Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Policy programme 'backs aspiration'

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attend the State Opening of Parliament

David Cameron has unveiled the Government's legislative programme for the coming year, which he said would back aspiration and hard-working people and help boost Britain's economic growth.

But the agenda set out at the state opening of Parliament was dismissed by Labour's Ed Miliband as a "no-answers Queen's Speech from a tired and failing Government".

Centrepiece of the programme detailed by the Queen in her annual address to MPs and peers was an Immigration Bill which will make it harder for migrants to access free healthcare, introduce tougher fines for businesses using illegal labour and require private landlords to check the immigration status of tenants.

The package of 17 new bills set out amid scenes of pomp and ceremony in the House of Lords also included plans to cap social care costs, introduce a flat-rate state pension, extend consumer rights and cut the regulation burden on small businesses.

The Queen told MPs and peers that the Government's legislative programme would "continue to focus on building a stronger economy so that the United Kingdom can compete and succeed in the world".

"It will also work to promote a fairer society that rewards people who work hard," she stated.

But the programme was notable as much for what it omitted as what it included. Despite the hopes of eurosceptic Conservative backbenchers, there was no legislation to pave the way for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

MPs are now likely to be queuing up to propose their own Private Member's Bills or table amendments to the EU Approvals Bill to give legal force to Mr Cameron's promise of a public poll by 2017.

Downing Street was forced to deny that Conservative elections adviser Lynton Crosby - whose lobbying firm has worked for tobacco and drink companies - had any hand in the absence of mooted health protection measures to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes and minimum unit prices for alcohol or the failure to legislate on a register for lobbyists.

There was no mention of the bill legalising gay marriages, carried over from the last session of Parliament in the face of bitter opposition from some on the Tory benches, and no bill to enshrine in law the Government's pledge to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid.

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