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Queen's Speech: David Cameron shrugs off Labour's jibes his 'Zombie coalition' just marking time

By Andrew Woodcock

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" that 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.

Much of it will only apply to England and Wales.

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 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 elections – in which all three mainstream parties fared poorly – showed that Parliament was facing "a battle for relevance, legitimacy and standing in the eyes of the public".

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

The coalition's final Queen's Speech 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 includes:

  • 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 after intervening in an emergency.
  • 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 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".
  • 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.


Queen's Speech: key points as the GOvernment sets out its legislative agenda for the year ahead

Workplace pensions

Radical plans to introduce giant ‘pooled’ pension schemes which can potentially generate better retirement outcomes have been unveiled in the Queen's Speech.

Such ‘collective schemes’ will spread the risk between thousands of other members and could offer them greater stability over the eventual size of the pension they will end up with, while limiting costs to employers because of their economies of scale. The pension that is paid out of this type of pot when someone retires is often a proportion of their average salary, with some inflation uplift built in.

But some experts warned that, unlike defined benefit schemes where you get a guaranteed retirement income, the target pension paid from pooled schemes may be adjusted downwards if investments do not pan out as expected.


Childcare subsidy

New tax-free childcare measures worth up to £2,000 a year per child included in the Queen's Speech won’t apply to Northern Ireland.

Under the Childcare Payments Bill, a new scheme is due to be introduced to give working families basic rate tax relief on money spent on childcare.

The legislation will entitle anyone who is responsible for a child to gain support with the cost of nursery, a childminder or other types of childcare. For every £8 a parent pays for childcare, the Government will contribute £2, with support capped at £2,000 per child per year.

Childcare matters are largely devolved to the Assembly, but the Executive can apply to the Treasury for Northern Ireland to receive funding to implement a similar scheme here.


Plastic bag levy

The Government will introduce a charge on single-use carrier bags to cut litter.

A 5p charge will be introduced in England from October 2015 to help reduce the number of plastic bags handed out by retailers.

The Assembly introduced a 5p carrier bag levy to Northern Ireland in April 2013


Punishing rogue MPs

New powers allowing voters to kick out MPs who break the law are being introduced after years of delays over the move.

Constituents will be able to sack their MP if they are sentenced to up to 12 months in jail, under measures announced in the Queen's Speech.

Voters could also trigger a by-election if the House of Commons resolves that an MP has engaged in “serious wrongdoing”.

Under the Recall of MPs Bill, a vote would be forced if more than 10% of constituents sign a petition over an eight-week period.

MPs are now only expelled from Parliament if they are jailed for more than one year. Less serious wrongdoing is punished by temporary suspension from the House. The Government said the move will give constituents a direct voice when MPs have behaved badly.


Helping small businesses

THE NI Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) welcomed the inclusion of a Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act in the Queen’s Speech. It said it would help tackle key issues such as late payment, excessive regulation and access to finance.

The Bill will also stop highly paid public sector employees keeping redundancy payments when they return quickly to a similar job.

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