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Queen's Speech: Immigration reform, economy are UK priorities

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
May 8, 2013 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh attend the State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday in London.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh attend the State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday in London.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Queen Elizabeth II reads a speech to Parliament that sets out the government's agenda
  • At its heart is a proposal for a tough new bill on immigration, the government says
  • Steps to strengthen the economy are also a priority, the speech says
  • The government will continue to press for Scotland to stay within the United Kingdom

London (CNN) -- The UK government has put immigration reform and the economy at the heart of its plans for the new parliamentary session, which opened Wednesday with the Queen's Speech.

The address by Queen Elizabeth II for the ceremonial state opening of Parliament is written by the government, although read out by the monarch.

At the center of the government's legislative agenda is a new bill with "tough new measures to continue immigration reform and prevent illegal immigrants accessing services they're not entitled to," the Home Office said.

"The bill will ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deters those who will not," the queen said.

Queen Elizabeth II leaves hospital

The legislation will also "contain measures to make it harder for people to prevent their removal with spurious appeals, reduce the complexity of immigration law and make clear that foreign national offenders should be deported, except in extraordinary circumstances," the Home Office said.

A move to the right on immigration may be a response to the political threat posed by the UK Independence Party, known as UKIP, which has made gains in local elections at the expense of the Conservatives. UKIP has promised steps to limit the number of migrants entering Britain.

Measures to make deportation easier may also reflect the Home Office's long-running, and so far unsuccessful, efforts to deport radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada. A series of legal appeals have kept the Jordanian national in the country.

Lawmaker Yvette Cooper, of the opposition Labour Party, criticized the measures outlined in the Queen's Speech, saying they fail to tackle key issues around the exploitation of foreign workers and illegal immigration.

"Immigration is important for Britain and needs to be controlled and managed so it is fair for all," she said.

Welfare reforms

The government will also work to boost Britain's economic competitiveness so it can continue to succeed in the world, the Queen's Speech said.

"To this end, it will support the growth of the private sector and the creation of more jobs and opportunities," the queen said.

In addition, the government intends to pass new measures to tackle anti-social behavior, cut crime and reform the police.

The legislative agenda also includes more measures to reform the state benefits system, "helping people move from welfare to work," the speech said.

The government's sweeping welfare reforms, affecting state help for the disabled and unemployed, have already been controversial in Britain, which is struggling with a large budget deficit.

The Conservatives govern in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Queen Elizabeth II to miss Commonwealth heads meeting

The Queen's Speech also said the government "will continue to make the case for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom."

Scots will go to the polls next year to decide whether Scotland should stay in the United Kingdom or become independent.

Prime Minister David Cameron has previously said he wants Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The queen's appearance at Parliament, accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, came a day after Buckingham Palace said it was reviewing the number of long-haul flights she takes.

The monarch will miss a meeting of Commonwealth heads of government in Sri Lanka in November, sending her son, Prince Charles, in her place.

CNN's Antonia Mortensen contributed to this report.

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