Brown lays down election battle lines

Author: By James Tapsfield, Press Association

With less than seven months to go before the country must go to the polls, the
Queen’s Speech set out a series of populist bills designed to draw the
battle lines between the parties.

Legislation is being brought forward to ensure free personal care for 280,000
elderly and disabled people with the highest needs.

There will also be new guarantees for parents on schooling as well as a
crackdown on “risky” bank bonuses, and a law committing the
Government to halve its deficit over the next four years.

But with parliamentary time running out, few of the streamlined package of 14
bills are expected to make it to the statute book before the general
election.

The programme includes a number of previously-announced measures, such as
giving agency workers equal rights on pay, holidays and basic conditions,
and introducing a binding commitment to abolish child poverty by 2020.

There will also be pledges to crack down on anti-social behaviour with
compulsory parenting checks when youths are unruly.

In a move that will please Labour’s Left, a ban on cluster munitions will be
put before parliament. On the environment, legislation will be tabled to
support carbon capture technology and improve flood defences.

However, expected commitments giving NHS patients the right to treatment
within 18 weeks of referral by a GP – with suspected cancer sufferers being
seen within two weeks – appear to have been dropped.

The Queen told the assembled MPs and peers: “My Government’s overriding
priority is to ensure sustained growth to deliver a fair and prosperous
economy for families and businesses, as the British economy recovers from
the global economic downturn.

“By the active creation of jobs, restructuring the financial sector,
strengthening the national infrastructure and providing responsible
investment, my Government will foster growth and employment.”

The Personal Care at Home bill is intended to enable elderly and disabled
people to remain in their own homes – rather than going into residential
care – while laying the foundations for the new national care service
promised by Mr Brown in his party conference speech in September.

Officials estimate that about 400,000 people will benefit from the measures in
the bill, which will cost £670 million a year to implement.

They include a guarantee of free personal care at home for up to 280,000
people with the greatest needs – although 166,000 do already receive free
care.

A further 130,000 who need home care will also benefit for the first time from
other measures including adaptations to their homes – such as the
installation of electronic pill dispensers – so that they can carry on
living in them for as long as possible.

According to officials, the financial measures in the programme should ensure
that future banking crises will “never again come at a cost to the
living standards of Britain’s families”.

The Financial Services Bill will bolster the Financial Services Authority
(FSA), giving it the power to tear up bankers’ contracts which could promote
risky behaviour.

Key banks and financial institutions will also be obliged to draw up “living
wills” describing how they can be wound up without threatening the
stability of the overall system.

The Fiscal Responsibility Bill will provide a “firm and binding statutory
basis” for reining in the Government’s spiralling debt in the wake of
the credit crunch and recession, according to officials.

The Chancellor is expected to give full details of the recovery plan and
legislation when he delivers his Pre-Budget Report (PBR) next month.

There are also high-profile moves on education, with a Children Schools and
Families Bill due to introduce so-called “MOT” licensing for
teachers, extend the information on schools available for parents, and
guarantee one-to-one tuition for pupils who fall behind.

Meanwhile, it was announced that new South Africa president Jacob Zuma has
been invited to make a state visit to the UK next March.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said the Government had listened
and has taken up issues which matter to people, such as care for the
elderly, curbs on risk-taking and sharp practices by the financial sector,
poverty and the environment.

“This is in contrast to the Tories and Lib Dems, who seem to think that
Parliament should spend the next six months twiddling its collective thumbs.

“It’s a shame that the Government won’t have time to enact some of these
proposals. We will be campaigning for cast-iron guarantees that they will be
contained in Labour’s election manifesto as firm commitments for a new
Parliament.”

Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB union, said: “It is high time that the
Government took proper legal powers to cut bankers’ bonuses. It is unlikely
that the Tory party, which is fielding 63 bankers and financiers as
candidates in the next election, will support the Government on this
long-overdue popular measure.

“GMB members will welcome the new legal rights to standards in health and
education. They will want to know if the Tory party supports the new legal
right to see a specialist in two weeks if a GP suspects a patient may have
cancer.”

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