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27 May 2015

Queen’s Speech sets Conservative government course

Queen’s Speech sets Conservative government course

Today's official state opening of parliament sees the government lay out a comprehensive 26-bill package, outlining plans for everything from an EU referendum to reducing income tax and providing support for buying a home.

In the first Conservative-only Queen's Speech in nearly two decades, Prime Minister David Cameron had the chance to show the country what he can do with a Conservative majority –to the delight of some and the consternation of others.

This speech was touted by the Conservatives as a programme for working people, which will "bring our country together" and "provide "security and opportunity for everyone".

In our recent politics survey, respondents said the most important issues to them were poverty and inequality. Unfortunately the speech offers little in the way of addressing this.

It comes as no surprise that an EU referendum by the end of 2017 is included in the package. Prior to the Queen's Speech, Cameron announced that EU citizens living in the UK wouldn't be able to vote on the referendum to determine whether we stay in the EU or not.

During the election Cameron said workers paid enough tax and he would focus on reducing the deficit through other means, such as tackling tax dodging and making further cuts to welfare.

With this in mind, the government will ban increases on income tax, VAT and national insurance for the next five years.

Workers will no doubt be relieved to hear that more money won't be taken out of their pocket, however, it is a fine balancing act to ensure that welfare cuts don't unduly impact on families and children and it remains to be seen if this government can successfully walk that fine line.

Plans to scrap the Human Rights Act have been delayed in order to avoid a potential confrontation with Conservative backbenchers. Instead the government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights to replace the Humans Rights Act. This legislation is expected to be introduced following a consultation.

The introduction of a British Bill of Rights has massive implications for our society in every way. The Alliance will be monitoring this closely and speaking into the debate at every opportunity. We have serious concerns about what this means in terms of defining values, morals and many other aspects of life which we feel is inappropriate for the government to determine, particularly without rigorous and proper consultation which is very likely to be the case.

In the coming months we will urge you all to get involved in this conversation and let your MP know what you think about this crucial piece of law that will impact greatly on our day to day lives.

Housing was a hot topic during the election and featured heavily in each of the parties' campaigns. Today's speech delivers on the Conservatives promise to extend the to 1.3 million housing association tenants in England.

Working families will receive financial support through the Childcare Bill, which will increase the provision of free childcare. While it's good to see the government provide support to parents who choose to work it is disappointing that no support is given to parents who choose or wish to remain at home.

This policy reflects a values system that places greater value on economic output rather than valuing and supporting parents to make the choice that is best for them.

In an effort to tackle extremism the government will introduce the Extremism Bill, which will cover the broadcasting of extremist material, strengthening Ofcom, banning orders for extremist organisations who use hate speech in public places and new policing powers. This bill does raise concerns about the impact to freedom of speech, so we will be advocating for an assurance that free speech will be upheld.

Other proposals include tighter controls on immigration, a blanket ban on so-called legal highs, modernising the law on communication data and banning strike action unless 40 per cent of all eligible union members vote in favour of industrial action.

Cameron has seen his party's recent election victory as the mandate to continue on the path they believe will see Britain grow and flourish.

The speech's packed programme and many significant proposals reflects this confidence. Whether we agree with the detail of the speech or not, the most concerning issue is the overall aims of this government.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph about his first 100 days in office, Cameron said his goal is "a permanent measure to re-write not just the laws of this country, but the values of this country."

This raises serious questions about the role of government for a start, as well as who determines these values and how they are determined.

Background

The State Opening of Parliament is a ceremonial event that happens on the first day of a new parliamentary session or shortly after a general election. It begins with the Queen's procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, escorted by the Household Cavalry and sees her read the Queen's Speech from the Throne in the House of Lords.

Although the Queen reads the speech, it is written by the government. It contains an outline of its policies and proposed legislation for the new parliamentary session.

After the Queen's Speech a new parliamentary session starts and Parliament gets back to work. Members of both Houses debate the content of the speech and agree an 'Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Gracious Speech'. Each House continues the debate over the planned legislative programme for several days, looking at different subject areas. The Queen's Speech is voted on by the Commons, but no vote is taken in the Lords.

Traditions surrounding State Opening and the delivery of a speech by the monarch can be traced back as far as the 16th century. The current ceremony dates from the opening of the rebuilt Palace of Westminster in 1852 after the fire of 1834.