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State Opening of Parliament: The Queen’s Speech 2012

May 9, 2012 2:54 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

These reforms will help build a sustainable future for our country. The Coalition Government's plans will offer help and support to families, small businesses and communities, protect the environment, as well as reaffirming our commitment to helping the poorest nations.

In 2010, Liberal Democrats joined the Coalition Government to act in the long-term national interest. Our most urgent task was to tackle the record deficit left to us by Labour and we're continuing this work today.

We have already made some tough choices, and we will continue to make sure we keep spending down so, unlike the rest of Europe, families can benefit from low interest rates and Britain is protected from the global debt storm.

The key themes from the 2012 Queen's Speech are:

  • Economic Growth
  • Justice
  • Constitutional reform

1. Banking Reform
This Bill reflects a longstanding record of Liberal Democrat action to reform the banking sector. It will deliver greater financial stability by finally separate retail banking, on which households and small business rely, from the more risky investment activity. This acts on the recommendations of the independent Vickers Commission. It will insulate personal finance from global financial shocks and make banks easier to resolve without taxpayer support.

2. Single Tier Pension
A flat-rate pension is simple, progressive and ensures women and low-paid workers in particular get a fair deal. Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for these reforms and they represent the most radical changes to the State Pension system in our lifetime: making it fairer and simpler for the next generation. Steve Webb's Single Tier Pension Bill achieves this by combining the basic State Pension and State Second Pension in to a single tier state pension, currently worth around £140 a week.

3. Parental Leave (Children and Families Bill)
The Coalition Government have previously announced proposals for a new system of flexible parental leave and an extended right to request flexible working. These changes are necessary to reflect modern family life but they also serve solid economic purposes. By extending an individual's ability to combine work and family life, fewer people will drop out of the labour market, losing their skills and prospects in the process.

4. Special Educational Needs (Children and Families Bill)
This will put Sarah Teather's work on improving support in schools for disabled children and children with special educational needs. The Bill will bring in a single, simple assessment procedure for 0-25 year olds. It will provide statutory protections up until 25 in further education, instead of cutting it off at 16 and give parents or young people the right to a personal budget. Lastly, it will require local authorities and health services to jointly plan and commission services for children and families.

5. Social Care
This is a draft Bill and will set out what support people could expect from Government and what action the Government would take to help them to plan, prepare and make informed choices about their care. These proposals will deliver on the Liberal Democrat commitment to modernise care, allow local authorities to fit services around needs and outcomes and give people greater choice by making it easier for people to plan for future care needs. This will finally bring together a patchwork of legislation dating back to the 1948 National Assistance Act, creating sustainable system for our ageing population.

6. Energy Bill
This Bill will support private sector investment in low-carbon power generation. This will help to provide greater security of energy supply, ensure lower consumer energy bills in the face of escalating world oil and gas prices and secure the Liberal Democrat commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. It will secure the estimated £110 billion of investment in power generation by 2020 creating thousands of jobs in all parts of the UK.

7. House of Lords
Reforming the House of Lords has been an historic commitment of the Liberal Democrats: our predecessors first proposed it when the Queen's grandfather was on the throne. While the Government rightly focuses on growth, that doesn't mean you can't reform politics at the same time. The case for reform is clear: in a democracy people should have power over politicians rather than give party leaders the power to stuff a chamber full of supporters.

The current situation is untenable:

  • The House of Lords is an overstocked chamber, where you're more likely to be older than 90 than under 40.
  • Just fifteen countries worldwide use appointment as the predominant means of selection to the upper house, including Jordan, Belize, Trinidad and Tabago, and Burkino Faso.
  • The only other country in the world where the hereditary element still exists is Lesotho.
  • Each member is entitled £300 for each day they attend. If everyone attends, the current cost would be almost £1m a week.

8. Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill
This is a Bill to get a fair deal for British farmers and to target 'Trolleygarchs' and help small business and independent traders. The independent adjudicator will ensure suppliers are treated fairly and lawfully by supermarkets.

9. Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
This Bill will deliver on a long-standing Liberal Democrat commitment by setting up the Green Investment Bank. It will also reform competition law by creating a single Competition and Markets Authority, take action on director's pay and reduce burdens on business by repealing unnecessary legislation.

10. Defamation Bill
This Bill will strengthen free speech and delivers on our manifesto commitment to reform libel laws. The bill will prevent Britain becoming a haven for 'libel tourism' and ensure that the threat of libel proceedings is not used to frustrate robust scientific and academic debate, or to impede responsible investigative journalism. It will also create a balance in the law - ensuring that people who are defamed are able to protect their reputation, but that free speech is not trampled on.

11. Justice and Security Bill
The Bill will strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. Last year, we published a Green Paper with a range of options including extending the existing use of closed proceedings in civil damages cases. Those claims cannot currently be heard there because of the quantity of national security sensitive information involved. We have listened carefully to the consultation responses and will publish a Bill in due course.

12. Draft Communications Data Bill
This Bill aims to maintain the ability of law enforcement agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards. There will be full pre-legislative scrutiny on communications data proposals before anything final or concrete is introduced. Though the format is still to be decided, there will be the chance to fully examine the proposals, to ensure that they are both necessary and proportionate, and to call expert witnesses from industry and civil liberties groups. It will also look at the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to see if the protections we have around the use of communications data are enough and how we might strengthen them.

13. Crime and Courts Bill
In addition to setting up the National Crime Agency, this Bill contains a marker for any legislation needed as a result of the consultation into community sentences. Our intention is to reform community sentences so that they are a genuine alternative to custody. This 'rehabilitation revolution' will extend the use of restorative justice and improve treatment for people with alcohol or drug addictions, or other mental health problems. It will also allow us to improve the flexibility of community sentences so that offenders can maintain an education, a job, or childcare duties while undertaking their punishment. The Bill will also reform the judiciary - making it more flexible, more diverse and appointments more transparent.

14. Draft Water Bill
This Bill will implement the reforms set out in the December 2011 Water White Paper. This will reform the water industry and deregulate markets to enable consumers to negotiate better services from the water companies. It also includes environmental measures such as new controls on abstracting water from rivers.

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