LONDON, JUNE 25 -- Two weeks after her election to a third term, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government today outlined a program of radical domestic measures whose magnitude was compared here to the 1945 reforms that ushered in Britain's postwar welfare state.
Among a list of bills to be introduced this year were proposals that would substantially revise the education and municipal tax systems, lessening local government control. Along with new plans for housing, trade unions and employment, the measures constitute the most ambitious effort to date to extend the tenets of what is known here as Thatcherism -- an emphasis on individual self-reliance and free market capitalism -- into the fabric of everyday life.
Virtually assured passage through Parliament with Thatcher's new 102-seat majority, the reforms also would further reduce the Labor Party's traditional power base in urban local governing bodies and labor unions, moving closer to her self-proclaimed goal of "eradicating socialism."
Addressing Parliament this afternoon for the first time since her reelection, Thatcher said her policies of "sound financial management" were at the core of what she said was Britain's new economic strength. While she said control of inflation and overall fiscal rectitude remained her highest priority, Thatcher stressed that "the wealth of a country is the effort of its people, and effort depends on incentives" of the kind she was now proposing.
Labor leader Neil Kinnock described the Conservative government's plans as a "malevolent" use of power. Vowing to fight the program "tooth and nail," Labor spokesmen described it as the most reactionary, rightwing program that a Conservative government has produced for decades.
The new proposals were unveiled this morning in one of the most colorful ceremonies on the official British calendar -- the state opening of the new Parliamentary session by Queen Elizabeth II. In full royal regalia, accompanied by hundreds of horsemen and soldiers, the queen traveled by horse-drawn carriage from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster.
After donning the imperial state crown of hundreds of diamonds and pearls, the queen entered the House of Lords, where peers in red velvet robes and bewigged judges awaited her. Following a centuries-old tradition symbolizing their separation from the monarch, the 650 members of the elected House of Commons were then summoned from their separate legislative chamber inside Westminster.
The lord chancellor, the country's chief judicial officer, then handed the queen a copy of the new government's program, written by Thatcher and her Cabinet, to read aloud.
Peering through her spectacles and speaking in a high, strong voice, she read through the relatively brief document with little expression. She immediately departed the chamber, leaving Parliament to argue through the proposals in five days of formal debate that started this afternoon in the House of Commons.
Among the 17 major and minor initiatives outlined is a provision allowing public houses and other drinking establishments -- currently required to close during the afternoon hours -- to remain open all day. Another measure would limit immigration by imposing penalties on those who overstay their visas and by abolishing the right of appeal for those denied a claim of citizenship.
The more sweeping elements of the program were previewed in the Conservative Party's election manifesto. According to senior Thatcher aides, the radical new measures have a strong public mandate, in the form of the newly elected Parliamentary majority.
Others, however, believe that while passage ultimately is assured, the measures will be highly controversial, even among some of the more moderate members of Thatcher's own party.
"It's a massive, formidable program that bears comparison to the 1945 session" when the major health and social security components of the welfare state were established by the postwar Labor government, said John Biffen, Thatcher's former party leader in the House of Commons. "It contains a lot of highly politically contentious bills."
The proposed measures -- most of which are likely to be introduced in Parliament this fall -- take Thatcherism several giant steps into the average Briton's life beyond Thatcher's first two terms, when she concentrated on rebuilding Britain's economy, selling off state-owned industries and circumscribing trade union power.
The new measures include:Scrapping the current system of "domestic rates," under which local government bodies collect revenue through tax assessments on domestic and commercial property. Thatcher has charged that the rates, particularly in Labor-dominated areas, have been set too high, discouraging commercial investment and unfairly penalizing property-owners, who end up paying for what one Thatcher official called the "rapacious demands" of socialist councils.
Instead, local governments will set a standard "community charge" payable by every resident over 18 years of age regardless of property ownership or income. Those living on welfare will be eligible for proportional rebates on the charge, which central government officials estimate will average about $300 annually per adult. The charge on commercial residents will be set by the central government in London.
Thus, property taxes will be replaced by the equivalent of a poll tax.
In a system that the government believes will even out the disparities between Britain's prosperous southern half and the economically deprived north, people who own property or operate businesses in areas where current property taxes are low would end up paying more. Those who live or do business in areas where taxes are high -- usually inner-cities -- would pay less. Requiring communities to open for bidding in the private sector for such services as trash collection, cleaning and maintenance, a provision that the government believes will make local services more efficient. Giving state-owned schools the chance, at the wish of parents and teachers, of "opting out" of local education authority control and incorporating themselves as charitable institutions. Such institutions would receive operating grants, based on the number of pupils, directly from the central government and would manage their own budgets. Those wanting more money would be allowed to raise it themselves, including charging extra fees for field trips and extracurricular activities.
Parents also would be able to choose which school in their area to send their children to -- thus introducing a new element of competition among schools to attract pupils and the government grants they bring. In addition, the central government proposes to establish a "core curriculum" mandating subject matter taught in primary and secondary schools and to institute nationwide achievement tests for all students at the ages of 7, 11, 14 and 16.
The aim of the education bill, according to the queen's speech, is to "raise standards throughout education and to extend parental choice." Opposition leaders have charged that it would roll back gains made over the past 40 years to guarantee free and equal education.
Ensuring the protection from disciplinary action of individual labor union members if they refuse to join a strike they oppose. Union leaders are vehemently opposed to the measure. Guaranteeing every youngster leaving school a place on the government's Youth Training Scheme, which provides them with low-paid training and work designed to enhance future job prospects. The measure also would withdraw unemployment benefits, currently at about $30 a week, from all youths who refuse to participate in the program. The Labor opposition has condemned the proposal as "conscription" into the government program. Removing rent controls in order to expand the narrow rental market that the government believes inhibits job mobility. New measures also would allow groups of tenants in public housing, currently run by local government authority, to form themselves into management cooperatives with control over their budgets.