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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 16:13 GMT
What the Queen didn't say
rail junction
Rail safety is a top priority - but may not make the statute book
The government unveiled an ambitious agenda to tackle crime as the centrepiece of its plans for the next parliamentary session - which is widely expected to lead to a general election in the spring.

But a number of other key measures were sidelined in the rush to unveil a populist programme that would appeal to middle England.

Some proposals, which were announced as draft bills, are unlikely to reach the statute books in this session - especially if any early election is called.

Left out entirely are any further proposals for constitutional reform - including English regional assemblies and a referendum on changing the voting system at Westminster - which Labour's 1997 election manifesto suggested would be held during this Parliament.

And put on the back burner, in the form of draft bills, are controversial measures to regulate the arms trade and introduce further safety measures on the railways.

Nothing too difficult

The government's desire to avoid controversy during the run-up to a general election has also led them to abandon plans to try and repeal Section 28 - which bans the promotion of homosexuality in schools.

That proposal was the subject of fierce resistance in the House of Lords and was opposed by the Conservatives and some religious leaders.

And the speech has steered around other possible controversial legislation on subjects like human cloning, the identification of sex offenders, and the detention of people with mental health problems.

Business escapes regulation

The government was also at pains not to introduce any more legislation which would add to the regulation of business - although later this week the Department of Trade and Industry will reveal its proposals for "family-friendly" employment policies, including paid leave for fathers.

So plans for further regulation of banks, for increased consumer rights, and for the regulation of "fat-cat" salaries were all left out of the Queen's speech.

So too were further plans for privatisation of the Tote, the state-run monopoly on-course pool bookmaker, which channels funds into horseracing.

Indeed, the only measure directly affecting business is a commitment to pass the regulatory reform bill, introduced last April, which is designed to force government departments to simplify regulations on such matters as fire safety, late night openings, and the rules governing business partnerships.

Safety first?

Among the biggest issues for the government is likely to be rail safety, which has been included in an omnibus draft safety bill which has not yet been published in full.

The government is still awaiting the conclusions of Cullen Inquiry following the Paddington rail crash before outlining its proposals in detail.

And the new bill would include measures to regulate safety in the air, at sea and on the roads, including alcohol abuse by transport staff.

It would also extend the right of police to test drivers for drug use as well as alcohol abuse, and improve health and safety at work.

And it may include a new offence of "corporate killing" which could allow the prosecution of rail companies who breach safety rules.

Unfortunately, this huge measure is unlikely to complete its parliamentary passage before the expected election.

Cooling to PR

The lack of any proposals regarding proportional representation confirms that the government has cooled to an idea which was a part of Labour's 1997 manifesto, which stated that Labour "are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons."

The prime minister set up the Jenkins Commission, which reported in favour of a modified form of PR in October 1998 but received a mixed reception.

According to the then leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, Tony Blair had promised him a referendum on this issue before the next general election.

But with the Labour Party split on this issue, there appears to be little enthusiasm for changing an electoral system which has given Labour such a big majority.


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See also:

05 Jan 00 | UK Politics
23 Oct 00 | UK Politics
18 Oct 00 | UK
25 Sep 00 | Labour
25 Jul 00 | UK Politics
02 Mar 00 | UK
23 Nov 00 | UK Politics

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