The Health Service Ombudsman is to be allowed to investigate clinical complaints against doctors and nurses in the most significant change to his powers since the office was created 23 years ago. His jurisdiction is also to be extended from hospitals to cover more than 50,000 GPs, dentists, pharmacists and those who provide NHS optical services. The change is the culmination of a 20-year campaign to broaden the ombudsman's powers beyond just investigating "maladministration" by hospitals and health authorities. It follows mounting criticism of the way the NHS has handled clinical complaints against doctors but coincides with a change of attitude by the British Medical Association.
Army reservists to get enhanced role
The Reserve Forces Bill changes archaic laws about using Britain's 255,000 reserves to support the increasing number of military operations which Britain is carrying out in peacetime. The Bill will mainly affect the Army's 195,000 ex-regulars and 60,000 Territorial Army members. It will bring in a new power to call up reserves for humanitarian aid, disaster relief and peace-keeping operations, like those in Bosnia and last year's operation in Rwanda, and new measures to safeguard reservists' civilian jobs if they are called up.
Fast-track for less serious libel cases
A Defamation Bill which would introduce new summary procedures to enable judges to deal quickly with straightforward and less serious libel actions.The Bill would offer new defences to defendants who were willing to offer an apology or compensation - including damages assessed by a judge - to the plaintiff.
Chemical weapons production outlawed
The Chemical Weapons Bill is Britain's "instrument of ratification" to fulfil its obligations under the October 1993 international Chemical Weapons Treaty, which has been signed by 159 countries. The treaty will come into force six months after 65 states have ratified it. The Bill will make it an offence to develop, produce, process or transfer chemical weapons - poison gases and droplets - or build any facility to do so. It will also be an offence to help anyone else make such weapons.