Special report: What could this week’s Queen’s Speech have in store?
The Houses of Parliament have been like a ghost town since May 14 when MPs packed up and headed off for the Euro and local election fight. But it will be back in force on Wednesday.
The new dossier of legislation, which will be announced by the Queen amid the usual pomp and circumstance in the House of Lords, will be framed in the context of next year’s general election.
While there will be laws conspicuous by their absence – the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has reportedly put his foot firmly down when it comes to a bill to enshrine a European Referendum in law – the coalition has managed to find a number of proposals to agree on.
Employers who do not pay their workers the National Minimum Wage will face penalties of up to £20,000 per employee, the coalition is expected to announce.
Under the reform employers will be given penalties of up to £20,000 for each individual worker they have underpaid, rather than the maximum penalty of up to £20,000 applying to each employer as is currently the case. In the most serious cases, employers can also face criminal prosecution.
While there is also expected to be a crackdown on highly paid civil servants and NHS executives receiving large redundancy pay-offs before taking similar jobs within a year.
Critics have accused the coalition of running out of steam with a year to go before the general election.
Labour has released figures claiming the coalition had become a “zombie government” with MPs debating fewer government Bills last year than at any time since 1950.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said a record number of unfinished Bills, carried over from the previous parliamentary session, demonstrated that “ministers have run out of ideas”.
But North-West Norfolk MP Henry Bellinghm said he was not concerned.
“It doesn’t worry me if the parliament is not going to be flat out, because I think parliament needs to hold the government to account. There are lots of opposition debates, there are lots of backbench debates. There are lots of important issues we need to discuss in backbench debates, including flood defences,” he said.
“The more legislation the government has, the less time there is for backbench business,” the former minister said.
A radical shake-up of workplace pensions is set to be unveiled, with supporters saying retirement incomes could be boosted by thousands of pounds.
For the first time, staff will be able to put their money into Dutch-style “collective pensions”, shared with thousands of other members.
The so-called “mega funds” are regarded by many as a better investment because they are less vulnerable to variations in the stock market.
The controversial changes, which could be introduced as early as 2016, are intended to deliver better value for pensioners.
Pensions minister Steve Webb previously described the collective schemes as “some of the best in the world”.
He told The Sunday Telegraph that the key advantage was “pooling risk” of investments performing less well than expected across large numbers of people of different ages, “just like car insurance or the NHS”.
“It gives people greater certainty and probably better value,” he said.
“There are some quite strong claims made for how much better it is.”