Sunak to use King’s Speech to set out ‘vision of a better Britain’

Rishi Sunak will attempt to make law and order a key election battleground with a series of measures in the King’s Speech promising tougher sentences for killers, rapists and grooming gang ringleaders.

With a general election expected in 2024, the Prime Minister has put a series of criminal justice laws at the heart of the King’s Speech, which sets out the Government’s programme for the new session of Parliament.

The plan will deliver on already-announced proposals to mean killers convicted of the most horrific murders should expect whole life orders, meaning they will never be released, while rapists and other serious sexual offenders will not be let out early from prison sentences.

Other measures include giving police the power to enter a property without a warrant to seize stolen goods, such as phones, when they have reasonable proof that a specific stolen item is inside.

Rishi Sunak visit to north west London
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has put law and order measures at the heart of the King’s Speech (Justin Tallis/PA)

That could mean using a device’s own GPS tracking capability to lead police to where it had been stashed.

The Prime Minister said: “I want everyone across the country to have the pride and peace of mind that comes with knowing your community, where you are raising your family and taking your children to school, is safe. That is my vision of what a better Britain looks like.

“Thanks to this Government, crime is down, but we must always strive to do more, taking the right long-term decisions for the country and keeping the worst offenders locked up for longer.

“In the most despicable cases, these evil criminals must never be free on our streets again.

“Life needs to mean life.”

Senior Tories believe that a focus on “bread and butter” Conservative issues, and delivering commitments made in Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto, will help Mr Sunak as he seeks to overturn Labour’s opinion poll lead.

Mr Sunak’s allies also believe Sir Keir Starmer’s record as director of public prosecutions before he became Labour leader could also be a point of weakness, rather than the strength he seeks to make it.

One No 10 insider pointed at 2010 support for a US-style system of first and second degree murder charges, the latter of which might not have attracted a mandatory life term.

The new Criminal Justice Bill will include widely trailed measures to ensure reasonable force can be used to make offenders appear in the dock to face their victims for sentencing, or risk having up to two years added to their jail term.

It will also make being in a grooming gang an aggravating feature for sentencing, meaning tougher punishments for ringleaders and members.

The Sentencing Bill will mean a whole life order will be handed down in the worst cases of murder, with judges having discretion to impose a shorter tariff only in exceptional circumstances.

State Opening of Parliament
The State Opening of Parliament in 2022 featured a Queen’s Speech read by the then prince of Wales (Arthur Edwards/The Sun/PA)

The legislation will also ensure that rapists and serious sexual offenders serve the whole of their sentence behind bars, without being released early on licence.

A Victims and Prisoners Bill will give ministers the power to block parole for the worst offenders and ban them from marrying in prison.

The Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill will update the legislation regulating the use of investigatory powers by the UK’s spies and law enforcement agencies to keep pace with changes in technology.

The promise of longer sentences comes as the prison system is under strain, with ministers forced to act last month to free up space by letting out some less serious offenders up to 18 days early.

The Government has promised the largest prison building programme in 100 years, creating over 20,000 more places.

Downing Street pointed to figures showing violent crime is down 52% and domestic burglary 57% since the Conservatives took office in 2010.

Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood said: “What further proof do we need that the Tories have completely run out of ideas than witnessing them using the most significant event in the parliamentary calendar to simply repackage ideas they’ve announced multiple times.”

She added: “The Government should be focusing on delivering the prison places we actually need to keep criminals behind bars.

“They have utterly failed to manage the prison estate and the best they could come up with to fix it was letting criminals out early. ”

Other measures expected in the King’s Speech include a law to mandate annual oil and gas licensing in the North Sea – a key dividing line with Labour.

The speech could also introduce a law that would stop children who turn 14 this year and those younger from ever legally buying cigarettes or tobacco in England, as promised by Mr Sunak at the Tory conference.

Plans to “phase out” leaseholds will be in the King’s Speech, while the Renters Reform Bill will return although the commitment to ban “no fault” evictions has been watered down.

It will be the first state opening of Parliament by Charles, although he delivered the last Queen’s Speech of Elizabeth II’s reign in place of his mother in 2022.

Anti–monarchy campaigners are expected to mount a protest outside Parliament.

Labour leader Sir Keir said: “Britain is crying out for the long-term change that harnesses the ambition of our young people, the innovative drive of our businesses, and the ordinary hope and optimism that exists around every kitchen table.

“A government acting in the national interest would deliver a big build programme to kickstart growth in every region and begin to turn around 13 years of decline with a plan for a decade of national renewal.

“The Tories can’t fix the country because they’ve already failed. With a legacy of stagnant growth, sky-rocketing mortgages, soaring prices and crumbling schools and hospitals, Rishi Sunak admits the country needs to change; but this government cannot deliver it.

“The choice facing the country is between a changed Labour Party, hungry to change the country through an exciting programme of long-term reform, and a Tory Party with only gimmicks, division, and more of the same.”