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Coalition skirting around key issues

A zombie Government?

Not quite, in spite of Nick Clegg's grey pallor in the wake of last week's European elections. The Coalition appears to have some life left in it yet, having brought forward in the Queen's Speech a few important new bills. It will rightly be judged, though, as a slim, unambitious programme that skirts around the edges of key issues of concern to large numbers of voters.

Moves to introduce collective workplace pension schemes do have the potential to boost pension pots by reducing administration costs. The accompanying plan to allow pensioners to spend their pension pot as they see fit will have appeal for many, but both measures carry risks and the detail of the proposals will require to be looked at carefully.

The power of recall, so that errant MPs can be forced to face a by-election, is also overdue. Earlier fears that such a measure could be manipulated for cynical party political reasons have been partly addressed by the belt-and-braces proposal that it apply only to MPs who are given jail sentences of less than a year or if the House of Commons agrees they have engaged in serious wrongdoing, and must then be endorsed by a petition signed by 10% of the MPs' constituents.

There are legitimate concerns about the prospect of MPs policing themselves, but the measure is certainly an improvement on the status quo, under which MPs may only be expelled if they are jailed for more than one year; it can also be strengthened if need be. Efforts will be made to persuade Holyood to accept the measure be extended to the Scottish Parliament and this would be wise: had it been in place already, disgraced MSP Bill Walker, who served six months in jail, could have been ejected from parliament.

Providing basic rate tax relief on money spent on childcare would certainly make a difference to many families - up to £2000 a year of difference - but more help is needed for poorer families and it would be counterproductive if this measure were funded by cutting help to low-income families in other areas.

The controversial fracking measures in the Infrastructure Bill, which seem set to change the law so companies would not need permission from homeowners to drill under houses and land for shale oil and gas, risk turning fracking into a free-for-all, in which the rights of individuals and communities are effectively trampled in the stampede for new energy wealth. That measure would not apply automatically to Scotland, but again, there could be moves to extend it north of the Border. No such measure should be accepted without the strongest evidence to support the long-term safety of the procedure.

As the Scottish experience has shown, the last legislative programme of a coalition before a General Election is rarely controversial, since neither party is likely to make significant concessions to their partner. The speech was disappointingly quiet on funding of public services or boosting jobs. It is a sign that with nearly a year to go until the General Election, the phoney war has already begun.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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