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Amid regal pomp, UK government sets out program

Queen Elizabeth II has opened Parliament nearly 60 times, but she will have an unfamiliar task Tuesday as she sets out the legislative program of a coalition government the country's first since World War II.

world Updated: May 25, 2010 11:00 IST


Queen Elizabeth II has opened Parliament nearly 60 times, but she will have an unfamiliar task Tuesday as she sets out the legislative program of a coalition government the country's first since World War II.

Amid centuries-old tradition featuring cannon fire, Yeoman Guards, mounted cavalry and glittering carriages, the queen will formally open the new Parliamentary session with an address outlining the government's plans.

Her speech, which has been written for her by government officials, will come less than three weeks after Britain's election on May 6, in which no party won a majority.

The new government the result of a pact between the Conservative Party and the smaller Liberal Democrats has drawn up an 18-month program focused on reviving the economy and rolling back restrictions on personal freedoms.

Steps to reduce Britain's record 163-billion-pound ($235 billion) budget deficit will include creating an independent economic forecaster, scrapping a planned increase in payroll taxes and levying a new tax on banks. The Bank of England will be given more supervisory powers.

According to officials and lawmakers, the proposals will include reforms to Britain's voting system and the House of Lords, and five-year fixed term Parliaments rather than sessions that can be dissolved by prime ministers whenever they think a new election would be advantageous.

The measures are meant to increase confidence in politics after last year's scandal over lawmakers' excessive expense claims. Wearing the Imperial State Crown, studded with more than 2,000 diamonds, the queen will set out about 20 proposed new bills, including plans for a charter school-style movement. Prime Minister David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, and his deputy Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, have confirmed they will scrap an unpopular 5.1-billion-pound (US$7.3 billion) plan for national identity cards and a linked database.

An ICM opinion poll published late Monday of 1,001 people conducted May 21-23 found 54 percent believe the coalition will improve Britain, and 41 percent disagree. The survey, for the Guardian newspaper, had no margin of error but in samples of a similar size it is plus or minus three percentage points. Also included in the legislative program will be a referendum on moving toward a more proportional voting system. Cameron's party will campaign against changing the voting system, while Clegg's party will support the change.

The ICM poll found 56 percent of people in favor of a more proportional system, with 38 percent against.

Clegg acknowledged Sunday that Britain's tentative recovery from an 18-month recession means there's little money for lavish programs. Treasury chief George Osborne outlined more than 6 billion pounds ($8.7 billion) in spending cuts Monday.

"No one I think certainly myself included went into politics to sort of deliver cuts, but we all know, I think, as a country that it is necessary. And it's going to be difficult and it's going to be painful and it's going to be controversial," Clegg told the BBC. This year's queen's speech will be the 84-year old monarch's 58th. The ceremony that accompanies it is laden with symbolism of the age-old struggle for power between the monarchy and Parliament. Since King Charles I tried to arrest members of the House of Commons in 1642 and ended up deposed, tried and beheaded the monarch has been barred from entering the Commons, meaning the annual speech is held in Parliament's upper chamber, the House of Lords.

First Published: May 25, 2010 10:56 IST

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