Government lays out election agenda

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Labour will seek to rush through measures to reform public services and regulation of the banks in the final session of Parliament before the general election.

The list of Bills included in the Queen’s Speech today includes measures to help the most needy old people receive care in their own homes and new “guarantees” on high educational standards. There will be new powers for the Financial Services Authority to crack down on risky practices –including a right to tear up bankers’ contracts which include unjustified bonuses.

For the first time, the Government will bring in a Fiscal Responsibility Bill to entrench in law its pledge to halve the deficit in the public finances over four years. Although no details were given today, ministers promised that the Chancellor Alistair Darling would spell them out in his Pre-Budget Report on December 9.

The slimline package of 10 new Bills reflected the imminence of the election, which must be held by June 3 next year. There is no guarantee that all the measures announced today will become law by polling day. Some of the proposals will have to be included in Labour’s election manifesto and then brought back if the party wins a fourth term. With Labour trailing in the opinion polls, today’s event was widely seen as the start of a long election campaign lasting more than six months. The most likely election date is thought to be May 6.

One key measure will be to ensure free personal care for 280,000 elderly and disabled people with the highest needs. Officials estimate that about 400,000 people will benefit from the Personal care at Home Bill, which will cost £670m a year to implement. But proposals to prevent old people selling their properties to pay care home fees will have to wait until after the election.

A Crime and Security Bill pledges to crack down on anti-social behaviour with compulsory parenting checks when youths are unruly.

A Health Bill, which would have introduced an 18-week maximum waiting time between a GP appointment and operation, was left out of the programme, but the change will be brought in through secondary legislation to amend the new NHS constitution.

Ministers insisted that "most" of the proposed Bills would be passed before the election. Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, dismissed accusations that the Government was using its programme for party political ends, saying: "The key message is the same as with every Queen's Speech, this is about governing, it's not about electioneering."

But David Cameron dismissed the speech as a "political exercise" and a "waste of time". He said:"This Queen's Speech is not about the good of the country, this Queen's Speech is going to be about trying to save the Labour Party. It's a whole lot of bills just legislating some intent but not actually doing anything."

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg called in The Independent for the speech to be cancelled so that MPs could concentrate on cleaning-up their expenses and reforming the political system.