09 May, 2012

Queen's Speech 'to rebuild Britain'

Queen's Speech 'to rebuild Britain'

MPs have warned that reforming the House of Lords could lead to the break-up of the coalition

400,000 workers predicted to strike

David Cameron has unveiled his legislative programme for the coming year in what he termed "a Queen's Speech to rebuild Britain".

The programme outlined by the Queen to Parliament included bills to reform pensions, reduce red tape on businesses, offer flexible working for parents and protect consumers from the consequences of another banking crisis.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the package offered "no change, no hope" and proved Mr Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg did not get the message sent them by voters in local elections last Thursday.

But the measure which will spark most controversy in Westminster, and threatens to swallow up most parliamentary time over the coming months, was a Bill to reform the House of Lords to include elected members for the first time. No details of the proposed changes are being released until the Bill is published, though the Government has previously put forward an 80% elected upper house, with 300 members serving single 15-year terms.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister said that he backed change but did not regard it as a priority, adding that it could only proceed on the basis of consensus. His comments sparked speculation that he is ready for the measure - a key priority of his Liberal Democrat coalition partners - to run into the sand in the face of intractable opposition from some of his own backbenchers.

The slimline package of just 15 bills and four draft bills was notable for several measures which it did not contain. There was no legislation to regulate lobbying or introduce gay marriage, and campaigners expressed disappointment at the failure to enshrine the 0.7% overseas aid target in law or to bring forward a fundamental overhaul of the adult care system.

The scene was set for fresh clashes with unions, as ministers made clear they will press ahead with controversial reforms to public sector pensions a day before a planned walkout by thousands of workers. And plans to overhaul employment tribunals, remove "unnecessary" business legislation and limit inspection of firms were condemned by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber as an "incoherent hotchpotch".

A Banking Reform Bill will implement proposals from last year's Vickers Report to require banks to "ring-fence" the household and business services of their High Street branches from the riskier "casino" activities of investment arms, and to allow banks which fail to be shut down safely.

Elsewhere, there were measures to support families by shaking up services for children with special needs, lifting barriers to inter-racial adoption, speeding up courts' handling of care cases and giving fathers better access rights after divorce or separation. Legislation will raise the state pension age to 67 between 2026 and 2028 and will commit the Government to further increases as lifespans lengthen. The Pensions Bill will also implement the Budget proposal for a new single-tier state pension set at around £140 a week.

A new National Crime Agency, due to start work in 2013 tackling serious and organised crime and strengthening border security, will be established by the Crime and Courts Bill, which also introduces an offence of drug-driving and modernises the court system and the process for appointing judges in England and Wales.


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