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Immigration, Europe and surveillance feature in UK government plans Open in fullscreen

Al-Araby al-Jadeed/Agencies

Immigration, Europe and surveillance feature in UK government plans

The queen, adorned with fur and jewels, delivered the Conservatives' agenda for austerity [AFP]

Date of publication: 27 May, 2015

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Britain's Conservative government has laid out its plans for the coming parliament, in a ceremonial speech made by the queen.
In a long-held tradition, the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II has made a ceremonious speech laying out the new government's legislative plans.

Included in the government's proposals for the coming parliament are an immigration bill giving authorities the power to confiscate wages of undocumented migrants, an extremism bill incorporating banning orders for "extremist" organisations and an investigatory powers bill reviving plans to give intelligence agencies new tools to spy on communications data.

As the queen spoke, more than 1,000 people took to the streets of Westminster to protest against the austerity agenda being pushed in the houses of parliament.

Earlier this month, the Conservative party won an outright majority in the general election - meaning the queen was unveiling an all-Conservative legislative package for the first time in almost 20 years.

The government is also paving the way for an in-out referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, with Prime Minister David Cameron having promised to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the 28-member bloc and put it to a public vote by 2017 at the latest. There is speculation it could be held as early as autumn 2016.
     The queen was unveiling an all-Conservative legislative package for the first time in almost 20 years.

Haggling over human rights

One glaring ommission from the speech was the previously mooted plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British "Bill of Rights".

Senior backbench Conservatives warned the party leadership against the move, and there has been staunch and vocal opposition from some leading figures in the judiciary and pres commentariat.

The strong gains in the election for the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) is another reason David Cameron has backtracked on the threat to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, said she would not sign a "legislative consent motion" to allow the UK government to repeal the Human Rights Act. The UK government has to seek the consent of the devolved Scottish administration when it legislates on UK-wide matters such as this.

"When it comes to legal and constitutional affairs - the Human Rights Act - you have to work externally and have the right consultation. That takes time," employment minister Priti Patel told the BBC. "It is important that we concentrate on doing these things properly and look at the delivery mechanisms we have in government to deliver the legislation."

More than 1,000 protesters demonstrated

against the Conservative agenda [AFP]

Getting tough(er) on immigration

Immigration was a defining issue in the election campaign, and the Conservatives are now intent on "controlling immigration" and putting "hard-working British families first".

The proposed Immigration Bill will include a new offence of illegal working, giving the police the power to seize any wages earned by undocumented migrants as "proceeds from crime".

The authorities will also be given new powers to evict undocumented migrants quicker - and all foreign criminals awaiting deportation will be fitted with satellite tracking tags. 

Connected to the fervent debate over migration is the issue of the UK's membership of the European Union.

The EU Referendum Bill will mean British people will have their first chance since 1975 to have a say over the nation's membership of the bloc of European nations. 

The law will be introduced into parliament on Thursday, on the day Cameron begins a European tour to try convince leaders across the continent of the need for reform. There is a strong Eurosceptic element to the Conservative party but the prime minister says he would prefer the UK to remain within a reformed union. 
     The security and policing authorities are likely to see a significant extension of their powers under this government.

Police and power

The security and policing authorities are likely to see a significant extension of their powers under this government due to the controversial Extremism Bill and Investigatory Powers Bill.

The Extremism Bill will give the telecommunications regulator greater authority to take action against channels that broadcast material that considered "extremist". It has also been suggested that officials will be given pre-broadcast powers to pre-empt TV appearances by those holding "extremist" views.

The legislation will also propose banning orders for organisations who use hate speech in public places, and employers will be able to check whether an individual is a "registered extremist" and bar them from working with children. 

There have been warnings both from within the Conservative party and without that this tough new legislation will threaten free speech in the UK.

When addressing the chamber of politicians and lords decked in crimson robes trimmed with white ermine, the Queen said the new Investigatory Powers Bill "will modernise the law on communications data".

The proposed legislation goes much further than anticipated, and will not only cover the so-called "Snooper's Charter" legislation on tracking individual web and social media use, but also the security services' powers of bulk interception of the content of communications.

It will also "provide appropriate oversight and safeguard arrangements".

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