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Crime Fight Tops Labours Agenda

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Tony Blair has put the fight against crime and terror at the heart of his government's programme in the run up to the next general election.

Home Office Bills - including national ID cards and moves to combat terrorism, drugs and anti-social behaviour - dominated Tuesday's Queen's Speech.

Tory leader Michael Howard said Labour was preoccupied with talk and spin.

The Liberal Democrats accused ministers of creating a "climate of fear," to gain advantage at the ballot box.

Mr Blair told MPs that although security and crime were central to this year's Queen's Speech, they should be taken alongside on-going investment in public services and continuing economic stability.

'Political football'

Home Secretary David Blunkett denied the government was "scaremongering," saying it had played down the terrorist threat by stressing "alert over alarm".

Commons Leader Peter Hain told BBC Radio 4's PM programme Britain would be more secure under a Labour government because of its anti-terror measures, such as boosting the intelligence services.

But his comments were branded "ridiculous" by Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, who accused ministers of using the intelligence services as a "political football".


ID cards

Creating Serious Organised Crime Agency

Drug tests for minor offenders

Offering schools more freedom

EU constitution referendum rules

Earlier, in the House of Commons, Mr Kennedy accused ministers of deliberately confusing terrorism with domestic crime in the public mind and promised to campaign vigorously against ID cards.

Tory leader Mr Howard also accused the government of "over hyping" measures to tackle terrorism.

"There is no better example of the government's preoccupation with talk, spin and newspaper headlines," Mr Howard told MPs.

The Queen's Speech sets out the government's priorities for the coming parliamentary session.

With a general election expected in May, many of the 37 bills and draft bills outlined - more than in the two previous years - are not likely to become law.

The speech contained six separate Home Office Bills, with a further five, from other departments, including law and order elements.

Plans include the introduction of national identity cards, with personal data on a microchip, although Mr Blunkett said Parliament would not make a final decision on the issue until "around 2010 or 2012".

There was also a bill to create the new Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), to hunt major drug smugglers, people traffickers and paedophiles.

The speech also signalled a new focus on drug abuse including compulsory drug testing for people arrested for some crimes, and the creation of a new offence of incitement to religious hatred.

And there will be new measures to clamp down on animal rights extremists.

On anti-social behaviour, the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill will give local authorities more powers - including levying on-the-spot fines - to deal with graffiti, fly-tipping, abandoned cars and other low level nuisance.

Improved safety

The speech did not set out specific proposals to combat terrorism, but the draft Counter Terrorism Bill is likely to include controversial measures such as no-jury trials for terrorist cases and the use of phone-tap evidence in court.


Consumer Credit Bill - New rights for borrowers to contest unfair credit terms

Constitutional Reform Bill - creation of a supreme court, scrapping post of Lord Chancellor

Charities Bill - cutting red tape

Road Safety Bill - tougher penalties for drink drivers and dangerous drivers

Animal Welfare Bill - moves to protect circus animals and pets

Railways Bill - scrapping the strategic rail authority

Corporate manslaughter laws

Shami Chakrabarti, from civil rights group Liberty, warned that "cheap" tough legislation would not make Britain safer but would undermine democracy.

The Queen's Speech also outlined laws setting out the rules for a referendum on the EU constitution, currently expected in spring 2006.

Among measures not included in the speech were Lords reform and moves to ban smoking in restaurants and pubs that serve food. They will not come until after the next election.

The Tories say the priorities should be trying to cut taxes while tackling crime, immigration, school discipline and hospital hygiene.

The Lib Dem "alternative" speech is topped with scrapping university tuition fees and replacing the council tax with a local income tax.


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Blair says terror threat 'real'

Tony Blair has rejected Liberal Democrat claims the Queen's Speech is aimed at creating a "climate of fear" ahead of the next general election.

The prime minister told MPs: "The threats faced by this country and every other major country are real."

Earlier Tory leader Michael Howard launched an all-out attack on the government, saying tax payers were not getting value for money.

Mr Blair responded Mr Howard was the reincarnation of a failed Tory past.


After a Queen's Speech that put crime and terror at its heart, the premier said the plans should be taken alongside government investment in public services and next week's pre-Budget report, which would focus on stability and opportunity.

Mr Blair said New Labour recognised the kind of challenges faced by the UK.

"If we want to help the British people cope with economic globalisation, terrorism, organised crime, the pressures of modern work and family life we have to change radically the way public services, the welfare state and the criminal justice system work."

He said his government's plans were simultaneously "radical but realistic and costed".

'Source of pride'

The prime minister conceded there were "still far too many victims of crime" but added he was determined to bring back "respect and responsibility" to Britain's streets.

And he acknowledged it was a "big change" to bring in compulsory ID cards but claimed the move was "long overdue" in the face of terrorism, organised crime and illegal immigration.

The prime minister used his speech to MPs to pay tribute to British forces currently serving in Iraq.

"They are a huge source of pride for the country," he said.

Fantasy tax cuts?

Mr Blair then turned to the Conservative's alternative Queen's Speech which he said had "tantalised" voters with the prospect tax cuts worth billions could be introduced.

"Then you read the small print of the document. Tucked away at the end is this sentence: 'The presence of a particular option in this paper does not constitute any guarantee or promise that the particular option in question will form any part of any Conservative budget'," he said.

"We are introducing a consumer credit bill to protect people from sharp practice. We'll have to amend it to cover Tory policy."

Mr Blair added: "It's not a real tax cut, it's a fantasy tax cut and a fraud because it's sold as a reality."

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Full text of 2004 Queen's Speech

My Lords and members of the House of Commons.

My Government will continue to pursue policies which entrench economic stability and promote growth and prosperity.

My Government will continue to reform the public services to ensure they provide more security and opportunity for all.

My Government attaches the highest importance to extending educational opportunity so that all individuals can realise their full potential and the country can benefit from the talents of all its people.

A Bill will be introduced to streamline the regime of school inspections to help raise standards for every child in every school.

A Bill will be introduced to extend financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds engaged in training and education.

My Government recognises that we live in a time of global uncertainty with an increased threat from international terrorism and organised crime. Measures to extend opportunity will be accompanied by legislation to increase security for all.

My Government will legislate to introduce an identity cards scheme, and will publish proposals to support the continuing fight against terrorism in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

Legislation will be introduced to establish the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and the powers the police and others have to fight crime will be strengthened.

In particular, the Bill will introduce new measures to deal with harassment by animal rights extremists.

My Government will introduce legislation to tackle the problem of drug abuse and the crime that flows from it, and will tackle the disorder and violence that can arise from the abuse of alcohol.

My Government has always recognised the importance of clean and safe neighbourhoods. There will be further legislation to tackle anti-social behaviour.

A Bill will be introduced to help to reduce further the numbers of those killed or injured on the roads.

My Government will bring forward legislation to reduce re-offending by improving the management of offenders.

A draft Bill will be published to tackle juvenile crime through more effective rehabilitation and sentencing.

Legislation will be introduced to reform the criminal defence service, making better use of legal aid resources. A draft Bill will be published to support those with legitimate civil claims and reform the system of tribunals.

A draft Bill will be published to introduce a new offence of corporate manslaughter.

My Government will continue to take action to secure high levels of employment as it reforms the welfare state.

My Government will continue to provide protection from discrimination and exploitation.

Legislation will be introduced to combat discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the grounds of religion, as well as race, sex and disability. A single Commission for Equality and Human Rights will be established.

My Government will maintain its commitment to social justice and legislate to increase the rights of disabled people.

My Government will continue its reform of the National Health Service, offering more information, power and choice to patients, with equal access for all and free at the point of delivery.

My Government will continue with legislation to provide a statutory framework for dealing with the financial, health and welfare decisions of those people who might lack capacity through mental illness or disability.

Measures to reform the law on mental health will continue to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny.

My Government believes that the welfare of children is paramount. Draft legislation will be published to safeguard the welfare of children in circumstances of parental separation and inter-country adoption.

Consumer credit law will be updated to provide greater protection from unfair lending practices and create a fairer and more competitive credit market.

My Government will also introduce a Bill to improve standards of animal welfare and increase the penalties for abuse.

My Government will continue to modernise the constitution and institutions of our country to ensure they are equipped to meet the challenges of the future.

Legislation will be brought forward to provide a modern and comprehensive framework for statutory inquiries into matters of public concern.

My Government will continue to take forward in this session the constitutional legislation introduced last year.

A Bill will be introduced to give effect to the Constitutional Treaty for the European Union, subject to a referendum.

My Government is committed to reducing bureaucracy and the costs of Government, and to promoting efficiency. A Bill will be introduced to integrate the Inland Revenue and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise.

My Government recognises the importance of modern, effective and safe transport to meet the needs of the public and the wider economy.

Legislation will be introduced to streamline the organisation of the national rail system to improve performance.

A Bill will be brought forward to authorise the construction of Crossrail.

The Government will continue to legislate to allow local authorities to provide innovative and safe school transport.

My Government believes that the voluntary sector is a great strength of this country.

Charity law will be modernised so that a vibrant, diverse and independent charitable sector can continue to flourish with public confidence.

My Government will introduce legislation to consolidate the distribution of lottery money to good causes.

Proposals will be published to protect the nation's rural heritage, through draft legislation to modernise the management of common land, and to create new arrangements to deliver rural policy.

Members of the House of Commons. Estimates for the Public Services will be laid before you.

My Lords and members of the House of Commons.

My Government will continue to work closely with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, and will work to bring about the conditions necessary for the restoration of the political institutions in Northern Ireland.

Legislation will be introduced to provide the Welsh Assembly with a range of transport related powers.

Other measures will be laid before you.

The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to our visit to Canada. We look forward to receiving the state visit of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Korea and receiving the state visit of His Excellency the President of Italy.

To mark the centenary of Norway's independence, we also look forward to receiving Their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway.

My Government will assume the Presidency of the European Union in July and will use this opportunity to work towards building an increasingly prosperous and secure Europe.

In addition to the European Union Presidency, my Government will hold the G8 Presidency in 2005, which will include working on the important issues of Africa and climate change.

My Government will continue to work with partners around the world to prevent terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the problems of drug smuggling and international crime.

My Government will work to strengthen commitment on both sides of the Atlantic to the transatlantic relationship and to the continued effectiveness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and will work with the international community to strengthen the United Nations.

My Government will continue to support the Government of Iraq to provide security and stability and ensure that elections can be held in January.

My Government will continue to support efforts to build peace in the Middle East, to promote democratic reform and reduce conflict and extremism.

My Lords and members of the House of Commons.

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

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