Major parades his programme

Immigration and criminal justice Bills head Queen's Speech designed to dispel impression of drift
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Indy Politics

Political Editor

An immigration Bill will head a November Queen's Speech agreed in a Cabinet decision swiftly disclosed yesterday to try to reduce scepticism among increasingly jittery Tory MPs over whether the Government still has any sense of direction.

The Bill seeking to close loopholes used by illegal immigrants and would- be asylum-seekers will be among two Home Office measures which, along with an education Bill, will be at the heart of a 1995-6 agenda decided well in advance of the normal time.

The Cabinet finally decided to bury Post Office privatisation for this parliament. Although expected, the move will underline in the minds of dissident Tory MPs the status of the President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine - an ardent champion of privatisation - as a decisive and radical alternative leader to John Major.

The other Home Office Bill is a criminal justice measure to give the Crown better protection against having to compromise secret witnesses. The Bill meets fierce police complaints - most recently made by Sir Paul Condon, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police - that disclosure rulings have forced them to withdraw important prosecutions.

Last night, ministers insisted that the reason for deciding the scope of the Queen's Speech so early was to spread the workload of parliamentary draftsmen after the decision to have the Budget in November instead of March.

But the decision coincided with another bout of gloom among Tory MPs and some ministers as they contemplated the prospects of more wholesale losses in the May local elections.

Ministers insisted that the new legislation would show the Government had a busy programme which would expand "choice and opportunity" as well as introducing a number of economy-friendly supply-side reforms.

Among other likely bills are:

n A five-yearly Armed Forces Bill;

n A Reserve Forces Bill, which will be published in draft form next week;

n An education Bill designed to enhance with extra funds the attractiveness to parents of grant-maintained schools and introduce nursery school vouchers if there is Cabinet agreement.

n A further Bill on the Channel tunnel link;

n A housing Bill;

n A social security Bill to privatise industrial-injury compensation;

n A privacy Bill designed to outlaw the use of hidden microphones, bugging devices and long-range cameras by media seeking to investigate the private lives of public figures and others;

n A Bill designed to curb legal aid, especially to those with access to funds;

n A Bill ending fault divorces and reducing from two years to one the amount of time couples have to wait for no-fault divorces.

The European immigration issue intensified yesterday when Mario Monti, the European single-market commissioner, said he would introduce a directive guaranteeing the right to travel across European Union borders and banning internal border controls.