LONDON — With all the pomp and ceremony befitting the British monarchy, Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday unveiled the government’s agenda for the coming year, foreshadowing heated debates over reform of the House of Lords, state pensions, financial regulation and the introduction of a law broadening the scope of intelligence agents to monitor communications.
The annual Queen’s Speech — think the State of the Union but with royal bling — finds the constitutional monarch acting in her role as messenger of the ruling government, currently a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Amid the pageantry of trumpet blasts and the ceremonial knocking on doors, the queen laid out no fewer than 15 pieces of legislation that are likely to dominate Britain’s national agenda in the months ahead.
Among them is the proposed reform of the very body from which she spoke, the House of Lords. A move to convert the ancient chamber composed of appointed and inherited seats into a largely elected upper house is set to divide the coalition partners, with the Conservatives more skeptical of reform and the Liberal Democrats clamoring for it.
Issues of “economic growth, justice and constitutional reform,” the queen said, would dominate the year. But she also outlined Prime Minister David Cameron’s intent to continue with an aggressive plan to cut the deficit.
Critics of the government were quick to attack what they called a lack of measures aimed at spurring growth at a time when Britain finds itself back in recession. Their censure underscored the extent to which even Britain, a nation outside the euro zone, remains caught up in the surging debate over growth vs. austerity that led to the failed reelection bid of French President Nicolas Sarkozy just across the English Channel last weekend.
Even some of Cameron’s fellow Conservatives expressed concern about what they called a lack of ambition on the government’s part at an economically challenging time. “This is pretty thin gruel,” Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie said on the BBC after the speech.
The government will also put forward new legislation that would expand the intelligence service’s capacity to monitor communications, the queen said, a measure largely aimed at boosting counterterrorism efforts. But the bill appears set to be a significantly watered-down version of an initial draft that sparked widespread concern earlier this year over invasion of privacy issues.
The queen offered only one personal aside in her speech, acknowledging that 2012 is her 60th year on the throne, or her “diamond jubilee.” The milestone has given the 86-year-old monarch a chance to travel extensively around Britain, greeted by enthusiastic and larger-than-expected crowds.
Referring to her husband, the queen said, “Prince Philip and I will continue to take part in celebrations across the United Kingdom.”