Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

The Queen's Speech ... what's in it for Northern Ireland?

Queen Elizabeth II looks on before delivering her speech during the State Opening of Parliament at the House of Lords
Queen Elizabeth II looks on before delivering her speech during the State Opening of Parliament at the House of Lords

A proposed ban on Assembly members double-jobbing as Westminster MPs is among the measures set out in the Queen's Speech.

The Northern Ireland Bill would also prevent MLAs taking seats in the Irish parliament.

David Cameron yesterday unveiled the Government's legislative programme for the coming year, which he said would back aspiration and hard-working people and help boost Britain's economic growth.

The centrepiece of the programme detailed by the Queen in her annual address to MPs and peers was an Immigration Bill which will make it harder for migrants to access free healthcare and introduce tougher fines for businesses using illegal labour.

The package of 17 new bills set out amid scenes of pomp and ceremony in the House of Lords also included plans to extend consumer rights and cut the red tape burden on small businesses.

Among the legislation affecting Northern Ireland is the Bill containing a ban on MLAs double-jobbing in the Commons and the Dail.

The DUP's Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell and SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell still hold dual mandates – despite parties reducing the number of representatives filling two roles.

The Bill would also introduce greater transparency around donations to political parties in Northern Ireland.

It is expected the Electoral Commission will be able to publish more information about donations, but stop short of revealing names and addresses.

Currently, party donors here remain secret, unlike elsewhere in the UK where the identity of all party donations over £7,500 must be reported.

Although the Northern Ireland Bill is the only one specific to here, many of the other Bills have implications for the province.

These include the Immigration Bill, which restricts migrants' use of the NHS and their right to claim benefits, and the Draft Consumer Rights Bill, which would update consumer protection laws.

However, yesterday's speech drew criticism from the SDLP, with South Down MP Margaret Ritchie branding it a programme for government from "a coalition that has lost direction and impetus".

"We need policies that promote growth and stimulate the economy but instead are left with a threadbare and sparse legislative agenda that will do little to deliver for Northern Ireland," she said.

Labour's Shadow Secretary of State, Vernon Coaker, claimed there was little in the speech for Northern Ireland.

"What people in Northern Ireland want to see is a real plan for jobs and growth," he said. "But this government has nothing to say on tackling the crisis in youth unemployment. Nothing to back small businesses struggling to get credit. Nothing on growth, despite the economy growing by just 1% since the spending review."

In yesterday's speech – the traditional highlight of the parliamentary year – the Queen told MPs and peers that the Government's legislative programme would "continue to focus on building a stronger economy so that the United Kingdom can compete and succeed in the world".

"It will also work to promote a fairer society that rewards people who work hard," she stated.

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