Some thoughts on the Queen's Speech
26 Nov 2003
Doesn't time fly! It seems not that long ago that I was pounding the streets of Andover getting re-elected, and now I am told that this Queen's Speech contains the last full legislative programme before the next General Election.

Given the shambles we saw last week, when the Government pushed through both Houses the remains of last year's Queen's Speech, I hope the PM doesn't "over-programme" this year's and publish more Bills than both Houses can reasonably digest. That is just a recipe for putting on the Statute Book ill-considered legislation that we have to revisitlater.

To try to get on top of the chaos in the asylum system, we are going to have a tough bill on benefits for asylum-seekers and, possibly, a draft Bill on ID cards. I have nothing in principle against the latter; on the former, I think more should be done before or as they arrive, rather than when they have settled down.

Then there will be a Bill on Student fees, likely to provoke an even bigger fraternal backbench rebellion than we saw last week on Foundation Hospitals.

There may be yet another go on fox hunting - probably a private member's bill; has Parliament really not got anything better to do?

What the prime minister wants us all to focus on are public services and the economy. And if he is to win next time, we all need to see real improvements in public services, and a maintenance of the "feel good" factor on the economy. I am not so sure.

My voters can't see the changes in their schools, hospitals and public transport. A tough Revenue Support Grant settlement in Hampshire has made it difficult for local authorities to fund the improvements we would all like to see. The rhetoric from No 10 has not been matched by generosity from No 11.

And the PM's wish to focus on the domestic agenda will be hit by the publication of Lord Hutton's report into the death of Dr David Kelly after the Iraq war. That will dominate politics in January and February. It could determine the fate of the Prime Minister. No one is better at filletting a report, identifying the key points and then pressing home the attack than Michael Howard. If there are traces of Blair's DNA on the key decisions in this tragedy, the outlook for him could be grim.

A re-invigorated Opposition and a House of Lords infuriated by the Government's plans for reform of the second chamber could make this final full session a very lively one.

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