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Queen's speech: rolling back Labour's legacy

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 25 May 2010

As the Queen's speech announces a total 23 bills covering education, civil liberties, and constitutional reform, Gary Gibbon asks: could 5 May next year be the date for a referendum on a new voting system?

Queen giving her speech to Parliament (Credit: Getty)

The theme of the Queen's speech - in the words of David Cameron and Nick Clegg - is "Freedom, fairness and responsibility". But - coming from the first coalition government since World War II  - it inevitably has a feeling of compromise about it.

Take the Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill - one of the key early measures, designed to undo some of the work done by the previous Labour administrations. The Conservatives wanted a simple "Great Repeal Bill", while their Liberal Democrat partners favoured a "Freedom Bill" - so we end up with a mixture of the two.

The idea - according to Ministers - is to "reduce the weight of government imposition" on the general public. But at its heart is the debate over security and its effect on society.

Could 5 May 2011 be the day the voting system changes?
Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon blogs: "The Lib Dems in the government are hoping that 5 May 2011 will be the date for the referendum on a new voting system for Westminster."

"Three quarters of voters in the UK are already entitled to vote on that day. There are English local elections, and elections to devolved assemblies. Lib Dems in the government are pushing for this date."

Read Gary Gibbon's blog: Could May 5th 2011 be the day the voting system changes?

So the DNA database will be restricted, reducing the length of time details of individuals are held if they are cleared of any offence. Similarly, the storage of internet and e-mail records will be restricted and the use of CCTV more tightly regulated.

There will also be a repeal of some of the more controversial counter-terrorism laws introduced under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - though little detail of this has yet been released.

And there will be a separate Identity Documents Bill which will abolish identity cards and ensure the destruction of all personal information gathered for the National Identity Register.

More from Channel 4 News on the Queen's speech
- Queen's speech: live blog
- New government focuses on civil liberties
- Reducing UK debt at heart of Queen's speech
- Who Knows Who: the Queen, the PM, William IV and his mistress
- Queen's speech: nightmares past and present
- Peace protesters network with MPs
- Green MP's alternative Queen's speech

Constitutional reform
The Liberal Democrats have won some key measures of constitutional reform - not least the commitment to a referendum on the Alternative Vote electoral system. This system requires voters to rank candidates in their constituency in order of preference, with the candidates being eliminated on the basis of those with the fewest first preference votes until one achieves more than 50 per cent. If there is a vote in favour of this at the referendum, it could be introduced in time for the next general election.

To balance this, the Conservatives have won a commitment that the number of constituencies will be reduced - and their electorates made more equal - in time for the next election. This is likely to favour the Tories, who tend to represent bigger rural constituencies at the moment and thus require more votes for each MP they get elected.

One other measure - on which the party leaders were agreed but which could face opposition from all sides in the Commons - is the introduction of fixed-term parliaments, with a prime minister needing the support of at least 55 per cent of MPs before he can seek a dissolution of parliament before the end of its five-year term.

Another controversial measure will be that to reform the funding of political parties, but there will be an easier passage for a bill allowing voters to force a by-election if their MP is engaged in serious wrong-doing, by producing a petition signed by ten per cent of the constituency electorate.

A Decentralisation and Localism Bill will delegate more decision-making powers to local councils and communities, including key planning powers.

But two expected constitutional measures face a delay.

A Bill to reform the House of Lords, creating a second chamber which is "wholly or mainly elected on the basis of proportional representation", was always going to face opposition - not least in the Lords itself. The plans will now be referred to a committee, due to report back by the end of the year, before they are turned into legislation.

And there will be a draft Bill only on the issue of reforming parliamentary privilege, to allow further consultation on the issues involved.

While the Queen's Speech confirmed that the government's first priority would be to "reduce the deficit and restore economic growth", much economic management - including the ongoing pruning of public spending - will not require legislation. But there are some new laws planned.

The previously-announced creation of an independent Office for Budget Responsibility will take over the production of fiscal forecasts from the Treasury, while a Financial Reform Bill will see the Bank of England given responsibility for the regulation of banks and the City, with the future of the current regulator - the Financial Services Authority - still to be determined.

A National Insurance Contributions Bill will reverse the Labour government's plans to increase employers' National Insurance payments and pave the way for the raising of the earnings threshhold at which income tax is paid - another plan combining Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifesto proposals.

A Welfare Reform Bill will simplify the benefits system and increase the incentives on jobless people to find work.

While the link between earnings and state pensions will be restored from April 2011, the raising of the age to 66 from which the pension is paid is to be brought forward from the previoulsy proposed date of 2024 - possibly to 2016.

One of the earliest measures to be introduced will be the Academies Bill - allowing thousands of primary and secondary schools judged to be "outstanding" to be fast-tracked to academy status, taking them out of the control of local education authorities. The early action will mean that some schools will be able to open with new academy status from the start of the new school year in September.

The Bill will also pave the way for the introduction of free schools. A key feature of the Conservative manifesto, this measure will allow parents, teachers, charities, trusts and voluntary groups to be given state funding to set up and operate independent schools - free of state control, but funded by the taxpayer and non-fee paying.

Queen's Speech in numbers
The Queen has officially opened parliament 56 times
The total number of police required was 1,465
Troops from the Army, Navy & RAF totalled 744
There were 200 military horses outside parliament
The Queen's procession (on land) was staffed by 8 watermen
The Queen's Speech lasted 8 minutes and 18 seconds
Data from Buckingham Palace, Military Personnel Press HQ and the Met Police.

Other measures
The Queen's Speech contained a range of other measures, including the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail. A Postal Services Bill - similar to measures introduced by the Labour government, but withdrawn in the face of union opposition - will enable private companies and employees to buy shares in the company, although it will remain in public ownership. The idea is to raise more cash for much-needed reinvestment in the service. There will also be measures to tackle Royal Mail's huge pensions deficit.

A Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will provide for the election of "individuals" to run police authorities, The original term of "police commissioners" has been dropped, but the plan - a watered-down version of the Ameircan model - is still likely to be controversial.

As well as making the police more accountable, the Bill will also give them extra powers to remove the licences of bars and clubs which are the source of alcohol-related disorder and there will be a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost-price.

A dedicated Border Police Force will be created through the merger of the UK Border Agency and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency.

Under separate regulations, an annual quota on non-EU economic migrants will be introduced.

And - as widely trailed - there will be a European Union Bill pledging a referendum on any proposed new EU treaty or significant amendment to an existing treaty.

There will be an Energy Bill introducing measures to encourage householders and businesses to make their properties more energy efficient and setting up a green investment bank. It may also include measures to regulate carbon emissions from coal-fired power stations.

Among action not needing legislation were pledges to establish a commission on the funding of long-term care for the elderly and disabled, to build a high-speed rail network, to expedite the rollout of high-speed broadband across the country and to carry out a strategic defence and security review.

Live blog: Queen's speech

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