I have further to acquaint the House that the Lord High Chancellor, one of the Lords Commissioners, delivered Her Majesty's most gracious speech to both Houses of Parliament, in pursuance of Her Majesty's Command. For greater accuracy I have obtained a copy, and also directed that the terms of the speech be printed in the Journal of this House. Copies are being made available in the Vote Office.
I hesitate to call this a point of order, Madam Speaker, and I am not sure whether it is in order, but I hope that you will allow me to express our appreciation of the way in which you have conducted our affairs as Speaker. On a personal note, having been Leader of the House throughout this Parliament—not always an easy task—may I express my appreciation of the courtesy and support that you have extended to me?
May I end this Session on a note of agreement with the Leader of the House? As Speaker, you have been an example to us of the way in which we should conduct ourselves in the House and we and the people outside in particular appreciate that. On a personal note, I thank the Leader of the House, who has always acted in the best interests of the House.
On behalf of the minority parties, Madam Speaker, may I thank you both for your kindness and for your protection of the minority parties in the House. We are very grateful.
My Government have continued to support the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and welcomed its decision in December to hold a Summit meeting in Madrid in July this year at which decisions will be taken on the adaptation and enlargement of the Alliance. My Government have supported the work of the Alliance to develop a new partnership with Russia.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, my Government have continued to play a leading role in consolidating peace. They held a conference in London in December 1996 to set a framework for peace implementation in 1997, and have continued to contribute substantially to the country's economic and social regeneration. They are also maintaining 5,000 Service men and women in former Yugoslavia, as part of the NATO-led military stabilisation force.
A large and effective development assistance programme was maintained, aimed at promoting sustainable development and reducing poverty and suffering in the poorer parts of the world. My Government continued to play a full part in promoting democracy and the rule of law throughout Africa and tackling the grave problems of the Great Lakes Region.
My Government have pursued economic policies which have brought about sustained growth in output, rising living standards and falling unemployment, while keeping inflation at its lowest levels for nearly 50 years. Public expenditure has been kept under firm control, income tax has been reduced and measures have been taken to ensure that the public sector borrowing requirement continues to fall.
My Government have continued to promote the nation's competitiveness, following up the policies and initiatives set out in the Third Competitiveness White Paper published in June, and to encourage fewer, better and simpler regulations to reduce unnecessary burdens on business. Over 1,000 regulations have now been repealed or amended.
In Northern Ireland, my Government have continued to work towards a political settlement, through talks open to all elected political parties that demonstrate a commitment to peaceful and democratic methods. Renewed terrorist activity has been dealt with vigorously by the security forces. My Government have maintained close co-operation with the Irish Government. An Act has been passed to provide a framework for the decommissioning of arms.
An Act has been passed to support the fight against organised crime. Legislation has also been enacted to reform the sentencing and supervision of serious, dangerous and persistent offenders so as to provide greater protection for the public. An Act has been passed to strengthen controls on the ownership of firearms.
Measures have been enacted to impose a requirement on convicted sex offenders to register changes of address with the police and to give our courts jurisdiction over sex offences committed against children abroad. Legislation has also been passed to provide protection through the criminal and civil law to victims of harassment.
I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may attend you. The Commission was also for proroguing this present Parliament, and the Lord Chancellor said:
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, by virtue of Her Majesty's Commission which has been now read, we do, in Her Majesty's name and in obedience to Her Majesty's commands, prorogue this Parliament to Tuesday the fifteenth day of this instant April to be then here holden and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to the fifteenth day of this instant April.