The Coalition Government was accused of running out of steam today as differences between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats led to several key measures being dropped from the Queen's Speech.
Two years before the next general election, the two Coalition parties began to diverge earlier than expected as behind the scenes tensions between them were exposed. They will have to present their final Queen's Speech of the five-year parliament in a year's time and one minister admitted: "I don't know what we will have left to put in it."
Today's package saw the Conservatives shelve plans to bring in a minimum unit price for alcohol and plain packaging for cigarettes as they tried to focus on the economy, welfare and immigration ahead of the 2105 election while avoiding measures that alienate voters. Also omitted were a statutory register of lobbyists and Nick Clegg's plans to allow constituents to force a by-election when their MPs are guilty of misconduct.
The Tories refused to enshrine in law the Coalition's target to raise spending on overseas aid to 0.7 per cent of gross national income. Although the Coalition will meet the goal, the decision means future governments will not be bound by it. Mr Clegg had described such a law as "a priority" for the parliamentary session which began yesterday. Aid groups warned that the world's poorest countries would be unable to plan ahead for levels of UK assistance.
The Lib Dems pronounced as "dead" a Bill to allow the security services to track emails, text messages and internet use, dubbed the "snooper's charter." It was omitted from yesterday's Speech after Mr Clegg objected and Lib Dems dismissed speculation that it may be revived later. Mr Clegg vetoed a government Bill to pave the way for the in/out referendum on the European Union David Cameron has promised by 2017. Instead, Tory ministers may support a backbench Bill.
A Labour source said: "The Coalition was meant to last for a five-year parliament. It has run out of ideas after three years. The people who will suffer are the British public, who are seeing no action on jobs and growth as the economy flatlines."
Conservative and Lib Dem ministers denied that their programme was "thin," pointing to two "meaty" social measures - to cap the amount old people have to pay for residential care at £72,000 and introduce a £144-a-week flat rate state pension.
However, there were differences between the Coalition partners over the Immigration Bill, seen by Tory ministers as a way of reassuring voters who backed the UK Independence Party in last week's local elections. The measure will restrict the right of migrants to free NHS treatment and social housing but the details have not yet been worked out yet and may not be known before the autumn. Downing Street could not promise the law would come into effect before Romanians and Bulgarians get the right to work in Britain from next January.
Lib Dems said they supported a "tough but fair" immigration system but that they would use "different language" to the Tories on the issue. Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Cabinet minister, said: "The message I give as the Business Secretary is that, actually, people who come into the country overwhelmingly make a positive contribution." Lord Oakeshott, the Lib Dems' former Treasury spokesman, accused Theresa May, the Home Secretary, of "pandering to Ukip" by forcing private sector landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants.
Referring to Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, Ed Miliband warned Mr Cameron he would not be able to "out-Farage Farage". The Labour leader told the Commons that yesterday's package was "a no answers Queen's Speech from a tired and failing government --out of touch, out of ideas, standing up for the wrong people and unable to bring the change the country needs."
Mr Cameron described the immigration measures as the "centrepiece" of his administration's plans as they "go right across government". He told MPs: "Put simply, our Immigration Bill will back aspiration and end the legacy of the last Government, where people could come here and expect something for nothing." He insisted the Coalition was "rising to the challenge of preparing this country for the future".
The Prime Minister said the Government was standing up for hard-working people and those who want to get on and making the country competitive so it could win the global race.
Probation shake-up aims to cut stubbornly high reoffending rate
All offenders will be compelled to receive at least one year’s supervision in the community after release from prison – no matter how short a sentence they have served – in an attempt to drive down “stubbornly high reoffending rates”.
Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, will set out the plan today as part of a shake-up of the criminal justice system.
The Offender Rehabilitation Bill, to be published tomorrow, will also announce the designation of 70 jails as “resettlement prisons” where inmates are held before their release near their home areas to prepare them for life in the outside world.
At the moment only offenders sentenced to 12 months or more have to undergo supervision in the community, which can include regular meetings with probation staff to help them with drink and drug problems, as well as with finding a home or job.
Now the scheme will be extended to all offenders, affecting thousands jailed every year.
Under the plans, which are due to come into force in England in 2015, it will be made more difficult for ex-offenders to move home while under supervision. Those who fail to comply with their supervision terms could be fined, ordered to do community work or jailed for up to 14 days.
Although rates of recorded crime are falling, reoffending rates have hardly changed in the past 10 years, with 58 per cent of prisoners serving less than 12 months going on to reoffend in the year after release.
Mr Grayling said: “These reforms represent a golden opportunity to finally turn the tide and put a stopper in the revolving door of the justice system.”