Independence debate features in Queen’s Speech

Queen Elizabeth delivers her speech during the State Opening of Parliament. Picture: PA
Queen Elizabeth delivers her speech during the State Opening of Parliament. Picture: PA
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THE Queen yesterday voiced the UK government’s wish for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom, in her speech to open the new parliamentary session in Westminster.

For the first time, the Queen’s Speech included a reference to the independence referendum when she said: “My government will continue to make the case for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom.”

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

The line had echoes of Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee speech to both Houses of Parliament in 1977 ahead of the first devolution referendum, when she spoke of the benefits the Union had brought to “the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom”, a line seen as signalling her opposition to devolution.

Her remarks then were seen as influencing the result in 1979, although unlike yesterday’s speech, which was written by the government, the 1977 speech in Westminster Hall was in the Queen’s own words.

Nationalist politicians last night accused the coalition of “politicising the monarchy” and “dragging the Queen” into the politics of the Scottish independence referendum.

SNP Perth and North Perthshire MP Pete Wishart said the Queen has more than one government in the UK with the SNP Scottish Government pressing for a Yes vote for independence and planning to keep the monarchy.

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

He said: “Of course, it is the Tory-led government’s speech and the Queen is obliged to read it, but it really is poor form to drag her into the politics of the referendum.

“It is politicising the monarchy unnecessarily and it is sad that the Tories and Lib Dems felt that it was necessary to do that.”

The Yes Scotland campaign, co-ordinating the push for independence, said that the inclusion was no surprise. A spokesman said: “The Queen’s Speech is written by the UK government, and it’s no secret that the Tory government at Westminster opposes independence – just as the Scottish Government and the broad Yes campaign supports it.”

But a spokesman for Better Together described the Nationalists’ attack as “desperate”.

He said: “I’m sure that even Pete Wishart will have noticed that it is the policy of the government to keep the UK together. This is just another desperate attempt by the Nationalists to start a fight in order to deflect from their faltering campaign.”

Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said that it would have been a surprise if the aim of keeping the UK together had been omitted from the Queen’s Speech.

He said: “It is no secret that it is one of the top priorities of this Coalition government.”

The Queen’s Speech was one of the shortest in the current monarch’s reign, lasting just seven minutes. It outlined 15 bills from a legislative programme covering 20, including those carried over from last year or in draft form. Of the total, 13 apply in part or in full to Scotland.

They include cross-Border proposals for reducing red tape in a deregulation bill, an immigration bill, a defence reform bill to improve equipment procurement, the creation of a single-tier pension and protection for intellectual property rights.

Another bill aims to reduce the cost of employment for firms, which translates to 70,000 businesses in Scotland sharing in saving £100 million from additional National Insurance contributions relief, according to the Scotland Office.

Labour MP Margaret Curran, the shadow Scottish secretary, said the coalition government was running out of ideas.

“People across Scotland are looking for action to get our country moving,” she said.

“There was nothing in this speech to boost employment, no action to tackle rip-off energy companies and not a single move to ease the squeeze on families who are struggling to make ends meet.”

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson said it was a Queen’s Speech mainly for England, which underlined that Westminster is becoming irrelevant to Scotland. “This speech underlines why Scotland needs good government with independence, not bad government from Westminster,” he said.

“The speech shows that Westminster isn’t working for Scotland. Instead of boosting economic growth, it is focusing on a lurch to the right politically, and is out of touch with the people of Scotland.”

He pointed out that there were major omissions, including the promise to enshrine in law that 0.7 per cent of GDP should be spent on international aid.

The programme for government was widely seen as a move to the right with immigration being targeted following Ukip’s success in council elections on an anti-immigration ticket.

Labour leader Ed Miliband branded the statement a “no answers Queen’s Speech” from a government that was “out of touch, out of ideas, standing up for the wrong people and unable to bring the change the country needs”.

But Prime Minister David Cameron countered that the legislative programme showed the government was “rising to the challenge” of the “global race” which could only be won by backing families who “want to work hard and get on”.

There was also criticism for a lack of measures to get the economy growing again.

Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “The Queen’s Speech offered little to promote growth. Policies to boost the economy should have made up the majority of the legislative agenda, yet instead, barely anything has been promised.”

In the speech:

• Immigration Bill - Aimed at putting more controls on immigration to the UK. Will make landlords of private housing check the immigration status of tenants and face fines if they don’t; will regulate migrant access to the NHS; and will enable tough action against businesses that use illegal labour, including more substantial fines.

• National Insurance Contributions Bill - Aimed at cutting the cost of recruiting new employees – taking forward the commitment in the last Budget to slash National Insurance Contributions (NICs) for around 1.25 million small businesses.

• Deregulation Bill - Intended to reduce the burden of unnecessary legislation on firms looking to grow by “weeding out” unnecessary red tape.

• Social Care Bill - Aimed at helping pensioners in England so that they do not have to sell their homes to fund their future care. Applies to Scotland in part including on cross-Border provisions in relation to care and support and on reform of the Health Research Authority.

• Pensions Bill - This will create a single flat rate pension that encourages saving and helps women who have had long career breaks.

• Draft Consumer Rights Bill - Aimed at promoting growth through competitive markets and covering consumer rights including goods, services, digital content and unfair contract terms.

• Intellectual Property Bill - Aimed at strengthening intellectual property rights, particularly digital content. Also makes intellectual law clearer and simpler.

• High Speed Rail Preparation Bill and High Speed Two Hybrid Bill - Provides parliament with the authority to go ahead with the HS2 development from London to Birmingham and Manchester, and ultimately to Scotland. Involves giving authority for compulsory purchases and tendering for contracts.

• Local Audit and Accountability Bill - Does not apply to Scotland but is aimed at reducing quangos in England and will have measures to prevent town halls from producing their own local newspapers.

• Energy Bill - Carried over from last parliament. Puts in place £110 billion investment for renewables and low carbon energy. Forces energy firms to offer customers the lowest tariffs.

• Water Bill - Designed to improve availability of water and improve drainage and supply structures. Also aims to make water supplies more affordable. Only affects England and Wales.

• Mesothelioma Bill - To give compensation to victims of asbestos poisoning where no former employer or insurer can be traced.

n Defence Reform Bill - Is being put in place to transform the reserve forces into a more semi-professional back-up for the regulars. It comes as the government plans to increase the size of the reserves and give them a more prominent role in defence. Will mean that employers have to give more time off to people who are serving in the reserves.

• Offender Rehabilitation Bill - Reform to the way offenders are rehabilitated in England and Wales when they leave prison, including providing them with work.

• Northern Ireland Bill - Improving transparency on donations to parties in Northern Ireland in the Stormont Assembly. Ends dual mandate for politicians sitting in both Stormont and Westminster. Intends to make the length of time Assembly members serve is five years.

• Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill - Introduces new measures to tackle anti-social behaviour and reform policing. Applies to Scotland in part including reserved areas relating to firearms, extradition and terrorism, and in some devolved areas (with agreement of the Scottish Government) such as the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

• Draft Wales Bill - Gives the Welsh Assembly five-year fixed terms to prevent its elections happening at the same time as Westminster elections.