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Blair seeks to secure his legacy with 'reform and respect' at centre of 45-Bill marathon
By George Jones, Political Editor
In pictures: State occasion
Tony Blair sought to secure his legacy with a Queen's Speech
yesterday packed with 45 Bills aimed at restoring respect in society and "reclaiming the streets" for the law-abiding majority.
The first parliamentary session of his third term in power could be his last. It will run until nearly Christmas 2006, around the time when Labour MPs believe Mr Blair will be under increasing pressure to hand over to Gordon Brown.
Her Majesty, the QueenThe "reform and respect" Queen's Speech was delivered amid tight security coupled with traditional pomp and pageantry in the House of Lords.
Even before the Queen had started to outline the Government's legislative programme promising to foster a "culture of respect", the Left-wing Labour MP Dennis Skinner, used the occasion to make a jibe at the Monarch.
As Black Rod arrived in the Commons chamber to demand the presence of MPs in the Lords to hear the speech, Mr Skinner was heard to say: "Has she brought Camilla with her?" He was among several MPs who ostentatiously stayed behind in the Commons.
The programme of 45 Bills, with another five to be introduced in draft form, was intended to show that Labour has still got plenty of drive and commitment to reform public services, making them more responsive to parents and patients.
The Queen's Speech after Mr Blair's 2001 election victory contained just 25 Bills.
Tony Blair and Michael HowardMr Blair put moves to tackle crime and disorder at the heart of the legislative programme. He acknowledged that many people were in fear of a "lawless minority" and told MPs it was time to "reclaim the streets".
Downing Street said law and order measures, such as new curbs on gun crime, knives and drink-related violence, reinforced "the Prime Minister's commitment to generating a greater sense of mutual respect in society".
The mood on the government benches was subdued as MPs and ministers came to terms with the sharp reduction in Labour's majority from over 160 to 67.
Ministers acknowledged that they would have to adopt a more conciliatory approach if they are to get controversial legislation on to the statute book.
With Mr Blair aware that the longer he stays the weaker his authority becomes, he confirmed that the identity cards Bill would be one of the first to be introduced.
He urged the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to rethink their opposition to ID cards, saying they were the way to combat identity fraud and tackle illegal immigration.
Michael Howard, the defeated Conservative leader, making probably his last big Commons speech, congratulated Mr Blair on his victory.
He claimed that the Prime Minister had adopted many of the Tories' key election themes including controlled immigration, school discipline, cleaner hospitals and more police.
Recalling the Tories election slogan, he added: "We had no idea he was thinking what we're thinking.
"The only one of the five that's missing is lower taxes. I wonder why?"
He said the Conservatives would back the Government when it did the "right thing".
"We will support more choice in schools and hospitals, and greater use of the independent sector where it provides quality and value for money.
"Likewise with genuine reform of incapacity benefit; and proper controls on immigration. On these measures, if the Prime Minister means what he says - if he takes a stand on the things that matter, and sends a clear message to his backbenchers - we will support him."
Mr Blair reminded Mr Howard which party won and which party lost the election.
"He has 197 MPs. We have 356. I stand here and he sits there. There are only three elections since the war that the Conservative Party has had fewer than 200 seats.
"This was one and the others were 1997 and 2001."
Mr Blair said the Tory party did not just lose the election, it lost the argument.
The battle was now on for the Tory leadership.
Mr Blair mocked members of the shadow cabinet sitting opposite him, claiming that the most profound issue concerning them seemed to be whether contenders for the leadership should wear a tie during interviews.
Mr Blair said there was only one serious programme for government to put forward in the election, and that was now in this Queen's Speech.
"At the heart of the Queen's Speech are policies that prepare our economy for the future, continue the investment in and reform of the NHS and our educational system, protect our citizens from terrorism and crime.
"They are quintessentially New Labour," said Mr Blair.