Tuesday, 8 May 2012

0 Lords reform expected in Queen's Speech

The government is expected to use the Queen's Speech to push ahead with House of Lords reform, despite strong opposition from many Conservative MPs.

Plans, back by the Lib Dems, to create elected peers are likely to be included in the address - which ministers hope will rebuild unity between the parties.

The government is also expected to announce plans to split up banks and alter rules on executive pay.

The Queen will deliver her speech to MPs and peers at about 11:30 BST.

Outlining the government's legislative plans for the next session of Parliament, she is also expected to announce a bill to ensure the UK is exempt from future eurozone bailouts; moves towards televising court proceedings and the creation of a specific offence of driving under the influence of drugs.

'Fightback speech'

It is the first Queen's Speech - the grandest event on the parliamentary calendar - since shortly after the coalition was formed. The statement usually takes place each autumn.

The contents of this speech, billed by commentators as a "fightback", have reportedly been more contentious within government than usual, as the two coalition parties attempt to assert their own priorities.

The Lib Dems and Conservatives both lost hundreds of seats in last week's local elections in England and Wales, increasing demands from some backbench MPs to change direction.

The fall-out from tax changes in the Budget and claims of overly strong links between ministers and Rupert Murdoch's News International have also led to criticism.

On Monday, several senior Tories published an "alternative Queen's Speech", calling for tax cuts and referendums on the UK's future in the European Union.

And many Conservatives have demanded that a planned Lords Reform Bill - reducing Parliament's second chamber to 300 members and making it 80% elected - is delayed.

They argue that constitutional change should not be a priority during a recession.

Queen's Speech

'Smidgen of democracy'

But it looks set to go ahead after the Lib Dems have pushed for change, which all three main parties promised in their 2010 election manifestos.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appearing alongside Prime Minister, said: "A smidgen of democracy I don't think will go amiss - since we've been talking about it for about 100 years."

He added that he cared "a lot more" about economic and social reform, but argued that was not a reason to ignore the Lords.

Mr Cameron said Lords reform was "a perfectly sensible reform for Parliament to consider", but added that it was not a priority for him.

He said: "We are different parties, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat party, and we don't always agree.

"But I would argue in the last two years, the government has done a lot of things that needed to be done... although we might have had different views, we put them aside. We cut the deficit for the good of the economy."

BBC deputy political editor James Landale said it was clear the government was keen to focus less on constitutional change and more on helping the economy and families.

Our correspondent said talk in recent days that the government had softened the language of Lords' reform in response to the election results were wide of the mark.

The Queen traditionally reads her speech to Parliament on goatskin vellum, which once inscribed takes at least three days for the ink to dry, he said.
'Gladden hearts'

Another key measure expected in the Queen's Speech is the Banking Reform Bill, which would split banks into separate retail and investment arms.

This followed the financial crisis, in which the banking sector was criticised for over-exposing customers to risk.

Another bill expected to be included is one exempting the UK from the new fund to help failing European economies.

The bill would ensure the UK is not liable to contribute to the European Stability Mechanism.

Treasury sources said the move would gladden the hearts of Eurosceptic Tories and was timely given all the current uncertainties, said BBC political correspondent Carole Walker.

The anticipated Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill would bring changes to the pay of top executives, while cutting business regulation and changing rules on employment tribunals and redundancy.

This follows outcry over the packages awarded to many business leaders, sometimes in spite of poor performances by companies.

It had been thought that the bill would include a requirement for three-quarters of shareholders to approve pay deals, but this is believed to have been dropped.

Another expected move is a proposal to overhaul public sector pensions despite opposition from unions.
Saliva tests

The Crime, Communications and Courts Bill would mean police carrying out roadside checks get equipment to test drivers' saliva for traces of illegal drugs.

It would also set up a specific offence of driving under the influence of drugs, leading to a fine of up to £5,000, a motoring ban of at least a year and a possible prison sentence.

The creation of a National Crime Agency and tougher regulation of supermarkets are also expected.

Plans for easier adoption and more flexible parental leave, along with better support for special needs pupils and improved access arrangements for divorced fathers, are also understood to be included.

It is also expected there will be a draft bill on social care included in the speech.

A Department of Health source said the government was determined to push ahead with plans to tackle social care but this would take time.

Some coalition measures have been put on hold, including a bill aimed at streamlining the regulation of universities, and another introducing greater controls on water companies taking supplies from rivers.

The speech will be followed by a Commons debate on its contents


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