Government announces ambitious legislative programme

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Indy Politics

The Government's most ambitious programme yet was unveiled by the Queen today - with a Transport Bill as one of five measures at the heart of its schedule of 28 Bills.

The Government's most ambitious programme yet was unveiled by the Queen today - with a Transport Bill as one of five measures at the heart of its schedule of 28 Bills.

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 broadcast 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.

Tory chairman Michael Ancram dismissed the Government's programme, saying: "This is a mish-mash, a rag-bag of Bills designed just to create an impression of activity but do nothing to deliver on key issues."

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 and seek to repeal the controversial Section 28 of the Local Government Act forbidding local councils to promote homosexuality.

Friends of the Earth welcomed both the Transport Bill and the move for greater access to the countryside, saying:"These are the first significant green Bills introduced by this Government and should help restore its environmental reputation."

The Liberal Democrats attacked the Government's plans for welfare reform. Spokesman Steve Webb said: "Reform of the Child Support Agency is not enough. The whole agency should be abolished."

He also criticised other details of the welfare programme, which would bring in a new second state pension, adding: "Pensioner poverty is an issue which exists now and this Bill does nothing to address that problem."