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Queen’s Speech: what to look out for in the next Parliament.

19 December 2019

Today was the official state opening of Parliament, as the Queen’s Speech set out the Government’s agenda for the next five years.

Amongst the numerous pieces of legislation the Government intend to introduce, there are several Bills which may have a notable impact on some of CARE's issues.

Domestic Abuse Bill and abortion law

The previous Government drafted landmark new legislation to improve support for victims of domestic abuse, which will return in this Parliament. CARE strongly supports the purpose of this Bill which offers much needed improvements in protection and support for victims of domestic abuse, which is a horrific crime ruining thousands of lives and disproportionately affecting women.

Unfortunately, a group of MPs who want to change the law on abortion have stated in the House of Commons that they intend to use the Domestic Abuse Bill as a legislative vehicle to change the law.

The draft Bill as it stood prior to Committee Stage in the previous Parliament only narrowly relates to forced or coerced abortion. However, we expect an amendment to be made to the Bill which will decriminalise abortion and remove all legal recognition of preborn babies (likely up to 24 weeks, but potentially up to birth).

CARE will be doing all we can to resist attempts to further liberalise our current laws. What we want is positive change – which starts with a reduction to the time-limit and a culture change where abortion is no longer seen as the only way to respond to a crisis pregnancy.

Restoring devolved Government in Northern Ireland

One of the Government’s chief commitments is to work ‘urgently’ to restore devolved Government in Northern Ireland. This is significant in terms of the law on abortion, which was recently changed there to introduce abortion on demand up to viability – in the absence of a functioning Assembly.

It should be the locally elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland that decide on devolved matters such as abortion, and we hope that one of the many benefits of a restored Executive would at least mean they can re-examine the new law that has been imposed.

Internet safety for all

Protecting children online is a key part of CARE’s work, and we played a crucial role in securing an amendment to the Digital Economy Act 2017, which would ensure children are protected online from harmful pornographic websites through age-verification checks.

Despite the Government accepting the amendment and the legislation having passed, we were deeply disappointed that the Government then backtracked on this decision this October, despite the fact it was a 2017 manifesto commitment.

We are greatly concerned that the Government’s proposals to introduce a more ‘comprehensive’ approach in their Online Harms Bill will not cover the need to protect children on adult websites which would be specifically addressed by age-verification.

We will continue to fight for age-verification in this next Parliament and call on the Government to prioritise the protection of children online.

Divorce Bill

The Government are continuing to push forward with their no-fault divorce Bill, which was introduced in the last Parliament. During the passage of the Bill through the Commons, concerns arose around the lack of adequate scrutiny it received, with the Government rushing ahead and the Bill only receiving 47 minutes of debate at Committee stage. Now that it will need to restart its progress through Parliament, this should give Parliamentarians the chance to properly scrutinise the Bill.

CARE has serious concerns about the stated aims of the Government and the way no-reason divorce will play out in reality. The Government has ignored the overwhelming opposition to their proposals from the public. The consultation on the proposals last year found that a staggering 80% of those who responded did not agree with the proposal to replace the five facts with a notification process, while a mere 17% were in favour.

Children need safe, stable and nurturing relationships to thrive. These thoughtless proposals will undermine marriage and damage children in the long term.

We will once again work hard to oppose this new Bill and uphold the Christian vision of stable families that benefit all of society.

Review of the Gambling Act

The Government have also said they will carry out a review of the Gambling Act, with a ‘particular focus on tackling issues around online loot boxes and credit card misuse’.

CARE welcomes this commitment, and we have been calling for a review of the Act for some time. We believe that the widespread increase in and ready accessibility to gambling necessitates more rigorous regulation. This is particularly the case with the significant growth in online gambling, which the Gambling Commission recently predicted will rise to account for 50% of the sector over the next few years.

CARE is calling for the introduction of a legal duty of care on gambling operators towards those who use their services, and that better protection for the vulnerable will include measures such as a complete ban on the use of credit cards for gambling on or offline, and restrictions on the timings in which gamblers may use services (problem gamblers are particularly vulnerable between midnight and 6am).

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