This is my Government's third legislative programme. It aims to build on my Government's programme of reform as they seek to modernise the country and its institutions to meet the challenges of the new millennium.
My Government's aim is to promote fairness and enterprise, providing people with real opportunities to liberate their potential. They will focus on continued modernising of our economy, the promotion of enterprise, reform of the welfare system, protection of the public and the development of a safe transport system.
The central economic objectives of my Government are high and stable levels of economic growth and employment. More people are in work in Britain today than ever before, with employment up by 700,000, and long-term unemployment has halved.
My Government are helping people back into work. The New Deal has helped 145,000 young people into employment.
My Government have introduced a national minimum wage and a new 10p starting rate of tax. They have reformed national insurance and from next April will cut the basic rate of income tax. The new working families tax credit, introduced in October, is raising incomes of working families.
My Government will continue to manage the public finances prudently, in accordance with the code for fiscal stability and the two fiscal rules.
The new system of monetary policy-making ensures that interest rate decisions are taken in the best long-term interests of the economy. As a result, long-term interest rates are around their lowest level for almost 30 years. Inflation is historically low and expected to meet my Government's target of 2.5 per cent.
My Government will continue to work with others to promote economic reform in Europe. They will work for more open markets, greater economic growth and new job creation.
To prepare Britain as a dynamic, knowledge-based economy, my Government will introduce a Bill to promote electronic commerce and electronic government, improving our ability to compete in the digital marketplace. Financial services lie at the heart of a modern economy. The financial services industry accounts for 7 per cent of our national income, employing over one million people. With the new Financial Services Authority, my Government are determined to maintain and advance the UK's position, and the Bill introduced last session will be carried over to this.
As part of my Government's drive to address inappropriate and over-complex regulation, legislation will be introduced to increase the effectiveness of the power to remove regulatory burdens. My Government will introduce a Bill to enable the Post Office to improve its services and to compete more effectively in UK and overseas markets.
To put the consumer first, cut prices and make utility regulation more transparent and accountable, a Bill will be introduced to modernise the utility regulation system.
Legislation will be introduced to assist the rescue of viable businesses in short-term difficulties, and improve the procedure for disqualifying unfit company directors.
My Government believe a stronger and fairer society strengthens our economy. They will continue to give young people and the long-term unemployed the opportunity to learn new skills and fulfil their potential.
Education remains my Government's number one priority. My Government will continue to implement policies to reward good teaching, reduce infant class sizes and continue the drive to build on the improvements in literacy and numeracy already achieved.
Having focused change upon primary and secondary education, a Bill will now be introduced to establish a new Learning and Skills Council to improve standards for post-16 education and training.
As part of my Government's drive against social exclusion, a Bill will be introduced to improve the help available to young people leaving local authority care.
To build on my Government's modernisation of the welfare system, a Bill will be introduced to reform child support so that money gets to children more speedily and effectively. It will introduce further pension reforms, including the state second pension, which will give more help to low earners, carers and long-term disabled people with broken work records. And it will reinforce people's obligations to society by linking benefit entitlement to compliance with community sentences.
Legislation will be introduced to improve the education of children with special educational needs. My Government are determined to promote fairness of opportunity for disabled people, building on the establishment of a Disability Rights Commission.
Members of the House of Commons:
Estimates for the public service will be laid before you.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons:
My Government's 10-year programme of modernisation for health and social care will provide faster, more convenient services to help improve the country's health.
As part of this programme, a Bill will be introduced to improve standards and stamp out abuse in social services, in private and voluntary health care, and in child care.
My Government are determined to reduce crime and improve public protection. A Bill will be introduced to extend the use of mandatory drug testing in the criminal justice system. It will reform the probation services in England and Wales, create a new Children and Family Court Advisory Service, and prevent unsuitable people from working with children.
A Bill will be introduced to give the courts themselves the power to decide whether certain defendants should be tried by jury or by magistrates.
The Bill to equalise the age of consent, and strengthen the protection of young people from abuse of trust, will be re-introduced.
My Government are determined to combat terrorism. A Bill will be introduced to modernise and make permanent the powers available to respond to all forms of terrorism.
A Bill will be introduced to ensure that the interception of communications, and the use of other intrusive techniques, continues to be regulated for the protection both of the rights of individuals and of society as a whole.
The report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence raised profound issues for our multi-racial society. A Bill will be introduced which will make it unlawful for public bodies to racially discriminate, implementing one of the report's key recommendations.
A Bill will be introduced to give people greater access to the countryside and to improve protection for wildlife. And my Government will continue their leading role in protecting the global climate.
My Government are committed to creating a modern integrated and safe transport system, providing more choice for the travelling public. Following the recent tragedy at Paddington, my Government will ensure that rail safety is a top priority. A Bill will be re-introduced to establish a Strategic Rail Authority. It will contain measures to improve bus services and reduce road congestion.
It will include measures for National Air Traffic Services to separate safety regulation from operational matters, and deliver major investment in the next generation technology.
My Government will bring forward a Bill to introduce the latest accounting methods to improve value for money in Whitehall and generate more investment in public infrastructure and front-line services.
A Bill will be brought forward to allow firms to incorporate with limited liability whilst organising themselves as partnerships.
A Bill will be introduced to modernise the powers and duties of trustees.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons:
In Northern Ireland, my Government will continue to work closely with the political parties and the Irish government to secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. A Bill will be presented to implement proposals from the Independent Commission on Policing, following the completion of consultation.
My Government are committed to making devolution in Scotland and Wales work and to continue the process of decentralising Government in the interests of all the people in the United Kingdom.
A Bill will be introduced to set up an Electoral Commission to regulate the funding and spending of political parties and organisations. My Government will also bring forward a Bill to reform our electoral procedures to make it easier for people to participate in elections.
My Government are committed to further long-term reform of the House of Lords and will look forward to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Reform of the House of Lords.
A Bill will be brought forward to reform local government to make it more innovative and accountable.
My Government will introduce a Bill on Freedom of Information. It will give everyone the right of access to information held across the public sector for the first time.
My Government will continue to provide greater openness by publishing legislation in draft for public scrutiny. This will include Bills enabling the United Kingdom to ratify the International Criminal Court, promoting more efficient water use, and leasehold reform as well as commonhold for flat-owners.
Other measures will be laid before you.
The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to receiving a State Visit by Her Majesty Queen Margrethe of Denmark and Prince Henrik in February next year.
We also look forward to our visit to Australia in March.
My Government will work towards a new partnership between Britain and the Overseas Territories. They will take forward the offer of British citizenship to the people of the Territories.
My Government will take a leading role with our partners to shape the future development of the European Union. They will promote the enlargement of the Union, support co-operation in the fight against cross-border crime and work to improve the effectiveness of the European Union's foreign and security policy and its development programmes.
My Government will ensure that Nato remains the foundation of Britain's defence and security. They will seek to continue the work of adapting the Alliance to meet the challenges and opportunities of the new century.
A Bill will be introduced to reform aspects of the armed forces' system for administering discipline.
My Government will seek to modernise the United Nations. They will work to make the Security Council more effective and more representative.
Over the coming year, which is the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, my Government will build on their work to strengthen protection for children.
My Government will take further measures to meet its target of abolishing child poverty in 20 years. It will play an active part in the Council of Europe Conference against Racism.
My Government believe this is a substantial programme of work, addressing their priorities and helping the country to meet the challenges of the new millennium.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons:
I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.