QUEEN'S SPEECH: Lib Dem vote is a blow to Ashdown deal

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THE LIBERAL Democrats voted against key Government proposals last night when they joined forces with the Tories to oppose the Queen's Speech.

Although the Government comfortably won the convention-breaking vote by 317 to 168 (majority 149), the Liberal Democrats' decision will be regarded as a major blow to the Lib-Lab co-operation signed by their leader Paddy Ashdown last month.

The Queen's Speech included flagship Government policies such as the scrapping of voting rights for hereditary peers, welfare reform and legislation on trade union recognition. But the Liberal Democrats voiced their discontent over the absence of "key measures" to cut car journeys, tackle pollution and set up a food standards agency.

Mr Ashdown did not vote against the Government as he was invited to the Queen's State Banquet for the German President, Roman Herzog.

Winding up for the Opposition, the shadow Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, taunted the Lib Dems: "The higher the number of your MPs, the lower your desire to remain an independent party."

Earlier, Labour backbenchers were ridiculed by Francis Maude, the shadow Chancellor, who produced a list of questions headed "suggested interventions" allegedly issued to them to disrupt his opening speech. Mr Maude said the list, which was recovered from a Westminster photocopier and included a series of challenges over Tory policy on issues ranging from the minimum wage to Bank of England independence, was another example of Blair's administration being "control freaks". "I fear Labour backbenchers are trying to ingratiate themselves with the control freak tendency by asking the prepared questions," Mr Maude said.

During his speech, Stephen Byers, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, dismissed "scaremongering" on EU tax harmonisation. "This Government has made it clear that we will not support any action at European level that will threaten jobs or the competitive position of British business. So any tax proposals will need to pass that acid test...'does the proposal deliver economic or financial benefits for the UK?' If it does not, then we will oppose it and argue our case."

Mr Byers claimed the political reality was that harmonisation of corporation tax across Europe was "a non-starter". But Mr Maude claimed Gordon Brown had failed to protect personal taxes from being co-ordinated through the EU."There is a clear commitment in Labour policy documents to taking further a process of tax coordination and harmonisation which can only have the effect of increasing Britain's taxes to continental levels," he said.

Malcolm Bruce, for the Liberal Democrats, said his party was disappointed there were no measures in the Queen's Speech "to pave the way towards joining a successful single currency".