LONDON – Wearing a crown studded with glittering jewels, Queen Elizabeth II set out Britain’s new legislative agenda in opulent style Wednesday — but announced a frugal program aimed at boosting economic growth and overhauling the unelected House of Lords after decades of delays.
Though the queen read aloud the government’s plans in the traditional pageant of power, pomp and politics, she has no role in drafting the content. Each proposed law must also be debated and approved by lawmakers — with votes in Parliament if necessary — before it can hit the statute book.
REPAIRING THE ECONOMY
Britain’s economic woes continue to dominate the government’s work — two years after Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg formed a coalition government with a vow to clear the country’s debts.
A four-year austerity program of 81 billion pounds ($130 billion) in government spending cuts has angered the public, and seen economic growth stall.
Last month, Britain slumped back into recession for the first time since 2009.
New bills will seek to cut regulation for businesses and offer shareholders new powers to curb directors’ pay.
Seeking to safeguard Britain’s banks from any repeat of the global economic crisis, the government will demand that banks separate their high street retail operations from riskier investment divisions.
In a statement on their agenda, Cameron and Clegg vowed to “stretch every sinew to return growth to the economy,” but critics said they offered few practical steps.
Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said the “meagre measures simply tweak round the edges.”
LOSING THE LORDS
Cameron will take on a task that has frustrated his predecessors for decades, overhauling Britain’s 700-year-old upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords.
The government wants to gradually kick out unelected peers and replace them with fewer, mainly elected members who would serve a maximum term of 15 years.
Currently, Lords are appointed for life and cannot be expelled.
People who receive peerages in annual honours lists would no longer be entitled to a seat in the chamber.
Peers have long opposed any changes, and a new attempt to force through reforms will require lengthy — and rancorous — debates in Parliament.
Grass-roots members of Cameron’s Conservative Party warn that a focus on political reform sends out the wrong message in a time of austerity. They say the leader should instead focus on efforts to create new jobs.
Contentious plans to allow spy agencies to snoop on email traffic, Web browsing and social media sites won’t be given the go-ahead just yet.
After an outcry from civil liberties campaigners, the plans to allow new snooping on communications data have been published only in draft form.
That means there will be new debate about the balance between personal freedoms and the needs of law enforcement authorities — who insist they require wider powers as terrorists use increasingly sophisticated methods to communicate.
Cameron says the plan would plug “significant gaps in our defences.” Human rights groups say it would create unnecessary intrusion.
A separate planned bill would introduce secret court hearings to protect intelligence shared by the United States and other allies and other sensitive national security material.
Other proposals will see TV cameras allowed into some British courts for the first time, while Britain also plans a new FBI-style crime fighting agency.
BRING OUT THE BLING
Bucking the gloomy tone of the government’s agenda, the queen showcased Britain’s love of elaborate pageantry as she arrived from Buckingham Palace for a ceremony featuring sparkling jewels and gleaming horse-drawn carriages.
After she donned the Imperial State Crown, studded with almost 3,000 diamonds, the queen delivered her speech from a gilded throne in the House of Lords, packed with peers wearing traditional red robes lined with gold and ermine.
The crown had arrived in its own carriage, ferried to Westminster with other priceless crown jewels — the Cap of Maintenance and the Sword of State.