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Thursday, 7 December, 2000, 07:48 GMT
Crime blitz hints at early poll
The government is promising the biggest attack on crime for a generation in its programme of bills for the coming year.

The Queen's speech, unveiled on Wednesday, includes measures to tackle the so-called "yob culture", street crime and drugs barons.

Other eye-catching measures include a ban on tobacco advertising, action to house the homeless, and a free vote for MPs on the future of fox hunting.

But the package of bills is the shortest since Labour came to power, fuelling speculation that the government will call a spring election

Downing Street insisted that the speech amounted to "a full programme that shows, unusually, a government gaining momentum in its fourth year, not losing it".

But the Conservative Party insisted that many of the measures on crime were unlikely to see the light of day.

Law and order formed the centrepiece of the speech with five bills introducing:

  • Fixed 100 penalties for offences of disorderly behaviour in public places;
  • Police to be able to shut down rowdy pubs and clubs;
  • A ban on drinking alcohol in the street;
  • Child curfew schemes for those aged nine to 15;
  • There will also be new powers for police to seize the assets of criminals, aimed in particular at drug barons.

'Yob culture' tackled

Downing Street has stressed that the prime minister is determined to take on the "yob culture" in Britain.

Tony Blair and William Hague
The party leaders listened to the speech before clashing in the Commons
But the Conservatives were swift to respond. Opposition leader William Hague dismissed the bills as "empty rhetoric".

He described them as "cosmetic measures to cover up the complete failure in tackling crime in the run up to the election".

Mr Hague said the speech was of interest for the number of promised measures which had not been included in the legislative programme.

'Simplistic answers'

The Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy called it " half a Queen's speech". He said it had merely cleared the decks ahead of the forthcoming general election.

And on the central issue of law and order Mr Kennedy said: "These are a series of kneejerk measures which will introduce blanket policies with serious civil liberties implications."

Crime was not the only subject the government chose to highlight with the speech.

On health, the government is to shake up funding, providing 500m for the best-run NHS trusts immediately and to others under strict supervision.

Tobacco ad ban

There will also be a bill to ban the promotion and advertising of tobacco, an issue Labour had previously faced accusations of backing down on.

Queen Elizabeth II
The speech is written by the government and delivered by the Queen
Unlike much of the proposed legislation, the advertising ban would also apply in Scotland.

But devolution means that issues like and crime and health remain under the devolved control of the Scottish Parliament.

In education there will be further measures aimed at extending to secondary schools the present drive to improve literacy and numeracy in primary schools.

A regulatory reform bill is also promised, cutting red tape in areas such as fire regulations and allowing pubs and restaurants to open later.

A bill to make home-buying simpler in England and Wales will also be introduced. It aims to make the process "more transparent and consumer-friendly".

Four draft bills will also be published.

One will be on safety measures, which will cover areas looked into by Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Paddington rail crash.

Commons debate

The Commons debate following the Queen's speech opened with Mr Hague criticising the brevity of the measures.

"There was so little in it that it was nice of Her Majesty to come down here to deliver it," he said.

But Mr Blair replied saying the Conservative leader was right to focus on making jokes because he had very little to say on policy.

"We have made significant progress in the past three years, none of the steps has been easy. The common factor is that every achievement has been opposed by the Conservatives."

Mr Blair said that government had provided opportunity by creating a stable economy, getting people into work and investing in the public services.

The Queen's speech contained changes which required in return individual responsibility. That was why it was "tough on crime at every level," he said.

The speech will be debated in full by Parliament over the next few days.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Mardell in Westminster
"Tellingly short - suggesting a spring election"
Home Secretary, Jack Straw
"Crime is too high and we have got to get it down"
An early election?
Political commentator Ben Pimlott and political scientist John Curtice from Strathclyde University discuss

KEY STORIES

ANALYSIS

TALKING POINT

VIDEO
See also:

05 Dec 00 | UK Politics
06 Dec 00 | UK Politics
06 Dec 00 | UK Politics
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