Hopes High for British Gov 05/11 07:02
LONDON (AP) -- The U.K. government sought to capitalize on its electoral
strength Tuesday, outlining a sweeping legislative agenda to bolster the
economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, defuse tensions that threaten the
country's unity and combat social issues ranging from housing to care for older
The package of 29 bills was unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in the annual
Queen's Speech, in which the monarch reads out the government's legislative
priorities at the ceremonial start of the new parliamentary session.
"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 the House of Lords. "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."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Cabinet put together the list of
proposals after a year of lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions triggered the
U.K.'s deepest economic slump in three centuries. The government is also facing
renewed calls for Scottish independence and unrest in Northern Ireland fueled
by Britain's departure from the European Union.
Johnson will pursue the agenda from a position of strength, with his
Conservative Party holding 365 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. That
electoral power was underscored last week when the Conservatives dominated
local elections in England.
Ahead of the speech, Johnson announced plans to give all adults access to
four years of university or job training throughout their lifetimes as part of
an effort to ensure workers have the skills employers need in a changing
economy. The government also plans to revamp planning laws to speed up
construction of new homes.
"These new laws are the rocket fuel that we need to level up this country
and ensure equal opportunities for all," Johnson said in a statement released
ahead of the speech. "We know that having the right skills and training is the
route to better, well-paid jobs."
The opposition Labour Party said the government must also come up with a
plan to create jobs if the training program is to have any meaning. Labour has
previously criticized the government for boosting job creation figures with
part-time and low paying jobs.
"It's great to hear that they want people to be able to retrain, but where
are the jobs that people need, the good-quality jobs, not just the jobs, but
the good-quality jobs that allow people to earn decent money to look after
their families?" Lisa Nandy, Labour's spokeswoman on foreign affairs, told the
The legislative program also includes plans for a summit meeting between
leaders of the U.K. government and the devolved administrations of Northern
Ireland, Scotland and Wales to discuss issues caused by the pandemic. The
government also said it would invest in transport links between the U.K.'s four
nations and reiterated a commitment that all parts of the country would benefit
from a 4.8 billion pound fund to improve town centers and local transport
In addition, the government plans to require voters to show a photo ID
before they cast their ballots, ban so-called gay-conversion therapy, restrict
the prosecution of soldiers who served in Northern Ireland and overhaul nursing
One of the most controversial elements of the government's program is a
crime bill that stalled in the last parliament amid concern that it gave police
too much power to restrict public protests.
Police were criticized for being too lenient after environmental protesters
shut down central London last year and for being too heavy handed in March when
they broke up a vigil for a young woman who was murdered after being kidnapped
in the capital.
The government also promised to bring forward proposals to reform the social
care system, which provides in-home and nursing home services for older people.
That fell short of demands from advocates for concrete proposals to resolve the
The issue has vexed government for more than a decade as rising costs
squeeze local governments, which are required to provide care for those who
can't afford it, and leave wealthier families in fear of losing their homes as
they struggle to pay for the care of aging relatives.