FIVE BILLS AT HEART OF QUEEN'S SPEECH

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The Government's new programme for the next session of parliament was outlined by the Queen today - with a Transport Bill among five at the heart of the schedule of 28 measures.

The Government's new programme for the next session of parliament was outlined by the Queen today - with a Transport Bill among five at the heart of the schedule of 28 measures.

The Queen unveiled the packed programme amid traditional pageantry at the State Opening of Parliament, in the new-look House of Lords, stripped of all but 92 of its hereditary peers.

The programme contains more plans for legislation than any of the previous two Queen's Speeches under Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr Blair will emphasise the heavy nature of the programme in a party political programme tonight, saying: "We have got a lot done but there is a lot more to do."

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's long-awaited Transport Bill - with measures to ease traffic congestion and bolster rail safety in the wake of the Paddington disaster - was one of five measures identified by the Government as key to its objectives.

The other four others Bills picked out by the Government are:

:: A Crime Bill to focus on the menace of drugs, with mandatory testing for offenders among its measures

:: A Welfare Reform Bill to overhaul the Child Support Agency and "provide a framework for future pensions"

:: An Electronic Communications Bill to boost Internet business

:: A Local Government Bill to extend the idea of city mayors nationwide.

In her speech, the Queen told peers and MPs crowded into the chamber: "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."

The raft of Home Office measures includes plans to reform the criminal justice system, with fewer jury trials, to update the anti-terrorism and race relations laws, and a commitment to a Freedom of Information Bill.

On controversial moves to privatise part of the air traffic control system, the Government said it would move to separate safety concerns clearly from operational matters.

The Queen emphasised that the Government still regarded education as top of its agenda, saying: "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."

The Government plans to introduce new standards for post-16 education and training under a new Learning and Skills Council, and will also act to improve the help available to youngsters once they leave local authority care.

There were few surprises in the programme outlined, with confirmation of plans to improve public access to moorland, heath and downland among the Government's "green" measures, plus an announcement of a bid to ban fur farming.

The Government will also re-introduce its Bill to equalise the age of consent for homosexual sex at 16.

The Queen also confirmed that ministers planned to introduce moves to give the Post Office greater freedom "to improve its services and to compete more effectively in UK and overseas markets".

That means turning it into a plc, with all its shares owned by the Government and unable to be sold unless further legislation is passed.

There will also be a shake-up of the utilities regulatory system aimed at forcing more price cuts.

The Tories have already condemned the moves as "a ragbag of measures", and are expected to give a full response later today in the Commons.

On Northern Ireland, the Queen announced that the "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 implementing proposals from the Patten Report on the future of the Royal Ulster Constabulary would be introduced "following the completion of consultation", she said.

Plans for a reform of the system of party political funding were also confirmed today.

An independent Electoral Commission is to be set up to regulate parties' spending and donations. Foreign donations will be banned, large donations will have to be detailed with the names of donors, and there will be spending limits.

The Commission would also oversee referendums - such as any future poll on the euro - with limits on spending and limits on the support the Government of the day could give to any particular cause.

On the EU, the Queen proclaimed: "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."

The Queen ended her speech by saying: "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."

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