Byline: Andrew Woodcock
PRIME Minister David Cameron yesterday promised "a new start for Britain" as he outlined the coalition Government's ambitious programme for its first 18 months in power.
A wide-ranging Queen's Speech featured 23 Bills and one draft Bill, combining financial austerity with civil liberties, public service reform and a shake-up of the political system.
Formally opening the new session of Parliament with an address prepared for her by ministers, the Queen said that the Government's legislative programme would be guided by the principles of "freedom, fairness and responsibility". And Mr Cameron later told MPs the speech marked "an end to the years of recklessness and big government and the beginning of the years of responsibility and good government".
He left no doubt that his administration would be judged by what was described in the speech as its "first priority" - reducing the deficit and restoring economic growth.
The Conservative/Liberal Democrat administration promised a swift start to its legislative programme, with Bills to be tabled in the next two days to allow hundreds of state secondary and primary schools in England to take on academy status and to abolish ID cards and the National Identity Register.
Later Bills will also part-privatise the Royal Mail, put an annual cap on non-EU migrants, allow for elected police bosses, create a Border Police Force and remove barriers to new providers setting up schools within the state system.
A Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill will "roll back the state", restricting the use of DNA data, tightening regulation of CCTV cameras and ensuring anti-terror regulation "strikes the right balance" between public protection and civil liberties.
And the Prime Minister made good on his promise on political reform, with a pledge to move to five-year fixed-term parliaments, redraw constituency boundaries and stage a referendum on switching to the Alternative Vote system for elections to the Commons.
Voters are to be given a new right to recall errant MPs by raising a petition with the signatures of 10% of electors in a constituency. But plans for a "wholly or fully elected" Upper House were put on hold, with a Commission to bring forward proposals by the end of the year.
A day after slashing pounds 6.2bn from this year's expenditure, the new administration committed itself to "significantly accelerate the reduction in the structural deficit it inherited", with more details to be revealed in next month's Budget and a spending review in the autumn.
Mr Cameron said Labour had left the country in an "appalling mess" with record debts and a ballooning public deficit. Quoting outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne's jokey note to his successor David Laws, he said the new administration's ability to spend on its priorities was constrained by the fact that "there is no money".
The Government won praise from business groups for putting deficit reduction at the top of its agenda, but union leaders warned the programme
of cuts was "a huge mistake".
CBI deputy director general John Cridland said businesses looked forward to playing their part in a programme that was "ambitious and far-reaching with a clear sense of renewal". But TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Plans to scrap important initiatives to get young people into work, abolish key public bodies and throw public sector workers on the dole will only worsen the fragile economic situation."
Labour's acting leader Harriet Harman told MPs the party would be an "effective opposition" to the new administration which would not "pull our punches".
And she mocked the coalition deal as "a political pre-nup", claiming that Tories and Lib Dems were "already preparing for the day when they shrink back from their loveless embrace".
But Mr Cameron …