Government lays out election agenda

Author: By Andrew Grice, Political Editor

The list of Bills included in the Queen?s Speech today includes measures to
help the most needy old people receive care in their own homes and new
?guarantees? on high educational standards. There will be new powers for the
Financial Services Authority to crack down on risky practices ?including a
right to tear up bankers? contracts which include unjustified bonuses.

For the first time, the Government will bring in a Fiscal Responsibility Bill
to entrench in law its pledge to halve the deficit in the public finances
over four years. Although no details were given today, ministers promised
that the Chancellor Alistair Darling would spell them out in his Pre-Budget
Report on December 9.

The slimline package of 10 new Bills reflected the imminence of the election,
which must be held by June 3 next year. There is no guarantee that all the
measures announced today will become law by polling day. Some of the
proposals will have to be included in Labour?s election manifesto and then
brought back if the party wins a fourth term. With Labour trailing in the
opinion polls, today?s event was widely seen as the start of a long
election campaign lasting more than six months. The most likely election
date is thought to be May 6.

One key measure will be to ensure free personal care for 280,000 elderly and
disabled people with the highest needs. Officials estimate that about
400,000 people will benefit from the Personal care at Home Bill, which will
cost £670m a year to implement. But proposals to prevent old people selling
their properties to pay care home fees will have to wait until after the
election.

A Crime and Security Bill pledges to crack down on anti-social behaviour with
compulsory parenting checks when youths are unruly.

A Health Bill, which would have introduced an 18-week maximum waiting time
between a GP appointment and operation, was left out of the programme, but
the change will be brought in through secondary legislation to amend the
new NHS constitution.

Ministers insisted that “most” of the proposed Bills would be passed before
the election. Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, dismissed accusations
that the Government was using its programme for party political ends,
saying: “The key message is the same as with every Queen’s Speech, this is
about governing, it’s not about electioneering.”

But David Cameron dismissed the speech as a “political exercise” and a “waste
of time”. He said:”This Queen’s Speech is not about the good of the country,
this Queen’s Speech is going to be about trying to save the Labour Party.
It’s a whole lot of bills just legislating some intent but not actually
doing anything.”

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg called in The Independent for the
speech to be cancelled so that MPs could concentrate on cleaning-up their
expenses and reforming the political system.

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