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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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.