British PM vows immigration curbs in Queen's Speech

8th May 2013, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged a fresh clampdown on immigration in the Queen's Speech on Wednesday, seeking to bolster his right-wing credentials against the rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

Measures to restrict migrants' rights to healthcare and make it easier to deport foreigners were at the heart of the solidly Conservative proposals in the speech, which sets out the government's legislative plans for the year ahead.

Written by ministers from the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, it was read out by Queen Elizabeth II at the state opening of parliament in a ceremony full of historical symbolism.

Heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla attended alongside the queen, in a sign of their increasing role as the 87-year-old monarch scales back some of her duties.

Ministers drew up the address before the anti-immigration, eurosceptic UKIP won a quarter of the vote in local elections last week, but its key themes appeared designed to confront the growing threat to Cameron's Conservatives from the upstart party.

The speech offered a strong conservative message likely to appeal to the traditional and often older voters who have flocked to the UKIP, many of them former Tories alienated by Cameron's shift to the centre ground.

"We are in a global race and the way we will win is backing families who want to work hard and do the right thing," Cameron told lawmakers afterwards.

This involved slashing the deficit, helping small businesses, reforming welfare and pensions "so it pays to work and pays to save", and reforming the immigration system "so we attract people who will benefit this country", he said.

One of the bills proposed was a law to restrict migrants' use of the free-to-access National Health Service (NHS), tighten the use of human rights law to make it easier to deport foreigners and introduce fines for landlords who rent homes to illegal immigrants.

The Queen's Speech takes place every year or so at the start of a new parliamentary session, and contains all the pageantry expected of a state occasion.

The monarch arrives at parliament in a horse-drawn carriage, dons a crown and sits on a throne to deliver the address to elected lawmakers and peers clad in scarlet, gold and ermine robes.

This year's speech -- read out by the monarch in a stately monotone -- was relatively short, and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband said it had "no answers" to Britain's problems.

He said the Tory-led coalition was a "failing government -- out of touch, out of ideas" with two years to go before the general election in 2015.

Miliband added that proposals on immigration were "limited measures that they have announced before", and which failed to tackle the problem of cheap migrant labour which drives down wages.

One trade union leader, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, said the measures were "more about trying to head off UKIP and quell a backbench (Conservative) revolt than deliver a legislative programme to get Britain back on track".

A new YouGov survey found public concerns about immigration are high, with 57 percent of respondents ranking it among the top three issues facing Britain currently, up from 13 percent when the coalition came to power in 2010.

UKIP has capitalised on this public concern and a separate YouGov poll on Wednesday gave them 16 percent of the vote, putting them in third place ahead of the Lib Dems.

As expected there was no mention in the Queen's Speech of the EU, which has shot up the political agenda following the crisis in the eurozone and has contributed to UKIP's surge in support.

Cameron has been resisting pressure to bring forward a promised referendum on Britain's membership of the EU to before the next election in 2015, and any such vote would put his Tories at odds with their pro-EU coalition partners.

Former finance minister Nigel Lawson this week became the first senior Tory to call for Britain to leave the EU -- something 46 percent of voters would support, according to a new YouGov poll.

© 2013 AFP

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