Brown tries to lift the gloom with array of new Bills

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Gordon Brown has promised to create an "opportunity-rich Britain" in which everyone could reach their full potential as he tried to escape the political doldrums yesterday.

The Prime Minister unveiled a list of 18 Bills in a draft Queen's Speech for the parliamentary session starting in November in an attempt to show he has not run out of steam. Later, he tried to answer his critics by spelling out his long-awaited vision for the country.

A day after buying a little more time from Labour MPs by approving a £2.7bn compensation scheme for losers from the abolition of the 10p tax rate, Mr Brown tried to rebuild his reputation among the public after disastrous local election results and opinion-poll ratings. "We've got to claw our way back up the mountain," one minister said.

Speaking at a community centre in south London, Mr Brown said: "I ask, and indeed expect, to be judged by this test: our stewardship of the British economy and building a lasting prosperity by releasing untapped potential... That opportunity-rich Britain is both my passion and my purpose." Admitting the Government and country had had "a difficult few months", he insisted there was "no lack of clarity" about his government's direction.

Plans to extend the right to request flexible working to more parents from next April will be announced today. All workers will be allowed to seek time off for training and an agreement to protect the 1.4 million agency workers is expected to be struck by employers' groups and trade unions in the near future.

David Cameron said the list of Bills showed the Government had "run out steam" and accused Mr Brown of stealing many of the measures from the Tories. "He can't really say we haven't got any substance when he's taken it all and put it in his Queen's Speech," he said.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, dismissed what he called "a ragbag of proposals", saying: "Another stir of the legislative pot won't save this Prime Minister."

Labour MPs reacted cautiously. Some doubted the speech would enhance their party's prospects in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election a week today, where the Tories appear on course to overturn Labour's 7,078 majority. One Labour MP said: "If we lose the by-election, questions will immediately arise about Gordon's leadership. By the end of the year, I believe there will be a sufficiently large number of MPs who will not go quietly to their political graves. I think Gordon will be told that, while he may be committed to the party, he doesn't have the right to sink it."

The Bills include:

NHS Reform Bill

Patients are to be given a say over hospital funding. Some could be discretionary and paid according to patient satisfaction – rewarding the best and penalising the worst performers. The Bill will create an NHS Constitution, and implement the forthcoming Darzi report on "personalising" primary care.

Community Empowerment, Housing and Economic Regeneration Bill

A £200m fund will be used to buy up unsold, privately owned flats and houses for rent by social tenants or to make them available on a shared ownership basis. A further £100m will be used to offer more shared equity schemes.

Banking Reform Bill

This will force banks in trouble to disclose their debts to the Financial Services Authority, the Bank of England and the Treasury. It will also allow the Bank of England to act more quickly to take over ailing banks.

Saving Gateway Bill

Open to eight million people on low incomes, each pound they save will be matched by a "contribution" by the Government.

Marine and Coastal Access Bill

A long-distance coastal path around England will be given statutory backing.

Citizenship, Immigration and Borders Bill

Introduces the "earned citizenship" system for migrants from outside the EU, extending the five years' wait for a British passport by up to three years. Only British citizens will get full access to benefits or social housing. Foreigners will also have to demonstrate fluency in English and knowledge of the British way of life.

Policing and Crime Reduction Bill

Directly elected local police committees will set local policing priorities under the guidance of strategic police bodies.

Education and Skills Bill

Schools could be fined if they fail to achieve at least 30 per cent of all 16-year-olds passing 5 GCSEs, including English and Maths, at grades A-C. Parents will have the right to regular information on their children's progress, and an independent qualifications system will be created.

Equality Bill

Existing equality legislation will be merged in a single Bill imposing equality on gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, ethnicity or race on public bodies. It will also allow political parties to use all-women election shortlists until 2030.

Transport Security Bill

The Bill will require the majority of the UK's airports to agree a local security plan and allow the police to charge the airport operator for security services.

Constitutional Renewal Bill

Includes stripping the Lord Chancellor of powers in the appointment of judges and making it easier for protesters to demonstrate outside Parliament.

You've stolen our ideas, say Tories

Labour and the Conservatives were embroiled in an angry row after David Cameron claimed that Gordon Brown had stolen his party's clothes by including 12 policies previously floated by the Tories.

Conservative headquarters issued a list of the "dirty dozen" policies they claimed to have originally proposed after Mr Cameron mocked the Prime Minister, saying: "You can't really say we haven't got any substance when you have taken it all and put it in your Queen's Speech."

The Tory leader suggested that, instead of "stuffing No 10 with spin doctors and pollsters, why not just get a shorthand typist and send them to the Tory conference and get them to take it all down?"

But Labour furiously rejected the charge, attacking some of Mr Cameron's claims as "downright ridiculous". The Tories said they had proposed creating an independent exams regulator in 2005, although Labour insisted the Tories had "missed the point" of their new exams watchdog.

The Tories also claimed to have proposed reforms to incapacity benefit this year, but Labour insisted that its plans had been floated in 2006.

Proposals to extend rights to flexible working were also an area of confrontation, with the Tories claiming to have come up with the idea last year. Labour said it had already extended family-friendly working, with a range of flexible measures which came into force in 2006. It said it had first proposed new flexible arrangements in 2004.

The Tories claimed to have proposed an NHS constitution in November; in fact Labour had floated the idea nine months earlier. They also said they had made proposals to give elected representatives more control over local policing in 2006, but Labour said the Tory plans would have removed control from police officers.

Harriet Harman, the Labour deputy leader, said: "This is rank nonsense. The Tories claim they came up with flexible working rights when they voted against them."