HC Deb 21 March 1997 vol 292 cc1120-4
Madam Speaker

I have further to acquaint the House that the Lord High Chancellor, one of the Lords Commissioners, delivered Her Majesty's most gracious speech to both Houses of Parliament, in pursuance of Her Majesty's Command. For greater accuracy I have obtained a copy, and also directed that the terms of the speech be printed in the Journal of this House. Copies are being made available in the Vote Office.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

I hesitate to call this a point of order, Madam Speaker, and I am not sure whether it is in order, but I hope that you will allow me to express our appreciation of the way in which you have conducted our affairs as Speaker. On a personal note, having been Leader of the House throughout this Parliament—not always an easy task—may I express my appreciation of the courtesy and support that you have extended to me?

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

May I end this Session on a note of agreement with the Leader of the House? As Speaker, you have been an example to us of the way in which we should conduct ourselves in the House and we and the people outside in particular appreciate that. On a personal note, I thank the Leader of the House, who has always acted in the best interests of the House.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

On behalf of the minority parties, Madam Speaker, may I thank you both for your kindness and for your protection of the minority parties in the House. We are very grateful.

The Gracious Speech was as follows:

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

The Duke of Edinburgh and I were very pleased to receive His Excellency the President of Israel on a State Visit in February. We remember with great pleasure our State Visit to Thailand in October.

My Government continued to provide for the defence of the United Kingdom, the Dependent Territories and our allies, and for the protection of international peace and stability.

My Government have continued to support the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and welcomed its decision in December to hold a Summit meeting in Madrid in July this year at which decisions will be taken on the adaptation and enlargement of the Alliance. My Government have supported the work of the Alliance to develop a new partnership with Russia.

In the European Union, my Government have promoted policies aimed at greater competitiveness. They have participated in meetings of the Intergovernmental Conference and on Economic and Monetary Union.

My Government continued strongly to support enlargement of the European Union and the necessary reform of EU policies. They have continued to promote transatlantic relations, both bilaterally and through the Union.

In November, my Government published a White Paper on "Free Trade and Foreign Policy", which calls for global free trade by 2020. The first Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation, which took place in December 1996, made good progress towards this goal.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, my Government have continued to play a leading role in consolidating peace. They held a conference in London in December 1996 to set a framework for peace implementation in 1997, and have continued to contribute substantially to the country's economic and social regeneration. They are also maintaining 5,000 Service men and women in former Yugoslavia, as part of the NATO-led military stabilisation force.

In the interests of the people of Hong Kong, my Government continued to work for a successful transfer of sovereignty to China on 30 June this year.

My Government have continued to support the work of the United Nations Secretary-General's mission of good offices in the search for a settlement on the divided island of Cyprus.

In the Middle East, my Government worked for and welcomed the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians on redeployment in Hebron, and were closely involved in international efforts to reduce tensions and support the implementation of that and earlier agreements.

My Government launched two campaigns for the promotion of trade and investment, one in respect of Central and Eastern Europe and one in respect of South East Asia. They also held a successful conference in February to help strengthen trade, investment and bilateral links with Latin America.

A large and effective development assistance programme was maintained, aimed at promoting sustainable development and reducing poverty and suffering in the poorer parts of the world. My Government continued to play a full part in promoting democracy and the rule of law throughout Africa and tackling the grave problems of the Great Lakes Region.

Support continued for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia in their transition to democratic market economies, through the Know How Fund and with our European partners.

My Government continued to play an active part in the Commonwealth and to prepare for a successful Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, to be held in October in Edinburgh.

My Government played a full part in supporting the work of the United Nations and its peacekeeping operations, and participated actively in the debate on the reform of the organisation.

My Government have maintained the fight against terrorism in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. They have pursued a comprehensive strategy to combat drug misuse, by tackling the supply of narcotic drugs at home and abroad and pursuing measures to reduce demand.

Members of the House of Commons

I thank you for the provision you have made for the honour and dignity of the Crown and for the public service.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

My Government have pursued economic policies which have brought about sustained growth in output, rising living standards and falling unemployment, while keeping inflation at its lowest levels for nearly 50 years. Public expenditure has been kept under firm control, income tax has been reduced and measures have been taken to ensure that the public sector borrowing requirement continues to fall.

My Government have continued to promote the nation's competitiveness, following up the policies and initiatives set out in the Third Competitiveness White Paper published in June, and to encourage fewer, better and simpler regulations to reduce unnecessary burdens on business. Over 1,000 regulations have now been repealed or amended.

In Northern Ireland, my Government have continued to work towards a political settlement, through talks open to all elected political parties that demonstrate a commitment to peaceful and democratic methods. Renewed terrorist activity has been dealt with vigorously by the security forces. My Government have maintained close co-operation with the Irish Government. An Act has been passed to provide a framework for the decommissioning of arms.

Legislation was passed to improve discipline and raise standards in education.

An Act has been passed to support the fight against organised crime. Legislation has also been enacted to reform the sentencing and supervision of serious, dangerous and persistent offenders so as to provide greater protection for the public. An Act has been passed to strengthen controls on the ownership of firearms.

Measures have been enacted to impose a requirement on convicted sex offenders to register changes of address with the police and to give our courts jurisdiction over sex offences committed against children abroad. Legislation has also been passed to provide protection through the criminal and civil law to victims of harassment.

My Government have set a framework for environmental action with new strategies for air quality, water resources, recycling and urban regeneration. With their European partners, they have secured agreement to targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Legislation was enacted to improve maritime safety and strengthen powers to protect the United Kingdom coastline from pollution from merchant shipping. An Act has been passed to authorise the construction and operation of a high speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel.

An Act has been passed to improve and develop primary health care services. Legislation has been passed which will reduce social security fraud and improve the scheme to recover benefits from compensation payments.

An Act has been passed to enable reform of the procedures of the civil courts.

Legislation has been enacted to implement proposals to strengthen the role of parish and community councils, to provide rate relief for small village shops and to remove Crown exemption from non domestic rates.

For Scotland an Act has been passed to make changes in criminal justice to improve public protection. Other Scottish measures which have been enacted include legislation to enable the transfer of publicly owned crofting estates to crofting trusts.

Other important measures have been enacted, including measures of law reform.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may attend you. The Commission was also for proroguing this present Parliament, and the Lord Chancellor said: My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, by virtue of Her Majesty's Commission which has been now read, we do, in Her Majesty's name and in obedience to Her Majesty's commands, prorogue this Parliament to Tuesday the fifteenth day of this instant April to be then here holden and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to the fifteenth day of this instant April.

End of the Fifth Session (opened on 23 October 1996) of the Fifty-First Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in the Forty-Sixth Year of the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.