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King Charles III will on Tuesday set out a highly political package of legislation that Rishi Sunak hopes will shape the next election, including bills on tougher sentencing, oil drilling in the North Sea, and encryption measures that put the government at odds with technology companies.
Separately, the prime minister will lay regulations to set out minimum service levels for critical sectors, including railways on strike days. Sunak claimed the measures would help stop rail unions ruining Christmas.
The King’s Speech, the first delivered by a male monarch for more than 70 years, marks the start of the final session of parliament before the next election and is an attempt by Sunak to sharpen the political divide between his Conservative party and Labour.
Sunak’s allies described the legislative package as “commonsense Conservative stuff”, much of it with a rightwing flavour intended to mobilise the party’s core supporters.
Downing Street officials said about 20 bills are expected. A group of criminal justice measures will include “life means life” sentencing for the most serious offences, such as murders involving sexual or sadistic conduct.
Police would also be given powers to enter a property without a warrant to seize goods if they had reasonable proof that a stolen item was at the address — for example, a phone with GPS location-tracking technology.
Another bill would force companies to seek approval from the Home Office in advance for security or privacy features they want to add to their platforms, including encryption.
Apple, in particular, has been vocal in its opposition to the proposals, arguing that it would force companies to “expend considerable resources hacking their own systems at the government’s direction”.
The speech will also include a bill to set up annual licensing rounds for North Sea oil and gas exploration, a measure partly intended to highlight Labour’s plan to ban new drilling. Labour has called it a “gimmick”.
The government said it “did not recognise” a report that Sunak’s aides had previously asked officials at the energy department to remove some requirements for environment assessments on oil and gas projects.
They did not proceed after being warned by civil servants that this could breach international law, Bloomberg reported on Monday evening.
Sunak has said there will be two crucial environmental protections in the law to govern when new annual licensing rounds could take place.
The tests will be the UK must be projected to import more oil and gas from abroad than it produces at home, while carbon emissions from UK gas production must be lower than those from imported liquefied natural gas.
But senior figures close to the formulation of the policy said the tests were “impossible to fail” as they described the likely status quo for the UK.
Other bills include measures to create an independent football regulator, and a measure to reform the leasehold system, described by cabinet minister Michael Gove as “feudal”, including capping ground rents.
A media bill would repeal an unused law that would have forced news outlets to pay the costs of people who sued them — regardless of who won the case — if the outlet was not signed up to a state-backed press regulator.
Unions have reacted furiously to the new minimum service rules, covering strikes in the rail, ambulance and border security sectors, which Sunak said on Monday evening would ensure public services were maintained.
Downing Street said train operators should be able to operate the equivalent of 40 per cent of the normal timetable. “We are doing everything in our power to stop unions derailing Christmas for millions of people,” Sunak said.
Paul Nowak, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said the anti-strike laws would not work. “These new laws are unworkable, undemocratic and almost certainly in breach of international law.”
Meanwhile, a Tory backlash erupted against home secretary Suella Braverman’s proposals to restrict the use of tents by rough sleepers, which she wants to include in the new criminal justice bill.
Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke said on social media on Monday that “in all my years of helping people who are homeless . . . at no time, ever, has anyone said the answer lies in the removal of tents”.
Steve Brine, Conservative chair of the Commons health and social care committee, hit out at Braverman’s claim that rough sleeping is a “lifestyle choice”, telling the BBC it was a “clumsy” and “crass” characterisation.
Claire Coutinho, the energy secretary, distanced herself from Braverman’s rhetoric, saying she “wouldn’t necessarily use” the same language to discuss homelessness.
Sunak on Monday did not repeat Braverman’s language, nor did he condemn it. He insisted that nobody should have to sleep rough on the streets and drew attention to the government’s injection of £2bn in schemes to help alleviate homelessness.