Security placed at heart of Queen's Speech

Click to follow
Indy Politics

The Government today unveiled a packed legislative programme - expected to be its last before a general election next year - based on the theme "security and opportunity for all".

The Government today unveiled a packed legislative programme - expected to be its last before a general election next year - based on the theme "security and opportunity for all".

The Queen's Speech includes 32 Bills, with key measures to introduce controversial ID cards, establish a Serious Organised Crime Agency and tackle drug abuse and petty crime.

There will also be a draft Counter-Terrorism Bill, though no specific measures are identified in the speech.

They could include no-jury trials for terrorist cases and the use of phone-tapping evidence in court for the first time.

The Queen said in her address: "My Government recognises that we live in a time of global uncertainty with an increased threat from international terrorism and organised crime."

Other measures are designed to make people feel more secure in their own homes and streets.

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill will give local councils more powers to tackle fly-tipping, abandoned cars, noise nuisance and light pollution.

A Drugs Bill is designed to give the police more powers to deal with drug abusers, while improving rehabilitation facilities.

A Road Safety Bill will give police new powers to tackle drink-driving and uninsured drivers and make sure foreign drivers cannot escape punishment in Britain.

And Prime Minister Tony Blair has fulfilled his promise to trades unions for action on corporate manslaughter with a draft Bill included in the programme.

It promises to hold bosses to account where they have not paid proper regard to the safety of their workers or the public.

On the "opportunity" theme, the Speech - delivered amid traditional pomp and pageantry from the golden throne in the House of Lords - includes a measure to extend child benefit to families where youngsters aged 16-19 are still in training and further education.

An Education Bill is promised to reduce bureaucracy in schools by streamlining the inspection system.

Disabled people will gain more rights under a new Discrimination Bill and an Equality Bill will extend protection against discrimination on grounds of religious faith.

A new Commission for Equality and Human Rights will also be set up to oversee the new regime.

Other measures in the programme include the European Union Bill, which paves the way for a referendum on the proposed European Constitution and a National Lottery Bill aimed at making it simpler for organisations to get cash from the lottery.

An Animal Welfare Bill will pull together existing legislation on animal welfare in England and Wales - with speculation the Government could also use it to amend the Hunting Act to bring in a delay on the ban until July 2006.

The controversial Gambling Bill is among three Bills carried over from the last session, although it is not specifically mentioned in the Speech.

Tory leader Michael Howard and Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy will give their official reaction to the measures when debate begins in the Commons this afternoon.

But this morning, before the measures were announced Conservative Party co-chairman Liam Fox told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "The most important thing about this Queen's Speech is that we are hearing far more of the same from Tony Blair - more promises, more talk and more of the wrong priorities."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten accused the Government of creating a "climate of fear" over terrorism and crime in the hope of reaping political advantage in the election.

But Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, speaking ahead of the speech, said it would "properly" address the threat of terrorism and denied the Government was stoking up fear for political gain.

He said: "All the polls show us that people are concerned about crime and security.

"This is the Government properly responding to that threat and fear.

"If we went to the public and said 'This is modern terrorism, these are the global problems we have got, but we are not going to do anything - but don't worry, you will feel free', would they feel free if they are facing these threats?

"Doesn't the Government have a responsibility to act and justify its actions to Parliament and the public?"

Mr Prescott rejected the argument that Government should not tamper with the traditional liberties of British citizens, insisting that changed circumstances required new security measures, such as ID cards.

He added: "Robin Hood may have threatened the Sheriff of Nottingham, but he didn't actually pose the global threat we face today with suicide bombers and massive weapons of destruction."

Mr Prescott also appeared to hint that the election may come in autumn next year, or even later, rather than the date in May expected by many commentators.

He said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he expected it "in 12 to 18 months".

This year's total of 32 Bills compares with the 23 Bills announced in last year's speech, which had the theme "fairness and the future".

The packed programme will be taken as a sign that ministers are determined not to be accused of running out of steam in the lead-up to the election expected next May.

Lord Morris - who as Alf Morris MP brought in the first wide-ranging disabled legislation with his Private Member's Bill in 1970 and went on to become Minister for the Disabled - welcomed today's announcement of a new Discrimination Bill.

He said: "This is a major further advance towards full citizenship for disabled people.

"It's essential to enact the Bill early in the new parliamentary session. It will put an end to totally unmerited discrimination that piles handicap upon handicap for disabled people in this country."