Programme for the coalition government published

Comments by Federal Union, 12 May 2010

The new coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats has published a 7 page programme outlining the policies it intends to follow. You can read the whole document here.

The sections relevant to Federal Union are reprinted below:

UK constitution

“We agree to establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation. The committee will come forward with a draft motions by December 2010. It is likely that this bill will advocate single long terms of office. It is also likely there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers. In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

“We have agreed to establish a commission to consider the ‘West Lothian question’.”

“The parties agree to the implementation of the Calman Commission proposals and the offer of a referendum on further Welsh devolution.”

“The parties will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. This will include a full review of local government finance.”

Europe

“We agree that the British Government will be a positive participant in the European Union, playing a strong and positive role with our partners, with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century: global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty.”

“We agree that there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament. We will examine the balance of the EU’s existing competences and will, in particular, work to limit the application of the Working Time Directive in the United Kingdom.”

“We agree that we will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that any proposed future Treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences, would be subject to a referendum on that Treaty – a ‘referendum lock’. We will amend the 1972 European Communities Act so that the use of any passerelle would require primary legislation.”

“We will examine the case for a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that ultimate authority remains with Parliament.”

“We agree that Britain will not join or prepare to join the Euro in this Parliament.”

“We agree that we will strongly defend the UK’s national interests in the forthcoming EU budget negotiations and that the EU budget should only focus on those areas where the EU can add value.”

“We agree that we will press for the European Parliament only to have one seat, in Brussels.”

“We agree that we will approach forthcoming legislation in the area of criminal justice on a case by case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s security, protecting Britain’s civil liberties and preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system. Britain will not participate in the establishment of any European Public Prosecutor.”

Global issues

“The target of spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid will also remain in place.”

“The parties commit to holding a full Strategic Security and Defence Review alongside the Spending Review with strong involvement of the Treasury. The Government will be committed to the maintenance of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and have agreed that the renewal of Trident should be scrutinised to ensure value for money. Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for alternatives. We will immediately play a strong role in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, and press for continued progress on multilateral disarmament.”

Federal Union comment

In this document, one can see how much the Conservative party has changed – promoting devolution in Scotland, Wales and England – and how much it has not – clinging on to Trident. The commission on the West Lothian question will test the Tory manifesto proposal for English votes for English laws against more balanced alternatives.

It is on Europe, of course, where the differences between the two parties are most pronounced. The relatively quiet institutional agenda within the EU, now that the Lisbon treaty has come into force, means that the biggest causes of argument are now absent, but there are plenty of smaller issues to fight over. The desire to avoid such fights is evident in the compromises that have been recorded in this document, using phrases such as “we will examine” and “a case by case basis”.

One striking silence is on Europol: it is not stated whether the UK will seek to withdraw from Europol in 2013 to avoid the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, in line with the previous Conservative approach, or whether it will stay, as the Liberal Democrats insisted it should.

A key indicator of the tone of Britain’s future Europe policy will be the appointment of a Europe minister. We know that William Hague will be foreign secretary, but who will join his team? If it is the pre-election Tory shadow, Mark Francois, then Britain and Europe might be in for a bruising ride. If that is not the signal that David Cameron wants to send to his European partners, he might look for someone with a less Eurosceptic track record.

This commentary was written by Richard Laming, chair of Federal Union. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.

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