Uncompromising list of 45 Bills destined to be battleground in next Parliament

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Indy Politics

ID CARDS

ID CARDS

The Government is refusing to compromise over the principle of identity cards, but hinted at small concessions on the detail of the scheme.

Bolstered by opinion polls showing that 80 per cent of voters support ID cards, ministers have decided to push the scheme through Parliament as soon as possible.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said that ID cards would help the fight against the "ever-present threat of terrorism" and illegal immigration. He also promised new counter-terrorism proposals over the next year.

Plans for ID cards were withdrawn before the election as they ran into opposition in the Lords.

About 20 Labour MPs are expected to oppose the scheme, enough to reduce the Government's majority to under 20 if all opposition parties vote against the cards and the creation of the ID database containing biometric details of citizens that will underpin it.

But ministers calculate that rushing the measure through early in the new session will mean potential Labour rebels have less time to organise and the Tories are distracted by their leadership contest.

Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the Bill's fundamental principles were not open for negotiation. But he said: "We will listen carefully to any comments and objections and proposals that MPs of all parties, including my own, have and consider those going through Parliament in the normal way."

The Home Secretary is expected to promise extra powers to the ID Cards Commissioner who will oversee the scheme, and tougher controls on access to the national identity register. The Liberal Democrats renewed their opposition to ID cards yesterday, but the issue was not mentioned by the Conservative leader, Michael Howard.

ID cards will eventually replace passports and driving licences. Within three years, travellers will be given biometric passports, which could contain details of their faces, irises and fingerprints. The details on the card can then be cross-referenced against a national database before the holder can see a doctor or use other public services.

The Bill would contain an option to make the cards compulsory at a later date, which could be as early as 2010. It would also introduce penalties for those who fail to register for them.

Janet Paraskeva, chief executive of the Law Society, said: "We believe that the Bill will provide the Government with unnecessary and undesirably wide powers to record, retain and disseminate personal data. Many of the proposed benefits the Government claims can be achieved without a costly and complex identity card scheme."

The Queen's Speech contained a draft Counter Terrorism Bill that will give the Commons a second chance to look at the Home Secretary's controversial control orders, which place tough restrictions on suspects. So far there are no further details on what the Bill will contain, other than a promise to "remedy any gaps or deficiencies" in existing legislation.

But ministers are known to favour the creation of new offences of "acts preparatory to terrorism" and "glorifying or condoning terrorist acts". Plans have also been mooted to lower the burden of proof in terrorism cases and for more terrorist prosecutions in non-jury trials.

BENEFITS

Cuts in the numbers relying on invalidity benefit threaten to provoke one of the main flashpoints with Labour dissidents in this parliamentary session. Party left-wingers warned that the Incapacity Benefit Bill will be a stern test for David Blunkett, the new Work and Pensions Secretary.

Mr Blunkett is also introducing a Housing Benefit Bill to cut benefit fraud. The measures, foreshadowed in the five-year plan for work and pensions before the election, are aimed at tackling dependency on benefits, and the "sick-note culture".

The Treasury has become increasingly alarmed at the rising numbers of claimants for incapacity benefit (IB). They now total 2.7 million, at a cost of £7.7bn a year, despite low unemployment.

The left remains suspicious that Mr Blunkett, having regained his post in the Cabinet, will be pressed by Downing Street to deliver substantial cuts in the cost of the benefit.

Ian Gibson, a prominent Labour rebel, said: "ID cards is not going to be a die-in-a-ditch issue, but invalidity benefit will be unless there are concessions." The left is on the warpath over hints that the Bill will make it harder for claimants to remain on invalidity benefit unless they are "severely disabled", even though doctors have signed them off as too sick to work.

The Bill is being presented by the Government as a measure to help those who want to work to get back into jobs while "offering long-term support for those unable to work". But there will be a furious battle over the details, few of which were provided yesterday.

Dr Roy Sainsbury, of the York university social policy research unit, which is studying pilot schemes for the Government, said there was anxiety about the extent to which there would be compulsion to work. He said many GPs tried to get those on IB back into work, but some family doctors were "happy to sign sick notes. The Government is trying to change that balance."

Officials said the Bill was based on the five-year proposals to help claimants return to work, replace the existing scheme with a "new system of benefits for new claimants building on the principle of rights and responsibilities", provide help for claimants to manage their condition and plan their return to work; and provide financial security "whose health condition or disability is so severe that a return to work would be very difficult".

More than 80 Labour MPs rebelled against attempts in 1999 to cut invalidity benefit, with 67 voting against. The vote represented the biggest show of discontent from Labour MPs to date at the Government's welfare reform plans.

Mr Blair's first serious rebellion in the first session of Parliament was over cuts in benefits to lone parents. History could repeat itself in the first months his third term.

PENSIONS

Mr Blunkett was warned last night that he will not be able to reach a consensus on tackling Britain's pensions black hole by compelling people to save or by forcing people to work longer.

Compelling people to save for retirement would amount to a tax rise, the shadow Pensions Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, said after Mr Blunkett promised a draft Pensions Bill would be published to underline his anxiety about reaching a consensus.

Sir Malcolm ruled out any cross-party support for compulsion on workers to save for their pensions. "The real choice in this area is between using incentives to try and win people to save more or going the compulsion route," Sir Malcolm said. "All my instincts tell me that compulsion is another form of general taxation."

Age Concern also said Mr Blunkett would gain no consensus for compulsion. The director general of the charity for the elderly, Gordon Lishman, said: "The Government has some tough choices ahead, but compulsory saving into a private scheme is not the way forward."

Mr Blunkett also hinted last week that another option could be to make people work longer. Mr Lishman said raising the pension age above 65 would be a betrayal of lower income groups.

Although Mr Blunkett said all options - including compulsion and raising the retirement age - were still on the table, they are being narrowed down. Mr Blair made it clear last week that he does not favour forcing workers on modest incomes to contribute to a private pension.

Adair Turner, the former head of the CBI, who is carrying out the pensions review, has set himself the deadline of 30 November for delivering his report. He said there was a "muddle" over pensions which has to be sorted out for the long term.

One option is integrate the second state pension with the basic state pension and make it higher and less means tested. The other is to make the second pension compulsory and make what you get out directly related to what you put in.

"Making people feel they really have an account that belongs to them which happens to be invested in government bonds but which you could then develop to allow them a wider range of options," Mr Turner said.

Meanwhile, the Government is introducing legislation to allow judges to avoid a new £1.5m lifetime limit on the value of pension benefits, after which a tax of 25 per cent on top of income tax will be imposed. The Judicial Pensions Bill will allow judges to maintain the current value of their pensions in the face of the new tax regime set out in the Finance Act 2004.

EDUCATION

A raft of measures is aimed at giving parents more control over their children's education.

The most controversial is to give them the right to instigate school inspections if they are concerned about standards at the school. They will also have the right to check on their child's progress on a day-to-day basis through logging on to the school's computer.

The right for parents to demand an inspection by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, will be coupled with new powers for inspectors to call for school closures and the sacking of ineffective heads.

The move was criticised by teachers' leaders. David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it went against "natural justice" to give inspectors the right to recommend dismissal of senior school staff, and said the decision should be up to school governors or local education authorities.

Parents will also be given more opportunities to check on their child's progress. Ministers are promising to put more money into schools for new technology that will enable parents to monitor how well their children are doing in different subjects - and even whether they have turned their homework in on time.

The new legislation, more details of which will appear in a White Paper this summer and will be introduced as a Bill into the Commons in the autumn, will also allow primary schools to "opt out" of local authority control and become "foundation" schools - with control of their own budgets and the power to hire and fire staff. All they will have to do is to vote in favour of the move at a governors' meeting after consulting with parents. Mr Hart said he expected most schools to eventually go down this road.

There was no mention of the Government's controversial academies programme in the legislation - but sources said they could go ahead with the controversial plan to establish 200 of the privately sponsored institutions to replace struggling inner- city secondary schools without legislation. Seventeen have already been established.

Ministers are also to resurrect the Transport Bill - which died in the previous Parliament - allowing councils to charge bus fares as long as the money raised is used to make it easier for pupils to walk or cycle to school, for example, by setting up bike sheds.

IMMIGRATION

A renewed crackdown on immigration and asylum will provide an early flashpoint between the Government and its left-wing dissidents.

A new points system for workers who want to come temporarily to the UK will be set up, designed to fill gaps in the labour market. Only highly skilled migrants will be allowed to stay permanently, and then only if they can speak English fluently and pass a "Britishness test".

The Home Secretary also wants to remove the right of successful asylum-seekers to remain permanently, a move likely to provoke a backbench rebellion. Instead, they would get permission to stay for up to five years, which would then be reviewed.

Under the Immigration and Asylum Bill, the appeals process for failed asylum-seekers will be streamlined - a move that will be opposed by the legal profession - and removals from the country speeded up.

Previous legislation on asylum was opposed in the previous parliament by more than 40 Labour MPs, most of whom have been re-elected. A rebellion on that scale could wipe out the Government's majority, depending on the Tories' stance.

The Bill, which will be introduced into the Commons within two months and implements the recent Home Office five-year plan on immigration and asylum, also brings in fingerprinting for visa applicants and limits the rights of appeal over visa refusals.

Employers will face a £2,000 fixed penalty for every illegal worker they hire and a tougher new regime of workplace inspections will be introduced. Entrants from countries with a history of abuse will have to submit a financial bond which they forfeit if they fail to leave.

The proposals coincided with Home Office figures showing the number of asylum-seekers arriving in Britain fell by 17 per cent in the first quarter of 2005.

Separate statistics showed that the number of people granted British citizenship in 2004 reached a record 140,795, an increase of 12 per cent on the previous year. But applications from foreign nationals to become UK citizens have fallen by 8 per cent to 135,085 since the Government introduced the "Britishness" test.

RELIGIOUS HATRED

Charles Clarke vowed to use the Parliament Act to force through a new law banning incitement to religious hatred if it is blocked by peers for a third time.

The new law had been introduced as part of wider Home Office legislation. But now ministers said they would introduce the measure in a standalone Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill, allowing the Parliament Act to be invoked. Labour pledged to introduce the new law in its general election manifesto, a move that will make it harder for peers to block the legislation.

EUROPE

A Bill allowing the Government to call a referendum on the proposed European Union constitution was promised, but could be put on hold within two weeks.

If France votes "no" to the new EU treaty on 29 May, Mr Blair is likely to shelve his plans to hold a referendum that would be very difficult for him to win. Downing Street declined to say when the Bill would be brought forward.

Mr Blair said that there would be a referendum in Britain if there was a treaty to vote on. If one of the EU's 25 countries vote "no", then the treaty would fall, so he could argue that he would not be breaking his pledge by scrapping the referendum.

The Bill would also ratify the treaty. But the measure will be fought hard by the Tories and a group of about 30 Eurosceptic Labour MPs.If France votes "yes", the referendum is expected to be held in May or June next year.

ELECTORAL REFORM

The Electoral Administration Bill will fulfil a recommendation by the Electoral Commission to cut the age at which people are allowed to stand for Parliament from 21 to 18. Local authorities will also be covered by the law, which could be in place in time for next year's local elections.

MPs hope the Bill will start its passage through Parliament before the summer, although they plan an extensive consultation with election officials.

Under the Bill, election fraudsters will face up to five years in jail for impersonating voters. The Bill will introduce barcodes on ballot papers to allow bogus votes to be removed and ensure postal ballot forms are sent direct to returning officers.

Further safeguards include measures to ensure that voters are sent an acknowledgement if they apply for a postal vote, and increasing the time limit for election officials to check postal ballot applications.

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