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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 17:13 GMT
Student funding tops Blair agenda
The Queen's Speech is written by the government
The Queen unveiled 30 proposals
Student top-up fees and a new regime for asylum seekers were among the key plans unveiled in the Queen's Speech.

Tony Blair's programme for the next year also includes preparation for ID cards, more rights for same sex couples and a bill to allow a euro referendum.

But there was no promise to ban hunting in the speech although Mr Blair pledged to settle the issue in this Parliament.

Conservative leader Michael Howard said the collection of measures showed Mr Blair had "run out of steam and ideas".

'Uncivilised'

Speaking in the Commons debate on the plans, Conservative leader Michael Howard accused Mr Blair of squandering the "great promise and sweeping mandate" he had enjoyed when elected in 1997.

"He's been in office longer than Attlee and what has he got to show for it... in the words of (magician) Paul Daniels, 'not a lot'."

All they have to offer is open wallets and empty minds
Michael Howard
Conservative leader

The latest asylum plans, he claimed, had gone "further than any civilised government should go" by using asylum seekers' children as "pawns" in efforts to encourage them to leave Britain.

He concluded: "They have run out of ideas, they have run out of money and they are running out of time.

"All they have to offer is open wallets and empty minds."

Countering the criticism, Mr Blair accused the Tories of offering only negative campaigning.

"The Queen's Speech, by contrast, addresses the issues, even the difficult ones, that allow us to meet the challenge of the future on the basis of achieving opportunity for all," he said.

KEY BILLS
Immigration and Asylum
Higher Education
Domestic violence
Judicial reform
Pensions
Civil contingencies
Civil partnerships
Traffic management
Lords reform
Finance
Child protection

He particularly defended his university funding proposals, saying they were "vital to the future of this country" and to ensuring university access to students from all backgrounds.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said voters had been disappointed at Labour's lack of ambition after its first term in power.

"Since then, I think that that sense of disappointment is increasingly turning to despair," he said.

"And there isn't much in the way of hope to reverse that feeling in this Queen's Speech."

He accused Labour, like the Tories, of being "instinctively illiberal".

Roadworks promise

Earlier, the Queen addressed MPs and peers amid the traditional pomp in Parliament.

The speech, written by the government for the Queen, includes plans for 23 bills, two of them carried over from last year's legislative programme, and seven draft bills.

There are proposals to strengthen the UK's ability to deal with possible terrorist attacks, including updating fire and rescue equipment.

The Higher Education Bill is about how we get more children from poorer backgrounds into higher education
Downing Street spokesman

One of the speech's most headline-grabbing measures is a bill aimed at tackling roadworks chaos, while there are also plans aimed at lessening traffic disruption caused by the "school run".

The Traffic Management bill would see the creation of uniformed "jambusters" patrolling motorways.

A draft bill setting up the legal framework for a referendum on joining the euro currency has been included despite speculation the plan had been ditched.

Student battle

But it is the proposal to allow universities to charge students top-up fees which is likely to cause the most controversy.

They have already been condemned by a large group of Labour MPs, including several former ministers.

About 100 are threatening to oppose the plans in the Commons - enough to defeat the government.

Other proposals in the Queen's Speech include moves to reform the House of Lords which would create a Supreme Court and abolish the remaining 92 hereditary peers and the role of Lord Chancellor.

The changes would also stop convicted criminals, such as Lord Archer, from sitting in the upper house.

Pension fears

Plans to introduce child trust funds, outlined in the Budget this year, are confirmed, promising every baby up to 500 in a savings account it can access on its 18th birthday.

Moves to speed up house sales include the introduction of "seller's packs" for prospective buyers.

There are also details of a widely expected Pensions Bill aimed at protecting company pension schemes.

The civil partnership bill allows same sex couples to register their relationship and gain the similar legal rights to married couples.

Others bills are aimed at tackling disability discrimination and giving more protection to victims of crime, with the creation of a Commissioner for Victims and Crime.

Child protection

There are also proposals to update the law on domestic violence.

Measures aimed at improving child protection, including the creation of a Children's Commissioner for England, were also outlined.

The speech also included proposals to regulate the retention of human tissues, plans prompted by inquiries into the use of organs and tissue from children who had died at hospitals in Liverpool and Bristol.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Melissa Bell
"The prime minister seemed less interested in the future than in Michael Howard's past"



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