Queen's Speech draws election battle lines

Final legislative package before election focuses on economic recovery, pensioners and education

Labour has put economic recovery at the heart of its legislative programme in the last Queen's Speech before the general election.

With less than seven months to go before an election must be held, the speech showcased a series of bills designed to draw dividing lines with the Conservatives.

Key measures in the speech included a crackdown on excessive bank bonuses, free personal care for the most vulnerable pensioners, new guarantees for parents and pupils on schooling and a legal obligation on the government to halve the budget deficit within four years.

Addressing the assembled MPs and peers, the Queen said: "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 financial services bill will give the Financial Services Authority new powers to tear up bankers' contracts if they include bonuses that could endanger the stability of the banking system.

Major banks and financial institutions will also be required to draw up "living wills" describing how they can be wound up without threatening the stability of the entire system.

The personal care at home bill is designed to allow elderly and disabled people to remain in their own homes and to the lay the foundations for a national care service.

Up to 400,000 pensioners are expected to benefit from the bill, which will cost £670m a year to implement. The bill guarantees free personal care at home for the 280,000 people with the greatest needs, 166,000 of whom already receive free care.

With parliamentary time running out, not all of the 14 bills are expected to become law before the general election. Opposition parties dismissed the speech as little more than an early Labour manifesto

The leader of the Commons, Harriet Harman, insisted that most of the proposed laws will be passed before the next election. But Conservative leader David Cameron described the speech as a "political exercise" and said it was 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 programme also included plans to give agency workers equal rights on pay, holiday and basic conditions and to introduce a ban on cluster munitions.


Sign up to the New Statesman newsletter and receive weekly updates from the team