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Immigration focus of Queen’s Speech

Measures to control immigration are at the heart of the Government's legislative agenda for the coming year, laid out by the Queen at the State Opening of Parliament.

In scenes of pomp and ceremony in the House of Lords, she also set out plans to cap bills for social care, introduce a flat-rate state pension, extend consumer rights and cut the regulation burden on small businesses.

But the traditional highlight of the parliamentary year risked being overshadowed by the shock announcement that Sir Alex Ferguson is resigning as manager of Manchester United. Former Cabinet minister Peter Hain hailed the "nice timing" of the Labour-supporting football boss, predicting that Fergie's departure would "obliterate" the Government's plans from the news headlines. And backbench MP John Mann immediately called for Sir Alex to be made a peer.

But a Queen's Speech which was light on new policy – featuring 20 Bills, including some in draft form or carried over from the previous session and others which are largely technical in scope – was anyway notable as much for what it omitted as what it included.

Despite the hopes of eurosceptic Conservative backbenchers, there was no legislation to pave the way for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. MPs are now likely to be queuing up to table their own Private Member's Bills to give legal force to Prime Minister David Cameron's promise of a public poll by 2017.

Home Secretary Theresa May's cherished plan to allow police and security services to access records of individuals' internet and email use has been ditched, after being branded a "snoopers' charter" and coming up against the opposition of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

There was no place for mooted health protection measures to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes and minimum unit prices for alcohol – though Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted this morning that no final decision had been made to kill off the proposals.

The Queen made clear in her speech that the Government's "first priority" remains restoring Britain's economic health, something which cannot simply be legislated for.

Although the speech was finalised before the UK Independence Party's spectacular surge at the expense of Conservatives in last week's council elections, the focus on immigration will be seen as a response to growing public concerns that the Eurosceptic party has highlighted. The Queen told MPs and peers that an Immigration Bill will aim to "ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deter those who will not".

A Care Bill will introduce a £72,000 cap from 2016 on the amount people in England have to pay for social care, to end a situation where pensioners have to sell their homes to pay for care in their final years. In response to the Mid-Staffordshire health scandal, the Bill will introduce Ofsted-style ratings for hospitals and care homes and gives the new chief inspector of hospitals more powers to identify problems with the quality of care and ensure action is taken more swiftly.
 

By PA

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