Lords reform overshadows Queen's Speech 2012

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Members of the Lords, their existence threatened by this Queen's Speech, watch the monarch deliver her address to parliament
Members of the Lords, their existence threatened by this Queen's Speech, watch the monarch deliver her address to parliament

The looming struggle over Lords reform is overshadowing bills intended to "restore economic stability" in the Queen's Speech.

Despite a range of measures on family life and economic stability, many Tory MPs are deeply opposed to the constitutional reforms included in the speech.

MPs and peers gathered in the Lords this morning to hear the monarch reveal the coalition's second wave of legislation, which would be dominated by a focus on "economic growth, justice and constitutional reform".

David Cameron and Nick Clegg want attention to be on bills designed to boost a recovery from the double-dip recession currently blighting Britain.


Much of the coalition's first midterm parliamentary session will also address traditional Conservative policy areas. A number of bills addressing criminal justice issues and those affecting family life were featured in the Queen's Speech.

Tory backbenchers' approval at these measures may be outweighed by their opposition to reform of the Lords, however, which is set to take up the most of parliament's time in the next year.

The coalition's determination to make parliament's upper House an elected chamber is threatening to prompt rebellions among both MPs and peers, setting up the prospect of a massive constitutional struggle that could overshadow the government's economic agenda in the months to come.

Legislating the recovery

Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers are planning on pushing a series of bills aimed at helping Britain recover from the double-dip recession through the Lords and Commons in the next 12 months.

Inspections of businesses and other "unnecessary" regulation will be scrapped, competition law will be reworked to "promote enterprise" and a Green Investment Bank will be established to help achieve the coalition's ambition of rebalancing Britain's economy.

"My ministers' first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability," the Queen told parliamentarians gathered in the Lords for the state opening of parliament.

Other changes include a wholesale reform of the electricity market, a draft bill reforming the water industry in England and Wales and more legislation will be pushed through "to modernise the pension system" - including public service pensions.

In their introduction to the Queen's Speech, prime minister Mr Cameron and deputy prime minister Mr Clegg stated: "The primary task of the government remains ensuring 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."

Legislation to reform the banking sector will also be pushed through, as will a move to establish an independent adjudicator "to ensure supermarkets deal fairly and lawfully with suppliers".

Pandering to Tory MPs?

The Queen also outlined a number of bills which will be welcomed by Conservative MPs keen to see reforms more obviously associated with their party than with those of their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg said they wanted to "continue to reward responsibility in society" through these changes.

A children and families bill will make parental leave more flexible to help both the mother and father "share parenting responsibilities and balance work and family commitments". The legislation will also reform support for children in family law cases.

A crime and courts bill is set to be the centrepiece of the coalition's criminal justice reforms. This will establish a National Crime Agency, uniting efforts to tackle border security and serious and organised crime.

The courts service will also be reformed, oversight of the security and intelligence agencies will be "strengthened" and defamation laws will be updated and reformed.

Civil libertarians are set to be outraged by moves to expand the government's online 'snooping' abilities, by making mobile and internet firms store more "vital communications data", however.

Trouble in store over Lords reform

The biggest single fight the coalition has on its hands in parliament will undoubtedly be over its House of Lords reform bill, which seeks to make 80% of the second chamber elected.

The legislation is likely to be fiercely opposed by members of the current Lords, which could force the Commons to use the Parliament Act to force its will on bitterly opposed peers.

That could cause problems for ministers as sizeable opposition from the Conservative backbenches is also expected. The government could be forced to rely on Labour support, which would probably only be provided if ministers conceded a referendum on the matter.

Under the details of the bill announced today the reformed Lords would use the single transferable vote system, with members representing large regional multi-member 'constituencies'. Current members of the Lords would leave in stages rather than all at once. The peerage would become an honour with no constitutional significance.

Ministers will also push a number of other constitutional reforms through parliament in the next year.

Individual voter registration will replace the current system of household registration, parliament will approve the establishment of a financial stability mechanism among eurozone countries and moves to reform the auditing of local public bodies will be brought forward.

Looking beyond Britain's borders

The Queen concluded her speech by giving an assessment of the state of Britain's changing foreign policy.

In addition to reaffirming the pledge to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development aid by 2013 and working towards "the extension of political and economic freedom in countries in transition", she said the government would also "build strategic partnerships with the emerging powers".

Coalition ministers have been pursuing growing economies like Brazil, Russia, India and China over their first two years in power.

Foreign secretary William Hague is seeking to intensify Britain's economic and political connections with countries in Latin America, Africa, the Gulf and the Asia-Pacific region. The government will use Britain's presidency of the G8 in 2013 to boost its presence on the world stage.

The Queen concluded with the traditional ending to the monarch's Speech, that "other measures will be laid before you" - paving the way for additional, as-yet unspecified legislation to be included over the next 12 months. 

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