Cameron Cuts Dominate First Plan as Civil Liberties, Schools Overshadowed
Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to speed up measures to reduce the U.K.’s record budget deficit, as spending cuts overshadow a legislative program that includes bills on civil liberties and electoral reform.
Speaking in parliament after head of state Queen Elizabeth II outlined the first 18 months of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, Cameron blamed the former Labour government for the 156 billion-pound ($224 billion) shortfall.
“They gave us good spending; we will bring good housekeeping,” Cameron said. “This Queen’s speech marks an end to the years of recklessness and big government and the beginning of responsibility and good government.”
The Conservatives, out of power for 13 years, are faced with a mountain of debt, an economy limping out of recession and rising unemployment. Unable to score a majority in parliament in May 6 elections, Cameron also has been forced to form Britain’s first coalition since World War II.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne yesterday set out plans to save 6.2 billion pounds from government spending this year. He pledged to reduce the bulk of the deficit over the next five years and will outline more steps in a June 22 budget.
“The deficit is going to dominate the decisions they have yet to make,” said Bill Jones, professor of politics at Liverpool Hope University. “The Queen’s speech is largely irrelevant compared to the mountain of cuts in public spending that have yet to be confronted.”
Cameron’s program contains 22 bills and one draft bill as well as details on defense policy, transport, energy, the postal service and changes to the tax system. The first, on education, will appear before lawmakers tomorrow.
The plans are based on “the principles of freedom, fairness and responsibility,” the Queen said earlier today on behalf of the new administration as part of the traditional way of convening of parliament. “The first priority is to reduce the deficit and restore economic growth.”
U.K. government bonds so far have shown investors are welcoming the plans by the new coalition. The yield on the benchmark 10-year gilt has fallen 34 basis points since May 6 to 3.46 percent as of 4:10 p.m. today.
One bill will create an Office of Budget Responsibility to monitor the fiscal position. Britain’s debt will rise to 77 percent of gross domestic product this year and may approach 100 percent by 2014, according to Standard & Poor’s.
Another will propose giving the Bank of England oversight of financial services regulation. The current regulator, the Financial Services Authority, was set up by Labour. The new government also plans to review raising the state pension age.
“We all agree with cutting waste,” said Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour Party after former Prime Minister Gordon Brown stood down. “What the country needs to know is that the government will do that in a fair way, without damaging frontline services and without putting future growth at risk.”
On education, it promised to hand teachers more control over content and to allow new providers to run state schools.
The government said it wants to “restore freedoms and civil liberties” including abolishing the identity cards program, restricting the scope of the DNA database, regulating the use of CCTV. It will also create a border police force and introduce a bill to freeze the assets of terrorists.
Rail, Post, Politics
In addition, it confirmed its backing for a high-speed rail network and appeared to endorse the previous administration’s plans for an initial route between London and Birmingham with a link to Heathrow airport. The Conservatives said last year that the line should begin at Heathrow with a link to central London.
The coalition will also proceed with a plan to change the regulation of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports to improve passenger facilities after the construction of extra runways to add capacity was ruled out on environmental grounds.
The government will sell a stake in Royal Mail Group Ltd., the national postal service, to fund new equipment and working practices, something the previous Labour government failed to do in the face of union opposition.
It also promised constitutional changes to make the upper House of Lords “wholly or mainly elected,” a referendum on changing the electoral system, fixed five-year terms for parliaments and giving voters powers to recall lawmakers.
The pageantry of the Queen’s Speech began at 10 a.m., when the Yeomen of the Guard, the Royal bodyguards known as “Beefeaters,” searched the cellars of parliament. The tradition dates back to 1605, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the building and King James I with it.
At 11:30 a.m., Lieutenant Colonel Edward Lloyd-Jukes, who has the title Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod, marched to the House of Commons, the lower, elected, chamber. His job is to summon lawmakers to hear the Queen, who waited in the House of Lords, the upper, unelected chamber. The door of the Commons, as per tradition, was slammed in his face.
This ritual symbolizes the independence of the Commons from the Crown: no British monarch has entered the lower house since 1642, when King Charles I tried to arrest five members in the run-up to a civil war that ended with his execution in 1649.