Blair forges ahead with tough reforms
The British Prime Minister is also taking steps to allow gay marriages
Robert MacPherson | November 27, 2003
LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair used the ceremonial state
opening of parliament on Wednesday to flag his determination to
forge ahead with a raft of reforms, some of them patently
unpopular, even if a general election is as little as 18 months
Queen Elizabeth II delivers her speech to members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons during the State Opening of Parliament in London, yesterday. In her speech she mentions reforms for same-sex couples. (Photo: AFP/Russel Boyce/WPA Pool)
In a speech read by Queen Elizabeth II, the Labour government
said it would submit bills in the coming year to increase
university tuition fees, introduce national identification cards
and pave the way for a referendum on the euro.
It will also take steps to allow gay marriages, toughen up
asylum procedures, and wipe away the right of hereditary peers to
sit in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament.
"My government will maintain its key commitment to economic
stability and growth," said Queen Elizabeth, wearing her heavy
diamond crown of state, in her annual speech to parliament -- which
is actually written by Blair and staff.
"This will enable my government to continue to deliver reform of
the public services, and continue to focus on greater opportunity
and social justice, enhanced security and protection, and
On foreign policy, the queen said: "My government will maintain
Britain's commitment to rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq, to
promoting peace in the Middle East, and to tackling the underlying
causes of conflict and extremism."
The 77-year-old monarch added that in light of the threat from
"international terrorism" her government would submit a bill
intended to create "long-term foundation for civil contingencies".
Blair's office later explained this meant legislation allowing
the government to deal with the "most serious emergencies".
In the event of a "catastrophic incident", for example, "police
could be given powers to restrict public access to sensitive sites
if there was a serious threat of a terrorist attack", Blair's
The queen's speech signalled Blair's determination to wrap up
his New Labour domestic reform agenda regardless of his flagging
popularity among voters since the Iraq war.
His deadline is mid-2006, the latest he can call a fresh general
election for a third term. But more and more political analysts
speculate that he could call Britons to the polls as early as the
spring of 2005.
On November 19 his most controversial domestic undertaking to
date -- to grant more operating autonomy to selected "foundation
hospitals" in Britain's state-run and troubled National Health
System (NHS) -- squeaked through by only 17 votes, after a legion
of his own Labour backbenchers voted against it.
Sure to be equally troublesome in the coming year will be plans
for "top-up fees" which Britain's better universities like Oxford
and Cambridge would be able to charge their students as tuition
Undergraduates now pay just 1,300 pounds (1,580 euros, 1,870
dollars) to attend any British university, but top-up fees could
take that up to 3,000 pounds -- putting more money into sorely
underfunded campus coffers.
The main opposition Conservatives want tuition fees to be
abolished altogether, as do many Labourites -- not to mention
students themselves who already graduate with mountains of debt.
Other proposals announced Wednesday include the first steps
towards national ID cards -- commonplace in mainland Europe, but
outrageous for many Britons who think it will undermine their civil
Legislation to allow a referendum on Britain's adoption of the
euro is to be presented, though the actual vote will depend on
whether the so-called "five economic tests" -- the yardstick of its
ability to switch to the single European currency without a hiccup
-- are met. –Sapa-AFP
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