The last ten years have been a period of austerity in Government...
This was Her Majesty’s 62nd Queen’s Speech with which she opened the new Parliament and set out the government’s legislative programme for the next year. The Conservative election manifesto made most of its contents predictable. The message the Prime Minister wants us to believe is that his government will “adopt a one nation approach, helping working people get on, supporting aspiration and bringing different parts of the country together.” What will this mean in legislative terms?
First, it means managing the economy to reduce the deficit and create two million more jobs to achieve full employment. Governments don’t create many jobs, especially if they want to cut public expenditure, so they have to create conditions that enable businesses to do so. An Enterprise Bill will cut red tape to help small businesses to grow and employ more people. Increasing provision of free child care will free more parents of young children to work. Another Bill will seek to protect public services from strikes by raising the bar that trade unions must achieve before they can call their members out.
A "One Nation" approach has to touch the poor as well as the better off. A Bill to exclude anyone working 30 hours a week on the minimum wage from paying income tax will help. It will be aligned with the personal tax allowance which is to rise in stages to £12,500. The same legislation will ensure no increases in Income tax rates, VAT or National Insurance in the next five years.
Devolution was an inevitable theme and the programme includes five Bills to devolve powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as English metropolitan cities which opt to have directly elected Mayors like London. These Mayors will be given powers relating to housing, transport, planning and policing. The fifth Bill will seek to reserve to MPs representing English constituencies matters that only affect England. That will be popular with Conservative backbenchers but could exacerbate nationalist sentiments and threaten the future of the UK.
Other potentially divisive items include the Referendum Bill, an Immigration Bill and an Investigatory Powers Bill. The latter will seek to strengthen the government’s powers to detect and stop terrorist plots, criminal networks and child-grooming gangs. Desirable though these objectives are human rights zealots will demand measures to increase the accountability of those exercising these powers.
Just as controversial will be legislation to replace the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights. The existing Act incorporates the European Convention on Human rights into English Law which has allowed the European Court of Human Rights to overrule UK courts and block the deportation of people like Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza. Opponents of a new Bill include some influential Conservatives so all the Speech promises is that proposals will be brought forward, presumably for consultation, with a Bill to follow in next year’s Speech.
The "One Nation" theme is not new. There have been One Nation Conservatives for many years. Ed Miliband used the same theme in his last party conference speech. It remains to be seen whether it can be delivered by this government. It is certainly worthy of our prayers.