Blair will use broadcast to seek support for reforms

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will make a direct appeal to voters today to back his controversial legislative programme at the start of his most bruising year in power.

The Prime Minister's highly contentious Bills, to be outlined in the Queen's Speech, ranging from university top-up fees to House of Lords reform and sweeping anti-terrorist powers, are likely to fuel dissent among Labour MPs, opposition from the Tories and unrest in the House of Lords. Ministers are also likely to face problems over legislation to crack down on failed asylum-seekers and plans to form a supreme court and abolish the 1,400-year-old post of Lord Chancellor.

Mr Blair will use a party political broadcast to promote his policy agenda and will appeal directly to the public to take part in a national consultation on the direction of policy, to be launched on Friday.

"Britain is changing for the better. The economy is strong, schools and hospitals are improving. Crime is falling,"he will say. "But I know we can do even better. So we want to begin a conversation with you about how ... we can make the future fair ... for everyone." It will feature a 12-year-old girl asking questions on issues such as crime, schools and hospitals.

She then meets the Prime Minister and asks him: "Well Mr Blair, what are you going to do to make our future better?" He replies: "Well, you can come and sit down and we'll have a talk about it."

Most controversial will be the Higher Education Bill, due to be debated before Christmas, which will allow universities to charge top-up fees of up to £3,000 a year. Nearly 140 MPs have signed an early day motion objecting to top-up fees, which were ruled out in Labour's election manifesto. Fees now are £1,150 a year

Mr Blair will also face fury from MPs and peers over a Bill to remove the remaining 92 hereditary peers from the House of Lords, essentially forming an all-appointed upper chamber, despite widespread calls among reforming MPs for a strong elected element.

Six of the 12 law lords have also expressed their concerns at separate constitutional reform proposals to remove them from the House of Lords and found a supreme court.

Ministers will face a bitter challenge over a Bill to introduce curbs on failed asylum-seekers, such as withdrawing benefits and removing children from those refusing to return.

Outside Parliament, Mr Blair is preparing for a backlash from Christian and other religious groups over his plans to allow gays to register same-sex partnerships. The Civil Partnerships Bill will let gay couples register their unions and enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as married people.

The Government is also expected to indicate its intention this week to introduce a Bill that will allow people who have had sex changes to marry. The Gender Recognition Bill, which will allow transsexuals to change their birth certificates, is not expected to be mentioned directly by the Queen but will be in the Government's legislative programme. A short Bill has already been drafted and is scheduled to be introduced before Christmas.

A Bill banning fox hunting is not expected in the Queen's Speech but it will be on the legislative agenda for the year.

BILLS BEFORE PARLIAMENT

HIGHER EDUCATION BILL: will allow universities to charge up to £3,000 in top-up fees. Labour critics claim the Bill will discourage low-income youngsters from going to university and break a manifesto pledge not to introduce the fees.

HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM BILL: will remove the remaining 92 hereditary peers from the House of Lords, but will frustrate reformers by making an all-appointed upper chamber.

CIVIL PARTNERSHIPS BILL: will allow gay couples to register their union, and grant them the same legal status as married couples in matters such as inheritance, parenting and pensions.

CIVIL CONTINGENCIES BILL: will give police new powers to tackle national emergencies, including imposing curfews and seizing property.

ASYLUM BILL: will introduce tough curbs on failed asylum-seekers, removing benefits and taking their children into care if they fail to leave voluntarily. Will also jail those who destroy their travel documents.

CORPORATE MANSLAUGHTER BILL: a new offence for companies guilty of negligence.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE BILL: tougher penalties for violence against spouses or children.

HUNTING BILL: unlikely to be mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but is likely to be introduced later in the session.

ROADWORKS BILL: fines for utility companies if they miss deadlines for completing work that disrupts traffic.

DRAFT ID CARDS BILL: a consultative Bill. Compulsory cards are expected to be at least a decade away.

DRAFT EURO REFERENDUM BILL: paves the way for a referendum on entry to the euro, published for consultation but not to be pushed through Parliament.

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