Unions And Rights Groups Condemn Queen’s Speech

Marchers with a clear message on a demonstration during the pensions strike last November 30
Marchers with a clear message on a demonstration during the pensions strike last November 30

RESPONDING to the plans for ‘secret justice’ and closed courts set out in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, Reprieve’s Executive Director, Clare Algar said: ‘Closed courts will not strengthen oversight of the intelligence agencies – in fact, they will do precisely the opposite. They will put the government above the law.

‘The proposals for secret justice would massively skew courts in favour of ministers, and prevent the public from finding out the truth about serious wrongdoing.

‘The reality is that these plans are designed to spare the intelligence agencies embarrassment.  They are a recipe for unfair and unaccountable government.’

Reprieve’s Legal Director, Cori Crider, said: ‘If you think closed courts are a good idea, go talk to Khadidja al-Saadi, who Britain helped render to Gadaffi in 2004 when she was only twelve. 

‘This is a clear effort to cover up her case, the Belhadj case, and those like them – to stop the airing of the dirty laundry of the “War on Terror”. The British public should not stand for it.’

The Queen’s Speech stated that: ‘My government will introduce legislation to strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. This will also allow courts, through the limited use of closed proceedings, to hear a greater range of evidence in national security cases.’

l The Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham, said: ‘The government’s focus on families is positive and probably reflects a recognition that it’s a government that’s been so unfriendly to families in the last two years, but in truth there’s little here that will make life easier for families or make good the losses family budgets have suffered through massive cuts to help for the working poor and those unable to find work.

‘It will be cold comfort to families targeted by the coalition’s austerity politics.

‘Parents need jobs, not new laws to make it easier to fire people; and parents in low paid jobs need help so that work pays – six in ten children in poverty have a parent in work.

‘More “choice” on special educational needs is welcome, but the urgent need is for the coalition to stop targeting disabled children with their austerity politics.

‘In Britain, 40% of disabled children already live below the poverty line. From next year, low income families with a disabled child will face a massive cut of £1,400 a year to disability additions when they are moved onto universal credit.

‘This will mean a total cut of £22,000 by the time a disabled child is sixteen, which will do far more harm to health, learning and life chances than you can remedy by changing how “choice” works in education.’

• Commenting on the legislative programme announced today, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said: ‘Reform to the state pension will see people having to work until they are 68 and beyond.

‘It is an unacceptable move and will give the UK one of the highest state pension ages in Europe. Very few of us will enjoy the good health to continue to work until this age and it will keep many young people out of the job market.

‘Public sector pensions are affordable. The government has brought forward no evidence that the Teachers’ Pension Scheme is unaffordable and consistently refuses to carry out the long-overdue 2008 valuation of the scheme.

‘Even the Hutton Report accepted that the cost of public sector pensions will fall from 1.9% of GDP in 2012 to 1.4% by 2060. Teachers cannot be expected to work into their 70s.’

On Special Educational Needs, Blower added:

‘The current SEN Code of Practice enshrines entitlements for children and young people and should not be revoked. There has been no call for its withdrawal or revision from any quarter. It is not “red tape” but a carefully constructed assessment system ensuring that resources are allocated equitably to meet need.

And on charging for employment tribunals:

‘Employment tribunals are intended to be an accessible forum through which workers can seek redress for unlawful acts of their employers.

‘These proposals undermine the nature of employment tribunals, as decisions will be made by judges alone, without the benefit of the up to date experience of those who have an understanding of the realities of life in the modern workplace.

‘A system of fees for tribunal claims will discourage workers from seeking proper redress for breach of their legal rights, especially when many compensation awards are already low and far from a recompense for the loss of livelihood.

‘If the government was really interested in furthering economic growth it would invest in our public services not cut them. These measures represent a false economy which have driven us into a second recession and must be reversed.’

• Commenting on the Queen’s Speech, Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, said: ‘Despite the rhetoric, this is not a good parliamentary programme for children and families.

‘The programme is riddled with attacks on working people who have children and families.

‘Making it easier to sack people creates further massive insecurity for millions of ordinary working families and does nothing to create jobs or secure economic recovery.

‘This parliamentary programme is the vehicle for bringing an end to the right of ordinary working people to a decent occupational pension.

‘This programme is a continuation of the Tory ideological reform agenda for which grass roots Liberal Democrats are paying an increasingly high price.’

• Liberty responded with dismay as plans for a new Snoopers’ Charter and Secret Courts were included in this year’s Queen’s Speech.

Ministers have revived plans for a Snoopers’ Charter which would see the collection and storage of ‘communications data’ – the records of e-mail, text, phone calls and web browsing – for the entire population.

‘A similar scheme was shelved by the Labour government in 2009 following a fierce backlash and its fresh inclusion in the Queen’s Speech represents a U-turn on the coalition’s May 2010 promise to “end the storage of internet and e-mail records without good reason”.’

Liberty today launches its No Snoopers’ Charter campaign against the proposals.

Meanwhile, the proposed Justice and Security Bill would see secretive Closed Material Procedures extended to all civil proceedings. This dangerous and unnecessary move would not only overturn centuries of Common Law fair trial protections – it would undermine the vital constitutional principle that no-one, including the government, is above the law.

Liberty recently launched its For Their Eyes Only campaign in response and will continue lobbying against these plans.

• ‘The coalition are out of touch with the interests of the vast majority of people in this country’ said Unison chief, Dave Prentis, in response to the government’s legislative agenda set out in the Queen’s speech.

Prentis, went on to say: ‘With people across the UK and Europe turning their backs and votes against austerity, it is time for the government to start building for growth.

‘Instead the measures announced today are fiddling around the fringe, while families struggle to keep in work and out of debt.

‘The government may talk about supporting children and families but the way to do that is by creating stable employment, paying workers a living wage and building decent homes for the future.

‘Where is the help for the lost generation of young people who cannot find work?  Where are the Bills that would stimulate growth in the economy and bring the country out of recession?

‘It has taken pressure from the grassroots and far too long, for the government to take these totally inadequate measures to deal with excessive boardroom pay and bonuses.

‘The evidence shows that cuts are not the answer.  The government needs to breathe new life into our recession-hit economy by creating jobs and give hope to young people as well as supporting the public services that so many people rely on.’