The Queen’s Speech – An Impotent Parliament?

Kevin Craig

Today's Queen Speech started off badly. MPs and dignitaries struggled with the enhanced security and tempers frayed as the clock wound down towards Her Majesty's speech.

The biggest headline grabbing measure – especially if you’re The Daily Mail – is the introduction of charging for plastic bags. Like the smoking ban, England is belatedly set up to catch up with Scotland and others.

Given the power of the grey vote, and with the 2015 General Election looming, of the few measures announced today the Pension Tax Bill and Private Pensions Bill are of particular note. This legislation was flagged in the recent Budget as a measure that will spread pension risks and boost people’s chances of getting a better retirement outcome. The model of this scheme is the Netherlands; where the Government are in the process of phasing it out… Whilst it is a perceived win on pensions, elsewhere the elderly did not get as much of a look in, with laws to protect against the abuse of older people being left out.

Parents did get a win though, with a bill to help working families with the cost of childcare. Working parents will receive up to £2,000 per child to ease the financial burden of what are some of the highest childcare costs in the developed world.

As an organisation involved with supporting military charities, PLMR were pleased to see a Service Complaints Bill introduced, that will create an ombudsman for the armed forces, to combat bullying and discrimination.

In the most controversial move of the Queen’s Speech, the Infrastructure Bill paves the way for fracking expansion, as protesters set up camp today to turn David Cameron’s Cotswold house into a fracking site. Elsewhere in this Bill we see scope for planning reform, an expansion of Help to Buy and Right to Buy, and the promotion of new locally-led garden cities. There will be detailed debate of how this measures up against Labour’s housing commitments.

For the devolved legislatures, there are more powers for the Welsh Assembly via the Wales Bill which gives the National Assembly greater decision making over tax and investment.

MPs are perhaps the biggest losers from today’s announcements – new laws, if passed, will enable voters to trigger a by-election if a Member of Parliament is found guilty of serious wrong doing. However, Zac Goldmsith MP the independently minded Tory MP for Richmond is unhappy with the scale of this commitment, complaining it has been massively watered down and has become “worse than meaningless.” There will be huge debate on the floor of the House on this Bill for sure.

But what of the overall picture? Ed Miliband will undoubtedly say this Queen’s Speech does not give the country what it needs. In the coming days we expect to see scrutiny not only of what was in, but also what was left out and what manifesto promises will not be realised in this Parliament.

On the Government benches, despite the bold protestations of David Cameron and Nick Clegg through their joint statement, the Coalition will be content with the minimal amounts of legislation to manage as they continue to gear up for the forthcoming election campaigns.

Will today’s Queen’s Speech gain traction? Although Westminster was gridlocked in anticipation, the simple fact is that the wider media are more concerned with the inter-Cabinet spats of Gove and May and the results of tomorrow’s by-election in Newark. It is more likely to be these events that will set the tone for the next nine months, rather than this slimmed down legislative programme.

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