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Queen's Speech: Cameron hails 'radical' programme

25 May 10 21:44 GMT

Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed the Queen's Speech as a "radical programme for a radical government".

The 22 Bills include plans for major reform of schools, police, welfare and Britain's political system.

But cutting the deficit remains the Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition's "first priority".

Labour's acting leader Harriet Harman said the programme, which reflects compromises between the Tories and Lib Dems, put economic recovery at risk.

It is the first time in the Queen's reign she has set out a coalition government's legislative programme.

Unveiling the proposals earlier in the House of Lords, the 58th time she has done so during her reign, the Queen said: "My government's legislative programme will be based upon the principles of freedom, fairness and responsibility."

Schools reform

Flagship measures include scrapping ID cards and the next generation of biometric passports and a Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill - regulating the retention of DNA and the use of CCTV cameras.

Education is also a key priority for the new government and the Queen's Speech includes plans to extend Labour's academy school programme in England and make it easier for parents and other groups to set up "free schools" outside of state control.

A second bill in the autumn will give schools in England greater freedom over the curriculum and teachers greater powers to deal with bad behaviour. It will also establish a "pupil premium", one of the Lib Dems' key policies, to improve schooling for children from the most deprived backgrounds.

BBC deputy political editor James Landale said there had been "a certain amount of confusion" about the new government's flagship education policy ahead of the Queen's Speech, because ministers had yet to work out how much primary legislation was needed.

A Treasury spokesman confirmed that National Insurance rates will be increased for both employers and employees - but for employees this will be offset by a rise in their income tax personal allowance. For employers, the increased rate will be offset by a rise in the National Insurance threshold.

Further details will be revealed in the Budget on 22 July but the government says "under the full changes most people would be better off" than they would have been under the Labour plan.

The coalition has also confirmed it will offer a free vote on the hunting ban - but opponents of the law will have to win twice in the Commons to overturn the existing legislation.

'Political pre-nup'

In his first major speech at the Commons despatch box since becoming prime minister, Mr Cameron attacked the "appalling mess" he said the previous Labour government had left behind and hailed the Queen's Speech as "a new start for Britain".

He told MPs: "This Queen's Speech marks an end to the years of recklessness and big government and the beginning of the years of responsibility and good government.

"It takes the deficit head-on, it shows the world that Britain is re-opening for business, it tackles the causes of our social problems, it means better schools for our children, real hope for those out of work, a stronger NHS for everyone and it means a Parliament that belongs to the people not the politicians."

Labour's acting leader Harriet Harman, who spoke before him in the Commons from the opposition benches, said Labour would "not oppose for the sake of it" but neither would it "pull its punches".

She said: "We will be determined to prevent unfairness. We will speak up for the public services that matter. We will be vigilant in protecting jobs and businesses."

The most important task was protecting the economic recovery, Ms Harman added, and said plans to change the Commons rules were a sign the coalition was already on the rocks.

"These coalition partners, lacking confidence in each other, are already preparing for the day when they shrink back from their loveless embrace. It's like a political pre-nup."

There will now be several days of debate in the Commons over the plans.

MPs concerned about a proposal to require 55% support in Parliament to trigger a dissolution and bring about an election forced a late-night debate in the Commons over the issue.

Ministers said the principle of the policy - designed to maximise the stability of the government - was "firmly settled" but stressed the details had yet to be agreed and it was ultimately up to MPs to decide on the measure.

Electoral reform

Among the other measures outlined in the Queen's Speech are a proposed ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price in England and Wales, with greater powers for councils and police to close down trouble-making pubs and clubs.

There are also proposals to place an annual limit on non-EU immigration, which does not need primary legislation, and plans to "remove barriers to flexible working and promote equal pay".

There are pledges to slash the number of quangos and cut bureaucracy to save £1bn a year.

A Welfare Reform Bill is promised to simplify the benefits system, and the state pension age could be increased to 66 sooner than the present 2024 timetable as part of measures to pay for restoring the link between state pensions and earnings.

There is also be a bill to strengthen financial regulation, a potentially controversial bill to part-privatise the Royal Mail, legislation to allow elected police chiefs in England and Wales and to create a dedicated border force.

One of the most complex and controversial bills covers parliamentary reform, a subject on which all parties agree action is needed after last year's expenses scandal.

As well as giving the public the right to throw out corrupt MPs between elections, it will legislate for a referendum on changing how MPs are elected from the current first-past-the-post system to the Alternative Vote method, but no date has been set for such a vote, prompting criticism from electoral reform campaigners.

'Half-hearted measures'

Electoral reform was a central Liberal Democrat demand in their negotiations on forming a government.

Other plans include the restoration of the link between the state pension and earnings and a referendum on any treaty proposing more powers for the EU.

Public sector union Unison has warned the plans would undermine vital public services by opening them up to greater private sector involvement.

General secretary Dave Prentis said: "The plans set out in this dismal Queen's Speech spell danger for public services, and for economic growth and offer little hope to either the young or long-term jobless."

Angus Robertson for the Scottish National Party told the BBC there was much in the speech the SNP would welcome - like a pledge to implement the Calman Commission recommendations on Scottish devolution and the scrapping of ID cards. But he said: "As ever - government health warning - you have to wait for the detail in all of these Queen's Speeches."

Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd welcomed plans for a referendum on more law making powers for the Welsh Assembly and said it should be brought in without further delay.

Caroline Lucas, the first Green MP at Westminster, dismissed the Queen's Speech as a "pack of half-hearted measures".

The Queen's Speech will be followed by the government's emergency budget on 22 June.

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