Queen Elizabeth II Attends The State Opening Of Parliament. Photo: Getty Images
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Queen’s speech at a glance

A round-up of the legislative agenda announced for the coalition's last Parliament.

PENSIONS

The pension reforms are the centrepiece of the Coalition’s last legislative programme. The first bill introduces collective defined pension contributions, popular in Canada and the Netherlands.

The second lays out pensioners’ new freedoms, allowing them to withdraw cash freely from their pension pots and making the purchase of annuities optional rather than mandatory.

Drawn up by pensions minister Steve Webb, the reforms will be seen as chiefly Lib Dem offerings. Since this pensions overhaul was announced in the budget in March, the Coalition has left itself open to Labour’s charge that it is presiding over a “zombie Parliament” that makes few new laws.

 

CHILDREN

A bill introducing free childcare of up to £2,000 a year for parents of children under 12, which was set out earlier this year.

 

PLANNING AND INFRASTRUCTURE

New legislation relaxing planning laws and empowering new locally led garden cities to provide housing.

High-value government land is to be sold off to encourage development and increase housing provision. Help to Buy promoted in the speech, despite recent Bank of England warnings about its contribution to an over-heating housing market.

Reforms to speed up infrastructure projects, including new freedoms for the Highways Agency.

 

FRACKING

Modification of trespass laws to allow fracking companies access to run shale gas pipelines deep under private land without getting prior permission.

 

MODERN SLAVERY

Setting out terms of reparations from traffickers to victims of slavery, compensating exploitation and loss of dignity.

 

CORPORATE OWNERSHIP

Increasing the disqualification period for directors who neglect their responsibilities and break the law, and introducing compensation for victims.

The bill will also introduce a public register of beneficial ownership. Shares which do not reveal the owner – so-called "bearer shares" – are to be scrapped and new restrictions on corporate directors, the practice of naming companies rather than people as directors.

 

SERIOUS CRIMES

New measures against child neglect, and powers to disrupt criminal gangs and strengthen powers to seize the proceeds of organised crime.

 

MP RECALL

Empowering constituents to recall an MP found guilty by the standards committee of breaching the members’ code of conduct. First promised by ministers in 2010 in a bid to curb public outrage at MPs who kept their seats despite involvement in the expenses scandal in 2009. Recalled MPs will face a by-election.

  

HEROISM

Legal protection for individuals who act heroically, responsibly or for the benefit of others. Courts to take such actions, performed in good faith, into account and “heroic” individuals to be safeguarded from negligence claims.

 

SMALL BUSINESS

Promise to cut red tape and help small businesses access finance. The bill will force ministers to set and report a deregulation target for each Parliament.

 

PUBS

Introduction of a new statutory code and dispute adjudicator for pub landlords.

 

EMPLOYMENT

High penalties on employers who fail to pay their staff the minimum wage. Reduction in employment tribunal delays and improvement in fairness of contracts for low paid workers pledged.

Legislation to tackle avoidance of national insurance contributions and simplify collection from the self employed.

 

LIMIT ON PUBLIC SECTOR PAYOUTS

Preventing highly-remunerated NHS executives and civil servants from taking redundancy and then going back to the same place of work within a year. 

 

SCHOOLS AND EDUCATION

 

All children to receive free school meals. Help for more schools in England to become academies. GCSE and A level reform to raise standards in schools and prepare school pupils for employment.

Raising the number of apprenticeships to 2 million by the end of the Parliament.

 

... AND THE REST

SCOTLAND:  More financial powers to be granted to Holyrood.

WALES: The Welsh government given greater powers over taxation and investment.

ARMED FORCES WATCHDOG: Creation of an ombudsman to handle complaints in the armed forces.

PLASTIC BAGS: 5p charge for bags, as announced at Lib Dem conference last year

PARKS: Direct elections to national park authorities in England.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.