THE Government has set out a new post-EU-referendum course focusing on key domestic policies, after attracting criticism for its series of U-turns on issues such as schooling and disability benefits in recent months.
The Queen’s Speech, on Wednesday, included new legislation on housing, education, safeguarding children in care, and speeding up the adoption process, to better the “life chances” of young people. It also made mention of new counter-extremism measures, defence spending, and a prison-reform Bill.
Under the social-care Bill, a new regulator will be set up to oversee care homes and social services. Those leaving care will be assigned a mentor until the age of 25, and care workers will be supported to find work and affordable housing.
The education Bill, forcing all schools to become academies by 2022, will be scaled down, though full academisation remains the goal, starting with schools in poorer areas run by “failing” education authorities. A higher-education Bill will support the establishment of new “high-quality” universities.
Also included is a Bill to promote the National Citizen Service, through which government departments, schools, and councils will have a legal obligation to reach 100,000 more young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, by 2020.
The charity Action for Children said that the Bill is an opportunity for the Government to help children “recover from past trauma and to promote their emotional wellbeing.”
The Head of Policy and Research, Emma Smale, said: “Favouring adoptions and speeding up the adoption process is one option, but the quality and stability of care is the most important consideration, whether it is achieved through foster care, residential or special guardianships.”
The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Matthew Reed, said that the interest in improving life chances was welcome, but would mean little “without a concerted effort to tackle child poverty”.
The Queen’s Speech also mentioned proposals, brought forward from the previous year (News, 29 May 2015), to abolish the Human Rights Act in favour of a British Bill of Rights. The measure will give British judges the final say in human-rights cases, but will stop short of the original plan for the UK to leave the European Court of Human Rights.
Mr Reed said of the proposal: “Anything that weakens or endangers [the Human Rights Act] would recklessly turn the clock back, and leave poor and vulnerable children more exposed to abuse and neglect.”
A counter-extremism Bill that will have the power to ban “extremist” organisations, silence individuals, empower OFCOM to block “unacceptable extremist” broadcasts, and allow councils to shut down premises used to “promote hatred” also sparked criticism.
The Evangelical Alliance cautioned against the measures. Its head of public policy, Simon Mc-Crossan, said: “It’s extreme to try and tell religious groups what they can and can’t teach under the guise of fundamental British values. It’s extreme to threaten to send OFSTED inspectors into churches if they don’t teach British values.
"This Government’s trying to fight extremism with extremism, and the main casualty will be our fundamental freedoms.”
Senior opposition MPs suggested that the Bill could alienate Muslims and, by its broad definition of extremism, stifle multiculturalism in the UK, “driving extremists into the shadows and underground”.
The Howard League for Penal Reform, a charity which works to reduce the number of people in prison, welcomed proposals for a prison reform Bill. Prisoners could spend weekends in jail and be allowed to live at home in the week under plans to issue satellite tags, in September, to repeat offenders or prisoners due on release.
The Chief Executive, Frances Crook, said: “There is no public service in such disarray as the prisons, and the rising number of assaults, deaths by suicide, and incidents of self-injury show that the need for change is urgent.”
Legislation on surveillance, driverless cars, and high-speed broadband also featured in the Queen’s Speech. MPs complained that the bulk of the 30 measures set out were already known.
Bishop of St Albans tables gaming Bill GAMBLING machines could more easily be refused licences under a Bill tabled by the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith.
His Bill, which seeks to protect vulnerable people, relates to fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs): electronic gaming machines, found in pubs and betting shops, on which players bet on the outcome of simulated games and events.
His Betting Licences Bill (Category B2 Gaming Machines) was entered into the House of Lords’ private-members ballot on Wednesday. The First Reading is expected within a few weeks, at which point the full Bill will be published.
Under it, councils will be granted permission to set new conditions on the terms and objectives of betting-premises licences.
Bishop Smith said on Wednesday: “This Private Members Bill is not intended as an attack on the betting industry, but as a way of empowering local authorities to better enforce the existing licensing objectives. The current licensing arrangements are weighted against any local authority that wants to protect vulnerable communities from the threat of harm posed by FOBTs, and the changes proposed in my Bill would help redress some of the imbalance.”
The Bishop has previously supported a reduction in the maximum stake for FOBTs, in the House, and called on the Government to announce a “long overdue” triennial review of stakes and prizes.