We have the Queen’s Speech today marking the State Opening of Parliament in which the Queen will outline the Government’s legislative programme for the coming year.
So, what can we expect?
This year, the speech is more about what is not in it rather than what is.
Traditionally, Governments push through contentious legislation in the early years of a Parliament and reserve a light and popular programme for the year(s) running into the General Election.
Some controversial legislation has been dropped from the Speech and some elements of the media have concentrated more on these measures than those that will be included.
We are assisted in our guesswork by the pre-legislative statement made by the Government earlier this year and by the extraordinary “pre”-Budget statement last week which was a Budget in all but name.
We can assume that the economic rescue and mitigation packages announced in the pre-Budget statement will be reserved for the Budget itself (some of these measures have already been passed by secondary orders) so it is unlikely that we will see a comprehensive economic measure being announced today.
Banking regulation however, is being rushed through to stop banks calling in loans or changing conditions without proper notice. The Government will confirm that the banks’ voluntary code is being made compulsory. Perhaps legislation is a better way to introduce this than simply raising it at the shareholders’ meeting.
The centrepiece will certainly be the Welfare Reform Bill which will require the unemployed to undergo skills assessments and incapacity benefit claimants to be medically assessed…but these are not particularly new measures.
What will make this Bill stand out are the controversial provisions to force benefit claimants to undergo lie detector tests, to force single parents into work and possibly cut welfare benefit of those refusing job offers, all of which will set the Government on a collision course with the Unions and libertarian groups.
Also included will be the Crime Bill designed to stop happy hour (or excessive drinking anyway) and bring changes to the prostitution laws to criminalise the purchaser of sexual favours rather than the supplier.
There will be a Health Bill to introduce the long-awaited NHS Constitution and to promote public health initiatives.
Along with an Equality Bill to introduce more stringent anti-discriminatory legislation and the Citizenship Bill to require immigrants to learn English, these will be the main measures announced today.
Among the Bills being dropped is the Data Communications Bill which would have recorded the details of everyone’s emails, mobile phone calls and text messages. There will be a consultation instead.
The Bill of Rights, which would include further reform of the House of Lords, The Coroners’ Bill which provided for inquests to be held in private (without juries) where intercept evidence as used have also been dropped.
All of this though may be overshadowed by any demonstration by the Conservatives following the arrest of Damien Green.
We shall have to wait and see.
Although most commentators still plump for 2010, we shall have to wait and see if this is the precursor to a 2009 General Election.