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Friday, 19 November, 1999, 10:57 GMT
Football and royalty dominate Westminster


By BBC Scotland Westminster Correspondent David Porter

''This is a clear case of win-win for Scotland.'' No the Scottish Secretary, John Reid, wasn't talking about the victory of Craig Brown's team over England at Wembly on Wednesday.

Instead he was passing his verdict on the Queen's speech, outlining the UK Government's legislative pogramme for the coming year, which had been delivered earlier in the day.

Dr Reid's enthusiasm was hardly surprisng. After all as a member of the cabinet he's been responsible for helping to draw up the package of measures which will set the tone for the coming year in parliament.

Plus ca change

As the Queen made her way to Westminster to unveil the government's plans from the throne of the House of Lords, things looked much as they always have done.

The pomp and pagentry had a familar ring to it, with a few exceptions the ceremony looked much as it always has. Granted the majority of hereditary Lords, who last week had lost their right to sit in the Upper House, were missing.

The Monarch even split an infinitive!
But that didn't mean there were rows and rows of empty red leather benches in the Lords. Life peers, foreign dignitiaries and the great and good crowded into the chamber to hear the Queen spell out what lies ahead in the coming year.

But of course there are changes. The language used by the Queen when delivering the speech was markedly different.

There were references to enterprise and fairness, the knowledge-based economy and to the shock of some there was even an split infinitive in her text (''to racially discriminate'').

We all know that the speech is written for the sovereign by the government, so what ministers want, she reads. But at times it did have the ring of a New Labour soundbite to it.

''My government will continue to manage public finances prudently, in accordance with the Code for Fiscal stability'' or ''to prepare Britain as a dynamic, knowledge-based economy my governemnt will introduce a bill to promote electronic commerce and electronic government, improving our ability to comepte in the digitial market place''.

There are other changes as well. This is the first session of the Westminster parliament since Scottish and Welsh devolution.

Scottish implications

It's inevitable that with a law-making body now up and running in Edinburgh that events in Westminster will not be so important north of the border. After all, that's what devolution is all about.

So it was no surprise then when there were no exclusively Scottish bills in the Queen's speech, but many of the bills unveiled will obviously have implications in Scotland. Welfare reform and transport issues transcend national boundaries.

John Reid: "Contents good for Scotland"
There was also a commitment from the Queen that the government would make sure Scottish and Welsh devolution worked.

To that end new concordats or memos of understanding will be published shortly between the Scottish parliament and Whitehall departments to try to prevent possible future rows and talks of potential turf wars between London and Edinburgh.

The Scottish Secretary was also keen to underline how important UK legislation continues to be for the people of Scotland.

Dr Reid said it would show how the ''partnership of parliaments'', as he terms the relationship between Edinburgh and Westminster, is working well.

In fact something like 19 of the 28 bills unveiled by the Queen will apply in some shape or form to Scotland. It's going to be a pretty heavy workload for Westminster MPs and many of them will be resigning themselves to some late nights in the commons over the coming months.

Pensions, benefits, transport

Some of the proposals promise to be pretty controversial too. There's a new welfare bill, looking at reforming the Child Support Agency and introducing secondary pensions.

There are also plans to withdraw benefits from those who fail to comply with community service orders.

The transport proposals include road charging (Scotland has separate legislation planned on this) and plans partially to privatise the air traffic control service are also likely to be highly contentious with opposition from Labour's own backbenches.

Paul Scholes had given English MPs plenty to cheer about
True to form though, most Labour MPs shared Dr Reid's assessment of the proposals. Equally predictable was a less than enthusiastic endorsement from the oppostion parties.

The Conservatives have strongly criticised the governemnt's new transport policies, saying congestion charging would amount to a ''declaration of war against everyone who drives a car''.

The new Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kenendy was also less than impressed. He described the proposed welfare changes as ''disgraceful'' and he is clearly disappointed that there is still NO commitment from the government to electoral reform and the introduction of proprotional representation for Westminster elections.

For the Scottish National Party, its leader Alex Salmond was equally scathing. He complained that measures which will ''impinge on Scotland" could be dangerous and unacceptable''. He had in mind the partial privatisation of air traffic control.'

So, as expected, there were disagreements on the contents of the Queen's speech and how good, bad or indifferent the measures will be.

Rivalries forgotten

But after they'd heard and analysed its contents there was a surprisng amount of unanimity on one topic at least.

Those Scots who had tickets took themselves off to Wembly. Political rivalries were forgotton and to a man and women they cheered on Scotland against England.

Devolution works two ways - in politics, but also in football as well!

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See also:
11 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Peers' final farewell
26 Oct 99 |  UK Politics
Lords to vote on abolition
12 Nov 99 |  Scotland
Lords-a-leaving means new political era

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