Delivered by the Queen in her speech at the state opening of parliament, the government outlines its political priorities, promising to “bring different parts of the country together.”
The main priorities set out in the speech were:
The government will bring forward legislation for a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the European Union before the end of 2017, promising to “pursue reform of the EU for the benefit of all member states.”
The government has promised “to ensure that people on the national minimum wage, working up to 30 hours a week, do not pay income tax.” It also said it would enshrine in law a pledge not to raise income tax, VAT or national insurance rates for the next five years.
It will bring in a new requirement on ministers to report annually on job creation and apprenticeships.
The Conservative government has pledged to bring in a new Investigatory Powers Bill to “modernise the law on communications’ data”. In 2013 a Communications Data Bill – labelled a “snoopers’ charter” by critics, was shelved due to opposition from Lib Dem ministers within the coalition government.
The government insists that because the law is not keeping up with technological developments the ability of intelligence agencies to track illegl activity by terrorists, paedophiles and other criminals has been compromised.
Promising to “bring different parts of the country together”, the government will bring in laws to allow increased devolution to cities which agree to having a “metro mayor”.
It also pledged to “secure a strong and lasting constitutional settlement, devolving wide-ranging powers to Scotland and Wales”, promising to work with devolved administrations “on the basis of mutual respect.”
The government’s enthusiasm for costly infrastructure upgrades was underlined with its pledge to continue to “legislate for high-speed rail links between the different parts of the country”.
Promising to change the workings of the House of Commons, the government pledged to “create fairer procedures to ensure that decisions affecting England, or England and Wales, can be taken only with the consent of the majority of Members of Parliament representing constituencies in those parts of our United Kingdom”.
In the wake of the 2014 Scottish Referendum, David Cameron pledged action on the question of English votes for English laws, to address the anomaly that Scottish and Welsh MPs can vote on matters only affecting English voters, but English MPs cannot do the same in reverse.
Measures will be brought forward “to help working people by greatly increasing the provision of free childcare”. The Conservative Party manifesto promised to give working parents of three and four-year-olds in England 30 hours of free childcare for 38 weeks a year (matching school terms).
At present the government funds 15 hours each week for this group, and experts say that even this amount is already underfunded.
Controversial plans to allow housing association tenants rights to buy their home will be introduced. Ministers have insisted that any home sold must be replaced by a the local council on a one-for-one basis.
But critics say the policy will mean the amount of affordable social housing will decrease over time. The National Housing Federation has described the policy as “like trying to fill a bathtub with the plug taken out.”
The government promised new laws to reform trade unions and to protect essential public services against strikes. Its plans to make going on strike more difficult by requiring that 50 per cent of the members must take part in a strike ballot and 40 per cent of those who do vote must back any strikes in public services such as health, education, fire and transport.
Union leaders have been quick to point out that the government came into office with just 36.9 per cent of the popular vote in the general election.
The government promised a new Psychoactive Substance Bill, to “ban the new generation of psychoactive drugs” and crack down on head shops which sell them. Producers and suppliers of “legal highs” could face up to seven years in prison, but the personal possession of such drugs will not be targeted by the new law.
Promising to implement the five-year-plan set out by the NHS, the government said it would increase the health budget, integrate health and social care, and ensure the NHS works on a seven-day-a-week basis. It also pledged measures to improve access to GPs and to mental health care.
An increase in the number of academies is looking likely, with new measures to speed up the process of taking over failing schools. In addition schools that are currently thought to be “coasting” rather than working to increase standards, face being taken over too.
The Conservative manifesto promise of a British Bill of Rights – to replace the Human Rights Act – has been kicked into the long grass for the time being, with the government promising to “bring forward proposals” on the issue. The government is facing strong opposition to the idea from within its own party, both in the Commons and the Lords.
There was no mention of a plan to scrap the fox hunting ban.
Charities that had campaigned for strengthened laws on tax dodging were disappointed that no such legislation was mentioned in today’s speech, but the government’s promise to “seek effective global collaboration” to tackle climate change, was welcomed.