Missing elements in the government’s programme
The Queen’s Speech : Tuesday 11 May 2021
Note: this article is a long read! If you prefer to download and read the PDF version, please click here….
Comments by our Policy Officer, Jane Darling, on behalf of FHCLP….
Ambitious aims, made in the wake of a disastrous 15 months which has left thousands of people dead or very ill with long Covid, thousands broken by financial ruin, loss of home, loss of employment and in poor mental or physical health.
If the Prime Minister and his Government are going to come anywhere near to delivering on this priority, radical action will be required to fix the weaknesses in the fabric of our society which have been multiplying for years, but have been further exposed by the pandemic. The shameful increase in the level of inequality, leaving our children going to school and to bed, hungry; millions of people living in sub-standard accommodation and struggling to hold down insecure work, paid at less than the minimum wage: on waiting lists for cancer care and life-changing operations; thousands of children waiting for long months to get an Education and Health Care Plan or an appropriate education placement; people languishing on remand whilst they wait for their cases to come to court; thousands of asylum seekers or others who are in limbo whilst their right to stay in this country is determined. The list goes on and on.
There are also thousands who are waiting to know whether they will still have a job once furlough is over; others facing the possibility of eviction from their homes once the ban on evictions is lifted.
Meanwhile, many businessmen and women have prospered during the pandemic and have seen profits rise significantly.
Around 30 Bills , including some from past Queen’s Speeches are mentioned in the Speech – too many to fully address individually. Much has been made of aspects of a few of them, eg. the Photo ID from the Electoral Integrity Bill; the ban on no-platforming in the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill; the changes to the conduct of protests outlined in the Police and Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, but I think it worthwhile to dig a bit deeper to look at other measures contained in some of these bills which may evade the notice of many of us, and how effective they will be in achieving the ambitious claims of the government.
“My Government will level up opportunity across all parts of the country”:
Note that it is levelling up of opportunity, not the ability to access opportunity.
“Levelling up means creating new good jobs, boosting training and growing productivity in places that have seen economic decline and the loss of industry.”
The Government will publish a landmark Levelling Up White Paper later this year [which will] build on actions the government is already taking.”
Relevant Bills: Subsidy Control Bill; Procurement Bill: NI Contribution Bill
Six different funds are proposed to distribute a total of around £12.5 bn across regions, cities and towns to level up.
Jobs are to be boosted by establishing 8 Freeports in England and working to create more in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There appear to be very mixed views on freeports, a lack of clarity about the payment of tariffs on goods handled at the ports, taxes paid, and employment rights and welfare issues. Freeports have been tried before.
Green jobs: These are to be created through the PM’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, using private and public investment. It is suggested that 250.000 highly skilled green jobs will be created across the UK.
Levelling up public services:
40 hospitals to be built and recruit 50,000 new nurses in England.
20,000 new police officers to be recruited.
The aim of the Skills and Post 16 Education Bill is to close the opportunity gap in England by increasing funding to primary and secondary schools.
A Lifetime Skills Guarantee to enable 11 million adults to gain an A level or equivalent qualification free of charge to be created.
New technical skills qualification called T levels.
Major Infrastructure and Connectivity:
Relevant Bills: High Speed Rail(Crewe- Manchester) Bill; Product Security & Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill
Largest ever investment in motorways and A roads worth over £27bn.
HS2 project to continue
Integrated rail plan across the North and Midlands.
£5bn to be invested in Bus and cycle routes to give every area a service as good as the capital’s.
Project Gigabit to get as close to 100% gigabit-capable coverage as possible.
In her first full speech to open the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the Commons, Rachel Reeves, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor said:
“let’s be clear about this Conservative Government’s record…… It was the Conservative Government that” –
“cut the Education Maintenance Allowance and has overseen a fall in the number of apprentices leaving millions of people without the skills they need to thrive.”
“scrapped Regional Development Agencies, the very bodies designed to make sure every part of our country could prosper.”
“cut 60 pence from every pound in funding local councils, forcing them to close Sure Start and children’s centres, cut back on social care, libraries, leisure centres, [youth clubs] degrading the very fabric of our local communities.”
“My Government will ensure that the public finances are returned to a sustainable path once the economic recovery is secure”.
Is this the green light for more austerity? From the Institute for Fiscal Studies report “The Chancellor’s spending plans are even tighter than they seem (18/3/21)” it is stated that cuts proposed by the Chancellor “it’s difficult to see how further cuts to local government could be reconciled with a coherent levelling up agenda.” …”for many public services the first half of the 2020’s could feel a lot like the first half of the 2010’s.”
“My Government will help more people to own their own home, whilst enhancing the rights of those who rent”.
Laws to modernise the planning system so that more houses can be built will be enacted and a new Building Safety Regulator will ensure that the “tragedies of the past are not repeated”.
There is much disquiet about the proposed planning laws outlined in the Planning Bill as the changes would, ”leave local government with the political liability on planning whilst depriving them ,,,of the power to manage it effectively” (The Local Government Information Unit). Fiona Howe, chief executive of the Town and Countryside Association said, “if we are truly committed to build back better, we need the built environment to support communities to survive” and that “planning radically reduces our carbon emissions” The moves were described as an “utter disaster by the Lancashire , Liverpool city region an d Greater Manchester branch of CRPE, the countryside charity, as “We will see a lot more houses on greenfield land and in areas of outstanding natural beauty”. (Guardian Wednesday 12 May).
The Tories have a vested interest in the increase in home ownership and have deliberately stoked up the housing market with the Help to Buy scheme of 2013, which was seen by George Osborne as a chance for a “little housing boom”. More recently there was the Stamp Duty holiday, which did nothing to increase supply, but did help to inflate prices. Where house prices have increased in cities such as London, home ownership has fallen below 50% and Labour is now predominantly Labour. In areas where the Tories hold power, there is a greater proportion of home owners.(“An Economy Built for Homeowners” by George Eaton, New Statesman, 14 May 2021)
The Building Safety Bill, was announced in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019. It was updated in 2020. The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that the tragedies of the past are not repeated. However, the Grenfell fire of 2017 does, not yet, belong to the past. There are still live issues, namely the Inquiry and the question of who pays for the removal and replacement of cladding to apartments owned by people who had no idea they were purchasing a potential fire trap. The Government are failing to take the responsible approach to this situation.
Protecting Leaseholders as outlined in the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill from ever increasing ground rents is a good step forward to protect Leaseholders.
Regarding Renters rights, the Government is due to publish a White Paper in the autumn with legislation to follow in due course.
The Tories may feel that it is worth courting this group, as the 4.4mn households in the private rented session (19% of households) form the second largest group after the 15.4mn (65% ) who are owner occupiers.(From Queen’s Speech: Master Lobby Pack: PM’s Office 11 May
There seems to be an absence of planning regarding government responsibility for the provision of affordable, social or council housing.
“My Government will invest in new green industries to create jobs, while protecting the environment.”
According to the Queen’s Speech: Master Lobby Pack, the Environment Bill will be “placing a duty on Ministers to ensure environmental considerations are central to policy development, setting legally binding targets; producing a long-term environment improvement plan; and setting up the independent Office for Environmental Protection.”
It is interesting that despite environmental considerations being central to policy development, the Bill was not the first to be addressed in the Queen’s Speech. Instead, it came about half-way down the list of topics. Likewise in the Master Lobby Pack it is dealt with on page 127 out of 163 – hardly central!
Climate Change has been on the agenda for decades now. It is hard to understand why we are still waiting for the Government to make “a long-term environmental improvement plan”. On the other hand, maybe not so surprising when we have a Government contemplating opening a new coal mine, continuing with HS2; supporting airport expansion, road building projects, allowing house building without the provision of necessary infrastructure and ecological building practices; and failing to deal with the continuing over-use of plastic packaging but off-loading the problem by sending our recycling waste to countries like China and Turkey where it is dumped because they have too much to deal with.
“My Government will strengthen and renew democracy and the constitution. Legislation will be introduced to ensure the integrity of elections , protect freedom of speech and restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts.”
The Electoral Integrity Bill has very little in it. It’s clear that its main intention is to bring in a law to compel people to provide photo ID to vote in a Polling station. Everyone registered to vote receives a Polling card with their details clearly shown. This has been the system for years and, it would seem confidence in the integrity of elections was so high that there has been no requirement to show the cards when collecting the Ballot. There is scant evidence put forward in the Master Lobby Pack to support the idea of voter fraud being a serious problem. No figures are quoted.
How would the need for photo ID square with Postal Voting? – another measure brought in to try to increase the number of voters, especially the elderly and vulnerable, but which is possibly going to be restricted by this proposed legislation.
Far more serious is the potential for interference in our elections by foreign powers, namely the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2014 Scottish independence Referendum. In July last year, after being sat on by the Government for nine months, the report by parliament’s intelligence and security committee was published. Many attempts were made to downplay its significance. The report concluded that the – “UK government failed to investigate evidence of successful interference in the democratic processes.” (Guardian:21/7/20) So, just how important is electoral integrity to this Government?
The Bill is clearly designed to ensure that fewer people who are more unlikely to vote Tory have obstacles placed in their way discouraging them from voting.
The Judicial Review Bill will be published at the end of July. The details are currently unclear, but the legal profession and campaign groups have raised concerns such as these reported in the Financial Times on 18 May,2021. The Equality and Human Rights Commission states that “Judicial Review is a procedure by which a person who has been affected by a particular decision, action, or failure to act of a public authority may make an application to the High Court, which may provide a remedy if it decides that the authority has acted unlawfully”. (last updated 2019)
“Judicial review, which allows Government decision making to be challenged in the courts, has been in the crosshairs of some Conservative MPs since the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that Prime Minister, Boris Johnson had acted unlawfully in proroguing parliament for five weeks.”
“the Government has faced a number of Judicial Review challenges in recent months over its award of contracts during the Covid-19 pandemic. On Tuesday (25 May) it faces a high-profile lawsuit brought by the Good Law Project over its decision to award £650mn of PPE contracts to three companies which the campaign group alleges breached its duties of transparency”.
Catherine Callaghan QC, vice-chair of the Constitutional and Administrative Law Association said, “It looks as if the proposed reforms are procedural and quite minor but….could absolutely gut Judicial review and denude it of its power to hold the government to account”.
Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill
The government has set in motion its plan for prime ministers to regain the power to call general elections whenever they like.
Currently voting takes place every five years on a set date – unless two-thirds of MPs back a change of timing or a government loses a no-confidence vote.
As things stand, the next election is due to happen on 2 May, 2024.
But a bill – published on Wednesday and also backed by the Labour Party – aims to remove fixed dates.
In his analysis, Sean Curran, Parliamentary correspondent wrote, “The power to call an election at a time of their choosing used to be one of the most powerful weapons in a prime minister’s political arsenal.
A prime minister riding high in the polls could decide to go the country early. One in trouble could put off election day in the hope that things would improve. And rebellious backbench MPs could be kept in line with the threat of a general election. (BBC News 12 May)
“My Government will introduce measures to increase the safety and security of citizens. Legislation will increase sentences for most serious and violent offenders and ensure the timely administration of justice”.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is a huge piece of proposed legislation with a broad scope of measures designed to impact many areas of the way justice is meted out in many different situations.
Because it is so important and its reforms so wide ranging, I am going to draw on the paper published by “Liberty” for the content of this section. Liberty is an independent membership organisation which challenges injustice and defends freedoms. It provides responses to government consultations on policies which have implications for human rights and civil liberties; the Liberty paper covers the sections of the Bill which are most concerned with these.
PROTEST: The Bill makes a concerted attack on the right to protest. The measures taken together would radically restrict, not only our deeply cherished principles of freedom of assembly and expression, but our opportunity to stand up to the state to make our voices heard.
Proposed changes to the Public Order Act 1986 :-
Allowing an officer in England and Wales to impose any condition as “appears to him to be necessary”.
A Senior officer may impose conditions on a protest if it would warrant police intervention due to – “noise generated by persons taking part”, if that noise “may result in serious disruption of the activities of an organisation which are carried out in the vicinity” and also if that noise” may have a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity….and that impact is significant”.
Protests outside a broad range of powerful institutions, such as Parliament, government buildings in Whitehall, or County Halls around the country, could be curtailed. The scope of the controlled areas, where particular activities may not take place, now include streets around the Houses of Parliament and Parliament Square
Subsection 4 of the Bill allows the Secretary of State, by way of secondary legislation, to decide what constitutes “serious disruption”. This will allow the State to target the protest of any group it does not like without the need for primary legislation.
The Bill amends Sections 12&14 to establish an offence where someone can be found to be in breach of a police imposed condition which they “ought to have known” about.
Maximum sentences for breaches of conditions have been dramatically increased (by 266%) from 3months to 11months. An example of how ready the State is to use the full power of the law to restrict protest was made clear when in February or March this year, a £10,000 fine was imposed on a nurse who organised a socially distanced protest against the government’s proposed 1% pay rise.
Under human rights law, states have an obligation not to place unnecessary obstacles in the way of people wishing to protest. As the Court of Appeal has held, “protest becomes effectively worthless if the protestor’s choice of when and where to protest is not respected as far as possible”.
Sajid Javid MP, when Home Secretary said that the police already have the powers necessary to deal with crimes which may be committed during protests, such as the Public Order Act 1986 and the Protection from Harassment act 1997. Attorney General, Dominic Grieve has also stated that “no new laws were required if the police used the substantial powers they already have”.
Criminal damage to memorials: This Bill would amend the Magistrates Courts Act, 1980to remove the consideration of the monetary value of the memorial making it I possible, under the new Bill for a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment to be imposed. A Bill was put forward to Parliament in 2020 to strengthen sentencing powers relating to offences of damage to war memorials, but this proposed Bill widens the scope to any object or place used for remembrance, whether permanent or not.
The Serious Violence Reduction Order.
This proposal would hand the police extraordinary powers to stop and search a person, at any time, in any place, completely free of suspicion. It would do away with the long-established principle of the irrelevance of previous convictions until sentencing. It is an unjust, discriminatory and counterproductive proposal.
The offence of Trespass:
Currently a breach of civil law, not a criminal offence. Part 4 of the PCS&C Bill would establish a criminal offence of trespass and introduce new powers allowing the police to arrest offenders on the spot and seize any vehicles or other property immediately. These proposals affect on the right to protest overnight and set up protest camps eg. Extinction Rebellion and Greenham Common. This could also have implications for the use of open land for activities such as walking, canoeing, hill running and wild camping, camper van use and on Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Communities.(see below)
Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Communities:
These are among the most marginalised and persecuted in the UK. The proposals to criminalise “unauthorised encampments” and establish Trespass as a criminal, instead of a civil, offence poses significant risks for GRT communities’ way of life. The proposals in this Bill are discriminatory, potentially unlawful, and not even wanted by the police. Yet the Home Office is continuing with enacting this Bill into law.
The Bill amends the Criminal justice and Public Order Act 1994 to create a new offence of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle. The offence ca also be triggered of “significant damage, disruption or distress” is deemed to have occurred.
The Bill would also prevent people arrested from returning to the site for 12 months. Vehicles can be seized under the offence. This could result in the loss of home and belongings.
In Liberty’s view these proposals are unlawful in the light of the recent Court of appeal decision that “The Gypsy and Traveller Community have an enshrined freedom not to stay in one place, but to move on from place to another.”
It seems clear that these powers have been designed specifically to target GRT communities. Liberty reports that, “As research from Friends, Families and Travellers has shown, the overwhelming majority (75%) of police response to the 2018 consultation on unauthorised encampments indicated that their current powers were sufficient and/or proportionate. Additionally, 84% of police forces did not support the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments, and 65% said lack of site provision was the real problem”.
The National Police Chiefs Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners agreed with this view and said that criminalisation of trespass would likely breach the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act of 2010.
Liberty urges the government to abolish proposals to criminalise trespass and quash plans to strengthen police powers and, instead, reintroduce the statutory duty on local authorities to provide sufficient sites for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma Communities.
“Measures will be brought forward to establish a fairer immigration system that strengthens the UK’s borders and deters criminals who facilitate dangerous and illegal journeys.”
“The UK will continue to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering. My Government will uphold human rights and democracy across the world. It will take forward a global effort to get 40 mn girls across the world into school.
The proposals in the New Plan for Immigration seem to be in direct contradiction to upholding “human rights and democracy across the world”.
01 April 2021: Electronic Immigration Network
“Over 450 leading academics in the UK have responded to the Government’s recent announcement of a New Plan for Immigration with an open letter criticising the plan’s near-total lack of basis in evidence.”
The UN estimates that there are 26mn refugees around the world. In the last 5 years Britain resettles around 26,000 refugees. In 2019 the Government clsed the resettlement scheme.
The New Plan will afford fewer rights than before to people who have entered the Uk by illegal routes, or who have travelled through a “safe country”, such as France to get here. The plan says, “Anyone who arrives into the UK illegally – where they could reasonably have claimed asylum in another safe country – will be considered inadmissible to the asylum system”.
The government proposes to return people to European countries, despite having a pending asylum claim or appeal. However, no arrangement for this exist at present. Instead people whose claims are considered inadmissible and who cannot be returned, and –
- did not come to the UK directly;
- did not claim without delay;
- did not show good cause for their illegal presence
will be given a new “temporary protection status”. This will last for 30 months, there will be no recourse to public funds, restricted family reunion rights and they will be regularly assessed for removal from the UK.
On the Kent Refugee Network (KRAN) Facebook page an article from the Guardian newspaper from 10 May, 2021 was posted. The following is a precis of this article.
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has spent £33.6mn on border controls in Calais and announced plans to crack down on smugglers- even though charities and lawyers say those arrested are often vulnerable migrants themselves. Asylum seekers interviewed on the northern coast of France have told the Guardian that tighter border controls have helped the smugglers to become more powerful. As border controls are tightened, so the smugglers become cleverer at finding ways round them and their grip on the routes and the asylum seekers, who are desperate to escape being in the makeshift camps in and around Calais, is tightened. Many asylum seekers are forced to work with the smugglers in order to pay for their space on a boat.
One young asylum seeker who had been recruited after being forced to watch a friend being tortured, said the only way to get to the UK is with the help of the smugglers. He said “We thank your government for our full pockets”.
For years refugee charities have been pressing for the government to process asylum claims on the UK external borders and to focus on providing safe routes rather than border controls.
Another post on the KRAN Facebook page is from Kent Online on May 27.
“Campaigners across Kent, including Rosie Duffield, Labour MP for Canterbury, and the Bishop of Dover, are urging the Home Secretary to provide safe and legal routes into the UK for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children”.
It seems that the Home Office sees the use of force and tighter controls as solutions to perceived problems. The number of refugees in the world is only going to increase in a world of unstable regimes, persecution and conflict. As the planet warms there will be less usable land to grow crops and to sustain life and large groups of people may have to abandon their lands and seek new ones.
It is time the British government took a lead in working with other countries to achieve fair and sustainable solutions. We must not keep turning our backs on this. It won’t go away.
If we are serious about “alleviating human suffering” and upholding “human rights and democracy across the world”, and not just mouthing fine sentiments, we should not be turning our backs on asylum seekers; we should not be the only country in the developed world to cut its international aid budget: we should not be cutting our research budget but working with developing countries to improve their economies and their health and let them have some of their doctors and nurses back, without which our NHS would struggle to survive.
“Measures will be brought forward to ensure that children have to best start in life, prioritising their early years. My ministers will address lost learning during the pandemic and ensure every child has a high-quality education and is able to fulfil their potential”.
According to the Queen’s Speech : Background Briefing Notes 11/5/21 the Education Recovery Bill will –
- Increase school funding for every pupil with more for “high needs” learners.
- Invest in teachers –“we will be funding an entitlement for early career teachers in England to access world class professional development…so they are trained in evidence-based techniques”.
- T-Levels and Higher Technical qualifications, based on employer-led standards are to be introduced.
- £220m to be invested in a Holiday Activities and Food Programme.
- £79m to boost children and young people’s mental health support.
- An independent review of children’s social care already launched.
- Continuing work on the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Review.
- £10mn investment in the Behaviour Hubs Programme to run over the next 3 years.”
The Early Years Development Review will continue “delivering on our Manifesto commitments to roll out Family Hubs. The Government will deliver the ‘Action areas’ set out in the Early Years Healthy Development Review, as detailed in ‘The Best Start for Life: A Vision for the 1001 Critical Days’ published on 25/3/21.
The Healthy Child Programme is a national evidence-based universal programme for children aged 0-19. There is a commitment to modernise the programme.” ( From the “Queen’s Speech: Background Briefing Notes”, 11/5/21)
The Education Policy Institute (EPI) has this to say in its Report “Education Recovery and Resilience in England” published on 14/5/21-
“A new report by the EPI finds that a 3year funding package totalling £13.5bn will be needed by the government to reverse the damage to children’s learning as a result of the pandemic”.
While regaining months of lost academic progress must be the immediate priority, ….such interventions should be retained beyond the 3 year period to address the pre-existing inequalities in education and improve outcomes. EPI research shows that, prior to the pandemic, disadvantaged children were already 18months of learning behind their more affluent peers, by the time they took their GCSEs – with that attainment gap already starting to widen.
The retention of these policies should also be be met with further investment beyond schools – in wider children’s services and mental health services; supported buy an urgent child poverty strategy.”
“There is a wealth of evidence about the impact of child poverty on education outcomes and mental healthand well-being. Even before the pandemic, relative child poverty had increased from 27% in 2011/12to 30% in 2018/19. And, left unaddressed, risks rising further as the impact of the pandemic continues”.
On Support in the Early Years, the EPI report states – “the evidence is clear that high quality early education plays a positive role in raising the attainment and narrowing the achievement gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their wealthier peers. EPI reports that this gap is already evident by the age of 5”.
Many early education and care providers are struggling to survive through the pandemic. It is high time that Early Education and care provision was taken seriously enough by the government to become a fully-funded public service, with fully trained and qualified staff from the appropriate range of disciplines, free to every child.
I have attempted here to give an overview of some of the proposed legislation contained in the Queen’s Speech. I shall be endeavouring to keep a watching brief on some of the more contentious of these. But, I cannot conclude this piece of work without mentioning two highly significant, glaring omissions; namely and Employment Bill and even more shockingly a Social Care Bill.
n employment bill that addresses the skills mismatch facing our country would contain the right to retrain and reskill for those at risk of unemployment due to coronavirus, industrial or technological change. Such initiatives should be focused on upskilling workers to better-paid and better-quality jobs rather than moving to worse or poor-quality jobs.
All workers should have the legal right to choose regular hours, giving those on zero-hours contracts more scope to request and get guaranteed hours. The new bill must include a single enforcement body for employment law, which would allow bad practice to be challenged in court without the need for individuals to bring a claim.
The situation in sectors such as the Leicester textiles industry have demonstrated the inadequacies of the current system in enforcing rights and standards. For several years, media reports and the brilliant work of organisations such as Labour Behind the Label have detailed illegal practices in UK-based garment factories that are linked to big brands, and suggest wages are as low as £2-3 per hour.
With workers often feeling unable to speak out the existing issues of workers being paid below the minimum wage, breaches of health and safety practices, and poor enforcement of regulation and labour standards, as well as additional issues with coronavirus such as little or no social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) provision will continue.
Warm words of appreciation will not protect working people from poverty wages, exploitation and discrimination. When workers are left without protections, their families and communities are failed too. A new employment bill is needed to protect the future for Britain’s workers. Until the government makes workers’ rights a priority, they’re failing us all.