Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 15:23 UK

Coalition deal: Tories give more ground

By James Landale
Deputy Political Editor, BBC News

Until this morning it was possible to conclude that the Conservatives had perhaps got the better of the coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron
The 'Dave and Nick show' continues

In return for generously giving Nick Clegg twenty-odd seats in government, David Cameron appeared to have protected much of his own party's election manifesto.

Thus the coalition government agreed to press ahead with £6bn of spending cuts this year, to scrap Labour's planned "jobs tax", to ring-fence NHS spending and to cap immigration - all big ticket Conservative priorities.

The Lib Dems were satisfied with opt-outs on tricky stuff like nuclear power and tuition fees and a referendum on modest electoral reform that was a long way from their holy grail of proportional representation. The Lib Dems also had to ditch their immigration amnesty and park their opposition to Trident.

But on Thursday, with the publication of the full coalition agreement, it is clear that there have been some significant Conservative concessions to the Lib Dems:

1. No repatriation of powers from Europe. The Conservative manifesto promised to negotiate with EU countries the repatriation of powers on the charter of fundamental rights, criminal justice and social and employment legislation. This has been replaced with: "We will examine the balance of the EU's existing competences."

2. Police commissioners less independent. The Conservative manifesto promised to create directly-elected individuals to set policing priorities for local communities. The coalition agreement says they will be "subject to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives", namely local councillors. So who is in charge?

3. Council tax freeze curtailed. The Conservative manifesto promised to freeze council tax for two years. The coalition agreement says it will be frozen for "at least one year and seek to freeze it for another year".

4. Stamp duty cut less certain. The Conservative manifesto promised to permanently raise the stamp duty threshold to £250,000 for first time buyers. The Labour government introduced this change earlier this year. But the coalition document now says simply: "We will review the effectiveness of the raising of the stamp duty threshold for first time buyers." The word permanent has disappeared.

5. No scrapping of Labour's health targets. The Conservative manifesto promised to scrap politically-motivated targets that have no clinical justification. The coalition document states: "We will measure our success on the health results that really matter - such as improving cancer and stroke survival rates or reducing hospital infections." No mention of targets.

6. Plans to end the couple penalty less certain. The Conservative manifesto promised to end the penalty for all couples in the tax system. The coalition agreement says: "We will bring forward plans to reduce the couple penalty in the tax credit system." Reduce does not necessarily equal end.

7. Non-doms tax on hold. The Conservative manifesto promised a simple flat-rate levy on all non-domiciled individuals to pay for inheritance tax cuts. The coalition document has reduced this to: "We will review the taxation of non-domiciled individuals."

Council tax freeze in England
Flexible working for all employees
Anonymity for rape defendants
ID cards scrapped
Political reform including AV referendum
Cap on non-EU migration

8. Human Rights Act lives to fight another day. The Conservative manifesto promised to replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights. The coalition document says: "We will establish a commission to investigate the creation of the British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties." So that's clear then.

If you add this list to the increase of capital gains tax from 18% to 40% and the ditching of inheritance tax cuts, suddenly it appears that the Conservatives have given a little more ground than perhaps was first apparent.

The coalition document is also interesting for what it does not tell us.

Electoral Reform: There is no date for when a referendum on electoral reform is likely to be held. Many Lib Dems are hoping for a timetable to avoid drift. For some of them, this issue is the only reason they have agreed to the coalition.

House of Lords reform: There is little detail on this. Who will sit on this committee that will consider reform? How many of the 700-odd existing life peers will remain the Lords under a so-called "grandfathering" scheme while new peers are elected? How will the surviving life peers be chosen? How will the other peers be expelled?

Hunting: The coalition document promises a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act but it does not say when it will take place. Many in the hunting fraternity will not mind this - some fear that if there were a free vote now, the Commons as currently constituted would not back repeal.

Primaries: The coalition document contains the idea of government spending tax payers money to fund 200 all-postal primaries to choose new parliamentary candidates in safe seats where the sitting MP is standing down. This worked well for the Tories in Totnes last year. But it cost a lot of money. I wonder if some voters think this is something the parties should pay for and not them?

One final question: Will the so-called Salisbury convention apply to this coalition agreement?

This convention states that opposition parties in the House of Lords do not oppose manifesto commitments of an incoming government.

But this coalition agreement is not a manifesto and has not been subject to electoral scrutiny.

I reckon that many peers will feel no obligation to agree to much of this policy document and I predict that it is in the upper chamber that much of it will founder.

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