Queens Speech 2014: not-quite-a-zombie Parliament
With a year to go until the general election and the Coalition Agreement all but exhausted, it was long predicted that this year’s Queen’s Speech would be light on content. Commentators and politicians alike have been predicting a ‘zombie’ Parliament, with limited legislation stretched to fill the long months before next May.
However, to some extent today’s speech has defied those expectations. While no one can argue we are in for the most exciting Parliament on record, there were a number of Bills announced today that should hopefully keep both MPs and us here at Connect busy over the next few months. The two pensions bills, one to introduce the changes to annuities announced at the last Budget and another to introduce ‘defined ambition’ collective pension schemes, both represent fairly significant changes that will require detailed consideration in Parliament. The new Infrastructure Bill, containing a number of changes to the planning system as well as reforms to the Highways Agency and increased powers for the Homes and Communities Agency, should also prove a key area of debate.
But we should not get too excited; while the pensions and infrastructure measures should prove of interest, today’s speech also contained some very thin Bills that give weight to the argument that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have run out of policies they agree on. The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, aside from having one of the sillier names in recent years, is a prime example. The Bill proposes legal protections for those who are sued after intervening in emergencies or acting to protect the safety of others – a noble ambition but a whole Bill on it looks a lot like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.
There were also some Bills notable by their absence. It had been rumoured that today’s speech would include a Communications Bill to introduce a number of changes to Ofcom’s remit, and a Security Industries Bill to introduce long-awaited reforms to the regulation of the UK’s private security industry, but neither made it into the speech. Similarly, some Bills that were included have been watered down and met with a hostile reception. The much heralded Recall of MPs Bill, designed to let voters trigger a by-election if they’re unhappy with their MP, was immediately criticised by Tory MP, and keen advocate of reform, Zac Goldsmith, who argued that the Bill’s criteria for triggering recall “are so narrow that it’s virtually meaningless.”
Overall, today’s speech was slightly more interesting than many were expecting but concern remains that we are in for a rather dull Parliamentary session.