Charities have expressed concern at the introduction of proposed legislation such as the new Bill of Rights, which will replace the Human Rights Act, in yesterday's Queen's speech.
Prince Charles set out the government’s legislative priorities for the next parliament, standing in for the Queen after it was reported that she has been experiencing “episodic mobility concerns”.
Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis and security were among the key priorities outlined in the 38 bills unveiled.
Other charities were disappointed that the government failed to address longstanding issues including the lack of protection for individuals who expose wrongdoing in the workplace.
MPs will meet today to start debating the contents of the speech. The debates are expected to last for five sitting days, finishing on Wednesday 18 May.
Liberty: The bill will ‘weaken’ and ‘undermine’ human rights
Martha Spurrier, Liberty’s director, said: “Scrapping the Human Rights Act poses a real, imminent threat to rights in the UK. It’s a blatant, unashamed power grab from a government that wants to put those in power above the law. They are quite literally rewriting the rules in their favour so they become untouchable.
“The Human Rights Act has empowered people in the UK to enforce their rights in practice. It has enabled people to challenge unlawful policies, be treated with dignity by public authorities and secure justice for their loved ones. It has changed the way that we are treated in schools, hospitals and care homes, improving everyday life for people across the country.
“The government’s plan is to weaken and undermine this, taking power away from the public to take for themselves. We all know this government cannot be trusted to keep its word or play by the rules. We’re urging everyone to not let them get away with this looting of our rights. Speak up and make your voice heard.”
JUSTICE: ‘Unnecessary and counterproductive’ use of parliamentary time
Fiona Rutherford, Justice’s chief executive, said: “We are concerned that the Queen’s speech indicates an unnecessary and counterproductive use of parliamentary time to the detriment of human rights in the UK. Vague announcements about replacing the Human Rights Act and increasing police powers are at odds with pressing issues, such as the cost-of-living crisis and the events in Ukraine, and indicate a worrying direction of travel.
“JUSTICE will continue to work with parliamentarians and others to push for evidence-based legislation and to ensure the UK upholds the highest standards, in line with our domestic and international human rights obligations."
Runnymede Trust: “Fewer” protections for Black and ethnic minorities
In a tweet, the Runnymede Trust said: “Plans to replace the Human Rights Act with the new Bill of Rights means fewer protections for Black and ethnic minority communities when their rights have been violated.”
Under the new proposals, the government will introduce a ‘permission stage’ in bringing a human rights case to court. According to the Runnymede Trust, this means that “if an ethnic minority person has been discriminated against by a local authority, they would first have to show they have faced a ‘significant disadvantage’ to bring a case”.
It said: “A permission stage has been explicitly articulated as an attempt to weed out ‘frivolous’ claims by the Lord Chancellor. The notion that any claim that sets out to assert human rights is ‘frivolous’ is something we should contest, and the permission stage will only serve to undermine individuals’ protection from abuses.”
Christian Aid: ‘Vaccum’ at heart of the new bills
Sophie Powell, Christian Aid’s chief of UK advocacy, said: “There is nothing in this legislative programme that brings hope to all those struggling with a cost-of-living crisis that has no respect for international borders.
“Where there should be an agenda for addressing the critical global issues of our time, like extreme poverty, rising hunger and a worsening climate crisis, there is a vacuum.
“This government has chosen to put eroding the right to peaceful protest above tackling major global issues.
“Ministers seems intent to force through draconian laws that limit peaceful protest, despite previous challenges in parliament.”
Save the Children: A missed opportunity
Dan Paskins, director of UK impact at Save the Children, said: “The cost-of-living crisis is an emergency the UK government should be dealing with right now. The Queen's speech was a major opportunity to support those most affected by rising costs, and the government didn’t take it.
“Families we work with are skipping meals, rationing their power and taking on unsustainable levels of debt. But again, instead of taking serious action ministers have buried their heads in the sand.
“Families can’t wait any longer for support. The government must commit to increasing benefits in line with inflation as soon as possible, and no later than the autumn budget. It’s an essential step, which will immediately help hard-pressed families to weather the crisis.”
The Salvation Army: Not enough for the poorest households
Dean Pallant, the Salvation Army’s Lieut-Colonel, said: “We are deeply concerned that despite today’s Queen’s speech stating the government’s priority is to ‘help ease the cost of living’, what’s been announced will do little to help the poorest households. The rise in the cost of living has hit everyone, but for those with low, fixed incomes and high energy requirements, it’s been devastating.
Conversion therapy bill
NCVO: No mention of trans people
In a blog post on NCVO’s website, Chris Walker, policy and public affairs manager, said: “The government faced a major backlash last month, after it announced a ban on conversion therapy for gay or bisexual people in England and Wales – but not for transgender people.
“The LGBTQ+ sector has insisted a ban should include conversion therapy for trans people, and boycotted the UK’s first LGBTQ+ international conference in response.
“As expected, the bill has now been announced and does not include a ban on trans conversion therapy. With support for extending the ban across parties, there are likely to be serious attempts to amend the legislation despite the government’s significant majority.”
Mermaids: Failure to protect trans people
In a tweet, Mermaids said: “Today’s #QueensSpeech failed trans people. The government has committed, yet again, to ban conversion therapy – which they have failed to do in previous parliamentary sessions – despite being the one legislative promise to the LGBT+ community.
“The government has broken its promise by excluding gender identity from this ban, which leaves trans and non-binary people open to continued abuse.”
Ozanne Foundation: Loopholes in policies
Jayne Ozanne, founder of the foundation, said: “Whilst I’m naturally relieved to see that the government are still committed to banning “conversion therapy”, it is of great concern that they are creating so many loopholes and leaving so many people unprotected.
“The government’s own research shows that trans people are twice as likely to be offered ‘conversion therapy’ and it is utterly immoral that the government has purposefully omitted them from the ban. The government’s duty is to protect the most vulnerable from abuse, not to side with the abusers.
“By creating a loophole of consent, the government continues to ignore the advice of legal experts and survivors like myself, who know that this will continue to put many lives at risk.
“The Prime Minister would do well to listen to his international counterparts who have implemented full bans, rather than those who wish to be able to continue these abusive and harmful practices.”
Whistleblowing protections left out
Protect said: “Protect is disappointed that the government’s new legislative program fails to address the weaknesses in whistleblowing protection with the absence of an Employment Bill. The UK has fallen behind international best practice and it is time to ‘level up’ legal protections for whistleblowers.
“However, we welcome the introduction of the second Economic Crime Bill as an opportunity to ensure whistleblowing is part of the strategy to enforce laws against corruption, illicit financing and attempts to dodge sanctions on Russia.
“Along with many journalists, NGOs and groups representing whistleblowers, we are concerned that the proposed bill on the security services should not reduce press or whistleblower freedoms. The Law Commission agrees with us that there should be a public interest defence to the Official Secrets Act. Reform in this area should not increase the risk of prosecutions to whistleblowers.”