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Cameron hails 'packed programme'

David Cameron has sought to shrug off Labour jibes that he is heading a "zombie" administration, telling MPs that the Queen's Speech put forward the "packed programme of a busy and radical government".

The legislative programme for the final year of the coalition, outlined by the Queen at the state opening of Parliament, contained only 11 new bills, prompting accusations that Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers will simply be marking time until they do battle with one another at the general election in May 2015.

At the heart of the programme were pension reforms which Mr Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described as a "revolution" which would effect the most radical transformation ever of the system of support for the elderly, by abolishing the requirement for them to buy annuities and allowing workers to join Dutch-style collective schemes.

Other legislation planned for the next 10 months includes protections for have-a-go heroes and volunteers, support for shale gas "fracking", cuts in red tape for small businesses, tax-free childcare worth £2,000 a year per child for parents, moves to outlaw modern-day slavery and planning reforms to free up land for housing.

But one eye-catching promise risked backfiring on the Government, as a high-profile Tory advocate of the power for voters to "recall" misbehaving MPs dismissed a proposed law as "meaningless".

Zac Goldsmith warned that the Recall of MPs Bill would fuel public cynicism about politics, by allowing voters to launch a petition to demand a by-election only after the House of Commons has resolved that a member is guilty of "serious wrong-doing" or if the MP is jailed for less than 12 months.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said that recent local and European elections - in which all three mainstream parties fared poorly while "outsiders" like Ukip and the Greens surged forward - showed that Parliament was facing "a battle for relevance, legitimacy and standing in the eyes of the public".

And he warned: "We need to rise to this challenge but this Queen's Speech doesn't do it."

A Labour government would be introducing " a make work pay bill to reward hard work, a banking bill to support small businesses, a community bill to devolve power, an immigration bill to stop workers being undercut, a consumers bill to freeze energy bills, a housing bill to tackle a housing crisis, and an NHS bill to make it easier to see your GP and stop this privatisation", he said.

But Mr Cameron accused him of producing "a rag-bag lucky dip-pick and mix selection of 1970s statist ideas" which failed to address the country's economic difficulties.

In a clear plea to be returned to office next May to continue his "long-term economic plan", Mr Cameron said "It will take the rest of this Parliament and the next to finish the task of turning our country around. That is the enormity of the challenge we face but it is matched by the strength of our commitment to sorting it out."

The coalition's final Queen's Speech was conducted amid traditional pageantry but was one of the shortest of recent years, clocking in at less than 10 minutes, and was notable mainly for the thud heard when a page boy fainted and collapsed to the floor just yards from Her Majesty's throne.

The list of new bills was shorter than in any other year of the past two decades. By comparison, Tony Blair unveiled 32 bills in 2004, 45 in 2005 and 31 in 2006.

Planned legislation included:

:: A bill to protect people who find themselves in court after acting heroically, responsibly or for the benefit of others - for instance if they are sued for negligence or breach of duty after intervening in an emergency or volunteering to help others;

:: A Small Business Bill to set a deregulation target to be met by every future parliament, help companies get credit from banks and crack down on delays in employment tribunals. Measures will also be brought forward to end the "revolving door" culture of big pay-offs for senior public servants taking redundancy and to tackle abuse of zero-hours contracts and the minimum wage;

:: An Infrastructure Bill to support shale gas and maximise the exploitation of North Sea reserves in the hope of making the UK "energy-independent" and to boost house-building by selling off unused public land for development;

:: A Serious Crimes Bill extending the definition of child cruelty to cover serious cases of emotional neglect and psychological harm;

New anti-litter measures will extend the 5p charge for single-use plastic bags already in operation in Wales and Northern Ireland to England from October 2015. Scotland is expected to introduce a similar charge later this year.

And members of the armed forces will enjoy a strengthened complaints procedure, overseen by a new service complaints ombudsman.

Meanwhile, the speech reaffirmed the Government's determination to press ahead with reductions in the state deficit and its intention to "continue to cut taxes in order to increase people's financial security". And it confirmed plans to bring forward controversial changes to the Charter for Budget Responsibility which will require all future governments to "spend taxpayers' money responsibly".

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "This is not a Queen's Speech for people at work.

"It is missing anything that will allow them to share in the recovery with a proper wage increase. It has nothing to ensure properly-funded public services, particularly the NHS. And there is nothing to rebalance the economy to ensure we create good jobs and a sustainable future. "

But Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, welcomed the Government's decision to focus on a relatively small number of priorities.

"With less than a year to go until the general election, the Government is right to focus on a small number of bills and targeted legislation, he said.

"The overall message appears to be one of growth, innovation and help for people who want to start and grow a business."

The deputy director general of the Confederation of British Industry, Katja Hall, said: " The last thing businesses wanted was a raft of new legislation, so they will be bolstered by targeted measures to cement long-term growth, promote jobs and raise living standards. The recovery is already motoring ahead and this Queen's Speech should help step it up a gear."

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