Ministers are to unveil a legislative programme aimed at its new electoral strongholds in northern England and the Midlands, with a Queen’s speech focused on adult education and homeownership.
It also features proposals to bring in mandatory voter ID, which has been condemned by US civil rights groups as akin to Republican-style voter suppression. Another plan will pave the way to outlaw conversion practices.
The list of planned laws for the new parliament, billed by Downing Street as seeking to put into policy Boris Johnson’s idea of levelling up, will be unveiled by the monarch in an unprecedented and stripped back version of the event.
Usually the Queen delivers the speech to a crammed House of Lords. This time the chamber will be restricted to just 74 people. The only people invited from the House of Commons will be the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, party leaders and whips. All attendees must have a Covid test in advance and wear a mask.
Ahead of the speech, Downing Street trailed a bill pushing through previously announced plans to boost adult education and training, including a transformation of the student loan system into one usable for any university or college, and at any point in someone’s career.
Other elements of the proposed skills and post-16 education bill, to be introduced later this month, include giving the education secretary more powers over the further education sector, including being able to directly intervene with colleges that “fail to meet local needs”.
While Boris Johnson touted the plans as “the rocket fuel that we need to level up this country and ensure equal opportunities for all”, the higher education sector sounded a note of caution.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that while he welcomed “an important step on the journey to ending the snobbery around technical and vocational education”, there was no mention of finance so people could support themselves.
“It will only work if people can afford to live whilst studying through a mixture of loans, grants and welfare support,” he said. “Without this, many simply won’t be able to afford it.”
A previously briefed element of the legislative programme will be a new measure to simplify planning for housing, seen by No 10 as a way of shoring up Conservative support in areas where it attracted new voters at last week’s local elections by helping more people buy a home.
One element which is likely to be largely missing is a plan to reorganise adult social care, despite Johnson having promised in his first speech as prime minister that this would happen.
Health minister Nadine Dorries said on Monday the Queen’s speech would have “mentions” of social care reform, but officials cautioned against this being anything substantive.
One of the most contentious bills is likely to be one introducing mandatory identification for all voters in future elections, a plan that has been condemned given that people from more deprived communities are less likely to possess the necessary document.
Downing Street said it is needed to combat voter impersonation, even though electoral experts say this is a negligible problem in England.
The government will also use the Queen’s speech to press forward with its plan to outlaw conversion practices, a government source said. The source said it would involve “tough but balanced action that stamps out harmful and coercive practices but that defends free speech and legitimate forms of spiritual guidance for consenting adults”.
The ban has been promised for several years so, while campaigners and Tory MPs will probably welcome any progress, some are understood to be frustrated a change in the law will not be as imminent as they would like.
Jayne Ozanne, who resigned from the government’s LGBT advisory panel over the delay to outlaw conversion practices, said she was concerned that more consultation would be launched. “They’ve consulted long enough, now it’s time to act and bring forward legislation that protects everyone from this degrading abuse,” she added.
There are also hopes the speech will deliver on a Tory promise that up to three million Britons living overseas for more than 15 years could get the right to vote in British elections.
The inclusion would be a dream come true for 99-year-old Harry Schindler, a veteran of the second world war who has been campaigning for the voting right for at least a decade.