Queen's Speech 2012: Lords Reform In, Gay Marriage Dropped

The Huffington Post UK  |  By Posted: 09/05/2012 11:43 Updated: 09/05/2012 14:29

The Queen has formally opened the new session of Parliament and - as expected - has outlined plans to reform the House of Lords and replace the appointed peers with a largely elected second chamber.

But the government has backed off from introducing a Bill for same-sex marriages. Although George Osborne downplayed expectations of it appearing on Sunday, gay rights groups will be dismayed to find there is no mention of it in the Queen's Speech.

The Lords Reform Bill, which is expected to be introduced in a matter of weeks, would see the Lords 80% elected with the remainder being appointed as they are now. But the government remains hazy on the details of how the reformed Lords would interact with the Commons. Many Tory MPs remain likely to oppose the plans unless ministers explain how this new relationship would work.

Briefing notes issued by Number 10 to accompany the Queen's speech offer no further detail of a deal to appease Tories, but most Westminster commentators expect the government to offer concessions, possibly watering down plans to reduce the number of MPs by 50 and reshape the boundaries of constituencies.

Both of these measures would see many Tories losing their seats, and there is talk of a trade-off - abandoning these measures in exchange for allowing Nick Clegg to get his cherished Lords reform plans through the Commons. But this seems unlikely to avoid lengthy rows among MPs and peers in the months to come.

The result is that the Queen's Speech is fairly short - certainly much shorter than the one she delivered after the last election. The subtext is that time will be needed to get Lords reform through the Commons, and space has been saved for any potential financial shocks involving the Eurozone, which might require emergency legislation.

Analysis: Who is happy and who is sad

In pictures: All the pomp and ceremony from the day

Key measures: The main bills announced explained

Read it: The speech in full

The other flagship piece of law the government will try to pass is an Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which ministers hope will cut red tape and make British businesses more competitive. The government will press ahead with its plans for a Green Investment Bank - lending money for low-carbon projects including windfarms and nuclear power stations.

In a bid to appease Tory backbenchers on the right of the party, there's also measures to speed up the employment tribunals service, with a hint that there'll be measures to make it easier for firms to hire and fire staff.

Another measure which Tories will like is a reform of parental leave - with a possible overhaul of the maternity and paternity leave arrangements. Ministers say the changes will allow mums and dads to take their leave "in a way which best suits their needs."

Many of the other Bills will sound complex and won't seem like bread-and-butter issues to taxpayers. They reform the architecture of government and will ultimately affect people's daily lives in various ways.

There will be a Bill which will implement the pensions reforms outlined in the Budget in March - no surprises here, it's already been announced. The highlights (or lowlights) are the increase in the state pension age to 67 in around 15 years' time, plus the creation of a standard basic pension, reducing the complexities in the system.

A separate Bill would implement the government's plans to reform public sector pensions, something ministers are pressing ahead with despite many of the trade unions still opposing the plans.

Ministers will introduce more help for kids with special needs, including giving their parents control over the care they receive. Parents and young adults would get their own budget, to choose the support they get themselves.

There's to be a National Crime Agency set up, which will merge various existing bodies into one large one. The government wants to put tackling of child sex offences, cyber crime, border security and other serious organised crime under one roof.

One Bill which will spark a lot of debate is the Justice and Security Bill, which would allow closed-courts to hear evidence from the security services, which currently is not admissible. It would potentially allow the use of intercept evidence in court, something the intelligence agencies have resisted because it would reveal the methods use to gather the evidence. The government clearly thinks it's found a work-around for this.

As expected a Banking Reform Bill would implement the Vickers Report, calling for the high-street and investment wings of large banks to be "firewalled" from each other.

There's a Groceries Bill which aims to protect food producers from alleged strong-arm tactics by the big supermarkets - there'll be an ombusdman set up to rule over alleged foul play.

There's also a Water Bill, designed to make it easier for businesses (but not households) to switch their water supplier.

On balance there'll be a lot in the speech to make both Tories and Lib Dems happy. But as always these are just rough outlines.

Tories will be interested to see whether the plans to cut red tape and regulation will really make a difference, and they'll want to see if the Lords reforms have been altered to allay concerns that the new elected chamber would challenge the supremacy of the Commons.

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is escorted by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, as they proceed through the Royal Gallery in the Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament, in London Wednesday May 9, 2012, during the State Opening of Parliament. From a gilded throne in the House of Lords the queen will read aloud the British Government's annual legislative package in traditionally opulent style to open Parliament.(AP PHOTO / LEON NEAL)

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Conservative MP George Eustice has told the BBC that the problem with Labour was its "hyper-active legislation"

"They spent ages bringing in bills that were badly thought through sand then they needed to use sessions to undo what they’d done and reverse the mistakes they’d made," he said.

“I think this government had a full session, a very long session – two years – some very big pieces of legislation went though, and I actually think it’s right that you don’t just jam the programme with endless legislation for the sake of it.”

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The government has been accused of quietly rowing back on political reform by omitting plans to introduce the power to recall MPs mid-term from the Queen's Speech.

Tory backbencher Zac Goldsmith questioned why a Bill was not mentioned in the list of legislation announced on Wednesday morning.

"So where was the promised Recall Bill in the Queen's speech? How can Government expect to 'rebuild trust' if it so casually drops key promises?" he said.

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@ ChrisMasonBBC : David Cameron dismisses lack of bill on lobbying in the Queen's Speech, saying there will be another Queen's Speech next year.

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The Prime Minister has mounted a robust defence of his government in the House Of Commons.

He said:

"This is a government that confronts the long-term challenges that we face, and that is what our country needs. A government that rolls up its sleeves to deal with the deficit, not an Opposition that thinks you can borrow your way out of debt."

"A Coalition government that is determined to unleash the private sector, spread growth around our country, sort out our financial services. Not a Labour one that bloated the public sector, sat back while an unregulated banking sector brought our country to its knees."

"A government that is backing hard-working people, not an Opposition that says it’s on their side but refuses to make work pay, refuses to cap welfare and wants to heave debts onto our children."

"This is a government that is taking the tough decisions to help families who work hard and do the right thing. Acting for the long term, governing in the national interest, this is a Queen’s speech to rebuild Britain, and I commend it to the House."

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@ GrahamJones_MP : Cameron dying on his feet talking about the Queens Speech. Uninspiring. Punch drunk from the omnishambles.

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After seeming to fall asleep during a Budget statement by George Osborne, is Ken Clarke in danger of doing the same as Cameron speaks?

@ EmilyThornberry : Cameron rambles on and his backbenchers look bored and switch off. The Lord Chancellor has dropped off.

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@ GwynneMP : The PM's response to the Queen's speech debate is waffle. Ed M is obviously still buzzing from the elections. He was at his very best today!

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@ ChiOnwurah : @Ed_Miliband really nailed the emptiness of a Queen's Speech which doesn't mention jobs & does nothing to create them

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"It is about a government taking the tough long-term decisions to restore our country to strength, dealing with the deficit, rebalancing the economy and rewarding people who do the right thing."

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Speaking in Parliament, the Prime Minister has defended proposals that have caused controversy for their apparent invasiveness.

“What we are trying to do here is not look at the content of people’s telephone calls, but just to update the measures for finding out who called who and when

“I say to people, of course let’s look at the detail, but I don’t want to be the Prime Minister standing at this despatch box saying ‘we could have done more on terrorism’.”

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@ IanDunt : Miliband wants Nadine Dorries on the government's remuneration committee http://t.co/y9vH2Nro #QueensSpeech

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@ NadineDorriesMP : Office staff turned up volume for tradit aside by Dennis Skinner. He was as loud with his own Gov! We have G8 personalities on both sides

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The Chairman of Parliament's International Development Committee has expressed disappointment at the failure to pass into law a 0.7% GDP commitment on international aid.

Speaking in Parliament, Malcolm Bruce added "However, I recognise that legislation is not required to meet that commitment".

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@ SallyBercow : @claire4devizes what is a disgrace is that tweet. Horrible thing to say about anyone. And why have Tories got it in 4 old people?

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@ adrianmasters84 : Response from Shadow Welsh Sec @PeterHain to Queen's speech: 'no change, no hope - that's the message of this queens speech'

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Business Secretary Vince Cable has told the BBC that reform of the House of Lords should not distract Parliament from the "bread and butter issue" of the economy.

“The underlying narrative is of getting past this enormous economic crisis we’ve had, the collapse of the banking system and getting back to growth and job creation. It’s going to be very, very difficult. But the legislation we’re bringing in will underpin that.

“It should not take time because all the major parties agree in principle…a bit of common sense and it should go through very quickly, without a great deal of fuss.

“I want us to spend time on the bread and butter issues. Supporting business, supporting growth, that’s where the emphasis has got to be…

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@ meaglemp : Queen's Speech shows Govt has run out of ideas - after just two years. Nothing to restore fairness. Nothing to solve economic crisis. #tired

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For those of you who missed it, here is the video of Queen Elizabeth II's speech to MPs and Lords

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Gary Smith, the GMB's National Secretary for Commercial Services, says the Government’s plan to introduce more competition in the water industry is "completely the wrong approach and out of step with what the vast majority of the public want."

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Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan has attacked the coalition for failing to do enough on Lords reform in the Queen's Speech.

“There is no mention here of a referendum. The Government must make

clear it is ready to trust the people.

“The 15 words in the Queen’s Speech dedicated to reform of the House

of Lords leaves big questions unanswered.

“It’s not clear if Lords reform remains a priority for the Government. It's not clear how they plan to reform the composition of the House of


“After almost two years, this demonstrates the incompetence of this Tory-led Government. Lords reform was heavily trailed as the centre piece of the Queen’s Speech but they still don’t have a clue about

what they intend to do about it.”

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@ ZacGoldsmith : So where was the promised Recall Bill in the Queen's speech? How can Govt expect to 'rebuild trust' if it so casually drops key promises?

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@ claire4devizes : Dennis Skinner is a total disgrace. Charmless, friendless and clueless. We weren't laughing, we were suggesting he, err, move on.

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Talking to Sky News, Baroness Warsi notably avoided mentioning election as a way of reforming the House of Lords.

"Let's see what the Bill looks like," she said

“If you speak to members of the House of Lords and I do so almost every day, the kind of things that will come up is they think that the House of Lords is too big, members will accept that it needs to be smaller. Members accept that maybe there needs to be some discussion around retirement ages.

“I look forward to seeing what the Bill looks like but what I am convinced about is that there are issues which can be looked at in terms of Lords reform like the size of it, like age, like the expulsion of members who serve a prison sentence for example.”

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The shadow Justice Secretary says:

“There is no mention here of a referendum. The Government must make clear it is ready to trust the people.

“The 15 words in the Queen’s Speech dedicated to reform of the House of Lords leaves big questions unanswered.

“It’s not clear if Lords reform remains a priority for the Government. It's not clear how they plan to reform the composition of the House of Lords.

“After almost two years, this demonstrates the incompetence of this Tory-led Government. Lords reform was heavily trailed as the centre piece of the Queen’s Speech but they still don’t have a clue about what they intend to do about it.”

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Speaking to the BBC, Labour MP Stephen Twigg attacked the Government for failing to address the real concerns of the country in the Queen's Speech.

“There’s very little in it. There’s very little that meets the real concerns of the public as expressed last Friday. We don’t know the detail really. We know the headlines, but we haven’t got anything that addresses the jobs crisis.

"We haven’t got anything that seriously addresses living standards. If I was a mum or dad at home watching this, just had my tax credits cut, there’s not a lot in it for me. If I was one of the young people unemployed for over a year, there’s not a lot in there for me.

“The reality is that we’re in a double-dip recession where the economy isn’t growing and we have over one million young people unemployed. I’m not convinced that anything that’s in there is actually going to address that crisis.”

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Petra Wilton, of the Chartered Management Institute, has said that the agenda announced in the Queen's Speech will transform management and bring lasting change, if correctly implemented.

"These welcome measures should provide greater freedom for managers and leaders to create working environments that can fully engage employees and help drive UK economic growth" she added

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Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, has described the coalition's legislative programme as "riddled with attacks on working people."

He said:

“Despite the rhetoric, this is not a good parliamentary programme for children and families.

“The programme is riddled with attacks on working people who have children and families.

“Making it easier to sack people creates further massive insecurity for millions of ordinary working families and does nothing to create jobs or secure economic recovery.

“This parliamentary programme is the vehicle for bringing an end to the right of ordinary working people to a decent occupational pension.

“This programme is a continuation of the Tory ideological reform agenda for which grass roots Liberal Democrats are paying an increasingly high price.”

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Simon Walker, from the Institute for Directors, says the government needs to back up its words in the Queen's Speech.

"“The Government is right to place deficit reduction and economic stability at the forefront of their programme. However, we need to see them pursued enthusiastically in practice, not just in principle. To restore business confidence, which is the real key to growth, there must be drastic measures to cut costly regulation and continue to tackle the deficit. Tweaking the edges of the system will not be enough – it’s not the number of Bills that matters, it’s what is in them that really counts.”"

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