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Blair Government Launches Legislation Blitz

Britain's labour government has unveiled its heaviest legislative programme yet, a package of 28 bills ranging from tough reforms of the pension and benefits system to freedom of information. John Howard reports.

The program was announced yesterday when the Queen formally opened the latest session of Parliament.

Tony Blair's Labour Party included only 17 bills in its legislative programme for the last session of Parliament, and 22 after it took power in May 1997.

The heavy burden of bills is an indication that Blair plans to to call a general election in summer 2001.

Blair's aides had already signalled that the programme will include tough new welfare proposals, with the government pushing ahead with reforms to the pensions and benefits system.

Criminals who refuse to obey court orders or carry out commmunity sentences will lose state benefits. There will also be a crime bill which could introduce mandatory drug testing for all prisoners. A crackdown on absent fathers who do not pay child maintenance is also to be announced.

Another bill, a surprise late edition to the programme, is expected to ban fur farming with the main targets being 13 mink farms.

Other government plans include an inspectorate to monitor the Crown Prosecution Service; part privatisation of air traffic control; and measures to protect children in care to stop them turning to crime when they leave supervision.

Pro-business measures include a deregulation bill; and a utilities bill to encourage greater competition in the water and power industries.

"We have got a lot done, but there is a lot more to do," Tony Blair told a press briefing.


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