Election call will scupper ID card and gaming Bills - Saturday 12th of March 2005

TONY BLAIR faces losing most of the Bills now before Parliament if he calls a general election in early May because of tough tactics agreed by the Conservatives.

Bills bringing in identity cards and new powers for councils to deal with abandoned cars, graffiti, litter, fly-posting and dog fouling have their second readings this week in the Lords. But neither measure, nor legislation for compulsory treatment of criminal drug addicts or setting up an FBI-style serious crime agency, will complete their passage in time for a May election.

Mr Blair is expected to see the Queen on April 4 and ask her to dissolve Parliament on April 11, leaving the minimum time for a 3??-week campaign before polling day on May 5. This would leave a week for negotiations on outstanding Bills, known in Westminster as the ???wash-up???, during which the Tories plan to dig in their heels and veto most uncompleted Bills. Those likely to pass in time are those on disability discrimination, child benefit, official inquiries, mental capacity and merging the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.

The Constitutional Reform Bill should also pass if disputes over whether the Lord Chancellor must be a peer and lawyer are resolved. A dozen others are at risk; some may have to have entire chunks removed to satisfy the Opposition.

Time spent debating anti-terrorism powers and the wedding of the Prince of Wales on April 8, when hostilities will be suspended, added pressure to pre-election timetables.

The ID cards Bill, the centrepiece of the Queen???s Speech, is certain to fail and the Tories are likely to argue that the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill has had too little scrutiny. The drugs Bill would not be supported by the Conservatives unless the reclassification of cannabis is reversed and mandatory sentences for drug dealers are added.

The Gambling Bill will have barely started its committee stage in the Lords and could be blocked unless ministers drop its most contentious parts liberalising casino laws and proceed only with the new gambling commission and regulating online betting.

The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill should survive but the price will probably be the Government???s dropping its new offence of incitement to religious hatred.

Oliver Heald, the Shadow Leader of the Commons, said: ???If the Prime Minister decides to have a general election a third of the way into the parliamentary year he cannot expect to get many Bills through. We cannot pass bad laws just because he decides to go to the country.???

But ministers claim that the Conservatives risk walking into a trap, saying such a tough negotiating position would allow Labour to accuse them in the election campaign of standing in the way of popular measures.

A member of the Government told The Times: ???They assume we want to get all of these Bills. I would sooner go on the doorstep and say, ???If you want ID cards vote for me???.???

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