Prime Minister David Cameron dropped measures unpopular with his Tory lawmakers, including a minimum alcohol price and plain cigarette packaging, to focus on immigration and pensions in a bid to win back voters.
Announcing the coalition government’s plans in Parliament today for its last full legislative year before the 2015 election, Queen Elizabeth II set out 20 bills covering areas including energy markets, intellectual property, offshore gambling and consumer rights.
Smarting from local-election losses last week at the hands of the anti-immigration and anti-European Union U.K. Independence Party, Cameron and Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg offered Parliament a package of measures unlikely to provoke further rebellions from their own sides.
“This is about the strategy the Tories have developed for fighting the next election,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said in a telephone interview. “That, regardless of what happens to the economy, they will have a solid and, they hope, election-winning lead over Labour.”
Proposals to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol were attacked by both the drinks industry and Tory lawmakers as likely to hurt poorer consumers most. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said today his department is still assessing the evidence in favor of plain cigarette packets.
A plan to enshrine in law the U.K.’s commitment to spend 0.7 percent of gross domestic product on overseas aid was also abandoned, as ministers argued the development budget shouldn’t be protected at a time of expenditure cuts elsewhere.
Time is running out for ministers wishing to get bills through Parliament. The May 2015 election timetable will make passing legislation increasingly difficult as the coalition parties seek to emphasize their differences in voters’ minds.
The government will limit access to some state-provided benefits to migrants from the European Economic Area to six months as part of plans to cut welfare costs.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said that what the Tories are “obsessing about day in day out is Europe and UKIP.” He told lawmakers that Cameron’s party “used to call them clowns, now they want to join the circus.”
Having dropped an attempt to force Internet service providers to log e-mail traffic, the government said it will look again at how to help police dealing with criminal web-based communications including recording who was using particular Internet addresses at specific moments.
A gambling bill will force anyone operating in the U.K. to hold a British license and inform regulators of suspicious betting patterns.
“Three wasted years, today another wasted chance,” Miliband said. “A no-answers queen’s speech from a tired and failing government -- out of touch, out of ideas, standing up for the wrong people and unable to bring the change the country needs.”
In reply, Cameron attacked Miliband’s economic plans and said he’s too weak to stand up to his party’s treasury spokesman, Ed Balls. Miliband is the embodiment of a new doctrine that “the weak are a long time in politics,” Cameron said.
In other proposals announced today, private landlords will be forced to check the visa status of tenants or face fines of thousands of pounds to tackle fraudulent immigration to the U.K. The new immigration bill will also include the power to fine businesses found to be using illegal labor and to ensure temporary migrants make a contribution to the state-run health service.
The government also plans a bill to speed up the patent applications process and simplify intellectual-property rights for design companies.
An energy bill encouraging 110 billion pounds ($170 billion) of investment in the electricity industry and measures to guarantee power prices for renewable generators and nuclear plants will be introduced, alongside a bill that will make it easier for water companies to sell supplies to each other.
For the first time, legislation to support the construction of the HS2 high-speed rail link between London and the north of England will also be included in the government’s program. It will allow for the compulsory purchase of homes along the route.
A draft consumer-rights bill will be introduced, the monarch said. It’s designed to make sure consumer rights keep pace with technological advances, such as by protecting the quality of e-books and computer software.
A social-care bill capping costs for the elderly at 72,000 pounds and a pensions bill to create a flat-rate state pension to encourage savings and help women who have had career breaks to care for children or relatives will also be included in the government program. Small, dormant pension pots will be more easily transferable under the plans announced today.
Improvements to child-care provision to help working parents were also announced. The focus of children’s learning will be altered to concentrate on English, math and science and to make spelling and grammar a focus of examinations. Teachers’ pay will also be linked to performance under a new bill.