LONDON May 9 Britain's coalition government
proposed to streamline employment laws and reform business
regulation in new legislative plans on Wednesday, but critics
said ministers were shrinking from taking bolder action to drag
the economy out of recession.
The broad parliamentary programme, disclosed according to
tradition by Queen Elizabeth, will also split banks into retail
and investment arms, reform the upper house of parliament and
the utility market and create a "green investment bank".
The coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats,
struggling after just two years in power to push through deep
spending cuts with an economy back in recession, has come under
fire for failing to kickstart growth and job creation.
"My ministers' first priority will be to reduce the deficit
and restore economic stability," said the Queen at the start of
the speech written for her by the government and delivered in
the red-and-gold splendour of the House of Lords.
She was addressing an audience of seated Lords in wigs and
fur-lined robes and elected members of the lower House of
Commons, standing at the back in suits, in an elaborate ritual
reflecting the British parliament's long and tumultuous history.
"Jubilee year, double dip recession - what a start," quipped
veteran left-wing Labour parliamentarian Dennis Skinner as the
ceremony got under way. The Queen this year celebrates her
Diamond Jubilee, meaning she has spent 60 years on the throne.
The legislation she outlined is expected to ringfence the
finance industry's riskier operations from everyday retail
banking and bring forward an increase in the state pension age.
The plans also included a pledge to reform laws surrounding
defamation, a nod to Britain's reputation as destination for
foreign "libel tourists" seeking an easy win, and a
controversial move to boost digital surveillance.
"So far all this seems like shuffling deck chairs on the
Titanic. They really don't seem to be doing anything to do with
the economy," said Sam Bowman of free-market thinktank the Adam
TACKLING THE LORDS
Many of the government's ambitions for this year have been
widely trailed, leaving ministers little ammunition to fight
back after a drubbing in local council elections last week.
Tensions between the coalition parties have made it hard for
Prime Minister David Cameron to deliver a more right-wing
agenda, as demanded by a vociferous wing of his own party.
"I wish he'd played a harder ball game but I recognise that,
if our first task is to reduce the deficit and eventually cut
the public sector debt, then he's got to be in government to do
that," Conservative lawmaker Brian Binley told Reuters.
Plans to reform the unelected House of Lords to make it more
democratic and accountable have been kicking around for the last
century but have never fully materialised.
Critics say that many Lords, as well as members of the
Commons who hope to be appointed Lords after they step down, are
opposed to reforming the chamber because of self-interest.
The Lords are a mix of politically appointed peers,
hereditary nobles and bishops. Their role is to complement the
work of the Commons in making laws and scrutinising the
government, but the Commons has primacy over the Lords.
For the Liberal Democrats, the junior partner in the
Conservative-led coalition, Lords reform is an article of faith
though many in Cameron's ranks are fiercely opposed to the
reform plans as they stand.
"This move will substantially cut the number of peers and
allow the people to elect 80 per cent of the second chamber. I
firmly believe that those making the laws should be accountable
to the people and not given a seat by some ancient right," said
Lib Dem lawmaker Julian Huppert.