A BAN on conversion therapy and a proposal that all UK citizens be required to show photo ID before being able to vote in general elections were among plans included by the Government in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.
The pared-down ceremony was the Queen’s first significant public engagement since Prince Philip’s death last month (News, 16 April). The Queen was accompanied by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Only 74 people were present in the House of Lords.
The Queen began her speech by outlining her Government’s priority to “deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the UK stronger, healthier, and more prosperous than before” by supporting jobs, businesses, and economic growth, increasing funding to the NHS, and focusing on improving early-years education. Plans to reform the social-care system would be “brought forward”, she said, but no details or timetable were given.
“My Government will level up opportunities across all parts of the UK, supporting jobs, businesses, and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services,” the Queen said.
Among the 26 proposed laws outlined in her speech, which is written by the Government of the day, was the introduction of voter ID in the Electoral Integrity Bill.
It has been billed by the Government as a way of tackling fraud, but critics have suggested that it constitutes a form of voter suppression. A recent report by Parliament’s Joint Human Rights Select Committee stated that 38 per cent of Asian voters and 48 per cent of black voters did not have a single form of photo ID, compared with only 24 per cent of white voters. Voters in Northern Ireland are already required to show identification before voting.
The Queen’s Speech also announced that legislation would be introduced to protect people from the practice of conversion therapy in the UK (News, 16 April). For the first time in the UK, new funding would also be made available by the summer to increase the support for victims of conversion therapy. Government plans to “address racial and ethnic disparities” were also mentioned.
The Minister for Women & Equalities, Liz Truss, later confirmed that the ban on conversion therapy would be carried out after a public consultation. “We want to make sure that people in this country are protected, and these proposals mean nobody will be subjected to coercive and abhorrent conversion therapy,” she said.
Responding in a statement, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Living in Love and Faith Next Steps Group, said: “The General Synod has voted overwhelmingly to reject coercive Conversion Therapies so we welcome the Government’s commitment to explore these matters further with a view to enshrining that position in law.
“We recognise the difficulties in defining Conversion Therapies and look forward to working closely with the Government to develop a viable definition and subsequent legislation. We want to prevent abuses of power and ensure that issues of consent are made absolutely central to any future legislation.”
The LGBT campaigner and Synod member, Jayne Ozanne, said: “I am relieved to hear that measures will be brought forward to ban ‘conversion therapy’. However, the Government risks creating a highly dangerous loophole if it chooses to focus purely on ‘coercive’ practices.
“Most LGBT people in religious settings feel it is their duty to submit to those in authority and will therefore willingly follow their leaders’ ‘advice’ even if it causes them great harm. The Government needs to implement what the UN and senior religious leaders have called for: a full ban on all conversion practices, which includes religious practices. We do not need yet more delay: they have consulted long enough. We now need action before more lives are lost.”
Also from the summer, blood-donation criteria will be changed to allow gay men in a long-term sexual relationship to donate blood in England.
Referring to the Grenfell Tower fire, the Queen said that ministers would create a new Building Safety Regulator to ensure that “the tragedies of the past are never repeated”. (The House of Lords and House of Commons disagreed on whether leaseholders should foot the bill for the replacement of unsafe cladding (News, 23 April).) The planning system would also be modernised to allow more homes to be built.
The Government has been widely criticised for reducing UK international aid from 0.7 per cent of GDP to 0.5 per cent; its critics include the Archbishop of Canterbury (News, 9 April). The Government would “continue to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering”, the Queen said.
On the environment, she said that the Government planned to create more jobs in green industries, and she reiterated its commitment to achieving net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050.
She also confirmed that there would be a new draft Online Safety Bill, which would “lead the way on internet safety for all, especially children, whilst harnessing the benefits of a free, open, and secure internet”.
Her speech also referred to the Police, Crime, and Sentencing Bill, introduced in March, under which the definition of a person in a “position of trust” in relation to child protection is expanded to include religious leaders (News, 12 March; Comment, 1 April). The Bill also introduces stricter sentences for violent offenders.