The Bills which will define the next parliamentary term

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Indy Politics

TERROR

Gordon Brown faces a parliamentary battle and a civil liberties outcry over plans to lock up terror suspects without charge for almost two months.

The Prime Minister has signalled his support for increasing the current detention period of 28 days, which is already the longest in the Western world. The new counter-terrorism Bill did not specify a new proposed time limit, although ministers have confirmed they are likely to press for a 56-day interrogation period.

An attempt two years ago to increase the maximum length of detention to 90 days resulted in Tony Blair's first Commons defeat. Ministers fear a similar backlash now, particularly as they admit there have been no cases so far where more than 28 days was needed to question suspects. But they believe they can win over sceptics by promising to allow police to go beyond 28 days in only the most exceptional circumstances and to give judges rigorous oversight of the process.

They also insist that the increased sophistication of terrorist conspiracies means that the extra time will soon be needed. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said that 400 computers and about 8,000 computer disks, CDs and DVDs were seized by detectives investigating last year's alleged plot to blow up airliners.

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats pledged yesterday to oppose the extension. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, accused ministers of a "misguided attempt to demonstrate superficial toughness on terrorism".

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: "In the face of genuine constructive alternatives, extension would smack of political posture." Human Rights Watch warned the move would be "counter-productive to win the trust of Muslim communities".

The new Bill will also allow police to interview terror suspects after they have been charged and for courts to draw "adverse inferences" from a suspect's silence. The legislation will also set up a sex offender-style register to track convicted terrorists after they have left prison.

It will also bar convicted terrorists from travelling overseas and the Bill guarantees more money will be spent on protecting "key sites" from attack.

Analysis: The Government says it wants consensus on the issue but the 56-day proposal will prove divisive. Opposition parties believe Mr Brown is trying to portray them as soft on terror.

Nigel Morris

EDUCATION

Plans to compel all teenagers to stay on at school, college or training until they are 18 are the main plank of the education legislation.

Ministers are planning a "carrot and stick" approach to lure youngsters with no training off the streets or out of dead-end jobs. Education maintenance allowances of up to £30 a week are to be extended for all those who sign on for "entry into employment" courses, as well as youngsters from poor homes who stay on at school or college. In addition, bonuses will be paid for good behaviour or attendance.

But those who fail to sign up for a course will face a fixed-penalty notice of £50, escalating to court action and a £200 fine if they continue to refuse to commit.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, says the plans will not result in youngsters being forced to stay on at school full-time. The least they will have to do to avoid fines is to register for at least one day's training a week – through their employer.

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "Students must be encouraged to continue their education or training beyond the age of 16 but compulsion is not the right approach. Criminalising young people will only create resentment and is most likely to affect those who could benefit the most."

Under the Government's legislation, 10 and 11-year-olds will be the "guinea pigs" for the new regime. The "education participation age" will be raised to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015.

There will also be a separate measure to pave the way for a major expansion in apprenticeships – with all 16- to 18-year-olds being given the entitlement to sign up for one. At present, there are 150,000 available (up from 60,000 in 1997) but ministers want to boost that to half a million by 2020.

Analysis: The plan to raise the leaving age to 18 is considered by business to be essential if Britain is to compete with other countries. Ministers are right to stress that youngsters will not be chained to their school desks and that most will spend one day a week training while working. The difficulty comes with the fines for youngsters who refuse to sign up for education and training. In most cases, these will be the least well off – thereby making it impossible for them to pay.

Richard Garner

CRIME/IMMIGRATION

After a succession of damaging headlines on immigration, ministers want to regain the initiative on this most politically explosive of issues. Further action was foreshadowed by two Bills yesterday, although few concrete proposals have so far emerged.

They come as the Government prepares to phase in an Australian-style points system for non-EU workers from March. Language tests for newcomers will be introduced at the same time.

The planned contents of the Citizenship and Immigration Draft Bill are vague, making it likely that it will be used to bring in an array of measures in the New Year.

The Bill will follow a review being conducted by Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, into the definition of being a British citizen. It could lead to an overhaul of citizenship ceremonies, introduced in 2003, and the encouragement of "citizen's days", in which all the different members of a community come together. Gordon Brown will provide an early pointer to Government thinking in January when he publishes a statement of British values.

The biggest overhaul of immigration laws since the 1970s will be conducted under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which is being carried over to the next parliamentary session. The review will bring 11 immigration acts and more than 30 statutory instruments into one new Act. The Government has admitted that myriad legislation on the subject has undermined public confidence in the system.

The Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Nick Clegg said: "The Government's response to an immigration system in crisis looks set to be... the usual muddle of ill-thought out panic measures and reheated announcements."

The Bill will also make it illegal to incite hatred against the disabled and people who have had a sex change. It follows similar moves to tackle religious hate crime. The Bill also bans possession of extreme pornography and brings in powers to evict anti-social neighbours. It will clarify legislation on self-defence, so those who use reasonable force to protect themselves have full protection under the law, a move announced at the Labour conference.

Analysis: Rebuilding confidence in Britain'sborders will be a priority. Ministers want to see the issue dropping down the list of voters' worries.

Nigel Morris

FLEXIBLE WORKING

Flexible working hours could be offered to up to 4.5 million extra parents in a headline-grabbing addition to the Queen's Speech. At the moment, 3.25 million parents with children aged up to six years, or with disabled children, have the right to seek flexible hours or work from home. A further 2.65 million carers have similar rights.

But Imelda Walsh, the human resources director of J Sainsbury, is being brought in by ministers to look at ways of extending the rights to more parents.

Downing Street said that if the child's age limit was raised from six to nine years, an additional 1.4 million parents would be entitled to flexible hours. If it were extended to children aged up to 12, it would help a further 2.6 million parents, while a further 4.5 million parents would benefit if the right was extended to families with children aged up to 17.

The proposals are likely to be seen with caution by business leaders, who will have to foot the bill for the changes, but many employers have already allowed staff to seek a better "work-life balance" because it makes it easier to retain them.

It marks a victory for the Minister for Women and Equalities, Harriet Harman, who has had to balance her political career with bringing up a young family. She said: "Mothers often tear their hair out trying to balance earning a living with bringing up their children. Fathers also want to be able to play a bigger part."

The Tories again accused Mr Brown of stealing their policies. A spokesman for David Cameron said the Tory leader announced a plan for the right to request flexible working for all parents in October 2006. Mr Cameron said at the time he had discussed the proposals with the CBI and, last June, said the legislation offering a right to request flexible hours should be extended to all parents.

Analysis: Sounds a great idea but it is only a right to ask for flexible working hours, and it does not guarantee an absolute right to get them. With both Labour and the Conservatives in a bidding war over flexible working rights, expect a more radical proposal to emerge from the consultations, eventually covering all parents.

Colin Brown

EUROPE

The European Union Reform Treaty Bill will almost certainly take up more parliamentary time than any of the other measures announced in the Queen's Speech, and could take three months to secure its passage through the Commons and the Lords.

Labour promised a public vote on the treaty's forerunner, the EU constitution, but claims that the treaty, which will streamline the way the EU works, is a different animal and does not require a referendum. But several European politicians say it is virtually the same as the constitution.

The Conservatives will put their energies into amending the Bill so that a referendum must be held. It could attract the support of 20 or more rebel Labour MPs but ministers are confident that the calls for a plebiscite will be rejected.

The Liberal Democrats will propose a referendum on whether Britain should remain in or quit the EU, but its MPs are unlikely to back the Tory campaign for a vote on the treaty itself.

The Government claims it has protected its so-called "red lines" by securing opt-outs on justice and home affairs, defence and foreign policy and decisions on tax and social security, and ensuring the charter will not affect employment law in Britain.

Analysis: A pitched battle, like the debate over the Maastricht Treaty, which cast a shadow over John Major's government. Mr Brown probably hopes voters will be bored into submission. But Eurosceptics will not give up without a fight and will make the Government's life a misery over this measure.

Andrew Grice

HOUSING

Ten new towns each with 100,000 new homes were promised yesterday by Gordon Brown as part of a dramatic increase in house-building intended to deliver three million more homes by 2020.

He said the 10 sites were being drawn up from more than 50 applications. There was a consensus to build 240,000 homes a year by 2016, an increase from 200,000 a year as recommended by Kate Barker in her review of housing for the Government.

Yvette Cooper, the Housing minister, stressed that the bulk of the new housing will go on "brownfield" sites, and said disused public sector land was also being considered for new homes.

The Housing and Regeneration Bill will create the Homes and Communities Agency to spearhead the increased supply of social and affordable private homes through better use of surplus publicly owned land. In addition, the agency will be put in charge of ensuring future housing developments are as environment-friendly as possible. A separate Planning Reform Bill aims to speed up planning decisions, particularly for major infrastructure projects, sparking concern among green groups.

Analysis: One of Gordon Brown's biggest pledges, and tough to deliver. Most families have experienced the problem of first-time buyers who are having to pay six times their salary for a start on the housing ladder. But Nimbys – home owners who say they don't mind development but "not in my back yard" – are ready for a fight.

Colin Brown

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

Sweeping reforms giving MPs powers over everything from declaring war to senior public appointments will be published early next year.

A draft Bill is likely to give Parliament formal powers to debate and ratify treaties and to vote on the deployment of armed forces abroad for the first time. Ministers are also planning to give Commons select committees the power to hold US-style confirmation hearings to look into the appointment of key Government officials before their jobs are confirmed. Ministers fear the Conservatives could use the legislation to press for action on the West Lothian Question, and also believe the Lib Dems will use it to press for reform of the voting system.

Analysis: Gordon Brown is moving to seize the liberal constitutional reforming agenda beloved of the Lib Dems and end controversy over the Government's unfettered powers to make appointments and declare war. But Mr Brown's Bill may open the way to bitter battles over devolution and electoral reform.

Ben Russell

CLIMATE CHANGE

Warmly welcomed was the Climate Change Bill, which will set up the world's first programme for cutting greenhouse gas emissions that is legally-binding on the Government carrying it out.

Under the proposals, Britain will have to make regular cuts in carbon dioxide every five years, and achieve a 60 per cent total cut in emissions by 2050. However, most climate campaigners think the 60 per cent target is not ambitious enough and should be raised to 80 per cent.

There was also widespread disappointment that the long-promised Marine Bill, which would set up a series of marine nature reserves around Britain's coast, was not mentioned.

Analysis: These measures (and non-measures) will reinforce the impression among environmentalists that Gordon Brown's attention to green issues is dutiful rather than dedicated. They think he "doesn't get it" , especially climate change. The Climate Change Bill itself was largely the work of David Miliband, now Foreign Secretary, when he was Environment Secretary last year. That said, Mr Brown is pushing it through.

Michael McCarthy

PARTY FUNDING

A cap of about £150m on the amount the political parties can spend between general elections is to be proposed by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, in one of the most contentious measures in the Queen's Speech. The cap would limit all the parties to spending up to £50m a year over a five-year Parliament, and follows growing public concern at the way the parties raise donations in the wake of the "cash for honours" investigation.

It will be welcomed by Labour MPs who have angrily demanded action to close the so-called "Ashcroft loophole" which has enabled Lord Ashcroft, the Tory donor, to pour money into the Tory target seats between elections.

But David Cameron, the Tory leader, served notice on Gordon Brown that there will be no cross-party agreement over the measure unless Labour accept a cap on the amount that trade unions donate.

Cross-party talks hosted by Sir Hayden Phillips collapsed last week acrimoniously, with the Conservatives seeking a cap on donations, and Labour a cap on spending. Sir Hayden proposed a spending limit of £20m at general elections, and state funding matched to individual donations and votes. However, senior ministerial sources said there was "great scepticism" in the Government about the need for state funding.

There will be a furious row if Mr Brown goes ahead unilaterally with a limit on party spending, but the senior sources indicated that they will not let it drop.

Analysis: Mr Brown has pleased his own backbenchers but the parties are as far apart as ever on donations. This is supposed to restore trust, but public may be forgiven for thinking they haven't learned anything from the "cash for honours" affair.

Colin Brown

HEALTH

The law on fertility treatments and research will be updated for the first time in 17 years, the Government has announced, in response to scientific developments.

The planned Bill is likely to give the green light to animal-human hybrid embryos for the research, and will recognise same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through donated sperm, eggs or embryos.

A new regulator with powers to fine hospitals and shut down wards will be created under a Health and Social Care Bill. The bill will also seek to strengthen professional regulation, fulfiling a manifesto commitment in the wake of the Harold Shipman murders. The General Medical Council will be required to use the lower, civil standard of proof in most cases where doctors are charged with professional misconduct.

In cases where the doctor could be struck off, the higher, criminal standard of proof will apply, as now. Healthcare organisations will have to appoint a "responsible officer" to work with the GMC on cases of poor performance by doctors.

Analysis: Under Mr Brown, the Government wants to damp down the noise around the NHS – and see results for its £45bn investment over the past five years. These bills are about tidying up a few loose ends.

Jeremy Laurance

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