Criminals defying court orders will lose all benefits

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR declared yesterday that his New Labour revolution still had "a long way to go" as he prepared to unveil more major reforms in the Queen's Speech on Wednesday.

"We've only been two and a bit years in government, where, if you like, the Thatcher government was in November 1981. We've got a long way to go, lots of things to achieve, lots of things we still need to to," he told Sky Television. But he denied setting a target to serve as long as Baroness Thatcher. He said: "It's the British people that make the decision as to how long prime ministers carry on."

Mr Blair revealed that the Queen's Speech would include plans to deprive criminals of their state benefits if they fail to comply with sentences such as community service orders. The move, to be included in a Welfare Reform Bill, is aimed at showing the Government will be tough on crime and welfare in its programme for what is expected to be the last full parliamentary session before the general election.

He said: "It is important that people who are convicted of a criminal offence and are given a community service order actually do it, that it is a real penalty. If they don't carry it out, it seems to me very strange that we end up subsidising that from the state."

However, the crackdown will not be as draconian as his remarks suggested. In the first instance, it will be the subject of pilot schemes in a small number of areas. The Welfare Reform Bill will also include moves to penalise absent fathers who refuse to pay child support. Non-payment will be made a criminal offence

The Queen's Speech will show that the Home Office will dominate the legislative programme in the coming year, with no fewer than seven separate measures. It will also have to handle the hot potato of banning fox-hunting if, as expected, a Labour MP brings in a backbench Bill on the issue.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, is expected to introduce proposals on reform of the criminal justice system, political party funding, the conduct of elections, freedom of information, the age of homosexual consent, race relations and terrorism. Ministers have decided to repeal the infamous Clause 28 of the Local Government Act, which prohibits councils from "promoting" homosexuality. Hilary Armstrong, the Local Government minister, will argue that the law is "totally pointless".

Meanwhile, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, fired the opening shot in his battle to win more Treasury cash, on top of the pounds 19bn injected over the next three years, during a review of government spending. "The truth is that we need to spend more on education. The crucial element will be whether we can maintain that over the years to come, instead of having a one-off increase," Mr Blunkett told ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme.