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Queen’s Speech to focus on pensions

Pension reforms will be at the heart of a Queen’s Speech setting out the legislative programme for the final year of the coalition Government.

Changes trailed in George Osborne’s Budget will end the requirement for pensioners to buy an annuity to provide a guaranteed income during retirement, and legislation is also expected to be announced to introduce collective workplace pension schemes.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the speech – to be delivered by the Queen in the ceremonial highlight of the parliamentary year – would be “unashamedly pro-work, pro-business and pro-aspiration”.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband said the coalition’s programme did not live up to the scale of the challenges faced by Britain. 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.

Observers were expecting a relatively light-weight legislative programme a year ahead of the May 2015 general election, with the bulk of the 2010 Coalition Agreement now enacted and the Conservative and Liberal Democrat sides of the Government seeking to differentiate themselves from one another in voters’ minds before they do battle in the polls.

One outstanding Coalition Agreement promise which may finally be put into effect is the proposal for a power of recall, allowing voters to force errant MPs to face a by-election.

Under a draft bill published in 2011, the power could be invoked if an MP is jailed for less than 12 months or the House of Commons resolves that he or she should face recall. Some 10% of a constituency’s registered voters would have to sign a petition to force a by-election.

Also expected to feature in the Queen’s Speech are measures for “tax-free childcare” worth up to £2,000 per child each year, as well as extra legal protections for people carrying out good deeds, such as voluntary work, clearing snow from pavements or hosting street parties, against liability for health and safety risks.

A so-called “Cinderella law”, outlawing emotional neglect of children by their parents, could also be included. And lawyers and accountants who help crime bosses on a no-questions-asked basis are set to face up to five years’ jail under a new offence of “participation in an organised crime group”.

Legislation for a 5p levy on plastic shopping bags will also be included, with shoppers in England being expected to pay for carriers from Autumn next year.

The plan, aimed at reducing litter and protecting the environment, was announced at the Lib Dem conference last year and follows the success of a similar scheme in Wales were a 5p charge reduced the number of carrier bags given out in the country by 75%.

In their statement released by Downing Street, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg said the speech marked “the next big step in our long-term plan for Britain. Its aim: to secure the recovery for our country”.

They added: ” 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. So this Queen’s Speech is unashamedly pro-work, pro-business and pro-aspiration.”

The “revolution” in pensions which forms the centrepiece of the Government’s legislative programme for the last year of the coalition will amount to ” the biggest transformation in our pensions system since its inception”, and will “give people both freedom and security in retirement”, said Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg.

“By no longer forcing people to buy an annuity, we are giving them total control over the money they have put aside over their lifetime and greater financial security in their old age,” they said.

“It’s all part of our wider mission to put power back in the hands of the people who have worked hard – trusting them to run their own lives. At the same time we’re completing sweeping reforms to workplace pensions to give employees more certainty about their income in retirement.”

Recalling sceptics’ doubts after the last election over whether the coalition would last the course, the Tory and Lib Dem leaders said: ” Four years on, our parties are still governing together and still taking bold steps.

“Of course, there is still a long way to go. But this Queen’s Speech marks a significant step. It builds on the foundations we have laid in the past four years, will help us make progress and continue to take Britain forward to a brighter future.”

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”.

Mr Miliband added: “We need action, we need answers, we need a programme for government equal to the scale of the challenge our country faces.

“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.”

The monarch’s speech at the state opening of Parliament is delivered by the Queen, but written by her government.

Debate on the programme set out in the speech is framed as a “loyal address” to Her Majesty, which will this year be proposed by Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) and seconded by Liberal Democrat Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole).

By convention, the proposer’s and seconder’s speeches steer clear of political controversy, giving two backbenchers an opportunity to talk up their constituencies and show off their comedic abilities.

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