Queen Elizabeth II’s speech to Parliament
The Queen has formally opened the new session of Parliament and, as expected, has outlined plans to reform the House of Lords. Nonetheless, it was clear that the power of the economy would be the highlight in the coming months.
As the Commons was summoned to hear her Majesty, Labour MP Dennis Skinner made his – now customary – intervention: “Jubilee year, double-dip recession – what a start”. The comment was met with cries of protest from the government benches.
They might not have liked Dennis Skinner’s quip, but the government’s priority was just that – the economy. Her Majesty made it clear in her opening line: “My Lords and members of the House of Commons, my government’s legislative programme will focus on economic growth, justice and constitutional reform. My ministers’s first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability”.
Ministers do not want to be seen just as “accountants”, so the speech announced plans for a crime bill, measures to reform paternity and maternity leave and support for small businesses and, yes, that issue of constitutional reform. A bill will be brought forward to reform the composition of the House of Lords; this will see 80% of Lords being elected and the remainder being appointed as they are now.
The flagship piece of law that will be passed is the Enterprise and Regulatory Bill, which will cut red tape and make British businesses more competitive. There are plans for a “green” investment bank – lending money for low-carbon projects, including wind farms and nuclear power stations.
The pension’s reforms, which were announced in March, will increase the state pension age to 67 in around 15 years’ time; plus the creation of a standard basic pension to simplify the system. A separate bill will implement plans to reform public-sector pensions, despite trade unions opposing the plans.
One bill which will spark a lot of debate is the Justice and Security Bill, which would allow closed courts to hear evidence from the security services; currently not admissible. A National Crime Agency will be set up to merge various existing ones, tackling child sex offences, cyber crime, border security and organised crimes.
The government backed off from introducing a bill for same-sex marriages and the promised Recalled Bill. A back-bench MP commented, “how can government expect to rebuild trust if it so casually drops key promises?”
As the Queen headed back to Buckingham Palace, she left MPs to five days of debate on the government’s programme for the coming year. It takes just hours to take apart the paraphernalia of this state occasion, but it will take much longer to build a successfully growing economy.