Labour fury at Queen's speech delay

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Labour accused the Government of "an affront to Parliament and an abuse of power" today after ministers announced that there will be no Queen's Speech until 2012 - two years after the current session started on May 25.

Speaker John Bercow granted Labour backbencher Denis MacShane an emergency debate on proposals unveiled today for fixed-term parliaments to be divided into five 12-month sessions, moving the State Opening from its traditional date in autumn to the spring.

The changes outlined by Leader of the House Sir George Young would put back the next Queen's Speech from autumn 2011 until Easter the following year.

This would make 2011 the first year since 1949 to have no State Opening and would extend from 18 months to two years the time the Government has to get its legislative programme through Parliament.

The annual State Opening of Parliament is the ceremonial highlight of the Westminster year and has traditionally been held in November or December, except in general election years when it is staged shortly after the poll.

In 1974 there were two State Openings because of the two elections in that year. Henry VIII is believed to have been the first monarch to attend in person in 1536 and the ceremony in its current form dates back to 1852.

The Queen's Speech, drawn up by ministers but delivered by the monarch, sets out the Government's legislative agenda for the coming period.

Shadow leader of the Commons Rosie Winterton said: "This executive decision made using the Queen's prerogative powers has significant constitutional implications and is an abuse of power.

"No peacetime session of Parliament since the war has lasted for two years. The maximum has been 18 months, at the beginning of a Parliament where the election has taken place in the spring.

"Both the manner of this announcement, and its content, are an affront to Parliament. There was no consultation whatever with the other parties. The Commons was not invited to give its views.

"There is no conceivable justification for this. It has been done solely to ease the passage of controversial legislation."

Sir George announced the planned changes in a written ministerial statement to MPs this morning, ahead of the second reading in the Commons of a Government bill to introduce fixed-term parliaments, with general elections to be held every five years, ordinarily on the first Thursday in May.

He said that it would be "sensible" to make the move to five 12-month sessions, running from spring to spring, at the same time.

The new arrangements would have the advantage of avoiding a short final session of only a few months before general elections in May, during which Parliament's ability to consider a full legislative programme was restricted, said Sir George.

Whitehall officials said it had been decided, with the agreement of Buckingham Palace, to delay the next Queen's Speech from its expected date in autumn 2011, to "ensure a smooth transition" to the new system.

But Ms Winterton said it would have been more logical to bring the Queen's Speech forward to May 2011, as this would allow five full sessions before the planned election date in May 2015.

Shadow justice secretary Jack Straw added: "This latest manoeuvre is entirely in keeping with the Government's approach to political reform, which is driven not by any coherent philosophy about constitutional change but by short-term, narrow party interests.

"It coincides with the publication of a Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill that has been rushed out without any opportunity for proper scrutiny. As a consequence the Bill is deeply flawed and will need substantial revision.

"It is astonishing that contrary to all previous commitments the Government has abandoned any semblance of pre-legislative scrutiny on such fundamental constitutional legislation, tearing up election and post-election pledges before the ink on them is dry."

The proposed changes are not expected to result in any reduction in the number of days on which the House of Commons sits, said officials.