Belfast Telegraph

The Queen's Speech is set to spark a flurry of debate

By Tom Moseley

The MPs have been grumbling in recent months about the lack of legislation for them to debate. But we'll know more about the Government's plans in just over a week, when the pomp and ceremony of the Queen's Speech will be upon us.

When she clears her throat a week tomorrow, the Queen will set out the Government's legislative agenda, telling us which Bills the coalition plans to introduce in the coming parliamentary session.

It's the first time we've had one for two years. Queen's Speeches used to be held in the autumn, or after a general election, but the schedule changed to fit in with the coalition's switch to fixed-term parliaments.

There will be at least a passing mention of Northern Ireland, which could get its own dedicated section.

Cabinet members are all keen to secure parliamentary time for their projects. Should Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson be allocated a slot, we could see long-awaited legislation to prevent so-called double-jobbing, meaning politicians would no longer be able to sit in both Westminster and Stormont.

Paterson has said he wants to eliminate the practice by consensus in the first instance and the parties are co-operating.

But there may be provisions to change the law in the future.

If Alliance MP Naomi Long had her way, there would be changes to the party donor rules, which allow anonymity in Northern Ireland. However, when asked about this recently, the prime minister, David Cameron, didn't sound like a change was imminent.

One thing that has been widely trailed is the controversial expansion of internet and social media surveillance, which has generated plenty of 'snooping' headlines.

The expansion of behind-closed-doors trials is also expected to be addressed.

Both proposals have been strongly criticised by the SDLP in recent weeks.

It will be interesting to see how the Government deals with Lords reform, which surely has to be addressed in some capacity, given that we've already had a draft Bill.

This was followed by last week's Government-appointed committee report, which served largely to underline how hopelessly divided parliament is on the issue.

Also mooted have been proposals to allow cameras inside courts in certain cases - although it would not apply in Northern Ireland without separate legislation - and changes to public sector pensions.

If next week's package is as ambitious as the 2010 offering, which tore apart parliamentary boundaries and gave us the welfare changes that are still causing bitter dispute, we'll have plenty to write about in the next 12 months.


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