Queen's Speech: gay marriage dropped, but Lords reform survives
Coalition hopes to recover from election mauling with family-friendly package, but will Tories be pacified?
THE QUEEN has set out the Government's plans for the year ahead in a speech to both Houses of Parliament. The main themes of the speech covered family, business, crime and reform of the House of Lords. The Queen set out 19 government bills, including four in draft form. These are:
CHILDREN AND FAMILIES BILL
Aimed at allowing parents to benefit from more flexible working and fathers to have greater paternity leave after their partner has given birth. Adoption will be made easier.
HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM BILL
The upper house would become 80 per cent elected. Members would each serve a single, 15-year term. Elections would be staggered, with a third of the seats coming up for renewal at five-year intervals to coincide with the election.
BANKING REFORM BILL
Includes plans to force banks to ring-fence their retail arms from riskier investment banking divisions, enforcing the measures recommended by the Independent Commission on Banking which are supposed to prevent future bank bail-outs.
This will bring in the biggest changes to retirement since David Lloyd George introduced the state pension before the First World War. The retirement age will be raised to 67 and payments simplified, bringing in a flat rate of £140 a week.
In a joint statement Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "The primary task of the government remains that we deal with the deficit and stretch every sinew to return growth to the economy - providing jobs and opportunities to hard working people across Britain who want to get on."
Reaction to the speech started early - before it had begun, in fact. Labour MP Dennis Skinner made his customary outburst, calling out as the MPs were summoned by Black Rod: "Jubilee year, double-dip recession, what a start."
The Guardian says that David Cameron's refusal to pay heed to Tory calls to ditch controversial plans to reform the House of Lords - a key Liberal Democrat demand in the coalition deal - is likely to provoke the greatest resistance from sections of the Tory backbenches, as well as peers, in the coming year.
However, Tim Montgomerie, editor of Tory grassroots website ConservativeHome, saw something to cheer, writing: "This Queen's speech feels authentically Cameroon. The measures to extend paternity leave, speed up adoption and simplify charitable giving remind me of the pre-recession Cameron. The action to help small firms compete against supermarkets and to give shareholders more powers to hold big business leaders accountable are also part of his 'big society' Toryism."
That there is no mention of gay marriage is seen as an attempt by David Cameron to mollify members of his party opposed to the idea. The calculation is that the benefits of appealing to people who support gay marriage are outweighed by the risk of upsetting lots of core Conservative voters.
"We're disappointed that this modest measure has not been included in the Queen's Speech," Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights group Stonewall, said. "We trust that extension of the legal form of marriage to gay people isn't going to turn into a 'tuition fees' issue, announced with much hoopla in the run-up to an important election and then abandoned."
Some have mocked the speech for its lack of clear ideas aimed at encouraging an economic recovery. David Blanchflower, the former member of the Bank of England's monetary policy committee, tweeted: "I have been looking in Queen's Speech for anything that will boost growth and turn the economy around. Still looking."
The Daily Telegraph reports that Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress is similarly unimpressed by the lack of economic planning. "We needed a programme for growth," he said. "Instead, we have an incoherent hotchpotch that will do little or nothing to deal with our fundamental economic problems or create jobs. The main obstacle remains the Government's mistaken policies of austerity that have sent the economy back into reverse." ·