Law and order and the economy are focus of the British government’s King’s Speech

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LONDON – Britain’s Conservative government set out a pre-election policy slate including tougher sentences for criminals and promises of elusive economic growth at the grand State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday.

King Charles III read out a speech, written by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government, outlining its legislative plans for the next year.

It’s almost certainly the last such speech before a national election, and Sunak’s first chance to set out major legislative plans since he became prime minister just over a year ago. The last session of Parliament opened in May 2022, when Boris Johnson was prime minister and Queen Elizabeth II sat on the throne.

Charles became monarch when his mother died in September 2022, after a 70-year reign. He paid tribute to “my beloved mother” at the start of the first King’s — rather than Queen’s — Speech since 1951.

The speech gave clues to how the Conservatives plan to campaign in an election that must be called by the end of 2024. The party has been in power since 2010 but opinion polls put the Conservatives as much as 20 points behind the opposition Labour Party.

There was a strong focus on law and order, an area where the Conservatives think they have an edge over left-of-center Labour. The speech included a plan for tougher sentences for serious offenses, including no-parole “life means life” sentences for people convicted of sexual or sadistic murders and an end to early release for serious sexual offenders.

The speech, which lasted just over 10 minutes, set out the government’s modest slate of 21 bills, ranging from changes to the way soccer teams are run to a clampdown on unlicensed pedicabs.

Several laws were touted as “Brexit freedoms” enabled by the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, including less stringent data-protection rules to replace the EU’s GDPR, and a ban on exporting live animals for slaughter.

The government also announced plans to continue the watering-down of environmental measures started by Sunak when he lifted a moratorium on North Sea oil and gas extraction in July. A planned law will require new oil and gas drilling licenses in the North Sea to be awarded every year. The government argues that will protect jobs, cut Britain’s reliance on foreign fuel and increase energy security.

Environmentalists and opposition parties say it will just make it harder for the U.K. to make a much-needed switch to renewable energy and to meet its goal of reducing U.K. greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The king, a lifelong champion of green causes, gave no flicker of emotion as he announced the measure. Monarchs are constitutionally obliged to follow the government’s advice, and Charles is barred from expressing his view on the measures he read out on behalf of “my government.”

“My Ministers’ focus is on increasing economic growth and safeguarding the health and security of the British people for generations to come,” the king said.

Detailed economic plans were scant, though the speech included legislation aimed at growing, and regulating, sectors including AI and self-driving cars, and a law to open Britain’s market to a grouping of Pacific Rim nations as part of a trade agreement, known as the CPTPP, that the U.K. joined this year.

There also was legislation to enact Sunak’s plan to stop new generations from smoking by gradually raising the minimum age for buying tobacco, so that no one turning 14 this year can ever legally be sold cigarettes.

Several bills were carried over from the last session, including one to bolster protection for renters and a contentious plan to ban public bodies from imposing “politically motivated boycotts of foreign countries” – a law aimed at stopping boycotts of Israel.

The King’s Speech was the centerpiece of a parliamentary opening ceremony that reflects the two sides of Britain’s constitutional monarchy: royal pomp and political power.

The day began with scarlet-clad yeomen of the guard searching Parliament’s cellars for explosives, a reference to the 1605 Gunpowder Plot in which Roman Catholic rebels led by Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the building with the Protestant King James I inside.

The king traveled from Buckingham Palace in a gilded horse-drawn carriage, past a few dozen anti-monarchy protesters holding signs reading “Not my king.” He read the speech from a golden throne, wearing the Robe of State and the Imperial State Crown, encrusted with almost 3,000 diamonds.

Hundreds of lawmakers and red-robed members of the House of Lords packed Parliament’s unelected upper chamber for the speech. Monarchs have been barred from entering the House of Commons since King Charles I tried to arrest lawmakers there in 1642 – an act of royal overreach that led to civil war and the monarchy’s temporary overthrow.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.



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