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Queen Speech Tuesday, 24 November, 1998, 19:25 GMT
Blair defends Labour's plans
Tony Blair
Tony Blair: Labour is delivering on its manifesto
Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his government against Tory charges that Labour is ignoring the people's priorities.

The Queen's Speech
The clash came in a Commons debate, after the government set out its plans for the coming year in the Queen's speech.

The government's new programme is likely to be dominated by proposals to reform the House of Lords and changes to the welfare system.

Mr Blair said: "This is a big legislative programme. It will be a year of challenge.

"The key themes of the Queen's speech are modernisation and fairness to create a Britain that is strong and modern and fair."

He rejected criticisms by the Tory leader William Hague as "devoid of any seriousness".

The widely-expected reform of the Lords is the most radical of the new proposals and could pave the way for a year of confrontation between the two Houses of parliament.

William Hague
William Hague: "What about the people's proposals?"
Mr Hague warned the prime minister that his attempt to abolish the voting rights of hereditary peers will "hang like a millstone around your neck".

He said the prime minister was seeking to replace an "independent" second chamber with "a House of cronies".

The prime minister replied that, having lost power in the Commons at the general election, the Conservatives were seeking to cling on to it through the Lords.

"What cannot possibly be justified is a situation where one part of the Houses of Parliament is in perpetuity in the ownership of the Conservative Party," he said.

Earlier, in the House of Lords, the announcement of the reform by the Queen was greeted by an unprecedented rumble of noise, including "hear hears" from some MPs.

She told parliament: "It will be the first stage in a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative."

Hague lambasts Prescott

Mr Hague attacked the government over the number of notable omissions from its legislative plans.

He pointed out there was no place in the programme for a Freedom of Information Bill, or a specific Bill to create a Food Standards Agency - although the Queen said the government would take forward its proposals.

Queen: Delivered programme
Mr Hague also taunted Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott over the absence of a Bill taking forward his plans for a strategic transport policy.

He said " There's nothing in the Queen's speech about the environment, nothing about transport except a shadow rail authority and nothing for the regions except what we've already done.

He added: "What's the point of having an integrated transport policy when you can't even integrate it into the government's programme?"

The Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown also voiced reservations about government plans and despite his party's partial co-operation with Labour he said the government was too "timid".

Referring in particular to reform of the voting system and freedom of information he said "too much that ought to be done now is being held over for another time".

The marathon debate on the Queen's speech is set to continue for the next six days.

BBC News
Hague: Critical of Lords proposals
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BBC's John Pienaar: "Ministers have a fight on their hands"
See also:

24 Nov 98 | Queen Speech
24 Nov 98 | Queen Speech
24 Nov 98 | Queen Speech
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