Well, the most important political event of the year (bar an aborted election) has been and gone, with predicted results – the Queen’s Speech detailing the Government’s legislative agenda failed to introduce anything we hadn’t already heard before. Of the twenty-nine Bills proposed by the Government, many are simply rehashes of previously proposed legislation (many of which have been rejected by Parliament, e.g. the controversial increase in the time-limit permitted for detention without charge of terrorist suspects). This has not only led to accusations from the Opposition that Gordon Brown is already out of ideas, but also rumblings from within his own party that the decision to publish the proposed legislative programme was a major drop of the political ball, since it allowed little opportunity to add to the legislation agenda.
In terms of Her Majesty’s speech, there were (of course) the usual plethora of touchy-feely-woolly Bills, such as that devoted to “Citizenship”. Such vacuous wastes of Parliamentary time will hardly serve to protect Brown however, given the public outcry he is likely to face when the EU Reform Treaty Bill is debated. Since Labour backbenchers such as Gisela Stuart have already insisted that that Government should honour their election pledge to hold a referendum on the proposed power handover to Brussels (a constitution in all but name), it is not surprising that people on all sides of the party divide have accused Brown of dishonesty. And it is not the first time.
Another Bill of only mild interest to this author is the Health and Social Care Bill (now in its third incarnation – and they say this Government has no ideas…). The central purpose of this piece of proposed legislation is to finally incorporate the findings of the Shipman inquiry (something which, unsurprisingly, have never been opposed by the Opposition) by reforming professional regulation, particularly around the prescription of drugs. The Bill would also lead to the establishment of an overall regulator, Ofcare, to oversee the new regulations and govern the profession in England. You can just imagine the discussion in Cabinet – “So how do you think we can finally cut through all the red tape and bureaucracy currently getting in the way of doctors and nurses doing their jobs?” “ I know Gordon, let’s create another Quango!”. I suspect that the number of ideas is not the central problem with this Government, so much as its instinctive centralising and general Whitehall meddling which most public sector workers object to.
A further Bill which has dragged on for the past three years is the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill, which will seek to transfer unclaimed capital assets from bank accounts lying dormant for periods of fifteen years or more for the use of Young Person’s Training Schemes and other social investment projects. No mention was made as to whom the arbiter of this scheme would be, although multi-billion financier (and major donor to the Labour party) Sir Ronald Cohen has long supported a Social Investment Bank to act as a wholesaler and packager of such capital for the third sector. Alternatively, this could be carried out centrally by the Government, or undertaken by the Banks themselves (as advocated by the Chambers of Commerce). However, knowing both Gordon’s centralising instincts and determination to get his hands on capital gains that essentially have nothing to do with him, we might hazard a guess.