Queen's Speech 'to rebuild Britain'

 

David Cameron today unveiled his legislative programme for the coming year in what he termed "a Queen's Speech to rebuild Britain".

The programme outlined by the Queen to Parliament included bills to reform pensions, reduce red tape on businesses, offer flexible working for parents and protect consumers from the consequences of another banking crisis.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the package offered "no change, no hope" and proved Mr Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg did not get the message sent them by voters in local elections last Thursday.

But the measure which will spark most controversy in Westminster, and threatens to swallow up most parliamentary time over the coming months, was a Bill to reform the House of Lords to include elected members for the first time.

No details of the proposed changes are being released until the Bill is published, though the Government has previously put forward an 80% elected upper house, with 300 members serving single 15-year terms.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister said that he backed change but did not regard it as a priority, adding that it could only proceed on the basis of consensus.

His comments sparked speculation that he is ready for the measure - a key priority of his Liberal Democrat coalition partners - to run into the sand in the face of intractable opposition from some of his own backbenchers.

The PM's official spokesman declined to discuss whether Tory MPs would be whipped to support Lords reform, but added: "It is a Government bill, it is part of the Government's programme, we intend to take it through."

The slimline package of just 15 bills and four draft bills was notable for several measures which it did not contain.

There was no legislation to regulate lobbying or introduce gay marriage, and campaigners expressed disappointment at the failure to enshrine the 0.7% overseas aid target in law or to bring forward a fundamental overhaul of the adult care system.

The scene was set for fresh clashes with unions, as ministers made clear they will press ahead with controversial reforms to public sector pensions a day before a planned walkout by thousands of workers.

And plans to overhaul employment tribunals, remove "unnecessary" business legislation and limit inspection of firms were condemned by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber as an "incoherent hotchpotch".

Business Secretary Vince Cable said the measures, in an Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which also establishes a Green Investment Bank to promote low-carbon growth, would "help strengthen the business environment and boost consumer and business confidence".

A Banking Reform Bill will implement proposals from last year's Vickers Report to require banks to "ring-fence" the household and business services of their High Street branches from the riskier "casino" activities of investment arms, and to allow banks which fail to be shut down safely.

Elsewhere, there were measures to support families by shaking up services for children with special needs, lifting barriers to inter-racial adoption, speeding up courts' handling of care cases and giving fathers better access rights after divorce or separation.

Legislation will raise the state pension age to 67 between 2026 and 2028 and will commit the Government to further increases as lifespans lengthen. The Pensions Bill will also implement the Budget proposal for a new single-tier state pension set at around £140 a week.

A new National Crime Agency, due to start work in 2013 tackling serious and organised crime and strengthening border security, will be established by the Crime and Courts Bill, which also introduces an offence of drug-driving and modernises the court system and the process for appointing judges in England and Wales.

But Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg insisted that the Government's main focus over the coming year will remain on bringing down the state deficit and promoting economic growth.

In a joint statement they said: "The primary task of the Government remains ensuring that we deal with the deficit and stretch every sinew to return growth to the economy, providing jobs and opportunities to hard-working people across Britain who want to get on."

Mr Cameron told MPs that today's package was "a Queen's Speech for the doers, the strivers and those who work hard and play by the rules".

He said: "This is a Government that is taking the tough decisions to help families who work hard and do the right thing, acting for the long term, governing in the national interest. This is a Queen's Speech to rebuild Britain."

But Mr Miliband said that the legislative agenda set out today showed that the Government was out of touch with voters, in the wake of the mauling handed out to Tory and Lib Dem councillors in last week's mid-term elections.

"This is the Speech that was supposed to be the Government's answer to the clear message from the electorate last week. But on today's evidence, they still don't get it," said the Labour leader.

"For a young person looking for work, this speech offers nothing. For a family whose living standards are being squeezed, this speech offers nothing. For the millions of people who think the Government is not on their side, this speech offers nothing.

"No change, no hope. That is the real message of this Queen's Speech."

In an email to his party activists, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Queen's Speech had a "firm Liberal Democrat stamp on it".

"Today's Queen's Speech has again shown that the Liberal Democrats are punching way above their weight - and we can be proud of that," he wrote.

"It included many of the long-term reforms we've campaigned for, such as reform of the banks. These will help build a sustainable future for our country.

"In 2010, we took the decision together to enter into a coalition Government so we could do the right thing for the country at a time of economic crisis. Today we've focused on helping families and supporting growth and jobs.

"Vince Cable will regulate the banks so they can no longer be in a position to hold the country to ransom when their financial gambles don't pay off. And Ed Davey will establish the world's first Green Investment Bank and introduce electricity market reform to protect consumers, support low-carbon energy and invest in renewables.

"We're also helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Steve Webb will help pensioners by introducing a flat-rate pension. We'll propose a way to modernise adult care and support, finally ensuring dignity in old age.

"Today also clearly set out our collective determination to reform the House of Lords, an historic commitment of our party."

PA

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