Queen’s Speech sets out British government fightback

Agence France-Presse
Queen Elizabeth II voiced the ruling coalition's bid to offer economic hope and win back voters after its worst few weeks yet in her annual address to the British parliament

LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) – Queen Elizabeth II voiced the ruling coalition’s bid to offer economic hope and win back voters after its worst few weeks yet in her annual address to the British parliament Wednesday, May 9.

New laws in the coming year would focus on “economic growth, justice and constitutional reform”, the queen said, while “the first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability”.

The two-year-old government’s pursuit of deep spending cuts to reduce the deficit was one reason for a drubbing received by the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat partners in local elections last week.

In a break with tradition, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg jointly wrote an introduction to the speech, promising to “stretch every sinew to return growth to the economy”.

The government will also reform parliament’s upper chamber, the non-elected House of Lords, the queen said.

It will also force banks to separate their retail and investment divisions to shield ordinary people from future financial crisis.

The speech pledged pro-business moves, attacking red tape and reforming competition laws.

And in a move likely to spark clashes with unions, it committed to an overhaul of state and private pensions.

Ans after several symbolic shareholder revolts over executive pay, the government said it would move to give shareholders the power to vote down big companies’ planned pay schemes.

Reforming the House of Lords

While the queen said from her throne in the Lords that the upper chamber would be reformed from the current largely appointed body, she gave no timeframe. Nor did the speech specify the proportion of elected members, in what appeared to be a concession to critics of the plan.

Under Lib Dem pressure and despite opposition from some Conservative lawmakers, the government has backed Lords reform, a subject that has been debated for decades.

Conservatives opponents of reform have dismissed the issue as a distraction from the more important fight to revive the economy.

The government also plans to move forward with plans to create an FBI-style National Crime Agency to fight organized crime and boost border security.

Britain’s notoriously tough libel law is to get an overhaul aimed at discouraging trivial claims and “libel tourism” from foreigners seeking redress in British courts.

And in a move condemned by civil liberties groups, a draft law will seek to give intelligence agencies more powers to monitor emails and web use, although this could change when it gets to parliament.

‘No change, no hope’

Wednesday’s speech offered “no change and no hope”, said opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband.

“Utility bills, the cost of getting to work: that is what is worrying families up and down the country. And what have the government got to say about it? Absolutely nothing,” Miliband told parliament.

QUEEN'S SPEECH. Queen Elizabeth II delivers the Queen's Speech during the State Opening of Parliament, at the House of Lords, Palace of Westminster, London, May 9, 2012. Screengrab from www.parliament.uk.

Absent from the speech were previously flagged plans for a legal commitment to giving 0.7% of GDP as overseas aid, and the introduction of full gay marriage — a policy fiercely opposed by some Conservatives.

The coalition’s mauling at the polls followed Britain’s return to recession, a budget criticized for tax cuts for the rich, and questions over leaders’ closeness to Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers amid an inquiry into phone hacking.

Both coalition partners took heavy losses, while the opposition Labour party captured 32 councils.

Shortly after unveiling its future plans however, reports emerged that the government would backtrack on a previous commitment.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was on Thursday to announce the government was scrapping plans to buy the preferred fighter jet for its two new aircraft carriers due to delays and spiraling costs, the BBC reported.

Prime Minister David Cameron had wanted the F-35C joint strike fighter (JSF), but the cost of fitting the catapults and arrester gear required to the Royal Navy carriers had spiralled, the BBC said.

He has now returned to the previous Labour government decision to use the F-35B, a jump-jet variant.

The queen’s speech is drawn up by government and approved by the cabinet. It is followed by by four to five days of debate.

In an age-old ceremony, an official called the “Black Rod” summoned lawmakers to the chamber, where they and the lords of the upper house heard the speech, the queen’s 69th, read out from a handwritten script on vellum. – Judith Evans, Agence France-Presse