Queen promises to make poverty and budget deficits illegal
Tower looms for recalcitrant Chancellor
The Queen today delivered her annual speech to the combined Houses of Parliament, setting out her government’s plans for legislation over the next six months.
As expected, this was the shortest speech of the current parliament, running to just 13 minutes and contained promises to:
- Enhance the governance of the financial sector via a Council of Financial Stability. Strengthen the FSA and control the system of rewards (i.e., bankers’ pay). Allow consumers to bring court actions against financial institutions. (Financial Services Bill)
- Halve the current budget deficit (Fiscal Responsibility Bill)
- Establish free care to the elderly in highest need and protect the savings of those who currently get free care in England only (Personal Care at Home Bill)
- Guarantee higher educational standards – and to bring home education under the umbrella of government inspection (Children, Schools and Families Bill)
- Make parents take responsibility for anti-social behaviour of children (Crime and Security Bill)
- Ensure the comms infrastructure is fit for digital age, enhance public services broadcasting, compulsory age ratings on videos for over 12’s and strengthened copyright laws. (Digital Economy Bill)
- Support carbon capture and storage, plus duty on energy firms to support poorest customers (Energy Bill)
- Protect communities from flooding and additional powers for water companies to ensure water supplies during drought by controlling customer use of water (Flood and Water Management Bill)
- Ensure equality, narrow gap between rich and poor by creating a duty for the public sector to ensure its procurement policies foster equality. Also bring in measure to reduce gender gap in pay (Equality Bill)
- Strengthen law against bribery of foreign officials (Bribery Bill)
- Ban cluster munitions (Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Bill)
- Introduce constitutional reform, allowing parliament to scrutinise treaties and tidy up issues over election and removal of peers in the Lords (Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill)
- Outlaw child poverty by 2020 (Child Poverty Bill)
The Queen also alluded to government plans to introduce draft legislation on:
- A proposed reformed second chamber of parliament (House of Lords Reform Bill)
- A binding commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on international aid by 2013 (International Development Spending Bill)
There was a nod in the direction of those concerned about the UK’s commitment to the Indian sub-continent, with a statement that the government will work for security and prosperity in Afghanistan and Pakistan, together with a more wide-ranging commitment to work to create conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. This is not believed to include a commitment to abandon the UK’s own nuclear deterrent or to abandon the proposed upgrade to the Trident programme.
One other measure singled out for the Queen’s address – thereby suggesting it has a high degree of priority within the government’s list of things to do - was a commitment to respond to proposals for a high speed rail link between London and Scotland.
This is perhaps the most controversial speech of the current parliament as, with no more than six months left to run, many of the measures proposed are unlikely ever to reach the statute books. Opposition politicians have attacked the speech as no more than "a political exercise" and "a waste of time".
However, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson responded: "The key message is the same as with every Queen's Speech, this is about governing, it's not about electioneering."
He added: "It will be for the public to judge whether they believe these policies are relevant, achievable and affordable."
It is unthinkable that these measures will have been drafted without one eye on the electoral calendar. However, two themes stand out. Many of the measures appear to be a return by Labour toward supporting its core groups: the oldest, poorest and least well-off in society. It is possible that this signals a withdrawal from the "big tent" approach favoured by Labour in 1997.
Second, there are several measures that appear to embody the impossible in law. Precisely what the government will do if it fails to halve the budget deficit or eliminate child poverty on deadline is unclear. Locking the Chancellor in the Tower of London is probably not an option.
Meanwhile, two elements of the Crime and Security Bill are likely to receive a mixed reaction from El Reg readers. The government is proposing to retain the DNA of innocent people on the DNA Database for 6 years. On a more populist note, it will finally introduce compulsory licensing for all wheel clampers in England and Wales. ®
At most, this parliament now has 177 days to run. Most commentators expect it to last less than that – and to have fewer than 150 days of life left in it. Much of what is proposed today will not pass in this session.