Queen unveils reform agenda ahead of EU vote

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip proceeding through the Royal Gallery before the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London yesterday.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip proceeding through the Royal Gallery before the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Plans include prison overhaul, tackling extremism; Bill on sovereignty shelved

LONDON • Queen Elizabeth unveiled plans by British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday to overhaul prisons and help the poor under a social reform agenda he hopes to press after a referendum on European Union (EU) membership.

In a ceremony laden with pomp and pageantry in the Upper House of Parliament, the Queen announced plans for more than 20 new laws, ranging from tackling extremism to making it easier for people to adopt children who are wards of the state.

Much of what was announced was already known, and some members of Mr Cameron's divided Conservative Party said measures had been watered down because of the June 23 vote.

The government also appeared to put off at least one measure demanded by those pressing to leave the European Union - a sovereignty Bill which some Conservative lawmakers want in order to assert the sovereignty of Parliament over EU laws.

The yearly Queen's Speech is a major fixture in Britain's political life, when governments can unveil up to about 30 new laws and try to woo voters with eye-catching measures.

But this year, the ceremony, where the Queen addressed an audience made up of politicians clad in crimson robes trimmed with white ermine, has been overshadowed by an increasingly bitter battle over Britain's EU membership.

"My government will use the opportunity of a strengthening economy to deliver security for working people, to increase life chances for the most disadvantaged and to strengthen national defences," the Queen said at the State Opening of Parliament which starts the legislative year.

Ministers will also introduce a counter-extremism Bill to help prevent radicalisation and tackle all forms of extremism, according to the speech. The Bill states that new civil powers will be established to allow the authorities to ban "extremist preachers". There will also be new powers to intervene in Islamic religious schools and other unregulated environments where children are present, said The Independent.

In a briefing note to accompany the Queen's speech, the government said Mr Cameron is planning a new transport law to spur the development of driverless cars, drones and space planes.

In a bizarre tradition dating back to times of hostility between Parliament and the monarchy, Queen Elizabeth made her way back to the Buckingham Palace at the end of her appearance so that an MP "held hostage" there could be "freed" once she returned safely.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Queen unveils reform agenda ahead of EU vote'. Print Edition | Subscribe