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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 12:46 GMT

UK Politics

Speech will look to next election and beyond

Radical agenda expected from the Queen's Speech

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

Tony Blair is again putting welfare reform at the centre of his plans for the coming parliamentary session.

He will use Wednesday's Queen's Speech to set his sights firmly on the next election and the one beyond it.

The Queen's Speech
And he will attempt to prove that the government's radicalism has not run out of steam.

In recent interviews he has again likened himself to former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, hinting he will prove more radical if elected to a second term.

Thatcherism did not fully emerge until after she was elected for the second time and Mr Blair has declared: "We are where the Thatcher government was in November 1981."

He has also promised to defy his own backbench rebels and push forward with more controversial reforms of the welfare system.

"I promised I would reform welfare because the system is not working and it will be at the heart of what we will be doing next year," he has insisted.

Child support

Top of that agenda are likely to be moves to cut benefits from young offenders who fail to carry out community service and stiff fines on fathers who refuse to support their children.

[ image: Crackdown on young offenders spared prison]
Crackdown on young offenders spared prison
He has already suffered a series of major rebellions over his plans to cut benefits to single parents and the disabled.

But he is clearly ready to take on the critics on his own benches and continue shaking up the system.

There will also be bills on transport, law and order and the countryside but - as revealed last week - a ban on fox hunting will be left to a backbencher.

The over-riding priority for the prime minister is to produce a package that will go down well both with voters and with core Labour supporters.

Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling will have some of the most controversial measures on welfare reform.

The prime minister has confirmed that young offenders who are given community service orders instead of prison sentences will be forced to carry them out.

If they fail, they will first have their benefits cut and then, if they continue to defy the order, will have them cut altogether.

He will also shake up the controversial Child Support Agency in an attempt to ensure that fathers task financial responsibility for their children.

Watered down

Home Secretary Jack Straw is also likely to have a large number of bills to get through in the session.

[ image: New attempt to cut gay sex age]
New attempt to cut gay sex age
He is finally expected to be introduce the long-awaited freedom of information bill and can expect trouble from his own side, many of who believe it has been watered down and falls far short of the openness and transparency originally promised.

Mr Straw will also bring in a crime bill to give police the power to compel people they arrest to undergo drugs tests and a justice bill to remove defendants' rights to demand a trial by jury.

He is also expected to reintroduce a bill to lower the age of consent for gays to 16 after a previous attempt was killed off in the Lords.

Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Secretary John Prescott will also have a number of bills aimed at finally dispelling the impression that he has failed to get to grips with Britain's transport crisis.

Under attack

He will introduce measures to allow congestion charging of motorists driving in urban areas and, in the wake of the Paddington rail disaster, he will remove Railtrack's responsibility for setting safety standards.

[ image: Paddington crash overshadows reforms]
Paddington crash overshadows reforms
He is also expected to press ahead with plans to part-privatise the air traffic control system which, in the aftermath of Paddington, are certain to prove highly controversial.

The proposal was already under attack from many backbenchers who have reminded ministers that, before the last election, they opposed a similar move by the Tories.

Other bills allowing the part-privatisation of the post office and to reform the child support agency are also likely to prove troublesome.

But Labour activists will be delighted by the introduction of a countryside bill which will give ramblers the right to roam.

MPs are also likely to welcome moves to make voting easier in elections with measures that could see polling booths in supermarkets and may even change the traditional Thursday polling day.

But there will be anger at the government's refusal to introduce a bill to ban fox hunting.

There are growing fears that the announced inquiry into the job effects of such a ban and the government's announcement only to support a backbench bill will ensure the measure does not reach the statute books before the next election.

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