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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Blair targets public services
Queen's Speech
The Queen's Speech is written by the government
Far-reaching change to public services form the centrepiece of New Labour's first legislative programme for its second term in office.

As well as confirming plans for greater private sector involvement in health and education, the Queen's Speech featured controversial proposals on criminal justice and welfare among the 20 bills the government hopes to enact over the next 18 months.

The speech set out the means by which Tony Blair hopes to deliver his key election promise of improved schools and hospitals under Labour.

Public sector workers have signalled opposition
Reform lay at the heart of that programme, according to the prime minister's spokesman: "Reform of public services to ensure high standards, to ensure that public services are built around consumers and to ensure that the frontline in public services is put first."

Significant areas of that reform have already proved contentious, with public sector trade unions and various Labour MPs signalling deep-seated opposition to Mr Blair's wish to further extend the role of the private sector in the provision of core services.

Long arm of reform

Among other proposals set to spark rebellion on Labour's own side are moves to abolish the "double jeopardy" rule in murder cases, meaning individuals acquitted of a killing can be put on trial again if new evidence emerges.

And a new Welfare Reform Bill would force the partners of jobless people to attend "work-focused" interviews as a condition of benefit payment.

The bulk of the crime measures contained in the speech have been widely trailed in advance, and include more power to confiscate criminals' assets and moves against corruption and sex offenders.

The long arm of reform extends to the police service with a bill to "modernise" the force, according to ministers.

A new complaints procedure will be introduced to address longstanding public concern about the current practice of police investigating themselves.

A hunt in progress
The government says it will allow parliament to "reach a conclusion" on fox hunting
One unexpected measure in the speech was the "second phase" of House of Lords reform, including the abolition of those hereditary peers who survived the initial reforms of 1999.

But to the disappointment of constitutional reformers, the government intends to introduce only a minority of elected members into the upper House - as recommended by the Wakeham Commission last year.

How that minority is to be elected is not set out - and is likely to prove a thorny issue on all sides of the House.

Hunt ban 'conclusion' pledged

As predicted, MPs will once again get the chance to vote to ban hunting with dogs - this time with the added promise to finally "reach a conclusion" on the issue which became a recurring feature of the last parliament.

Following the intense focus on primary schools during Mr Blair's first term, the speech makes clear that attention is now fully turned to the secondary system.

More City Academies will be created, standard contracts will be created to allow private firms, voluntary groups and religious organisations to run their own schools.

Police powers and practices are to be reformed
For the NHS, doctors, nurses and other "health professionals" will now control 75% of all health service spending under an NHS Reform Bill.

Single media regulator

The speech also includes measures trailed by Chancellor Gordon Brown to boost enterprise and the economy.

But a bill to establish a single regulator for the media and communications industries and reform broadcasting rules will be published only in draft form.

Following the Cullen report into the Paddington rail disaster, the speech promises legislation to improve rail safety.

A draft bill will be published to give legal force to Lord Cullen's recommendations if ministers decide to press ahead after consultation.

On equality, the government plans to change the law to make all-women parliamentary selection shortlists for political parties legal. The use of all-women shortlists significantly boosted the intake of female MPs at the 1997 election - but an employment tribunal later found the shortlists unlawful.

With the massive parliamentary majority Mr Blair won four years ago having been barely dented by the election held earlier this month, the prime minister should enjoy a fair wind at Westminster for his proposed legislative programme.

 Click here to watch the Queen's speech in full: 56k

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Tonight, Westminster feels more like the Palace of Anxieties"
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Private involvement in public services will increase"
Annette Place of Unison
"We're prepared to fight extensively against these proposals"

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See also:

19 Jun 01 | Business
20 Jun 01 | UK Politics
19 Jul 02 | UK Politics
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