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Queen’s speech: Voters given bigger voice on national parks

The Queen delivers her speech in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament

The Queen delivers her speech in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament

Voters are to be given powers to boot misbehaving MPs out of Parliament under new legislation included in the Queen’s Speech.

The new power of recall - promised in the coalition agreement in 2010 - will be triggered only if MPs are given jail sentences of less than 12 months or if the House of Commons resolves that they have engaged in “serious wrongdoing”. Voters would then have to collect the signatures of 10% of constituents to force a by-election.

People living in Yorkshire’s two national parks could also be given the chance to directly elect members of the park authorities which determine critical issues, such as planning applications, for the first time.

The provisions were included in a relatively light legislative programme of just 11 new bills for the last year of the coalition Government before the 2015 general election, unveiled by the Queen amid traditional pomp and ceremony at the state opening of Parliament.

In a statement issued alongside the Speech, David Cameron and Nick Clegg insisted it showed the coalition was “still taking bold steps” to “take Britain forward to a brighter future”. But Labour’s Ed Miliband said that it failed to live up to the scale of the challenges faced by Britain.

Centrepiece of the programme are pension reforms which Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg promised will deliver “the biggest transformation in our pensions system since its inception”, abolishing the requirement for pensioners to buy an annuity to provide a dependable income during retirement and allowing workers to join Dutch-style collective pension schemes.

Describing the changes as a “revolution” in pension provision, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister said that the changes will give people “both freedom and security in retirement”.

Her Majesty also unveiled a bill designed 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 will set a deregulation target to be met by every future Parliament, provide measures to help companies get credit from banks and crack down on expensive delays in the 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 failure to pay the minimum wage.

An Infrastructure Bill will support the development of shale gas by the controversial “fracking” process and maximise the exploitation of North Sea reserves in the hope of making the UK “energy independent and in control of its own future and not reliant on foreign countries for oil and gas”. The Bill also seeks to boost house-building by selling off unused public land for development and to guarantee long-term investment in the road network.

Planning reforms will enable the construction of new garden cities and support small building firms in a bid to ease the housing crisis

Legislation will be brought forward to make good on promises of tax-free childcare worth £2,000 a year per child and free school meals for all infant pupils.

And a Serious Crimes Bill will extend the definition of child cruelty to ensure it covers the most serious cases of emotional neglect and psychological harm, in a so-called “Cinderella law”. The Bill will also outlaw written paedophile material. Members of the armed forces will enjoy a strengthened complaints procedure, overseen by a new Service Complaints Ombudsman.

A Slavery Bill will make the reporting of human trafficking a legal duty, introduce an Anti-Slavery Commissioner and increase sentences for those found guilty of trafficking people into the country, often for prostitution or illicit work.

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.

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 brought forward controversial changes to the Charter for Budget Responsibility which will require all future governments to “spend taxpayers’ money responsibly”.

Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg described the programme as “unashamedly pro-work, pro-business and pro-aspiration”.

They said it marked “the next big step in our long-term plan for Britain. Its aim: to secure the recovery for our country... Its guiding principle: to back everyone who wants to get on in life. We may be two parties, with two different philosophies, but we understand one thing: countries rise when their people rise.”

But Mr Miliband said that last week’s local and European elections showed “the depths of discontent with the direction of our country, which people increasingly feel does not work for them”. He was expected to set out a series of bills on banking, consumer rights, housing, communities and immigration, which Labour would put into law if it was in power.

“We need action, we need answers, we need a programme for government equal to the scale of the challenge our country faces,” said the Labour leader.

“We would have a Queen’s Speech with legislation which would make work pay, reform our banks, freeze energy bills and build homes again in Britain. A Queen’s Speech which signals a new direction for Britain, not one which offers more of the same.”

 

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