THE GOVERNMENT'S new legislative package came under fierce attack from the Tories yesterday as William Hague accused the "Nero of Sedgefield" of "fiddling with the constitution while jobs burn".
Opening the Commons debate on the Queen's Speech, Mr Hague claimed Tony Blair was pushing through Bills that served only the priorities of the Labour Party. But the Prime Minister insisted that the package contained the "policies for Britain's future", hailing it as the largest programme of change for many years.
Mr Blair said its "centrepiece" was the set of measures to improve the NHS, schools, law and order and welfare reform, stressing: "We are going to make a real drive to push up standards in primary and secondary schools right throughout the country. These are the people's priorities."
To Labour cheers, he declared an end to "the feudal domination" by 750 hereditary peers of the House of Lords, which was in perpetuity of the Conservative Party.
Pledging there would be a time-limit for the Royal Commission to report on the second stage of reform, the Prime Minister added: "The more that can be done by consensus the better. But it is time we ended the feudal domination of one half of our legislature by the Tory party that claims a divine right to govern Britain."
However, Mr Hague told Mr Blair the proposed Bill would increase his power at the "expense of democracy and in defiance of commonsense".
"You have never had any intention of carrying out proper reform of the Lords. You want to create a House of Cronies beholden to you and you alone," he said. It would be a House populated by "Lord Draper of Lobbygate, Lord Robinson of Offshore Funds, Lord Mandelson of Rio and the Prime Minister himself, Baron of Ideas".
Mr Hague warned the Prime Minister that creating an upper house was "so pliant and illegitimate that it would expose the Government to the charge of dictatorship".
The Conservative Party leader went on: "Ministers want to move from one election campaign to the next without bothering to govern in between ... the Nero of Sedgefield is fiddling with the constitution while jobs burn."
He also said: "What should have been in the Queen's Speech are measures to make it easier for jobs to be created, like halting new regulations that will make it more expensive to employ people, like regulations like statutory union recognition and parts of the Working Time Directive, like a plan to curb the dramatic increase in welfare spending so that interest rates could be cut further."
Mr Hague went on to condemn the Government for failing to include the freedom of information Bill, saying: "Nothing seems more ridiculous now than freedom of information from the Government that gave us Formula One with its meetings that were never minuted, Sierra Leone with its telegrams that never turned up, the junior environment minister with his mysterious planning letters [a reference to Alan Meale] and a Paymaster-General who has woven such a web of secrecy around his affairs that no one understands how he borrowed a fiver from Robert Maxwell and came back years later as a multi-millionaire." The Tory leader attacked plans for a Working Families Tax Credit, saying it would bring 500,000 new people on to benefits, encourage fraud and discriminate against married couples and cost billions extra.
"You have embarked on a welfare programme without any idea of what you are doing," he told Mr Blair.
The Prime Minister said the NHS Bill would put "the final nail in the coffin of the costly, disastrous and bureaucratic internal market introduced by the Conservatives ... The two-tier NHS will go". Mr Blair, turning to Europe, welcomed an intervention by Giles Radice, chairman of the Treasury select committee, who asked him to comment on a letter by 114 leading companies, urging early adoption of the euro.
Mr Blair said: "I do agree very strongly with their position that we cannot pretend that this issue is going to go away ... and it is vital that we prepare our country for the euro."
On the economy, Mr Blair warned: "There will be difficult times for business and jobs in the forecast slowdown. We do not hide from that at all."
The Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, said "too many of the big things" had "been ducked", including Bills on freedom of information, a strategic rail authority and a food standards agency.
He added: "We would never have had Nye Bevan's NHS, or Beveridge's welfare state or Lloyd George's old age pensions if those governments had been as timid as this is being."
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