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Tuesday, October 19, 1999 Published at 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK

UK Politics

Queen's Speech looks to election

Key legislation will be announced by the Queen

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Ministers have returned from their long summer holiday ready to draw up a new package of legislation to put them on course for the next general election.

The cabinet will soon agree details of next month's Queen's Speech, which is certain to prove highly controversial.

The over-riding priority for the prime minister is to produce a package that will go down well both with voters and with core Labour supporters.

Key pieces of legislation will be bills on transport, law and order and the countryside.

But, in one of the most controversial moves, there will be no bill to ban fox hunting, which will now be left up to a backbencher to introduce with government backing.

[ image: Anger over hunt ban pledge]
Anger over hunt ban pledge
The speech on 17 November will come after a month's "spill over" session, which will see the government rushing through outstanding pieces of legislation on welfare, Lords reform, immigration and asylum and the creation of the new London assembly.

They are key pieces of legislation and ministers are determined to get them through Parliament before the next session.

But they are also highly complex and controversial so ministers are bracing themselves for a busy and difficult few weeks.

Expecting trouble

They will then have to move into the next session with their eyes fixed firmly on the general election which is still expected in 2001.

Home Secretary Jack Straw is likely to have the largest number of bills to get through in the session.

He is finally expected to be introduce the long-awaited freedom of information bill and can expect trouble from his own side, many of who believe it has been watered down and falls far short of the openness and transparency originally promised.

Mr Straw will also bring in a crime bill to give police the power to compel people they arrest to undergo drugs tests and a justice bill to remove defendants' rights to demand a trial by jury.

He is also expected to reintroduce a bill to lower the age of consent for gays to 16 after a previous attempt was killed off in the Lords.

Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Secretary John Prescott will also have a number of bills aimed at finally dispelling the impression that he has failed to get to grips with Britain's transport crisis.

[ image: Congestion laws ahead]
Congestion laws ahead
He will introduce measures to allow congestion charging of motorists driving in urban areas and, in the wake of the Paddington rail disaster, he will remove Railtrack's responsibility for setting safety standards.

He is also expected to press ahead with plans to part-privatise the air traffic control system which, in the aftermath of Paddington, are certain to prove highly controversial.

The proposal was already under attack from many backbenchers who have reminded ministers that, before the last election, they opposed a similar move by the Tories.

Right to roam

Other bills allowing the part-privatisation of the post office and to reform the child support agency are also likely to prove troublesome.

But Labour activists will be delighted by the introduction of a countryside bill which will give ramblers the right to roam.

[ image: Ramblers win right to roam]
Ramblers win right to roam
MPs are also likely to welcome moves to make voting easier in elections with measures that could see polling booths in supermarkets and may even change the traditional Thursday polling day.

But there will be anger at the government's refusal to introduce a bill to ban fox hunting.

Mr Blair surprised colleagues when he announced during a television interview that he would bring in such a move "as soon as we possibly can".

But there have been growing signs that, following mass demonstrations against the measure he has gone cool on the idea.

It is now expected that the ban will be introduced by a backbencher who will have to be given government time to ensure the bill becomes law.

The last attempt, by MP Michael Foster, failed when the government refused to give it enough time.

Mr Blair has since insisted the measure folded because the Lords made it clear they would kill it off.

But there are fears that, even with a reformed House of Lords, there will still be a majority of Peers against a hunting ban, raising serious doubts about its chances of ever becoming law.

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