Not the Queen's Speech

Tories jettison their promises for legislation
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The Independent Online
An enormous raft of Government legislation has been jettisoned from today's Queen's Speech programme for the new session of Parliament; the Conservatives have chosen politically aggressive measures, as they turn the Commons into a key battleground for a May election.

Yesterday, the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, revealed that his promise of a Government bill to set up a paedophile register would instead be handed over for a backbench MP to fight through Parliament. But that switch - following an identical decision on stalking - was the tip of a much greater iceberg.

Other measures that appear to have been dumped include a long-promised Adoption Bill; action on restrictive trade practices and industrial tribunals, and on "cowboy" taxis, ID cards, housing commonhold, and strikes in monopoly services.

In spite of the Prime Minister's promise last night of a "clear Conservative programme, based on substance", a significant number of the measures trailed so tantalisingly before this month's Bournemouth party conference were slipping into abeyance.

Any legislation that does not fit in with the Conservatives' election campaign strategy has been kept out of the Queen's Speech, leaving it not so much a programme for a Parliament, as a trailer for next year's Tory manifesto - and a taste of the anti-Labour campaign to come.

Exposing his strategy, John Major told an eve-of- session reception at the Carlton Club last night: "We intend to give parents greater choice in education, young people new opportunities to learn, and taxpayers the public services they deserve.

"Those are the aims of ... our programme for the next Conservative Government ... We believe in opportunity for all - Labour believe in opportunism."

The Queen's Speech will focus on school choice, NHS fund-holding and the next stage of Mr Howard's promised "crackdown" on crime, including rural crime.

The Labour leader, Tony Blair, will tell the Commons today that a "fractured society" cannot be healed by those who broke it up in the first place, and that it was no good for Conservatives to complain about the state of affairs they had created after 17 years in office.

But the Government was also accused yesterday of cynically reneging on promises; of talking tough and acting weak.

The trigger for the attack was Mr Howard's surprise announcement on the paedophile register. He told the BBC radio 4 Today programme: "There are other ways in which we could get things like the paedophile register on the statute book more quickly than if we put it in Government legislation."

The Labour Chief Whip, Donald Dewar, said there could be no guarantee that Mr Howard's Bills would even be picked up by a backbencher, never mind become law.

But there were two more cynical explanations for the Government's curious and unusual conduct - of abdicating its own responsibility for legislation.

John Hutton, a Labour member of the Commons Home Affairs select committee, said: "I am deeply suspicious that Mr Howard will not do anything that appears to unite the political parties in fighting crime."

One senior Labour source said there was a pattern of Tory conduct before elections - in which they used the Whitehall machine to generate legislation for the party manifesto.

The Department of Trade and Industry has recently published two draft bills, on competition and industrial tribunals, but neither appears to be included in today's Queen's Speech, in spite of the fact that the competition provisions were promised in the 1992 manifesto, and date back as far as 1988.

It is also understood that in spite of the strongest kite- flying by Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, that legislation was being planned to combat strikes in monopoly services, that, too, is being held back for the manifesto.

Mr Lang told the Tory conference: "I now intend to publish, after Parliament resumes, a package of new proposals aimed directly at tackling these problems." In fact, he intends publishing a Green Paper, with no chance of legislation being ready in time for parliamentary passage before the election.

THE MISSING BILLS

PAEDOPHILE REGISTER

"I believe a register of paedophiles is needed. I intend to bring it in," Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, told the Conservative conference in Bournemouth. Now he intends someone else to bring it in for him via a Private Member's Bill.

LONDON MINICABS

Plans to regulate the only unlicensed minicabs in the country and check drivers' criminal records have also been dropped. A Green Paper was published three years ago. Transport minister Steven Norris described the law as "a mess" and "totally unsatisfactory". What is more, it is staying as it is.

ADOPTION

A draft bill to update the law on adoption has all-party support. John Bowis, the health minister, fought a rearguard action against Tory right-wingers who wanted more pressure on lone mothers to give up their children for adoption. Dropped.

ESSENTIAL SERVICES

The 1983 Tory manifesto promised "consultation" on curbing disruption in essential services. This month, Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, told the Conservative conference "the time has now come to take our reforms one step further". But not yet.

INDUSTRIAL TRIBUNALS

A Green Paper in 1994 led to "substantial agreement" on changes to streamline the workload of tribunals, and a draft bill was published in July this year. Nothing today.

COMPETITION

The 1992 Tory manifesto declared: "We will introduce new legislation giving stronger powers to deal with cartels", after the failure to enact a 1989 White Paper. A draft bill this year promised to tackle cartels, or price-fixing deals, and other restrictive practices. Now it is down for the next manifesto.

STALKING

David Maclean, Home Office minister, announced his decisive action against stalkers last Friday. Not to be confused with Labour MP Janet Anderson's identical bill, which the Government blocked this year, because his plans will be enacted by a Private Tory Member's Bill.

COMMONHOLD

The 1992 Tory manifesto promised to bring in a new form of tenure so that flat-owners could jointly own their block. The opposition parties support it. "It remains our intention that proper legislation should be introduced as soon as possible," Jonathan Evans told the Commons in March. But will it be in today's Queen's Speech? Not likely.

ID CARDS

In August, Michael Howard proudly unveiled mock identity cards with the Union Flag on the front. After resisting grassroots Tory pressure for compulsory cards, the Government has now resisted pressure to do anything at all.

BUILDING SOCIETIES

A draft bill to relax further the restrictions on building societies was published in March. No controversy. No action.

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