Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Queen's Speech - what the Liberal Democrats brought to the table

So, the Crown has headed back to the Tower, the Queen has left he building and all the pomp and ceremonial  of the State Opening of Parliament is over for another year. It always strikes me that it must take ages to get everyone in their finery and yet the whole thing is over in less than an hour.
There is much to cheer Liberal Democrats in the planned measures.
  • Lords Reform
  • Green Investment Bank
  • Libel Reform
  • Giving shareholders a vote on directors' remuneration
  • Flexible parental leave - the measure Nick Clegg's championed to give families the choices that work for them by allowing parents to divide leave entitlements between them whereas now the mother is entitled to a year's leave, the father just two weeks.
  • Meeting the 0.7% target for overseas aid
  • Reform of the State Pension, driven by Steve Webb
  • Establishing a Groceries Adjudicator to ensure the big supermarkets treat their suppliers fairly
  • Banking reform as championed by Vince Cable
  • Reform of electricity markets - especially on fair pricing
  • Continued progress towards reforming succession so that girls have equal rights to boys, as championed by Lynne Featherstone
These issues, all or in part, would not be happening without the Liberal Democrats in Government.
There will be some elements of the forthcoming legislation which will cause anxiety for Liberal Democrats. Some will worry about the effects of public sector pension reform, others about the legislation for secret courts which Liberty has been campaigning against. Dilution of employment rights, although it doesn't go anywhere near as far as the Tories wanted, will not go down well with Liberal Democrats who already feel it's too easy for employers to treat workers badly.

Had it not been for the intervention of the Liberal Democrats, the Government would be introducing immediate legislation allowing surveillance of internet communication. After a furious reaction from the Party last month, this has been demoted to draft legislation, giving a longer period for scrutiny. This is a key civil liberties issue for the Liberal Democrats, one which unites the party and which prompted 15 MPs to write to the press saying they would oppose the plans. Unless the legislation contains all the safeguards deemed necessary by Julian Huppert on Liberal Democrat Voice last month,  there will be great disquiet within the Party. This battle is far from over.

Other measures in the Queen's Speech include more help for disabled children and support for them within the family courts system along with more powers for the Children's Commissioner. There will also be a draft bill on adult social care, a controversial issue where achieving a consensus is vital.
While it may suit the Tories to keep the news agenda focused on Lords Reform and equal marriage (which was never going to be in the Queen's Speech given the fact that the consultation is still going on), there is no getting away from the fact that the Liberal Democrats have come up with many of the measures which will make people's lives easier and tackle vested interests.

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