Miliband unveils alternative Queen's Speech

The Labour leader announces six economic bills that the party would introduce were it in power now.

The recent interventions by Tony Blair and Len McCluskey in the New Statesman shared one thing in common: a desire for Ed Miliband to set out a clearer alternative to the coalition's programme. Today, during a local election campaign appearance in Newcastle, Miliband will attempt to do that when he announces six economic bills that Labour would introduce in next week's Queen's Speech were it in power. They include a housing bill, a finance bill, a consumers bill (focused on energy, transport and pensions), a jobs bill, a banking bill and an immigration bill. 

The bills do not feature any new policies but do bring together those measures previously announced by the party, such as a reintroduced 10p tax rate funded by a mansion tax, a temporary VAT cut, a one year national insurance holiday for small firms, a jobs guarantee for every adult out of work for more than two years and every young person out of work for more than a year, the creation of a British Investment Bank and the introduction of a national register of landlords.

But while the alternative Queen's Speech is a reminder of how much policy has Miliband unveiled to date (his chief strategist Stewart Wood has commented: "We’ve got more policy proposals than almost any other opposition I can think of...And can you name a single policy Cameron had before his election campaign?") it will not lessen the pressure on him to say what Labour would do in 2015, rather than merely if it were in power now. In response, Miliband and Ed Balls rightly point out that the volatility of the economy - the government is borrowing £245bn more than expected in 2010 and the economy has grown by just 1.1 per cent, 4.9 per cent less than expected - means it would be irresponsible to make cast-iron pledges at this stage. But with just two years to go to the general election and Labour's poll lead looking increasingly soft, this stance will become ever harder to maintain. 

Here are full details of the six bills Labour would introduce. 

Housing Bill

Problem:

· The housing market has changes significantly in recent years. There are now 3.8 million households in the private rented sector, including more than one million with children.

· Many are being ripped off through hidden fees, which are costing tenants £76m per year.

· More than a third of all privately rented homes are not up to decent standards, with more than 15 per cent lacking minimal heat in winter.

The Bill would:

· Introduce a national register of landlords, to allow local authorities to root out and strike off rogue landlords, including those who pack people into overcrowded accommodation.

· Tackle rip-off letting agents, ending the confusing, inconsistent fees and charges.

· Seek to give greater security to families who rent and remove the barriers that stand in the way of longer term tenancies.

Finance Bill

Problem:

· Since the government’s Spending Review in the fourth quarter of 2010, the UK economy has grown by just 1.1 per cent – compared to the 6 per cent forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility at the time.

· The lack of growth means that the Government is now borrowing £245bn more than they planned.

· Prices are rising faster than wages and people are now £1,700 a year worse off than they were in May 2010.

The Bill would:

· Reintroduce a 10p rate of income tax, paid for by taxing mansions worth over £2m.

· Stop the cut to the 50p rate of income tax for those on the highest incomes to reverse cuts to tax credits.

· Reverse the Tory-led government's damaging VAT rise now for a temporary period - a £450 boost for a couple with children.

· Provide a one year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements, repairs and maintenance - to help homeowners and small businesses

· Put in place a one year national insurance tax break for every small firm which takes on extra workers - helping small businesses to grow and create jobs

Consumers Bill

Problem:

· Families are facing record fuel bills while energy companies are enjoying huge profits. Since the election average energy bills are £300 a year higher.

· Rail fares are rising by up to 9 per cent a year, after the Government gave back to private train operators the ability to increase some fares by up to another 5 per cent above the fare increase ‘cap’.

· Upon retirement a pensioner can discover that up to almost half the value of their pension fund has been wiped out by hidden costs and charges.

The Bill would:

Energy:

· Abolish Ofgem and create a tough new energy watchdog with the power to force energy suppliers to pass on price cuts when the cost of wholesale energy falls

· Require the energy companies to pool the power they generate and to make it available to any retailer, to open the market and to put downward pressure on prices

· Force energy companies to put all over-75s on their cheapest tariff helping those benefiting to save up to £200 per year

Train

· Apply strict caps on fare rises on every route, and remove the right for train companies to vary regulated fares by up to 5 per cent above the average change in regulated fares.

· Introduce a new legal right for passengers to the cheapest ticket for their journey.

Pensions:

· Tackle the worst offending pension schemes by capping their charges at a maximum of 1 per cent;

· Amend legislation and regulation to force all pension funds to offer the same simple transparent charging structure so that consumers know the price they will be paying before they choose a particular scheme;

Jobs Bill

Problem

· There are nearly 1 million young people out of work.

· The number of people out of work for two years is half a million – the highest since the end of the last Tory Government in May 1997.

· Since David Cameron became Prime Minister, the number of unemployed people has risen.

The Bill would:

· Introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, a paid job for every adult who is out of work for more than two years. People would have to take up those jobs or lose benefits. The £1 billion costs can be funded by reversing the government’s decision to stop tax relief on pension contributions for people earning over £150,000 being limited to 20 per cent

· Guarantee a 6 month paid job for all young people out of work for over a year, paid for by a bank bonus tax. Those offered a job would be required to take it.

· Require large firms getting government contracts to have an active apprenticeships scheme that ensures opportunities to work for the next generation.

Banking Bill

Problem

· Lending to businesses is falling month on month, including a fall of £4.8bn in the three months to February according to the latest Bank of England figures.

· The Government’s schemes, such as the Merlin deal, the National Loan Guarantee Scheme and the Funding for Lending Scheme have all failed to help businesses.

· The Treasury has allocated just £300m in funding to their Business Bank, which isn’t a real bank, is staffed by BIS civil servants and is still not up and running.

The Bill would:

. Create a real British Investment Bank on a statutory basis, at arms length from government and with proper financing powers to operate like a bank.

. Set out that one of its purposes is to support small and medium sized businesses, including across the regions of the UK through regional banks.

. Provide a general backstop power so that if there is not genuine culture change from the banks they can be broken up.

. Put in place a Code of Conduct for bankers so that those who break the rules are struck off.

. Toughen the criminal sanctions against those involved in financial crime.

Immigration Bill

Problem

. In certain sectors there is evidence that workers, particularly migrant workers, are being exploited by being paid less than the minimum wage. A recent Kings College study found that between 150,000 and 220,000 care workers are paid less than the minimum wage.

. Enforcement is weak. There has not been a single prosecution for non-payment of the National Minimum Wage in the last two years.

The Bill would:

· Double the fines for breaching the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and give local councils the power to take enforcement action over the NMW

· Extend the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to other sectors where abuse is taking place.

· Change NMW regulations to stop employers providing overcrowded and unsuitable tied accommodation and offsetting it against workers’ pay.

Ed Miliband delivers a stump speech in Worcester town centre on April 25, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May missed an easy opportunity on EU citizens' rights

If the UK had made a big, open and generous offer, the diplomatic picture would be very different.

It's been seven hours and 365 days...and nothing compares to EU, at least as far as negotiations go.

First David Davis abandoned "the row of the summer" by agreeing to the EU's preferred negotiating timetable. Has Theresa May done the same in guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living here indefinitely?

Well, sort of. Although the PM has said that there have to be reciprocal arrangements for British citizens abroad, the difficulty is that because we don't have ID cards and most of our public services are paid for not out of an insurance system but out of general taxation, the issues around guaranteeing access to health, education, social security and residence are easier.

Our ability to enforce a "cut-off date" for new migrants from the European Union is also illusory, unless the government thinks it has the support in parliament and the logistical ability to roll out an ID card system by March 2019. (It doesn't.)

If you want to understand how badly the PM has managed Britain's Brexit negotiations, then the rights of the three million EU nationals living in Britain is the best place to start. The overwhelming support in the country at large for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens, coupled with the deep unease among Conservative MPs about not doing so, meant that it was never a plausible bargaining chip. (That's before you remember that the bulk of the British diaspora in Europe lives in countries with small numbers of EU citizens living in the UK. You can't secure a good deal from Spain by upsetting the Polish government.) It just made three million people, their friends and their families nervous for a year and irritated our European partners, that's all.

If the United Kingdom had made a big, open and generous offer on citizens' rights a year ago, as Vote Leave recommended in the referendum, the diplomatic picture would be very different. (It would be better still if, again, as Vote Leave argued, we hadn't triggered Article 50, an exit mechanism designed to punish an emergent dictatorship that puts all the leverage on the EU27's side.)

As it happens, May's unforced errors in negotiations, the worsening economic picture and the tricky balancing act in the House of Commons means that Remainers can hope both for a softer exit and that they might yet convince voters that nothing compares to EU after all. (That a YouGov poll shows the number of people willing to accept EU rules in order to keep the economy going stretching to 58 per cent will only further embolden the soft Brexiteers.)

For Brexiteers, that means that if Brexit doesn't go well, they have a readymade scapegoat in the government. It means Remainers can credibly hope for a soft Brexit – or no Brexit at all. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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