Cameron Seeks Legacy Beyond Europe in Program for Social Reform

  • Policy drawn up by Brexiteer Gove at center of Queen’s Speech
  • Prison changes to include local control over budgets, income

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron.

Photographer: WPA Pool/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will set out a program of social reforms on Wednesday as he seeks to heal the bitter divisions in his Conservative Party over the referendum on European Union membership and inject some momentum into his government.

A project to change how prisons are run, championed by Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who opposes Cameron in the EU debate, will be the centerpiece of a speech outlining the government’s legislative program to be read out to Parliament in London by Queen Elizabeth II.

“This is a government, and this is a country, that sees the best in all, and wants to give everyone the chance to rise up and make the most of themselves,” Cameron said in an e-mailed statement. The speech “sets out a clear program of social reform, so we break down the barriers to opportunity and extend life chances to all. And nowhere is that reform needed more than in our prisons.”

The Conservative Party has been split down the middle by the referendum debate, with Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU while Gove and former London Mayor Boris Johnson want to quit the bloc. Day-to-day government has been hampered by the divisions, with a decision on where to expand airport capacity around London and plans to sell the remaining state holding in Lloyds Banking Group Plc among measures put off until after the vote on June 23.

Management of prisons will be handed to their governors under the proposals, giving local control over budgets and contracts for staff along with powers to decide on prisoner education programs, family visits and rehabilitation projects, Cameron’s office said in the statement.

Prison Autonomy

The plans will be tried out in six “trailblazer” prisons, which will house more than 5,000 offenders by the end of the year. Wandsworth Prison in southwest London is among those selected, and there are plans to extend local control to allow prisons to be established as independent entities with powers to generate and retain income and establish their own governing boards.

“We will put governors in charge, giving them the autonomy they need to run prisons in the way they think best,” Gove said. “By trusting governors to get on with the job, we can make sure prisons are places of education, work and purposeful activity. These reforms will reduce reoffending, cut crime and improve public safety.”

There are currently 14 prisons run by private companies contracted by the government. Five are run by G4S Plc, five by Serco Group Plc and four by Sodexo SA.

Royal Standard

Wednesday’s State Opening of Parliament will be a mix of politics and pageantry, with the queen traveling by horse-drawn coach from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, escorted by the Household Cavalry. As she arrives, the Union Flag of the U.K. will be lowered and her Royal Standard raised over Parliament.

Lieutenant General David Leakey, who has the title Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, will march to the House of Commons, the lower, elected chamber, to summon lawmakers to hear the queen, waiting in the upper, unelected House of Lords. The door of the Commons will then be slammed in his face.

This ritual symbolizes the independence of the Commons from the crown: no British monarch has entered the lower house since 1642, when King Charles I tried to arrest five members in the run-up to a civil war that ended with his execution in 1649.

After Leakey summons the Commons, lawmakers will process to the Lords. Seated on a gilded throne, the queen will read the speech from a goatskin parchment, ending by telling lawmakers: “I pray that the blessing of Almighty God rest upon your counsels.”

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