“There is a growing list of things that I want to do but can’t, which will form the basis of the Conservative manifesto that I will campaign for right up and down the country”
Prime Minister David Cameron, The Daily Mail, 9 May 2012
It was a short Queen’s Speech, and for some not a very sweet one – with the government taking a beating for making no mention of some key policies.
David Cameron put forward an early defence ahead of the speech in today’s Daily Mail, blaming the Liberal Democrats for holding him back. The PM singled out some key sticking points including human rights law, reform of the workplace rights and tax breaks for married couples.
A spokesman for the Lib Dems agreed that the party had blocked all the things highlighted by Mr Cameron in his Daily Mail To Do List. Put simply he said: “They are not Liberal”.
He added: “The Tories need to remember they didn’t win the election”. Picking the points off at high speed, he said the Lib Dems think the Human Rights law should remain, that they agree with elements of the reform of Workplace Rights but think the ability to fire goes too far; and finally they don’t think it is necessary for married couples to be recognised by the tax system.
But the disagreement doesn’t stop there, the PM’s man told us: “You only need to look at the difference between the Tory and Lib Dem manifestos, and the coalition agreement”.
All of which goes some way to explain the fact only 19 new pieces of legislation were announced for the year ahead – and four of those just in draft form.
But were they left out because of the coalition falling out, or is there more to it? FactCheck looks at what was missing in the Speech and why.
1. Same Sex Marriage
The plan to allow gay marriage was announced with “much hoopla” in the run-up to the election, said Ben Sommerskill, the chief executive of gay rights campaign group Stonewall. But with no mention of it today, he expressed his disappointment adding: “We trust that the extension of the legal form of marriage to gay people isn’t going to turn into a ‘tuition fees’ issue”.
But FactCheck notes that this bill was never due to go into this year’s Speech. It does have Lib Dem support – in fact it has complete cross-party support. But it is still in a consultation period which doesn’t end until next month. Legislation has been promised for 2015.
2. Recall of MPs
New laws to allow voters to oust rule-breaking MPs were promised in the Coalition Agreement. It pledged to “bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall” for MPs. Yet two years on and there’s still no sign of the pledge to allow voters to force a by-election if an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing.
Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, a prominent supporter of the policy, was quick to call the bill’s omission. He laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Lib Dems, tweeting: “Dropping Recall (& all reference to direct democracy)… & wasting time instead on Lords reform that won’t happen. Great legacy for the LDs”.
Amid a flurry of tweets, Mr Goldsmith said ministers had already panicked into watering down the proposals, adding: “how can Govt expect to ‘rebuild trust’ if it so casually drops key promises?” he added.
“The Govt’s Recall plans were a grotesque distortion of true Recall. But they could have been improved by backbenchers,” the MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston wrote.
The Labour leader reminded the PM today that back in 2010 he said that “lobbying is the next big scandal waiting to happen”.
Mr Miliband asked: “What has happened to something which used to be a big priority of the Prime Minister?”.
The government recently completed a consultation on this – around the time of the resignation of Jeremy Hunt’s Special Adviser for getting too close to the lobbyist working for News International.
FactCheck repeated Mr Miliband’s question to Number 10 and it told us that the government is due to publish a response to the consulation “shortly”. But Number 10 also pointed out that the commitment was to legislate within the next parliament, by 2015, and was never expected in today’s speech.
4. Care for the elderly
Ed Miliband called it ““one of the biggest omissions” from the Queen’s Speech. “There is no bigger challenge facing families up and down the country than care for elderly relatives. And there was no clearer promise from this government than that they would legislate on this,” he told the Commons.
The Lib Dems agreed that care was in urgent need of reform, telling us it was a “ticking time bomb”. But this time the Tories have been blamed. The Lib Dems said the Tories “walked away” from a cross party agreement. The bill still needs cross-party consensus which is why it only made it into the Speech in draft form.
Age UK charity’s director general, Michelle Mitchell, said: “A draft bill on social care is some progress but a full bill would have been so much better. As it is, this means no legislation for at least a year to drive the reform of social care law and funding that we desperately need.”
Simon Gillespie, Chair of the Care and Support Alliance, was more damning, adding: “The government has effectively broken its promise to introduce legislation to sort out social care in the second session of parliament, and failed to grasp the urgency of tackling a crisis that is currently condemning too many older or disabled people to a miserable existence.”
5. High-speed rail
The hybrid bill needs to be in place before the controversial HS2 train line can be built in 2016; but as far was we can see it was never expected this year.
Some maintain that the Conservatives have avoided putting the bill to a vote so far because they are worried about Tory MPs whose constituencies will be affected by the construction work rebelling against the government.
But as early as February 2011, when the HS2 consultation was launched, the government’s said that a bill would not be presented to parliament until 2013.
When the final decision on HS2 was announced in January this year, the government firmed the date up as “late 2013”.
So why this is being spun as a “delay” is a little hard to fathom.
6. Foreign Aid budget
There was bitter talk of “betrayal” from Christian Aid after it emerged that the government, while meeting Labour’s target of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid, would go back on the promise to “enshrine this commitment in law”.
The idea of changing the law to ring-fence the overseas aid budget was first put forward by Labour, and both the Lib Dems and the Tories supported it while in opposition.
There have been voices of dissent since then, including the Lords economic affairs committee, who published a critical report on the idea in March this year. More importantly for Mr Cameron, a number of Conservative backbenchers have come out against the idea.
There were also signs that public opinion may be against the idea at a time of spending cuts in every other part of government. In a YouGov poll last year, 56 per cent were against ring-fencing the aid budget compared to 24 per cent in favour.
Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell had been the chief cheerleader for a new aid bill, but he appeared to acknowledge the political difficulties in February when he said: “The British public would not think it was sensible for us to bring forward declaratory legislation ahead of vital legislation for our economic recovery.”
The official government position is that “the bill is ready and will be introduced when parliamentary time allows”.
The Lib Dems don’t appear to be hopping mad about delays to something that could prove tricky to sell to the electorate. A spokesman told FactCheck the party was “slightly disappointed” there was no legislation announced, but said there was “no concern” that it won’t happen eventually, suggesting there is little sense of urgency outside Mr Mitchell’s department to see the bill made law.
But the overwhelming likelihood is that a Conservative crisis of confidence is ultimately to blame for the delay.
Mr Cameron is wrong to lay all the blame on the Lib Dems for his growing To Do list. As far as the key bills we’ve outlined above are concerned (there will be others) only the omission of the recall of MPs can be laid at their door.
And as for the Tories, it looks like they are to blame for the delay in legislating the foreign aid commitment.
Despite Mr Miliband’s damning tones, the other bills were never due to be announced today anyway.
There was one surprise: the Lords Reform Bill WAS included. But whether it will become law is another matter – all three parties had reform of the Lords in their manifesto, but now only the Lib Dems seem keen on it. But Labour is asking for a referendum as the price for backing it and Cameron has his angry back benchers and Peers to cope with, so it could well end up on the back burner.
By Emma Thelwell and Patrick Worrall