Major finalises Bills package for crucial year: Ministers given preview of programme

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The Independent Online
THE CABINET and about 50 junior ministers were last night given a preview of the legislative package to be unveiled in the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament today.

Ministers acknowledge John Major's future could depend on the outcome of the next year, when his leadership will be tested in local elections in May and European elections in June. But Mr Major faces the new session in better shape than supporters dared imagine before the party conference.

The Criminal Justice Bill under Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, and a comprehensive deregulation measure led by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, are intended to give the Tories a sharper edge, appeal to the disenchanted Thatcherites and raise party morale.

The Criminal Justice Bill's roughest ride could come in the House of Lords, where crossbenchers could join Opposition peers in seeking to block some of the more Draconian provisions. Some of the changes to court administration - tacked on to the separate police Bill - could also be contentious. Although the deregulation Bill is Mr Heseltine's, it will also cast Neil Hamilton, one of his junior ministers who is on the right of the party, in a key role.

After suffering one of the worst post-election sessions in living memory, some ministers fear renewed attacks from the Europhobe rump over a Bill to increase Britain's subscriptions to the European Union.

Sir Teddy Taylor, the indefatigable campaigner against the Maastricht treaty, is said to have already indicated he could vote against the Bill. But one prominent Euro-rebel predicted last night that most of his colleagues would concentrate on the long-term goal of preventing moves towards European integration in 1996.

Reform of the Sunday trading laws promises to provide one of the most hotly contested Bills. Opponents of greater liberalisation appeared to signal a partial surrender yesterday by announcing their support for a compromise. Keep Sunday Special and Retailers for Shops Act Reform said that they would back a move to allow some shops to open.

The chances of deregulation have been improved by the backing of Usdaw, the shopworkers' union, which means that more Labour MPs will vote for reform.

Another less noticed measure which could also provoke trouble is an early National Insurance Contributions Bill which will enact the 1 per cent employee contribution increase in the last Budget.

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