Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour's Leader in the House of Lords
Today’s Queen’s Speech is being marketed by the Government as the second phase of the coalition, focusing, as the speech – carefully crafted in 10 Downing Street – puts it, on “economic growth, justice and constitutional reform”.
Well, as I listened to the words being read out in the chamber of the Lords this morning, you could have fooled me.
What I heard was a speech from a Government which is incompetent, unfair and out of touch. What I heard was little, if anything, on jobs and growth. Little, if anything, to help most people, with their real worries – about their jobs, their mortgages or rents, their grocery bills, about whether they can afford to fill up the car, and their children’s future.
What I heard, just as we heard in the Budget, is this government helping their own. The Coalition is doing nothing for the vast majority of people across the country because this government is putting the wrong people first. Indeed, instead of trying to tackle the people’s priorities, this government wants to tackle the Coalition’s priorities.
That’s why, for instance, they’re proposing Lords reform – something that isn’t high on most people’s worry lists.
Don’t get me wrong, Labour, our Peers included, wants to see reform of the Lords. But we want to get reform right, and the government’s proposals we have seen from the government so far don’t do that.
And we don’t share the LibDems view that it is the burning issue which, at the time of the first double-dip recession since the mid-1970s, absolutely must be addressed now.
It was interesting to hear the media briefing around the proposal – suggesting that not much will move if there isn’t consensus, if it frightens the horses: that is, if it provokes opposition, not so much from Labour, but as Lord Strathclyde, the Tory Leader of the Lords, has warned from backbench Tory MPs, who could kill the government’s Bill. We shall see.
So, yes, the Coalition’s legislative programme does indeed include some constitutional reform, as it claims. But justice? Economic growth? Where were the legislative proposals on those issues?
Bills on deregulating business, reforming competition law and banking reform won’t do much, if anything, in themselves, to get our economy going again.
And justice? A bill on victims and witnesses was promised – but nothing. Reforming the law on defamation won’t do much to allay people’s fear of crime – which will be underlined when police march in London tomorrow under the banner ’20% cuts are criminal’, over 16,000 job losses, cuts so deep that my local and principled Chief Constable in South Gloucestershire resigned rather than implement them.
We will judge whether there’s anything of value in the bills the government is proposing to bring forward on adult care, on family-friendly work flexibility, on arrangements for children with special educational needs, on pensions, on a green investment bank, on public sector pensions and others. The devil will be in the detail – and we’ve seen in this last, long, two-year session how wretched that detail can be, on the NHS, on welfare, on legal aid, and on forests.
What we should have seen today were measures to give everyone a fair deal on tax, reversing the tax cuts for the rich; a fair deal on energy, breaking up the big six energy companies and helping pensioners; a fair deal on transport, stopping above-inflation price rises; a fair deal for consumers, with new powers to combat rip-off surcharges by banks and others; and a fair deal on jobs, taxing bankers’ bonuses to help young people into work.
What we did see today was a no-change programme from this no-change government. A government which is continuing to cut spending and raise taxes too far and too fast, leading directly to low, if any, growth, and high unemployment.
We’ll see a government with the wrong priorities, doing the wrong things, and aiming to help the wrong people.
What last week’s elections made crystal clear is what the country wants is action: on jobs, growth and the economy. Action to help our country, not action that just serves to help the Coalition.