Where the parties stand on the key issues that will decide this election

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Indy Politics

LABOUR

LABOUR

Tax

Widely expected to repeat its pledge not to raise the basic or top rate of tax. Gordon Brown has doled out tax cuts for the low-paid in the Budget, in the form of increased tax credits. Already refused to rule out other tax changes.

Public Spending

Standing on a platform of investment in public services. Gordon Brown has already pledged to cut 84,000 civil service jobs, after Sir Peter Gershon's review of public sector efficiency, to save £21.5bn a year for public services. Wants to expand the New Deal to target the hard-core unemployed.

Council Tax

Gordon Brown has promised to give pensioner households a one-off £200 payment to help meet the cost of council tax this year and ministers have hinted at future help. The party is threatening to cap local authorities' council tax increases.

Health

Pledge to cut waiting times to 18 weeks, from the GP surgery to the operating theatre, by 2008. Would buy 250,000 operations a year from private providers, rising to 500,000 by 2008 and would increase choice by giving patients the right to choose any hospital by 2008. Improved diagnostic services and faster pathology tests to speed up treatment are promised.

Education

Promises to intensify literacy and numeracy teaching in primary schools, increase choice by allowing every secondary school to become specialist and a fast-track expansion scheme to allow popular schools to grow. It would create 200 independent academies by 2010. Defends the introduction next year of £3,000 university top-up fees, with grants for the poorest students.

Law and Order

Maintains crime has fallen since 1997 and police numbers have risen but pledges a "further step change". Promises to recruit another 20,000 community support officers by 2008. Prison drug treatment and testing schemes would be expanded. Binge-drinking would be tackled with a pub ban for persistent offenders. Would raise minimum age for buying knives from 16 to 18.

Immigration/Asylum

Under a Home Office plan, only highly skilled migrants could travel to Britain without a job offer. Others must have arranged a job and must leave at the end of their employment. Workers would be allowed to settle permanently only if they were skilled and passed a "Britishness" test. Successful asylum-seekers would lose the right to stay permanently, with cases reviewed after five years.

ID Cards/Civil Liberties

Ministers argue that national identity cards are essential to safeguard borders and combat crime. They believe "control orders" for terrorist suspects - giving the Home Secretary power to detain them in their homes - are an essential tool for tackling terrorism. Labour also champions legislation banning incitement to religious hatred.

Pensioners

Offer a 13 per cent increase in pension tax credit, which will rise in line with earnings over the next three years. No plans to raise the state retirement age but would offer incentives to work longer. It would give free local, off-peak, bus travel for pensioners and promises to give elderly people more choice over care.

Childcare/New Parents

Plan to extend maternity leave to nine months by 2007, but mothers will be entitled to a full year's paid maternity leave for each new baby by the end of the next parliament. Also promises choice about which parent takes leave. Pledges 3,500 new child centres. Wants to expand free nursery education for children aged three and four, and expand school day care.

Housing/Planning

Pledges to open up surplus public land to housebuilding to create thousands of £60,000 homes for first-time buyers; wants to create another one million homeowners by 2010. Would also offer up to 300,000 council and housing association tenants the chance to buy part of their home. Would spend £500m on public-private funding for local authorities to build homes for rent and sale.

Environment

Has signed up to the Kyoto treaty and established a target to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010. The party says it aims to reduce emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. Promises at least a quarter of household waste will be recycled by 2005-06 and to eliminate fuel poverty by 2010.

Transport

The Government argues it has boosted transport spending, resulting in increased rail and bus use, and has put right the "botched" rail privatisation. It promises some road-building but also plans greater use of car-sharing and road tolls to tackle congestion.

Europe

The party says Britain should be at the heart of Europe. Supports the proposed EU constitution and has promised a referendum on the issue, although timing remains unclear. Supports entry to the single currency "in principle" but any move is dependent on passing Gordon Brown's five economic tests.

Iraq/Defence

The Government staunchly defends invading Iraq. It says Britain should act as "a force for good in the world" to help reduce international conflict and combat terrorism. It says it is transforming the armed forces through the Strategic Defence Review and extra investment, making them more flexible and more easily deployable.

Conservatives

Tax

Have pledged £4bn worth of tax cuts in their first Budget. They say £1.3 bn will be spent on reducing pensioners' council tax bills. The party has yet to announce its other tax plans.

Public Spending

Pledge to spend £12bn less than Labour by 2007-08, and £35bn less than Labour by 2011-12. Would cut or abolish 168 public bodies, axing 235,000 "bureaucratic posts", reform the immigration system and scrap the New Deal scheme for getting the unemployed into work. They say £23bn of the £35bn total savings would be ploughed back into frontline services.

Council Tax

Would create a permanent discount to cut council tax bills for households where all residents are 65 or over by 50 per cent, up to a maximum of £500. The discount would benefit 3.8 million pensioner households in England.

Health

Would end waiting lists by allowing patients to choose any hospital - public or private - providing treatment at NHS prices. They also offer to pay patients half of the NHS rate for an operation if they go to a private hospital which charges more than the NHS, with the patient making up the shortfall. Promises a crackdown on MRSA.

Education

Parents could apply to any school, public or private, within a fixed spending limit. Schools would get full control over admissions and provide 600,000 extra places to give greater choice. Headteachers would have full control over expulsions and powers to impose pupil behaviour contracts. Tuition fees would be abolished but student loans would charge commercial interest rates.

Law and Order

Would recruit 40,000 extra police officers over eight years, funded by slashing the asylum budget. Would axe police paperwork, including recording of "stops". Local crime statistics would be published weekly and "police commissioners" elected locally; 20,000 more prison places would be created and early-release schemes ended. Proposes a ten-fold rise in drug rehabilitation places.

Immigration/Asylum

Propose an Australian-style points system for economic migrants and setting an annual quota for those who are granted asylum. Asylum claims would be processed offshore. Immigrants would face compulsory health checks. Round-the-clock surveillance would be carried out at all major ports and a dedicated new border force set up.

ID Cards/Civil Liberties

Supports ID cards in principle but has worries over the cost and civil liberty implications. Would "reform, replace or repeal" the Human Rights Act, which is "seriously malfunctioning", encouraging a "compenstation culture". Wants "control orders" to be reconsidered.

Pensioners

Pledge to restore the link between pensions and earnings. They say that means that after four years, a single person's pension will be worth £7 a week more, and a couple's £11 more - over and above increases in price inflation. They will fund free long-term residential care, reform annuities, but retain the means-tested pension credit.

Childcare/New Parents

Will match Labour's plans to extend maternity leave, but offer the choice of taking payments over six or nine months, givingup to £169 a week. Offer £50 a week childcare tax credit for each child from 2008-09 for those earning less than £58,000 a year. Promises £10,000 grants to help set up workplace nurseries. Would give subsidies to grandparents who care for at least two children.

Housing/Planning

Would extend the right to buy to more than a million housing association tenants and give all social housing tenants a right to shared ownership. Promise to give social housing tenants discounts on any home, funded by right-to-buy proceeds. Would concentrate new housing on "brownfield sites" and strengthen local authority powers to remove travellers' illegal encampments.

Environment

Back targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Promise to create new incentives to save energy and introduce "cash back" for investment by homeowners by opening up the market in energy-saving work. Would ban GM crops, and offer incentives for "green" fuels. Pledges a Bill to reverse the ban on fox hunting.

Transport

They promise to speed up road repair and widening schemes and to remove speed cameras that are only there to make money. They want the best rail companies to get longer franchises and would use private firms' money to give facelifts to 100 railway stations.

Europe

Oppose the EU constitution and promise an early referendum on the issue. The party pledges to renegotiate Britain's terms of entry to the EU. Fiercely opposes joining the single currency.

Iraq/Defence

Although they supported the Iraq war, they accuse Tony Blair of lying over the intelligence used to justify it. They say they will boost defence spending by £2.7bn, reversing planned cuts to infantry regiments and Type 23 frigates.

Liberal Democrats

Tax

Would create a new 50 per cent top rate of tax for people earning more than £100,000 a year and raise the stamp duty threshold to £150,000. They say they require no other tax rises to pay for their manifesto commitments.

Public Spending

Promise to scrap the Department for Trade and Industry, saving £8.2bn over five years, and will save £2.65bn from the Department for Work and Pensions. Pledge to cut £1.6bn from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and sell off the Royal Mint.

Council Tax

The party promises to scrap the council tax and replace it with a fully-fledged local income tax, which it says will result in cuts in bills for most homes, particularly for pensioners.

Health

Say they would focus on "hidden" diagnostic waiting lists and speed up the time taken to carry out tests and scans in order to cut overall waiting times. Promise free personal care for the elderly.

Education

Pledge to abolish Labour's child trust fund and use the £1bn saved to cut class sizes to 20 for pupils aged five to seven. They would abolish "unnecessary" tests and guarantee that maths, English and science are taught by qualified teachers. Would scrap tuition fees and offer £2,000 grants to poorer students. They would guarantee free tuition to degree level at any time in a person's life.

Law and Order

Pledge to recruit 10,000 extra police officers and match Labour commitment to appoint another 20,000 community support officers. The police would be offered the latest technology to reduce form-filling. Antisocial behaviour orders would be overhauled and greater use made of tough community sentences for non-violent offenders.

Immigration/Asylum

Would switch responsibility for asylum from the Home Office to an independent body. Quotas would be set for the amount of immigration allowed based on "the views of the experts in industry and commerce, not an arbitrary political judgement". They would also establish a border force. Asylum-seekers would be allowed to work so they do not have to rely on benefits.

ID Cards/Civil Liberties

Proposes scrapping ID cards, with the money saved being put towards police recruitment. Opposes the Government's plans for "control orders" for terrorist suspects and would replace them with a criminal offence of acts "preparatory to terrorism". Supports the Human Rights Act.

Pensioners

Propose a guaranteed £105 a week basic pension for over-75s to replace the Government's means-tested pension credit under proposals for a new "citizens' pension". Also promise free personal care for the elderly, restoring free dental and eye checks, a targeted "health MoT" to improve screening and free off-peak bus travel.

Childcare/New Parents

Offer new mothers a Maternity Income Guarantee equivalent to the minimum wage of £170 per week for the first six months after birth of their first child as an alternative to statutory maternity pay. Echoes Labour's promise of 3,500 new child centres to extend pre- and after-school care at all schools. Promise to extend nursery care for children aged three and four to four hours a day.

Housing/Planning

Aims to provide 100,000 affordable dwellings through a new Mutual Homes scheme, under which homebuyers purchase shares in a not-for-profit firm which owns their home. Would encourage councils to build homes to rent and give social housing tenants a right to invest in their homes.

Environment

Would ensure Britain achieves its own Kyoto target well before the deadline and establishes a new target of a 20 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010. The long-term target is for a 60 per cent reduction by 2050. Promises tougher building regulations to improve energy efficiency, cut car tax for green vehicles and replace airport taxes with taxes on flights. Backs GM-free zones.

Transport

Would switch cash from road-building to upgrading railways and improving safety in railway stations. Car tax would overhauled to encourage less polluting vehicles and would ultimately be replaced by road charging.

Europe

The party backs the proposed EU constitution and a referendum on the constitutional treaty, but calls for reform of Europe to devolve power to the lowest level. Backs Britain's entry to the euro but would call a referendum on joining the currency.

Iraq/Defence

Opposed Iraq war; wants withdrawal of UK troops by December. They would retain current manning levels in the armed forces and save threatened regiments. They promise to spend more on equipment and housing for the armed forces.

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