Programme falls into place

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The Independent Online
The Queen's Speech, the Government's parliamentary programme for the next 18 months, is expected to include action on hereditary peers and a Freedom of Information Bill when it is delivered next Wednesday.

The Prime Minister's office said yesterday that Tony Blair had already held a number of meetings on the speech, and a draft was well advanced.

Because of the timing of the election, the parliamentary year will not end, as usual, this autumn, but will continue until the autumn of next year - giving a longer run for the legislation on core commitments like education, and law and order.

Early action will be required to set up the devolution referendums for Scotland and Wales, to give specific popular blessing to legislation which would then be put to Parliament. One advantage of the referendums is that they could provide a democratic mandate for the Government to divert Bills away from the Commons Chamber into "upstairs" committees - denying opponents the chance to clog up the parliamentary works.

Some peers are arguing that if Labour breaks the convention that constitutional legislation should be dealt with in the Commons Chamber, they would then feel free to break the convention that the Lords does not oppose legislation specified in a manifesto. However, it is thought that some ministers would welcome a confrontation between a Labour government, elected with such a striking majority, and hereditary backwoodsmen from the Lords.

Labour promised a Freedom of Information Act in its 1974 manifesto, and it is therefore a pledge that has been reneged upon before. But because Mr Blair has laid so much store in trust, and in saying that he will not promise anything he will not deliver, the current manifesto commitment on freedom of information is said to be "firm".

On education, the Government has promised early action on nursery vouchers, class sizes, the assisted places scheme phase-out and new powers to be taken on school standards and local education authorities.

Law and order legislation will include "fast-track" hearings of cases involving persistent young offenders, and responsibility orders for parents of delinquent children.