Queen Elizabeth II has presided over the State Opening of Parliament for the 67th time, making her first major public ceremonial appearance on Tuesday since the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, to lay out the government’s legislative priorities for the year ahead.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall joined the Queen at the event but there were no horse-drawn carriages as much of the customary pomp and ceremony of the historic occasion was stripped away as a precaution against Covid-19.
Her Majesty, in day dress and hat, instead travelled from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster by car and gave a brief 10-minute address to a sparsely-populated House of Lords in which she outlined 26 laws ministers hope to pass over the coming months.
As is customary, the Queen’s address was drafted for her by No 10 and detailed Boris Johnson’s plans to “build back better” from the coronavirus pandemic and “level up” opportunities across the country.
In his introduction to her remarks, the prime minister said: “We must harness the ingenuity and resolve that has been revealed in the struggle against Covid-19 and use it to create a stronger, healthier and more prosperous nation.
“We have been given an historic opportunity to change things for the better, level up opportunities across the whole of the United Kingdom, and address the problems that have constrained us far too often before.”
When the Queen began to speak, her address contained several surprise omissions, with the specifics on long-awaited social care reforms expected by pundits not forthcoming.
Proposals on social care will be brought forward later this year, the government has since said - despite Mr Johnson’s promise when he entered No 10 two years ago that he had already prepared a “clear plan” to fix the system.
“We will bring forward proposals to reform adult social care so that every person receives the dignity and security they deserve,” the PM said.
Issues around the treatment of veterans of the Troubles have been highly controversial amid suggestions that any protection from prosecution offered to service personnel may also be extended to terrorists.
Mr Johnson said the government’s legacy package will deliver “better outcomes for victims, survivors and veterans”, focused on reconciliation and ending the “cycle of investigations”.
The 26 pieces of legislation the Queen did introduce included:
- A Health and Care Bill to better integrate the NHS and social care systems.
- A Planning Bill to make it easier to build new homes, schools and hospitals.
- New laws to scrap the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, meaning it will be easier for Mr Johnson to call an early general election before 2024.
- An Elections Integrity Bill requiring citizens to produce voter ID at the ballot box.
- A Counter-State Threats Bill to introduce a US-style register of foreign agents to help counter espionage and influence from hostile governments.
- The return of the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which saw “Kill the Bill” demonstrations over concerns that it would curtail the right to protest when it was last before Parliament.
- A Higher Education (Free Speech) Bill giving regulators the power to fine universities or students’ unions in England if they fail to protect freedom of expression.
The government also promised a “levelling-up White Paper” setting out how Mr Johnson intends to meet the promises made to voters in former Labour-voting areas like Hartlepool, where the Tories triumphed in last week’s by-election.
Also promised were measures to ban so-called conversion therapy to protect LGBT+ communities from “abhorrent practices” that can cause mental and physical harm.
The PM said the Queen’s Speech will “fulfil our pledge to unite and level up and build back a better Britain”.
The response to coronavirus has shown “deep wells of talent, kindness, ingenuity and resourcefulness” across the country, he said, and “the government’s task is to mobilise that extraordinary spirit, matching talent with opportunity and unleashing our nation’s full potential”.
Additional reporting by agencies
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