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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 17:29 GMT
Speech to a changing kingdom
By BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor
Nothing matches the State Opening of Parliament for splendour.
The sovereign, the opulent throne, the processions, the robed lords and ladies, the hats, the jewellery, Black Rod barred from the Commons, the courtiers walking awkwardly backwards. A lot of pageantry, a touch of pantomime.
Only the speech itself seems a little out of place; a rude reminder of political reality in a seemingly gracious world.
Did the monarch really process from Buckingham Palace in the Australian state coach - accompanied by proudly prancing horses - just to inform the House of Lords and the eavesdropping Commons that there is to be a bill to tackle benefit fraud?
The state opening, of course, is about much more than the litany of legislation which Tony Blair plans to squeeze in between now and the general election.
The speech itself has changed. Previously, as I recall from my Westminster days, it opened with foreign relations and with a list of the state visits planned by the sovereign.
That is now well down the page, perhaps in keeping with the domestic focus of contemporary politics.
But there's a far bigger change - hinted at in a line of the gracious speech itself.
That is the extent of Westminster power. Once the sovereign's pronouncements might have been noted in empire countries round the world.
The above paragraph - I am aware - is deliberately written in a pejorative style: a conscious parody of the bemusement seemingly experienced by those who feel Britain slipping beneath their feet.
The alternative interpretation - voiced in the speech itself (author T.Blair) - is that the decentralisation of power is valid and valuable; that the objective must be to make devolution work.
I have personally covered every step of the devolution story.
I covered the referendum in 1979. I survived the fascination - and frequent tedium - of the constitutional convention.
I covered the white paper, I covered the referendum mark II, I covered the bill, I covered the royal opening of Scotland's parliament, I report upon that parliament daily.
I know that Scotland is now self-governing in domestic politics.
It is yet another demonstration of the transformation of governance in the UK.
That element is, of course, amplified by a speech which concentrated on domestic, populist politics.
Since domestic politics has been devolved, this year's speech is inevitably aimed mostly at England or England and Wales.
There are exceptions: reserved matters which cover the whole of the UK or bills which apply partly to Scotland.
But, broadly, Scotland's legislative programme is already in place.
Nine bills were announced by the first minister on 14 September - in the Scottish Parliament.
In addition, while the Queen's speech was being absorbed at Westminster, MSPs in Edinburgh were debating the final stages of legislation to abolish warrant sales, the controversial system of seizing and selling houshold goods to cover debts.
That is a member's bill introduced by the Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan - which the executive has accepted in the face of a potential backbench rebellion.
It might be helpful, though, to list the bills in the Queen's speech - with their varying relevance to Scotland explained.
There are three bills on matters specifically reserved to Westminster in the devolution legislation.
By definition, these apply to Scotland. These are the Bill on Social Security Fraud, the Armed Forces Bill, and the Regulatory Reform Bill.
Of these, the benefit fraud bill will apply uniformly in Scotland as in England.
The Armed Forces Bill relates almost exclusively to reserved matters - and so extends to Scotland, although the Scottish Executive will have to consider whether to extend to Scotland the section dealing with the Ministry of Defence Police.
The bill on deregulation affects Scotland inasmuch as it governs reserved matters.
The Scottish Executive will review whether it should be extended to cover devolved matters.
In addition, there are two further reserved bills outlined for advance drafting only. These are the Safety Bill and the Export Controls Bill.
Reserved and Devolved Bills
There are four bills which cover both reserved and devolved matters.
These, therefore, have a hybrid effect on Scotland, applying to varying degrees.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill covers two issues. Of these, the provisions on special education are devolved and do not apply to Scotland.
But disability rights are reserved and do apply to Scotland, with the exception of the imposition of a duty on councils in England and Wales to improve the accessibility of educational establishments.
The main exception is the provision on vehicle identity tests which extends to Scotland. The Scottish Executive may consider parallel legislation for Scotland.
The Health and Social Care Modernisation Bill is designed to implement elements of Alan Milburn's National Plan for modernising the NHS and the response to the Royal Commission on long-term care of the elderly.
This bill applies almost exclusively to England and Wales as health care is devolved to Scotland.
Some of the provisions in the bill may be reserved - such as the use made of patient information - and may need to be extended to Scotland.
The Scottish Executive has already announced its plans on long-term care and there is likely to be Scottish legislation in this field.
The Proceeds of Crime Bill is a mixture of reserved matters (such as drugs, money laundering and taxation) and devolved (non-drugs confiscation and criminal law).
This is a bill in draft form. The reserved matters will apply to Scotland. The executive will decide whether to support the devolved issues once the bill is published.
If it does so, it would recommend to the Scottish Parliament that it gives consent for the legislation to be processed at Westminster in respect of Scotland.
Bills on Devolved Matters
There are seven bills in this category of legislation in fields which have already been devolved to Scotland.
With a couple of exceptions, these bills will not apply to Scotland.
The main exception is the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill.
This is a devolved issue and has, indeed, been considered previously by the Scottish Parliament and executive.
Consideration is already being given to extending the bill to Scotland in which case the Scottish Parliament will be asked to give its consent.
A few parts of the Police and Criminal Justice Bill will apply to Scotland - although most will apply only to England and Wales.
Further, the Scottish Executive is considering whether the other measures in the bill may feature in future, separate Scottish legislation.
The Housing Bill in the Queen's speech will not apply to Scotland.
A separate - and different - Scottish Housing Bill was announced in September.
The Hunting Bill does not apply to Scotland. In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament is well advanced in considering a member's bill on this issue (the Protection of Wild Mammals Bill introduced by Mike Watson MSP).
The Scottish Executive has maintained a neutral stance.
The Mode of Trial Bill does not apply to Scotland where the accused does not have the ability to elect trial by jury.
The Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill, self-evidently, applies to Wales.
Scottish Executive ministers are considering whether such a provision is necessary in Scotland.
That issue is presently being looked at by the parliament's education committee.
Today's speech sets the future pattern. The Queen's speech will apply with variable force across Britain.
Indeed, that may go further yet. Will Wales press for further legislative powers? Will there be administrations of completely different colour in Scotland and Westminster?
At present, there remains significant overlap - largely because Labour was first returned to UK power on a common manifesto and its Scottish ministers remain committed to objectives, for example in the health service, which are shared with their Westminster colleagues.
But already there are notable differences.
Scotland has abolished upfront student tuition fees largely through the influence of the Liberal Democrats who are Labour's partners in the Scottish coalition.
Scottish ministers are looking seriously at going beyond Westminster in funding care for the elderly.
In the future, there may be one party in power at Westminster and another party or group of parties in power at Holyrood.
In those circumstances, the overlap would shrink still further.
In future, when the Queen refers in the speech to "my government", she may need to be more specific.
06 Dec 00 | Scotland
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