HL Deb 11 November 1999 vol 606 cc1469-74

Her Majesty's most gracious Speech was then delivered to both Houses of Parliament by the Lord Chancellor (in pursuance of Her Majesty's Command) as follows:

"My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

"The Duke of Edinburgh and I were pleased to receive the State Visits of His Excellency the President of Germany last December, of His Excellency the President of Hungary last June and of His Excellency the President of the People's Republic of China in October. We recall with pleasure our State Visit to Korea in April. We were delighted to pay State Visits to Ghana and South Africa over the last four days.

"My Government have taken action to build a platform of economic stability and steady growth, based on clear long-term objectives for monetary and fiscal policy, with openness and transparency in policy making.

"My Government's goal is high and stable levels of growth and employment. The new system of monetary policy-making ensures that interest rate decisions are taken in the best long-term interests of the economy. As a result, the UK now has a sound and credible platform of stability. Inflation is historically low and expected to remain close to target. And long-term interest rates are also at historically low levels. Employment is up by over half a million since the election, with more people in work in Britain today than ever before.

"To ensure high levels of employment, my Government are extending the New Deal, to help more young people and the long-term unemployed. And my Government are tackling the poverty and unemployment traps. To make work pay and encourage job creation, they have introduced the national minimum wage and the new 10p starting rate of tax, cut the basic rate of income tax from next April, and reformed national insurance. And the Working Families' Tax Credit, introduced in October, is helping to make work pay for low-paid working families.

"My Government are continually looking at ways to improve productivity, including in the public sector. They have set tough targets for outputs from every department in public service agreements.

"My Government's legislation to raise standards for all children is now coming into effect. There has been a widespread reduction in the number of hildren in infant classes of over 30 and there is extensive support for the literacy and numeracy strategies. My Government published the Teachers Green Paper—the most radical reform of the teaching profession in a generation—and have since announced progress towards a new pay structure for teachers.

"Parliament has passed for the first time legislation for the creation of a Disability Rights Commission, which will help create a positive climate for people with disabilities in their lives and work.

"My Government have put in place the framework for a modern National Health Service. An Act has been passed to replace the NHS internal market with decentralised arrangements based on partnership, quality and efficiency. Waiting lists have been reduced by 200,000 since their high point in April 1998, and by 69,000 since March 1997.

"An Act has been passed to establish a Food Standards Agency to protect public health and the interests of consumers in relation to food.

"Legislation has been enacted to support minimum standards at work, to promote partnership and to make it easier for people to combine family responsibilities and employment.

"An Act has been passed which takes forward my Government's programme of welfare reform, promoting work for those who are able to work and security for those who cannot.

"My Government have begun the modernisation of local government. Legislation has been enacted to secure the delivery of high quality local services on a sound financial basis.

"My Government have begun the process of restoring democratic, city-wide government in London. Legislation was enacted to establish the Greater London Authority, providing London with a new form of strategic governance.

"An Act has been passed which will enable the implementation of the EU Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control, which will maintain a coherent pollution control regime for the United Kingdom.

"Legislation has been enacted to provide a fair basis for water charging in England and Wales.

"An Act has been passed to modernise and strengthen immigration control. It will speed up the system of immigration and asylum appeals. This Act is essential to the delivery of a fairer, faster and firmer immigration and asylum system to which my Government are committed.

"An Act has been passed which creates a new sentencing disposal for first time defendants pleading guilty in the youth court and introduces new measures to help vulnerable witnesses to give their best evidence in criminal trials.

"Legislation has been enacted to establish a Community Legal Service and a Criminal Defence Service. They will replace existing legal aid arrangements and enable resources to be better targeted. The Act also extends the use of conditional fees, removes unnecessary restrictions on the provision of legal services and makes reforms to magistrates' courts and the appeals system. This will increase access to justice. Other law reform measures have been enacted.

"As a first step in a process of reform, legislation has been enacted to remove the automatic right of hereditary peers to membership of the House of Lords.

"The people of Scotland and Wales voted to have their own Parliament and National Assembly and it was my pleasure, with the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales to open the National Assembly for Wales on 26th May and to open the Scottish Parliament on 1st July.

"In Northern. Ireland, my Government have continued to work to secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. They have, in co-operation with the Irish Government, established a review to overcome difficulties in its implementation. They have welcomed the Report of the Independent Commission on Policing.

"Members of the House of Commons,

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

"My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

"Over the last year, my Government have played a leading role in the European Union. They have continued to strengthen bilateral relations with our partners. My Government have welcomed the entry into force of new treaty provisions which strengthen the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy and have welcomed the appointment of the first High Representative. In co-operation with other member states, they ensured a successful outcome to the Agenda 2000 negotiations that maintained the United Kingdom's budget abatement.

"My Government have played a key role in preparing the European Union for the historic challenge of enlargement. They have also helped the applicant countries prepare for membership.

"My Government welcomed the launch of the euro on 1st January. They have published an outline national changeover plan, which could be implemented should Britain decide to join. They have welcomed the appointment of a new European Commission, committed to reform.

"My Government have maintained strong and modern defence for Britain based on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. They played a leading role in the decisions taken at NATO's 50th Anniversary summit in Washington to modernise further and prepare the alliance for the challenges and opportunities it will face in the new century.

"My Government launched an historic initiative at the Franco-British St. Malo Summit. This will make the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy more effective and will revitalise the Atlantic Alliance.

"My Government launched an initiative at the British-Italian London Summit to improve the effectiveness of European defence forces. My Government have continued successfully to restructure the Armed Forces to meet the demands of the modern world.

"My Government reaffirmed their commitment to support the United Nations by signing a Memorandum of Understanding declaring United Kingdom forces potentially available for United Nations' peacekeeping operations and by announcing their intention to make an increased contribution to United Nations police operations.

"My Government made a substantial and vital contribution to the success of the international community's diplomatic, political and military efforts to halt and reverse ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Following the end of the conflict, my Government have played an important role in reconstructing Kosovo and preparing it for free and fair elections.

"My Government's political, military and financial commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina has continued to help build peace there.—

"My Government have supported the democratic transition in Indonesia and have played a leading role, including a military contribution, in the UN process to help bring self-determination to the people of East Timor.

"Following the abolition of the death penalty under United Kingdom law, my Government signed and ratified the 6th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.

"My Government have published a White Paper proposing a new partnership with our Overseas Territories and offering British citizenship to their people.

"My Government have negotiated new arrangements which re-establish links between the Falkland Islands and Argentina.

"After extensive diplomatic effort by my Government, the Government of Libya finally agreed to hand over the two suspects in the Lockerbie bombing case. We are pleased that my Government subsequently reached an agreement on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Libya.

"My Government supported and welcomed the transition to democratic civilian government in Nigeria.

"My Government have played a leading role in securing international agreement to reduce further the debt burden of very poor countries. My Government have put into place a strategy to increase the proportion of the United Kingdom's bilateral development assistance going to low income countries and to increase the focus of the multilateral agencies on the reduction of poverty. An Act has been passed to convert the Commonwealth Development Corporation to a public-private partnership enabling it to make a larger contribution to development by channelling increased private sector investment into the poorest countries.

"My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

"I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may attend you".

After which 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 the 17th day of this instant November, to be then here holden, and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to Wednesday, the 17th day of this instant November.

Parliament was prorogued at twenty five minutes before six o'clock.