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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November, 2003, 11:31 GMT
Queen unveils Blair's programme
Live text and video on the Queen's Speech at the 2003 State Opening of Parliament

Tony Blair's programme for the next year is being unveiled by the Queen at the state opening of Parliament.

The centre piece is expected to be the proposal to allow universities to charge students top up fees.

The move has already been condemned by a large group of Labour MPs, including several former ministers.

Other controversial measures include bills on asylum seekers, the status of homosexual couples and the reform of the House of Lords.

Asylum benefits

The set-piece occasion on Wednesday is when the head of state outlines the programme the government is hoping to push through the Parliament over the next year.

Immigration and Asylum
Higher Education
Corporate manslaughter
Domestic violence
Victims Bill
Judicial reform
Pensions Bill
Civil contingencies
Civil partnerships
Traffic management
Lord reform
Finance Bill
Child protection

Health Secretary John Reid said before the speech that after a year when the Iraq war dominated the headlines, the speech would return the focus to the domestic agenda.

"It will be a Queen's Speech which on its own gives clear definition between ourselves and other political parties," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Dr Reid denied the government had become managerial and insisted the speech would be forward looking and based on fairness.

But Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said much of the speech would not tackle the biggest concerns of the British public.

Watch live coverage and analysis of the Queen's Speech on BBC News Online from 1130 GMT

"For a government which still commands such a big majority and is in a potentially powerful position, an awful lot of this will frankly pass people by," he told Today.

And Conservative chairman Liam Fox said the driving force behind the agenda was the battle between Mr Blair and Gordon Brown.

"The real political agenda here is the division between the prime minister and the chancellor," he said.

Asylum returns

There have already been heavy hints about most of the contents.

Measures to tackle terrorism are expected to be outlined.

But many commentators believe a ban on hunting will be not included, with predictions it could be considered later.

One confirmed measure in an Immigration and Asylum Bill, which will see failed asylum seekers being told to take a paid-for "voluntary" flight home or lose their benefits and see their children taken into care.

Other measures thought likely to be included in such a bill would be one which would see asylum seekers who deliberately destroy their ID or travel documents facing two years in prison.

Top-up fees

Legislation is also expected aimed at deterring illegal economic migrants arriving by cutting short endless asylum appeals.

There could also be measures designed to prevent people trafficking.


Following the controversy over its foundation hospital health reforms, the government is almost certain to face a huge battle over his education plans - notably any measure to allow universities to charge students up to 3,000 a year from 2006.

A civil partnership bill is expected to allow same sex couples to register their relationship and gain the same tax and inheritance rights as married couples.

Emergency powers

One of the government's headline grabbing measures will be Chancellor Gordon Brown's child trust funds giving every baby up to 500 to start a savings account it can access on its 18th birthday.

The policy is not designed to make families destitute
Home Office spokesman

The democratic changes are thought likely to see a continuation of reform of the courts and justice system, with possible bills to create a Supreme Court, to wind up the post of the Lord Chancellor and to create an independent commission to appoint judges.

Other reports claim there will be a Civil Contingencies Bill giving sweeping powers to deal with terrorist attacks and other emergencies.

Identity cards
Euro referendum
Charities reform

Once an emergency was declared by the Queen, the government could order the destruction of property, order people to evacuate an area or ban them from travelling and "prohibit assemblies of specified kinds" and "other specified activities".

The draft bill published earlier this year has faced criticism from human rights and civil liberty groups, and also on some points, by the Tories.

The Queen's Speech is being given about two weeks later than usual because of a backlog of Bills in the 2002/3 session due to time spent debating Iraq.

The BBC's Guto Harri reports from Westminster
"Top of the list of contentious issues, top-up tuition fees"


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