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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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.