Tony Blair is to delay plans for at least half the members of the House of Lords to be directly elected.
The Prime Minister will disappoint reform campaigners by omitting a House of Lords Reform Bill from today's Queen's Speech, which will outline the Government's programme for a parliamentary session lasting until October next year, despite the promise in Labour's election manifesto for MPs to be a given a free vote on the issue.
A Lords Bill was included in a draft speech submitted to Downing Street by Peter Hain, the former leader of the Commons, but it has not survived the whittling down the list of proposed Bills to the 40 to be announced today. "It hasn't been abandoned, but it won't feature in the first session," one government source said. "It's a crowded programme."
Ministers want to reduce the powers of the Lords to delay government legislation from 12 months to 60 days before trying to build a consensus on the make-up of the second chamber. They want to avoid a repeat of the chaos in the Commons two years ago, when all the options for Lords reform were voted down. A proposal for an 80 per cent elected house was defeated by just three votes.
The Government will confirm, however,that it will press ahead as soon as possible with controversial plans for a national identity card and legislation outlawing incitement to religious hatred. The two measures, included in the Queen's Speech, were sacrificed when time ran out before the general election.
Ministers calculate that it is best to reintroduce the ID card proposal before potential Labour backbench rebels get a chance to organise and while the Tories are distracted by their leadership contest. The legislation will be brought back to the Commons within days. Although the Home Office may make minor concessions to safeguard the security of the ID card database, most rebels are likely to stand firm.
Plans to outlaw incitement to religious hatred have already been abandoned twice in three years after opposition from celebrities, authors and civil liberties groups. This time the Government will threaten to use the Parliament Act to force it through the Lords, where a majority of peers oppose it on the ground of free speech.
Another measure will make it easier for parents to get rid of ineffective headteachers by allowing them to trigger school inspections by Ofsted, which could lead to closure or the removal of poor heads.
Schools that perform well in league tables will be encouraged to take over the running of less successful ones.
Ministers will also press ahead with the controversial academies programme, with a network of 200 privately sponsored academies to replace struggling secondary schools.
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