Brown unveils programme of reforms

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown today put reform of schools, hospitals and the benefits system at the centre of the Government's legislative programme in the next parliamentary session.

Setting out his draft Queen's Speech proposals, the Prime Minister promised bills to raise school standards, entrench patients' rights and to help people on benefits back into work.

There will also be a Banking Bill to protect depositors in the event of future bank collapses, a legal requirement for new immigrants to learn English, and new rights for agency workers.

"Building a more prosperous Britain and a fairer Britain is the purpose of the draft legislative programme published today for debate in this House and the country," he told MPs in a Commons statement.

On schools, Mr Brown said the Education and Skills Bill would establish the first independent qualifications system to guarantee the highest standards while strengthening the accountability of schools to parents.

The Bill would also include a statutory right for every suitably qualified young person to obtain an apprenticeship.

A new NHS Reform Bill would establish an NHS constitution setting out what patients can expect from the health service, including entitlements to minimum standards of access, quality and safety.

And a Welfare Reform Bill will require the unemployed to have their skills needs assessed and, if necessary, acquire new skills.

Mr Brown also announced immediate support for the housing market with the establishment of a £200 million fund to buy unsold new homes and rent them to social tenants or make them available on a shared ownership basis.

A further £100 million would be made available to shared equity schemes to enable more first-time buyers to purchase newly-built homes on the open market.

The Prime Minister was mocked by Conservative leader David Cameron who accused him of taking many of his ideas from the Tories.

"I hope when you get up we will get a bit of gratitude from you for all this," he taunted.

"You can't really say we haven't got any substance when you have taken it all and put it in your Queen's Speech."

On law and order, Mr Brown said there would be measures for directly elected representatives to give local people a greater say over policing priorities, while there will also be legislation to speed up the seizure of criminal assets in a Policing and Crime Reduction Bill.

An Immigration Bill will establish a tougher test for British citizenship, including requirements for newcomers to learn English and to show that they are making an economic contribution to the UK.

Only full British citizens will get full access to benefits or social housing, while immigrants will be required to contribute to a migration impact fund to help local communities deal with changes in population.

There will also be legislation - subject to agreement both by the employers and the trade unions and by the European Union - to protect the rights of agency workers.

A Banking Bill will provide better protection for depositors in the wake of the Northern Rock collapse while a Savings Bill with encourage people on low incomes to save, matching each pound saved matched by a contribution from the Government.

There will be legislation to protect historic sites and buildings and a further bill to protect Britain's seas and shores, with the creation of a new footpath around the whole of the English coastline.

In other measures, there will be a new Equality Bill and a Community Empowerment Bill to give people greater powers to influence local council agendas and spending decisions.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Jack Straw will publish proposals for completing the reform of the House of Lords and overhauling the system of funding political parties.