The Queen's Speech takes place in November of each year at the beginning of the new session of the British Parliament. It is preceded by the formal State Opening of Parliament and the traditional search of the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. (Just to make sure that no one is seeking to emulate Guy Fawkes this year.)

In the speech, the Queen as reigning monarch, outlines her government's legislative plans for the forthcoming parliamentiary year and also takes the opportunity to mention the highlights of her own coming year. This year it is the Belgians who are the lucky people to be graced by a royal visit and the President of Russia will be coming for dinner at the Palace next summer.

Students of politics will note the number of times that Blairite buzzword, 'modernise' is used, and observe that the current administration seems convinced that Britain's prisons are not sufficiently overcrowded and proposes two measures to remedy this unfortunate state of affairs.

The first concerns the removal of the absolute protection against double jeopardy; people previously acquited of a crime may soon be retried for the same offence, but only in the case of serious offences and where "new and compelling evidence emerges". It remains to be seen what the definition of "new and compelling evidence" shall be. The second is that a jury will now be permitted to be told of the previous convictions of a defendant. (But this is apparently only a case of 'simplifying' the rules of evidence.)

There is also a plan to hold local referenda which will allow the various regions of England to decide whether they want their own regional assemblies. Which is of course, exactly what the county needs: more politicians.

Not that any of the above actually matters, as the pubs will soon be open all day, and the entire nation will be too drunk to care.

The text of the Queen's Speech
November 13, 2002

My Lords and members of the House of Commons.

My government's main priorities are economic stability, investment and reform in public services and a constructive foreign policy.

To this end, my government will maintain sound public finances and will continue to take action to secure high levels of employment.

This approach will enable my government to continue to invest in the public services, while supporting major programmes of reform on health, education, transport and crime.

At the heart of my government's legislative programme is a commitment to reform and rebalance the criminal justice system to deliver justice for all and to safeguard the interests of victims, witnesses and communities.

A bill will be introduced to reform sentencing arrangements and criminal procedures.

Sentencing will be reformed to ensure that the punishment is appropriate for the offender. New types of sentence will be introduced to protect the public from dangerous offenders, help reduce re-offending and deal with young offenders.

The bill will also allow retrials for those acquitted of serious offences where new and compelling evidence emerges. It will also simplify the rules of evidence to allow judge and jury to hear all the facts, including relevant previous convictions of a defendant.

Legislation will also be introduced to reform the courts system. It will bring together magistrates' courts and the crown court to work more effectively under a single organisation. New sanctions will allow courts to enforce the payment of fines more efficiently.

My government will introduce a bill to tackle antisocial behaviour that damages communities. A bill will be brought forward to modernise the laws on sexual offences and to strengthen the framework of penalties for sex offenders to protect the public.

A bill will also be introduced to improve international co-operation in tackling crime, including drugs trafficking, and to modernise the arrangements for international mutual assistance to catch criminals.

My government will bring forward legislation to streamline the licensing system for premises selling alcohol. This will abolish fixed opening hours and introduce a range of measures to reduce antisocial behaviour.

My government will continue to modernise the delivery of healthcare based on the founding principles of the NHS. Legislation will be brought forward to devolve power and resources to frontline staff; give greater freedom to successful hospitals while increasing their accountability to local communities; and to introduce an independent health inspectorate. A bill will also be introduced to help ensure that local authorities support older people awaiting discharge from hospital.

Raising educational standards remains my government's main priority for Britain's future prosperity.

Secondary school reform will continue to promote opportunity and choice through greater diversity for parents and pupils. University reform proposals will be published to improve access and build on excellence.

My government wants to create a welfare state based on giving people rights and responsibilities. They will pursue proposals that focus on the importance of work as part of our social security system.

They will also bring forward proposals to tackle problems of truancy.

A bill will be brought forward to establish a railway accident investigation branch in the light of Lord Cullen's recommendations on transport safety and reform the way railways are regulated to improve services for the public.

My government will introduce a bill to modernise local government by improving the delivery of local services through better financial management and greater freedom for councils based on performance. Legislation will also be introduced to provide for the holding of referendums on the issue of regional governance in England.

Legislation will be brought forward to reform the broadcasting and telecommunications industry by promoting competition and investment and giving powers to the office of communications.

Measures will be brought forward to protect our environment, including legislation on the conservation and proper management of water.

My government will also introduce legislation to speed up the planning system while improving the involvement of local communities.

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.

In Northern Ireland, my government will continue to work closely with the political parties and the Irish government to secure the full implementation of the Belfast agreement. Legislation will be brought forward on policing in Northern Ireland.

My government maintains its commitment to devolution in Scotland and Wales. A bill will be introduced to reform the provision of health services in Wales.

A bill will be introduced to enable parliament to reach a conclusion on hunting with dogs.

Parliament will be invited to scrutinise legislation in draft on a number of measures, reflecting the importance that my government places on pre-legislative scrutiny by parliament.

Legislation in draft will be published to improve both housing standards and standards of management of private rented accommodation by landlords.

Draft legislation will be published on the management of nuclear liabilities. A draft bill will also be published to reform the laws on corruption.

My government looks forward to considering the report from the joint committee on House of Lords reform.

Other measures will be laid before you.

My Lords and members of the House of Commons.

The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to paying a visit to Belgium next spring and to receiving the state visit of his Excellency the President of Russia next summer.

My government will work for rapid progress on enlargement of the European Union, notably at next month's European Council meeting in Copenhagen. Legislation will be introduced to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the accession treaty with prospective member states.

My< government will make a decision on whether to recommend entry into the single currency on the basis of the assessment of the five economic tests to be completed by next June.

The forthcoming NATO Summit in Prague will emphasise the alliance's continuing role as the cornerstone of Britain's national security. My government will continue work for an enlarged and even more effective NATO, enjoying a close partnership with Russia.

My government will continue to play a leading role in combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which are among the most serious threats to the security of the United Kingdom and our allies. My government will continue to work with the international community to ensure the implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions.

My government will work for rapid and effective implementation of the agreements reached at the recent World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and will focus on tackling climate change and finding new ways to meet our energy needs.

My government will continue to work for a more effective global effort to reduce poverty, building on the UN millennium development goals and on progress achieved at the recent Monterrey conference on financing for development. Britain's aid budget will be increased and we will work to implement the Africa Action Plan in response to the new partnership for Africa's development.

My government will work for a successful outcome to the current round of world trade negotiations that benefits industrialised and developing countries alike.

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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