WHEN will the day come that the Queen actually uses her so-called Queen's
Speech at the Opening of Parliament to her own advantage and tells the assembled Lords and Commons that she will not be doing it any more? There is no reason, of course, to abolish the formal Opening ceremony in order to maintain a link with the past, but why does she have to continue to act as a ventriloquist's doll mouthing policies that are none of her own business? This year the political impact of the Queen's Speech has been much reduced by Gordon Brown's decision on taking office in July to publish a draft legislative programme containing the main Bills that he intended to introduce in the first phase of his administration. These were all to be found in the Queen's Speech yesterday and so the main interest was to see if anything significant had been added. Not much, although measures to strengthen protection of depositors in banks and building societies was an obvious late entry. It also became clearer just how much parliamentary time will have to be devoted to the European Union Reform Treaty Bill if it is to get sufficient detailed consideration by MPs to quell the calls for a referendum. Altogether 29 Bills were foreshadowed by the Prime Minister, a sizeable legislative programme and, as always, the key sentence, Other measures will be laid before you provided for any others that may prove to be necessary. As always the difficulty is to determine whether a single overarching theme or purpose can be seen in such a programme. Themes that stand out are: legislation that will help the young citizen, especially in education and housing; strengthening of powers to fight terrorism (although the expected doubling of the 28-day period without charge was not mentioned); further efforts to improve National Health provision including the creation of a Care Quality Commission with powers to inspect hospitals. Apart from the EU Reform Treaty one of the most contentious proposals is likely to be the creation of a new Homes and Communities Agency to bring land and housing issues together. Something of the kind is certainly needed but simplifying the planning system to speed planning decisions is likely to be highly controversial. Yet without it, how can the target of three million new homes by 2020 be considered realistic? THE debate immediately following the formalities yesterday took a familiar pattern. Mr Brown set out his stall without much flair and Mr Cameron said that he was weak and, anyway, all his policies had been pinched from the Conservatives. It was left to the Liberal Democrats to question whether the Government's programme had taken sufficient account of environmental issues including global warning. It has to be remembered that the Queen's Speech is concerned only with new legislation; it is not a State of the Nation overview and for that reason may seem to be lacking in some areas. This is another reason why themes and visions are not really to be found on this occasion. If there was one lurking in the small print of Mr Brown's statement yesterday it was probably aspiration in the sense of the government's own efforts to rise to the expectations of the public.
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