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Thursday, November 18, 1999 Published at 09:26 GMT

UK Politics

Queen unveils packed programme

This was the first Queen's Speech without most hereditary peers

Measures on transport, crime and e-commerce have been placed at the centre of the government's plans for the next year unveiled in the annual Queen's Speech.

The Queen's Speech
Speaking at the first state opening of Parliament since the majority of hereditary peers were abolished, the Queen said Labour's third legislative programme would seek to "reform and modernise" the UK.

But there were few surprises in the government's list of 28 new bills, which the monarch set out.

Watch the Queen's Speech in full
Tony Blair's government will address welfare reform, establish new state second pensions, move to tackle drugs-related crime, set out a transport bill, reform the Child Support Agency and seek to stimulate e-commerce and e-government.

But the Conservatives quickly found fault, saying much had still been left out.

[ image:  ]
Tory leader William Hague took the prime minister to task.

He said: "There is nothing for families, nothing for savers, nothing for schools, nothing for the NHS, nothing to help businesses.

"There is nothing in this Queen's Speech to make next year anything other than another year of no delivery."

The Tory leader also strongly criticised the government's new transport policies saying congestion charging amounted to a "declaration of war against everyone who drives a car".

The BBC's Emma Udwin: "Look out for some lively times at Westminster"
For the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy said his party would oppose most of the welfare changes and described as "disgraceful" government plans to remove benefit from offenders who breach community service orders.

Criticism from Scotland and Wales

Following the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, there were no exclusively Scottish bills in the speech.

But Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said: "Some of the things that do impinge on Scotland could be dangerous and unacceptable. For example the measures on air traffic privatisation."

For Plaid Cymru, Elfyn Llwyd criticised the speech for containing nothing to combat what he said was the crisis in Welsh agriculture.

Economic objectives

Mr Blair told the Commons the programme represented "enterprise and fairness together an at the heart of it all is our unshakeable commitment to economic stability."

[ image:  ]
The Queen's Speech, which was written by the government, also detailed new initiatives for transport.

Following the Paddington disaster, rail safety is at the top of the government's priorities and a new Strategic Rail Authority will be set-up.

The Queen said the transport bill would include "measures to improve bus services and reduce road congestion" - including allowing local authorities to bring in road and parking charges.

[ image:  ]
The government is also determined to press ahead with its controversial plans, opposed by more than 100 Labour MPs, to bring private finance into the air traffic system.

Other new measures included a new right to roam, more protection for wildlife and an end to fur farming.

Reform of political party funding and a freedom of information bill were also included, but open government campaigners fear the government's proposals are too weak.

Turning to education, the Queen told Parliament: "It remains my government's number one priority."

Tony Blair: "We want a Britain of enterprise and fairness for all"
Moving away from the focus on the under eights the government is now looking to improve education for those over 16 and will set up a new Learning and Skills Council.

A law reducing the homosexual age of consent to 16 will be introduced, as promised by ministers, as will some of the recommendations contained in the report into the racist murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

In Northern Ireland the government will also bring forward legislation in response to Chris Patten's report into policing in the province.

The Home Office will look to the reform the criminal justice system, including mandatory drug testing for people under arrest.

Local councils will be reformed under a bill permitting the replacement of the existing committee system by a cabinet-style administration, which could open the way to directly elected mayors outside London.

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