UK Politics

David Cameron hails 'busy and radical' Queen's Speech

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Media captionThe Queen's Speech in full

David Cameron has hailed the Queen's Speech as "a packed programme of a busy and radical government" amid claims the coalition has run out of steam.

He was defending the 11 new bills that make up the coalition's plans for its final year in power before an election.

Highlights include pension reforms, new rights for fracking firms and limited power to recall misbehaving MPs.

Labour sources said it was "staggering" that the NHS and immigration were not mentioned in the Queen's Speech.

Ed Miliband said the speech failed to match the scale of the challenges Britain faces. The Labour leader told MPs: "We would have a Queen's Speech with legislation which would make work pay, reform our banks, freeze energy bills and build homes again in Britain.

"A Queen's Speech which signals a new direction for Britain, not one which offers more of the same."

Mr Cameron said the government's "long-term economic plan is working but there is much, much more to do," adding that it would "take the rest of this Parliament and the next to finish the task of turning our country around".

He accused Mr Miliband of having a "rag bag, pick-and-mix selection of statist Seventies ideas", describing them as a "revival of Michael Foot's policies paid for by (Unite union leader) Len McCluskey's money".

Among the measures announced were:

  • A bill implementing reforms to annuities allowing people to draw their retirement income in one go if they choose
  • A separate bill to allow employees to pay into collective pension funds shared with other workers
  • A new state-funded childcare subsidy worth up to £2,000 a year, replacing the existing employer-funded scheme
  • A bill offering extra legal protection for people being sued for negligence if they acted heroically or in the public interest
  • Curbs on "excessive redundancy payments" for highly-paid public servants
  • Tougher penalties for employers who fail to pay the minimum wage and a crackdown on the abuse of zero hours contracts
  • Plans for a 5p charge for plastic bags in England
  • A bill allowing fracking firms to run shale gas pipelines deep under private land without getting prior permission
  • Tougher powers to seize the assets of crime bosses, tackle cyber crime and make possession of written paedophilia a criminal offence
  • A Modern Slavery Bill with tougher penalties for human trafficking
  • Help for pub landlords including a statutory code and a body to adjudicate disputes
  • Giving voters the power to trigger by-elections where MPs have committed serious wrong-doing

The Queen presided over the state opening of Parliament for the 63rd time, amid the traditional pomp and ceremony.

"My government's legislative programme will continue to deliver on its long-term plan to build a stronger economy and a fairer society," she said in a speech written for her by ministers.

"To strengthen the economy and provide stability and security, my ministers will continue to reduce the country's deficit, helping to ensure that mortgage and interest rates remain low."

There was a moment of drama towards the end of the speech when one of the Queen's page boys, who carry her train as she arrives and leaves the chamber, appeared to faint.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall reach towards a pageboy who fainted

A loud thud could be heard in the House of Lords, as she spoke of the need to work towards a "comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran".

The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, who were sat nearest to the boy, showed concern as help was called to assist him and he was carried out of the chamber.

MPs are debating the planned legislation in the Commons.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Greenpeace activists stage an anti-fracking protest at David Cameron's Oxfordshire home

In a joint statement released alongside the speech, Mr Cameron and his Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg took steps to reject the idea that the months leading up to next May's general election would be dominated by Conservative and Lib Dem wrangling.

The PM and deputy PM said the coalition was "still taking bold steps" to "take Britain forward to a brighter future".

"We may be two parties, with two different philosophies but we understand one thing," they added.

"Countries rise when their people rise. So this Queen's Speech is unashamedly pro-work, pro-business and pro-aspiration."

Image copyright Reuters

Speculation ahead of the speech that it could include a fresh crackdown on immigration, in the wake of UKIP's success in the European and local elections, proved groundless.

But it did include a renewed commitment to the Help to Buy scheme, following criticism from the European Commission and others that it is fuelling an unsustainable housing boom. The Speech also repeated David Cameron's commitment to promote reform of the European Union "including a stronger role for member states and national parliaments".

Plans to support the development of shale gas by the "fracking" process are among the most controversial measures included in the Speech.

Enough to kill off Labour's 'zombie government' claim?

Analysis by Iain Watson

Image copyright Publicity handout

Just about every Labour MP who has graced a broadcast studio has denounced the coalition as a "zombie government". The dictionary describes such a creature as "mute and listless" with only "the semblance of life". Zombies, that is, not MPs. The evidence? Well, there are fewer bills being proposed since… er, the last year of the last Labour government, under Gordon Brown. Fans of the horror genre will be aware that zombies may well be listless - but they are not benign, and can often harm living beings. What will really be causing Labour nightmares won't be any lack of new bills by a "zombie" government. It will be whether, with signs of an economic recovery, the government - and primarily the Conservatives - will remain more trusted to hold the nation's purse strings by the time of the general election.

Greenpeace activists, who say the Infrastructure Bill will clear the way for fracking firms to drill under people's land and property without their permission, staged a protest at David Cameron's Oxfordshire home.

The activists erected security fencing around the prime minister's cottage in the Cotswold hamlet of Dean and put up a sign saying: "We apologise for any inconvenience we may cause while we frack under your home".

The state opening of Parliament, one of the highlights of the Westminster calendar, used to take place in the autumn but was moved to the early summer by the coalition government. This year saw the Queen travel to the event in her new Diamond Jubilee carriage.

  • Wheel


    The wheels - cast in aircraft aluminium - feature the name of coach designer and builder Australian Jim Frecklington. It was originally intended to reach the Queen in time for her 80th birthday, but various delays meant it took 10 years to complete. It has been bought by the Royal Collection Trust for an undisclosed sum and will go on display at the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace.

  • Stone of Destiny


    A piece of the Stone of Destiny, used for centuries in the coronation of monarchs, is set into a panel below the seats. The seats themselves are upholstered in pastel gold-coloured silk brocade. Other decorations include a bolt from a Spitfire, a musket ball from the battle of Waterloo and a fragment of a 617 Squadron Dambuster. The doors are inlaid with diamonds and sapphires.

  • Wood


    The interior walls and doors of the carriage are inlaid with small varnished wooden squares from a range of historic sources, such as Henry VIII’s warship Mary Rose, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and the apple tree, which inspired Sir Isaac Newton to form his theory of gravity. The handrails are made from Royal Yacht Britannia timber.

  • Crown


    The golden crown on the roof was carved from wood from Lord Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. In total, about 400 books of gold leaf were used to decorate the vehicle.

  • Carriage technology


    The carriage is fitted with gold-plated hydraulics, to ensure a smooth ride. Inside, it also has a heater, electric windows and a 360-degree camera, to give a monarch's view of the procession.

Plans in the speech to introduce a power of recall for misbehaving MPs sparked controversy. The idea was promised in the 2010 coalition agreement but was thought to have been dropped after rows between senior Conservative and Lib Dem ministers.

Under the proposed legislation, a recall will only be triggered if MPs are given jail sentences of less than 12 months or if the House of Commons resolves that they have engaged in "serious wrongdoing". Voters would then have to collect the signatures of 10% of constituents to force a by-election.

Conservative backbencher Zac Goldsmith, who has been campaigning for tougher recall powers, said the proposed bill was "worse than meaningless" because a committee of MPs would still have the final say.

He said it would be "a waste of Parliament's time" unless it can be amended.

James Landale on historical significance of the occasion

"As you watch the state opening of parliament, remember it is one of the strongest ceremonial demonstrations of our liberty that we have. Democracy is not just the freedom to vote out a government we dislike; it is also the freedom not to be ruled by an autocratic monarch chosen by God. It is what our ancestors fought over in the civil war. And it is a right that we are reminded of every year." James Landale on how the Queen's Speech show us who isn't boss.

Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron said that the Queen's Speech was "very substantial", telling the BBC's World at One: "I suspect the pensions proposals will be around for a generation or more and will be remembered. It's about making sure they are fairer, cheaper, more secure, more reliable and potentially better for people."

Green MP Caroline Lucas accused the government of ignoring public opinion on the proposed fracking law and said ministers were "steamrolling through legislation that will deny people any say in what happens to the very ground beneath their homes".

Plaid Cymru's leader at Westminster, Elfyn Llwyd, also expressed concern about the fracking plans, and added: "This was an uninspired Queen's Speech delivered by a government that has well and truly run out of steam."

The SNP said the final Queen's Speech before Scotland votes on independence contained nothing to win over Scottish voters.

UKIP's head of policy, MEP for the East of England Tim Aker, said the Queen's Speech contained no policies on issues the general public care about.

"The decision to only offer recall voting on a signed-off-by-Parliament-basis reflects a political class that does not know, does not trust and certainly does not represent its people. As far as I can tell, the contents of the Queen's Speech shows just why that democratic gulf is widening and UKIP are growing so rapidly in the polls," he added.

In addition to the 11 new bills there are six other ones - including one authorising the building of a new high-speed rail line between London and the West Midlands - being carried over from the last session.

There are also three draft bills, setting out legislation to improve compensation for people whose property has been damaged in riots, protect charities from abuse and improve the governance of national parks in England.

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