UK govt to focus on economy, reform House of Lords

May 9, 2012 - 7:56 AM
CORRECTION APTOPIX Britain Queens Speech

CORRECTS DATE TO 2012 Britain's Queen Elizabeth II reads the Queen's Speech to lawmakers in the House of Lords in London, Wednesday, May 9, 2012. Queen Elizabeth II said Wednesday that Britain's government plans to finally reform the centuries-old House of Lords and introduce direct elections for members. Announcing the government's new legislative program in an opulent pageant of pomp and politics, the queen said planned laws would introduce a smaller, mainly upper elected chamber. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, Pool)

LONDON (AP) — Britain's Conservative-led government plans to finally reform the centuries-old House of Lords and introduce direct elections for members.

Attempts to overhaul the unelected 700-year-old upper chamber — which does not make laws, but can amend legislation — have frustrated British leaders for decades, with peers reluctant to agree to changes.

Queen Elizabeth II announced the government's new legislative program Wednesday in an opulent pageant of pomp and politics, saying the planned laws would introduce a smaller, mainly elected upper chamber. The chamber now has 782 members.

Following Britain's return to recession last month, she said Prime Minister David Cameron will prioritize work to repair the economy.

"My ministers' first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability," the queen said, speaking from a gilded throne in the House of Lords, packed with peers wearing traditional red robes lined with gold and ermine.

She said the government plans to separate banks' retail operations from riskier investment arms and to offer shareholders new powers to curb directors' pay.

The package also includes plans to allow TV cameras into some court hearings for the first time, to establish a new FBI-style crime fighting agency, and to restrict the number of libel claims by foreigners lodged in Britain's courts.

However, contentious plans to allow U.K. spy agencies to snoop on emails and website use to help combat terrorism will be published only in a draft form. It means lawmakers will debate the merits of the proposals, setting up a fierce argument between civil liberties advocates and law enforcement authorities.