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Blair sets out busy agenda for third term

Prime Minister Tony Blair set out his 'reform and respect' agenda today with an ambitious drive for 45 Bills to be pushed through the first parliamentary session of his third term in power.
Security and counter-terrorism measures feature strongly, with a renewed commitment to push ahead with the controversial ID cards Bill.

The Queen's Speech delivered amid today tight security emphasised Mr Blair's commitment to continue education and welfare state reforms.

Downing Street said law and order measures, such as new curbs on gun crime, knives and drink-related violence, reinforced 'the Prime Minister's commitment to generating a greater sense of mutual respect in society'.

A Violent Crime Bill will include tougher laws on the sale of replica firearms, raising the minimum age on knife purchases from 16 to 18, and powers for headteachers to search pupils for knives.

There will also be a new offence of using children or innocent parties to hide or carry knives or guns.

The speech confirmed plans for police to be able to impose Alcohol Disorder Zones to combat binge drinking areas.

But the first clash with Labour rebels, with the party enjoying a Commons majority of 67, is expected to come over the Identity Card Bill.

It allows for the phased introduction of ID cards designed to combat benefit fraud. It will also include a new offence of having false identity documents.

There will also be a draft Counter Terrorism Bill, one of five draft measures announced alongside the 45 Bills. On immigration and asylum, the Speech confirms plans for a new Bill including provisions to fingerprint visa applicants and introduce hi-tech travel documents.

The volume of legislation is partly explained by the length of the new session - which goes on until November next year - but also by Mr Blair's determination to demonstrate his administration has not run out of steam.

About 20 to 30 Bills would be the norm for a 12-month session. On education, the Speech promises further reform 'to improve quality and choice''.

An Education Bill will enable primary schools to become 'foundation schools'' and give a greater role for the private sector in supplying the state schooling system subject to a 'fair admissions'' policy.

The shake-up of the NHS will continue with a Health Bill introducing new measures designed to combat the MRSA hospital

superbug.

A separate move will reform the NHS compensation system, designed to give more power to patients when their care goes wrong. Another potential flashpoint for Government rebels will come with confirmation of an Incapacity Benefit Bill.

It will eventually replace the existing regime with help for those who can work but penalties for those who are seen as reluctant to re-enter employment.

The Government confirmed it would press ahead with its contentious move to introduce a new Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill, covering cases where people stir up hatred on grounds of religious belief rather than race.

On the thorny issue of pensions reform, the Government promises a draft Pensions Bill following the outcome of the Turner Review into the issues, expected later this year.

Among other measures proposed are a reform of Legal Aid, a Consumer Credit Bill to give greater protection to the public, a Road Safety Bill to codify offences and penalties, and an EU Referendum Bill to provide for a ballot if Parliament approves the new constitution.

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