Security dominates Blair's final programme

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's final Queen's Speech as Prime Minister today was dominated by security measures to cut crime and tackle immigration and terrorism.

It also put forward major bills to deal with the long-term problems of climate change and pensions.

Under the theme "security in a changing world", the Speech set out a legislative programme of 29 bills - including two in draft form - designed to continue to have an impact long after Mr Blair steps down as Prime Minister next year.

The package offered changes intended to provide voters with not only physical protection from terrorists and criminals, but also security against the threat of global warming, security in the streets from anti-social behaviour and security from poverty in their old age.

Downing Street characterised the package as "a Queen's Speech for the aspiring majority, the law-abiding, the victims of crime, the vulnerable and for the benefit of future generations".

But there was immediate speculation in Westminster over how much of Mr Blair's swansong programme will actually make it onto the statute book.

As usual in her traditional address at the opening of Parliament, the Queen set out a programme for the full 12-month parliamentary session.

But Mr Blair has already indicated he will step down by next September at the latest, and opposition parties suggest that much of his package will become mired in uncertainty as ministers, MPs and officials turn their thoughts to the priorities of his expected successor, Chancellor Gordon Brown.

The Queen told MPs and peers that the heart of the Government's programme would be "further action to provide strong, secure and stable communities and to address the threat of terrorism".

While there is no Terrorism Bill in the programme announced today, the Home Office made clear that legislation was on the cards during the coming year, following the completion of Home Secretary John Reid's review of current counter-terrorist capabilities and resources.

An Organised Crime Bill will crack down on gangsters by strengthening powers to seize ill-gotten assets and creating a new Serious Crime Prevention Order targeting individuals and organisations believed to be involved in rackets.

Immigration officers will be given tougher powers in a Border and Immigration Bill, which will make clear an automatic presumption of deportation for foreigners committing serious crimes.

A Criminal Justice Bill will set a new direction for a system of "smarter justice", with far greater involvement for victims; create new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour; make sentencing clearer and bring compensation for wrongful convictions in line with that for victims of crime.

An Offender Management Bill will allow the Home Secretary to get the private or voluntary sectors to provide probation services.

Perhaps the measure with the most far-reaching impact will be the Climate Change Bill to be tabled by Environment Secretary David Miliband as part of the international effort to halt global warming, which Downing Street described as "the biggest long-term threat that we now face".

The bill will set in law the Government's goal of cutting Britain's emissions of greenhouse gas CO2 by 60% by 2050 and will establish an independent Carbon Committee to advise ministers on how to do this.

Arrangements for increased reporting to Parliament on progress will be made, but as expected there is no provision for binding annual targets on cuts in emissions, as demanded by environmentalists.

The Pensions Bill to be put forward by Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton will put into place many of the recommendations of the Turner Commission, including a delay in the retirement age to as late as 68 and the re-establishment of the link between the state pension and average earnings.

The Department for Work and Pensions said these changes should by 2050 result in a pension worth twice as much as it would have been without reform, but could see people working to 68 by 2046.

Mr Hutton is also bringing forward a bill to replace the Child Support Agency and replace it with a new body "to provide a simple and more effective way of assessing, collecting and enforcing child maintenance". And he will carry over his Welfare Reform Bill to replace incapacity benefit.

Unlike previous years, there are no major bills in today's Speech to reform the public services, though the speech made clear that the programme of modernisation in schools and the NHS would continue.

There was also no bill to complete reform of the House of Lords. Proposals to remove the last hereditary peers and make the Second Chamber "more effective, legitimate and representative" will be presented in a White Paper by Leader of the Commons Jack Straw later this month, with a free vote expected by Christmas.

Reform of party funding, too, will wait until the completion of the review currently being undertaken by Sir Hayden Phillips.

In a statement, 10 Downing Street said that the Queen's Speech addressed "the big issues that will affect generations to come, like climate change, pensions, the creation of secure and confident communities and the challenges of mass migration and terrorism".

It added: "All these questions demand difficult decisions. Opportunity and security in a changing world; the courage to tackle issues where the tough decision occurs today, but the benefits are many years hence; on the side of the vulnerable; building on prior success.

"This is the purpose of this Queen's Speech."