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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 16:52 GMT
Queen unveils Blair's crime blitz
Tony Blair
Blair wants action on anti-social behaviour
Plans for a crackdown on crime and anti-social behaviour are at the heart of a Queen's Speech which also includes controversial plans on hospitals, jury trials and licensing laws.

Key points
Tougher sentencing policy
Anti-social behaviour crackdown
Update of sex offences laws
Hunting with dogs
End to "double jeopardy" rule
Licensing laws reformed
Regional assemblies
New Railway Accident Investigation Branch
Bill aimed at tackling international crime
The Queen revealed Tony Blair's plans for 19 bills and three draft bills over the next 12 months in her annual speech to MPs and peers in the House of Lords on Wednesday morning.

Three bills from the Home Office - on criminal justice, sexual offenders and anti-social behaviour - are being pushed by Tony Blair as the centrepiece of the plans.

The Queen said the aim of the proposals was "to reform and rebalance the criminal justice system to deliver justice for all and to safeguard the interests of victims, witnesses and communities".

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the government had promised "bold measures" on crime but "after five wasted years and 12 criminal justice acts" had failed to deliver.

"You do not fight crime by undermining the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens and allow thugs and criminals to walk free," Mr Duncan Smith told MPs.

He also attacked government policy on pensions, transport, education and the health service - and its record on tax.

Spot fines

The government's plans include moves to make it easier to evict anti-social tenants, increase on-the-spot fines for minor offences and a crackdown on graffiti, fly-tipping and the use of airguns.

Mr Blair said the government was pouring cash into communities through schemes such as the New Deal and Sure Start.


Tony Blair has only himself to blame if his new programme fails to ignite the public imagination

He added that the things which made people's lives a "misery" in those communities would be dealt with through a "simple system of penalties", Mr Blair said.

Previous attempts to crack down on anti-social behaviour had not been as successful as hoped because they were too complex, Mr Blair admitted.

In a swipe at the Tories' recent internal squabbles, Mr Blair said the party was "out of touch... it is not just a case of nasty or nice, just plainly and simply irrelevant."

Kennedy attacks Tories

It was left to Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy to attack the "philosophy and policy principle" behind the government's crime crackdown.

"The idea that reducing the rights of defendants benefits the victims of crime is fundamentally flawed," Mr Kennedy told MPs.

He also attacked Mr Blair''s proposals on anti-social behaviour as "gimmickry", much of which had already been tried before.

But much of his fire was reserved for the Tories, who, he claimed, were not capable of providing effective opposition to the "illiberal" measures contained in the Queen's Speech.

Hunting

Alongside action aimed at tackling crime the Queen's Speech also included controversial plans to introduce "foundation hospitals", with bosses given the power to raise cash and set wages.

Other bills include proposals to speed up house sales and end "gazumping" and plans to resolve the bitter row over hunting with dogs.

A Sexual Offences bill is aimed at protecting the vulnerable, updating laws to take account of paedophile use of the Internet and strengthening the sex offenders register.

But there are no concrete proposals towards a referendum on the UK joining the euro or on plans for further reform of the House of Lords.

The shake-up of the criminal justice system will offer more protection to victims, witnesses and communities, with a tougher sentencing policy and more cases heard in magistrates' courts, the government says.

It will also seek to end the "double jeopardy" rule where offenders cannot be tried for the same offence twice, allowing retrials where "new and compelling" evidence emerges.

And in a move which attacked by civil liberties campaigners, the plans would also allow judges and juries to hear details of a defendant's previous convictions.

Outlining her government's plans, the Queen said: "Sentencing will be reformed to ensure that the punishment is appropriate for the offender.

Magistrate's courts and Crown Courts would come together under a single organisation with new measures to enforce the payment of fines.

The Queen said the proposals on licensing laws would abolish fixed opening hours alongside measures to combat anti-social behaviour.

The government says the plans would "encourage a more civilised culture in pubs, bars and restaurants".

On hunting, a bill will be introduced "to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on hunting with dogs".

Hopes among pro-euro campaigners of the announcement of paving legislation towards a referendum on UK entry to the currency were dashed in the speech which merely restated that a judgement on the five economic tests would be made by next June.

The Queen
The Queen set out the government's plans
Other plans announced include bills on modernising local government, allowing referendums on the creation of new regional assemblies and reform of rules on media ownership.

The Queen said there would be a review of higher education, but there was no mention of the controversial issue of university top-up fees, which could see students charged more to attend top universities.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"There's a nervy atmosphere to British politics just now"
The BBC's Carole Walker
"There's no mention of the controversial Mental Health Bill"

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Blair's programme

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