Queen's Speech

I've just been to a meeting in Whitehall where we could hear the inspiring sound of military bands playing outside, rehearsing for the Trooping of the Colour next month.

I've never had any truck with those who would do away with the traditional pomp and ceremony of occasions like the Queen's Speech this week.  They are part, I believe, of the institutional fabric of our country - what makes us British.

But the State opening of Parliament isn't just a ceremony.  It was the unfolding of a new legislative programme for a new coalition government.

With 23 Bills to pass, it's going to be a very busy 18 months.   And as a Home Office and Ministry of Justice minister, I'm going to be involved with a number of them.

We're going to introduce legislation to restore freedoms and civil liberties, and repeal unnecessary laws - something which I know the County Times is already taking an interest in.

In fact, as I write, we've just published the first Bill - to abolish the unnecessary, unpopular and costly national identity cards.

But we're also going to do something which I've been talking about for the last five years - decentralisation to empower people and communities.

I'll be taking through a Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which will replace police authorities with directly elected individuals, to improve accountability and bring the police and local communities closer together.

There will also be a Bill to devolve power from Whitehall to local councils and community groups.  Local people will have much more control over decisions about housing and planning and we will, at long last, see the end of regional housing targets and the South East Plan. 

And there will be legislation to ensure that people who were victims of Government maladministration when Equitable Life collapsed receive compensation - something which I know will come as a huge relief to many of my constituents who've been campaigning for justice for more than a decade. 

So an emphasis on freedom, fairness and responsibility - but also measures that will return power to the people.

Christopher N Howarth