Cameron asks for five more years

DAVID Cameron asked voters to give him five more years to complete the country’s economic turnaround today as the Queen’s Speech set the battleground for next year’s General Election.

The Queen prepares to deliver her speech in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament

The Prime Minister insisted the Government had a “packed” programme despite the Speech containing just 11 new Bills which included measures to make fracking for shale gas easier, reform pensions, combat slavery and help with childcare costs.

But the broader theme of the Speech, and the argument the Coalition partners will put to voters in the coming months, was that the focus must remain on securing the economic recovery and tackling the country’s debts.

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The Prime Minister said: “This Queen’s Speech sets out the next vital steps in seeing through this vital plan to secure our future but it will take the rest of this Parliament and the next to finish the task of turning our country around.

The Queen prepares to deliver her speech in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament

“That is the enormity of the challenge we face but it is matched by the strength of our commitment to sorting it out.”

The Prime Minister said the Government was offering a “packed programme of a busy and radical government” while Labour could only offer a “ragbag, lucky dip selection of ‘70s statist ideas”.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband claimed the Queen’s Speech showed the Coalition had not learned the lesson of the European and local elections where low turnouts and support for the UK Independence Party, he argued, showed swathes of the public have lost faith in politics.

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.

The Labour leader and Doncaster MP also gave his clearest commitment yet to giving regions such as Yorkshire far more control over their economic affairs.

“We do need to give our towns, our cities, our communities the tools to do that job,” he said.

While the bulk of the Queen’s Speech had been widely trailed, a surprise addition was proposals to introduce direct elections for national park authorities such as those covering the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.

There was also the promise of a new law, first promised by the Coalition in 2010, to give voters the power to force a by-election to remove their MP.

However, critics suggested the mechanism for triggering a by-election was designed in such a way that it could rarely be used.

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, cuts in red tape for small businesses, and planning reforms to free up land for housing.

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

The short list of Bills unveiled prompted accusations that the Coalition has run out of ideas and is marking time ahead of the election campaign.

But business groups welcomed a relatively slim programme rather than the blizzard of new laws seen in previous Queen’s Speeches.

Simon Walker, director-general of the Institute of Directors, said: “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.”