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EU referendum on horizon as Tories’ set out year ahead

29 May 2015


Summoned to the Lords: left to right: the Prime Minister, David Cameron, the Chancellor, George Osborne, and the acting Labour leader, Harriet Harman, at the State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday

Summoned to the Lords: left to right: the Prime Minister, David Cameron, the Chancellor, George Osborne, and the acting Labour leader, Harriet Harma...

IN ITS first year in office, the first Conservative-only government for 23 years will bring forward new laws to cut taxes, increase NHS spending, introduce city mayors, and prepare for an EU referendum.

The Queen's Speech on Wednesday included mention of a Bill to ban any tax rises, a new right to buy for housing-association tenants, and trade-union reforms.

But it did not promise immediate repeal of the Human Rights Act, a key pledge in the Tory manifesto. Instead, the Government would "bring forward proposals" to replace the Act with a new British Bill of Rights. Senior Tory backbenchers are known to oppose the plans.

There were also mentions of new devolution for Scotland and Wales, and new elected "metro mayors" in cities in England - part of a "Northern powerhouse" initiative.

"Legal highs" will fall under a new blanket ban on psychoactive substances, and the Government will begin a new effort to allow the security services to gather more communications data. An attempt at this in the last parliament was thwarted by Liberal Democrats.

A new Schools and Adoption Bill will force councils to join up their adoption services with neighbouring authorities, giving children waiting to be adopted a larger pool of potential new families.

There was no mention of a Bill to counter tax avoidance, to the dismay of Christian Aid. Christine Allen, its director of policy and public affairs, said that such a Bill could raise up to £3.6 billion, and even more, for developing countries.

"We're disappointed that the Bill has not been included in the Government's priority legislation this year, and we ask the Government to act on our policy recommendations in July's Budget."

The Children's Society criticised some proposals. The chief executive, Matthew Reed, said that freezes to working-age benefits and child benefit would make things worse for millions of children already in poverty.

"Extending the benefit cap to thousands more families with children - many of whom are working or trying their best to find work, or are full-time single parents of young children - will barely make a dent in the deficit but will lead to more children slipping deeper into poverty."

The society used the Human Rights Act every year to challenge mistreatment of vulnerable children, Mr Reed said.

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