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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
Queen announces assembly reform
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at the State Opening of Parliament
Hain: It's a bumper Queen's speech for Wales
The Queen has announced plans for reforming the Welsh assembly at the State Opening of Parliament.

Details of the reforms were not laid out during the ceremony but a White Paper due for publication in June is expected to make those clear.

Welsh Secretary Peter Hain said it was a "bumper Queen's Speech for Wales" with an "unprecedented" number of bills.

The programme also included measures to reform the benefits system.

A new health bill was also announced, which will carry through a ban on smoking in public places, as well as assembly powers to decide on a ban in Wales.

About 40 bills received a mention during the ceremony, some of which ran out of time on their way to becoming law before the recent general election.

Transport and tourism

Plans for the introduction of identity cards and the tightening of immigration are also on the programme for this sitting of Parliament.

It's important to dispel the culture of pessimism here
Welsh Secretary Peter Hain

The Government of Wales Bill contains proposals for allowing the assembly more legislative freedom, and adds to the previously-published Transport (Wales) Bill.

That gives the assembly more power to develop an integrated transport policy, and the Tourist Accommodation Registration (Wales) Bill, allows it to establish its own scheme.

New laws to introduce a Commissioner for Older People in Wales have already been drafted.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan said the inclusion of a third Wales-only bill and 18 bills with clauses or provisions specific to Wales showed that "devolution is working".

"It is no longer the case that there is a slim chance of having one Wales-only bill included in the Queen's Speech every five or ten years. Now it is more than one every year," he added.

'Crippling problem'

Under the Welfare Reform Bill, which was announced in the Queen's Speech, changes will be made to simplify the system for reducing or removing Job Seeker's Allowance from a recipient who leaves a job without just cause, or who refuses to take part in return-to-work schemes.

The incapacity benefits system would also be altered to encourage those who can work to return through a rehabilitation scheme, but also to improve the financial position of those who cannot by increasing sickness benefits.

Mr Hain told BBC Radio Wales that Labour's plans to reform the welfare system would see people "encouraged to go into work but not frog-marched into work".

"They don't have to be heavy industry jobs of the traditional kind if you actually have a physical disability," he said.

"We ought to raise our sights here and, in that way, we can also deal with one of the crippling problems of the Welsh economy, which is the relatively low GDP (gross domestic product) per head that is largely accounted for by the high level of economic activity compared with other parts of Britain."

Mr Hain added: "It's important to dispel the culture of pessimism here. Ill-health should not be a bar to employment."

But Plaid Cymru's Parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd said the government was "unfairly targeting genuine claimants".

"New Labour is putting unfair pressure on those who are genuinely sick and disabled," he added.

"The effect of this benefit upheaval on those who are truly incapacitated will be to create unnecessary uncertainty and distress."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Coverage of the State Opening of Parliament




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