Regal pomp and power in London

2010-05-25 19:13

London - Queen Elizabeth II delivered a sombre message of austerity on Tuesday in a speech outlining the plans of the new coalition government, which include capping non-European immigration and holding a referendum on changes to the centuries-old political system.

The queen wore a crown studded with 2 000 diamonds for an event featuring cavalry, Yeoman warders and glittering carriages - including a horse-drawn one especially set aside to ferry the Imperial State Crown to Parliament.

Crowds lined the streets to gawk at the show of pomp and power.

"The first priority is to reduce the deficit and restore economic growth," the queen said.

The speech confirmed that the new government will hold a referendum on making Britain's voting system more proportional, change the House of Lords from an appointed to an elected chamber and introduce fixed, five-year parliamentary sessions 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.

"My government will propose parliamentary and political reform to restore trust in democratic institutions and rebalance the relationship between the citizen and the state," the queen said.

Reduce deficit

The new government - the result of a pact between the Conservative Party and the smaller Liberal Democrats after the May 6 election - has drawn up a programme focused on reviving the economy and rolling back restrictions on personal freedoms.

Steps to reduce Britain's record budget deficit - public sector net borrowing for the fiscal year ending April 5 was £154.5bn - included 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.

There was a small bit of good economic news just before the speech, as the Office of National Statistics raised its estimate of the increase in GDP in the first quarter from 0.2% to 0.3%.

But the report also highlighted a continuing imbalance in the economy: government consumption rose 3.1% during the year while household spending actually fell.

Prime Minister David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, have confirmed they will scrap an unpopular £5.1bn plan for national identity cards and a linked database.

An ICM opinion poll published late on Monday found 54% believe the coalition will improve Britain, and 41% disagree.

The survey of 1 001 people, for the Guardian newspaper, was conducted 21 to 23 May. It had no margin of error - but in samples of a similar size it is plus or minus 3% points.

Spending cuts

Clegg has acknowledged that Britain's tentative recovery from an 18-month recession means there's little money for lavish programmes.

Treasury chief George Osborne outlined more than £6bn in spending cuts on Monday.

This year's queen's speech was the 84-year-old monarch's 58th.

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.

The queen also said she and the duke of Edinburgh will visit Canada in June and travel to New York to visit the United Nations in July.