becoming law.

Among the proposed reforms to various sectors of society, Johnson has introduced a crime bill that would see changes to the policing of protests, including setting time and noise limits to demonstrations. The bill is controversial as many argue it will stifle freedom of expression and the right to protest, but the government has said it will protect human rights and is only applicable to disruptive events.

With constitutional reform also on the agenda, the government is seeking to pass a law getting rid of the current fixed five-year term limit between general elections. This will allow government rule unhindered by term limits and the power and right to call early elections. Critics argue that such a bill will remove important checks on the government and is undemocratic.

Other changes would require voters to provide photo evidence of their identity when voting. Such a bill has the potential to disenfranchise younger and poorer voters who lack driver’s licenses or passports and could disproportionately alter the electoral landscape.

The government’s failure to set out reforms to social care plans also drew anger. The queen used a single line in her statement that simply said “proposals on reforms to social care will be brought forward” and any further changes to the law will not be brought ahead until this fall.

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