The Queen's Speech: Programme has nothing for families or savers, says Hague

THE EXCHANGES
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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE attacked the Government's flagship legislative programme for the next parliamentary session for failing to rise to "the challenge of preparing Britain for the new century".

The Tory leader, opening the six-day debate on the Queen's Speech, claimed there was "nothing" in it to make "next year anything other than another year of no delivery.

"It was supposed to be the programme that will take Britain into the new century, probably the last full programme of this Parliament.

"But there is nothing for families, nothing for savers, nothing for schools, nothing for the NHS, nothing to help businesses. There is nothing in this Queen's Speech to make next year anything other than another year of no delivery."

Mr Hague went on: "You promised to be tough on crime and a year later police numbers have fallen. Where are the measures to reverse that?"

None of the 10 Home Office Bills was "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime".

The Tory leader reminded MPs that the Lord Neill committee on party political funding had recommended that each side of an argument in a referendum should be given "a fair opportunity" to put their views to the voters.

"Why is the Prime Minister about to entrench in law rules that are blatantly unfair and recommended by no one? If these new rules were implemented today and the Prime Minister called a referendum tomorrow on the single currency, then the funding of the `yes' and `no' campaigns would be totally uneven."

The Party Funding Bill would mean "that those in favour of abolishing the pound would be allowed to spend 50 per cent more than those in favour of keeping the pound".

He added that the Transport Bill was "a declaration of war against everyone who drives a car.

"This Bill will do nothing to ease the chaos on Britain's roads, little to improve public transport alternatives. It is a vicious stealth tax assault on car drivers. For Mondeo man, once so cherished by New Labour spin-doctors, it is another kick in the teeth."

The Queen's Speech did "nothing that relates to the commonsense instincts of the British people.

"This Government thinks a highly regulated, highly taxed superstate is the future, while the rest of us think it is the past. Today we see a Labour Government that is pursuing its own political priorities instead of rising to the challenge of preparing Britain for the new century."

But Mr Blair dismissed the Tory leader's attack as a "great after-dinner speech". The central theme of the Queen's Speech was the measures needed to "build a Britain of enterprise and fairness for all.

"It is not necessary to choose between policies that promote business at the expense of social justice or tax-and-spend that ignore the need to run a sound economy. In this new century, Britain will succeed only as a nation of all the talents, and human capital is our most precious resource.

"It is this Government that understands that unemployment wastes the assets of this country, that poor education wastes the assets of this country, that crime and bad housing and run-down inner city estates hold people back and that boom and bust destroys enterprise. But Labour's unshakeable commitment to economic stability will take Britain out of that scenario."

Accusing the Tories of being "pathetic", Mr Blair said they were becoming "more extreme than ever before, more right- wing than ever before. "It is Thatcherism without restraint and the British people do not want it. We now have a clear choice between a new Labour Party that can address the challenges of the new millennium and a Conservative Party more extreme than ever before."

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, voiced criticism of the programme for its "timidity". "With Labour's huge Commons majority, the Queen's Speech is frankly disappointing in terms of its lack of ambition."

The Government had failed to honour its pledge to hold a referendum on electoral reform for Westminster elections, he told MPs. Branding this a "breach of trust", Mr Kennedy warned: "Politics is devalued when the Government fail to honour election manifesto pledges." Complaining that the speech did not go far enough, Mr Kennedy said there should have been a Single Currency Preparations Bill. He also claimed "the Government is burying its head in the sand" when it came to the misuse of drugs.

David Clark, a former public service minister, warned that the freedom of information legislation was still not "there" and needed further changes, despite several concessions by Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, to proposals laid out in the draft Bill.

"I freely admit I was very disappointed when I saw the draft Bill appear. We still have got a bit of persuading to do with the Home Secretary. We have to sweep away the culture of secrecy that has bedevilled this country on all levels of bureaucracy and if we get it swept away we can rebuild the trust with our citizens."

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