UK Politics

Queen's Speech: Immigrants face tougher rules

A fresh attempt to curb immigration is the centre piece of the government's planned new laws, set out by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament.

Short-term migrants will pay for NHS care, landlords will be forced to check immigration status and illegal migrants will not get driving licences.

Laws on cheap alcohol and monitoring web use were not among the 15 bills.

David Cameron said the package would boost recovery, but Ed Miliband said the coalition had "run out of ideas".

The Queen set out what the government plans to do over the next year amid the traditional pomp and ceremony of the state opening.

The Prince of Wales, joined by his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, attended the ceremony for the first time since 1996.

In a speech written for her by ministers, the Queen said her government's "first priority" remained cutting the deficit and strengthening Britain's economy.

But the government says it is also determined to do more to tackle illegal immigration and demonstrate that it is backing families who "want to work hard and get on".

The Queen said an immigration bill would aim to "ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute, and deter those who will not".

If passed, the bill would ensure illegal immigrants cannot get driving licences, and change the rules so private landlords have to check their tenants' immigration status.

UKIP surge

It would also allow foreign criminals to be deported more easily, as well as people who are in the UK illegally, after the government's repeated setbacks in its efforts to deport the radical cleric Abu Qatada.

Businesses caught employing illegal foreign labour would face bigger fines.

Migrants' access to the NHS would be restricted and temporary visitors would have to "make a contribution" to the cost of their care, either with their own money or through their government.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's The World at One whether this would mean GPs having to check patients' passports before agreeing to treat them, Business Secretary Vince Cable said "checks of various kinds" were one option being considered but the details had yet to be finalised.

The planned immigration crackdown follows a surge in support for UKIP, which campaigns for a reduction in net migration, but ministers insist the measures had been decided before last week's local election results.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the immigration measures were the "centre piece" of his government's plans for the year ahead, as they "go right across government".

He told MPs: "Put simply, our immigration bill will back aspiration and end the legacy of the last government, where people could come here and expect something for nothing."

Downing Street said it could not promise the new laws would come into effect before work restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians are lifted in January.

The prime minister's spokesman said there was a "determination to do this thoroughly". There will be a consultation on new responsibilities for private landlords and a separate one on migrants' access to the NHS, with the emphasis on systems to ensure people "pay what they should".

Other measures announced in the Queen's Speech include:

Ofsted-style ratings for hospitals and care homes will be introduced and a new chief inspector of hospitals given more powers, in response to the Mid-Staffordshire health scandal.

Another bill would increase supervision and drug testing of offenders after release from jails in England and Wales and open up the Probation Service to private competition in an effort to cut reoffending rates.

'Snooper's charter'

There was no place in the Queen's Speech for proposals to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes or legislation on minimum alcohol pricing, although Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has insisted both plans are still under consideration.

Demands by some Conservative MPs for legislation paving the way for a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU were ignored, as were calls from charities to enshrine in law David Cameron's pledge to spend 0.7% of national income on foreign aid.

The Queen's Speech had also been due to include a communications data bill, dubbed a "snooper's charter" by opponents, which would have allowed the monitoring of UK citizens' online and mobile communications.

But the plans were blocked by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on civil liberties grounds, despite warnings the legislation was needed to help detect terror plots.

The government is now considering forcing internet service providers and mobile phone companies to store more data about the devices used for emails, Skype calls and other messages to help police identify the sender, if necessary.

The Home Office had previously rejected this option, which may not need new legislation to implement, on technical and cost grounds.

Immigration

Giving his response to the government's package, Labour leader Ed Miliband said it would do nothing to boost growth, cut youth unemployment or tackle rising living costs.

"You are not dealing with the problems of the country," he told the prime minister.

"No wonder this Queen's Speech has no answers. Three wasted years, today another wasted chance. A no-answers Queen's Speech from a tired and failing government.

"Out of touch, out of ideas, standing up for the wrong people and unable to bring the change the country needs."

Mr Miliband accused Mr Cameron of caving in to vested interests and his own backbenchers by ditching planned legislation on plain cigarette packaging, a communications bill on media monopolies and a statutory register of lobbyists. He said Labour would be willing to back these measures if the PM wanted to get them through Parliament.

On immigration, he said Labour would "look at" the government's proposals but would also push for a crackdown on employers who flout the minimum wage and use "cheap" foreign labour - legal and illegal - to undercut wages.

Business lobby group the CBI welcomed progress on High Speed 2 but called for more investment in the existing transport network, adding that they wanted to see "delivery on the ground not time-consuming new bills that will have little or no impact before 2015".

The TUC said the government should have used the Queen's Speech to ditch its "failed austerity experiment" and "instead of making people work for longer the government should be focusing on creating more jobs".

SNP MP Angus Robertson said the speech, which included a commitment by the government to "continue to make the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom", demonstrated why it should be independent.

"The speech shows that Westminster isn't working for Scotland. Instead of boosting economic growth it is focusing on a lurch to the right politically," he said.

Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd welcomed proposals to reform the Welsh Assembly electoral system, but described the Queen's Speech overall as disappointing, as it showed "Wales remains far down Westminster's list of priorities".

UKIP leader Nigel Farage said the planned immigration measures were aimed at reassuring UKIP voters but would be undermined by EU legislation.

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