THE QUEEN'S SPEECH

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Primary Care Bill

What it does:

Wider choice, better targeted services and greater freedom and flexibility for doctors, dentists, and pharmacists.

Intended to lead to development of super-surgeries and cottage hospitals offering a wide range of care and access. Supported by professions, as long as there is new money.

Political punch:

Labour's warnings that the proposals "tear at the very roots of the public- service ethos of general practice" are somewhat diluted by the enthusiastic reception given by doctors, dentists, pharmacists and managers.

Real importance:

A considered and consensual approach to the development of primary care in response to ever-greater demand.

Social Security Fraud Bill

What it does:

Will enable cross-checks to be made of Inland Revenue and VAT returns and benefit claims, opening data for the first time to disclosure to social security officers. Also sets up inspectorate to monitor anti-fraud work by local authorities in housing and council tax benefits, with powers to force councils to tighten up.

Political punch:

Attempts to put Labour on the spot over welfare fraud but Labour say it misses the point; private landlords are getting away with housing benefit fraud running to pounds 2bn through organised crime.

Real importance:

May catch more small fry but big fish likely to go free. Also raises long-term civil rights issue over disclosure of data.

Education Bill

What it does:

Plans to increase school selection where parents want it, give more freedom to grant maintained schools, tighten rules on school discipline and raise standards through testing for five year-olds and target-setting for all schools.

Political punch:

Highlights Labour embarassment over selection and opting out. Harriet Harman sent her son to a grammar school and Tony Blair sent his to a grant maintained school.

Real importance:

None, in the case of selection, because parents do not usually want it. Extra testing and target-setting will give better measures of how well schools are doing.

Crime (Sentencing) Bill

What it does:

Home Secretary Michael Howard's flagship law and order measure under which serious, dangerous and persistent offenders would be jailed more often and for longer periods, leaving little scope for judges to fit punishments to particular crimes.

Political punch:

Government has real hopes of putting Labour on the spot. Who, after all could oppose a life sentence for a man who has raped twice? So far, has only been the judges and penal reformers who have voiced strong opposition.

Real importance:

Unless made more flexible, could backfire because of fewer guilty pleas and wrongful acquittals, while prisons will face overcrowding and funding crisis.

Firearms Amendment Bill

What it does:

Post-Dunblane ban on handguns above .22 calibre, with weapons of that size and under confined to gun clubs under stringent security. There would be tighter police licensing procedures and a clampdown on the sale of guns by mail-order.

Political punch:

Could rebound badly on Tories if Labour and Lib Dems secure total ban in face of government attempt to dictate to its own backbenchers.

Real importance:

Cannot entirely remove the risk of future tragedies, as stabbing of headmaster Philip Lawrence showed, nor stop criminals using unlicensed weapons. But 80 per cent of legally held weapons will be taken out of circulation.

Police Bill

What it does:

Would set up a national police unit to fight organised crime and a criminal records vetting agency to which employers and workers would have access. Would also put bugging by police on a statutory basis.

Political punch:

One of the few areas where there appears to be a measure of cross-party agreement, but trouble in prospect over the agency, particularly over giving access to information about police suspicions.

Real importance:

There are question marks over the civil liberties implications, but national crime squad widely thought to be right response to organised crime.

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