Liberal Democrats accused the Government of "a cruel deception" over MG Rover, as they launched their election manifesto.

They said it was right to support MG Rover as long as there was a chance it could be saved, but this looked increasingly unlikely.

Lib Dem Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable said yesterday: "For the Government to be creating expectations that a resucue is in the offing is quite cruel and unfair."

They backed funding for training and regeneration in the region through the Rover Task Force, and help for individuals who lost their jobs, he said.

The centrepiece of the Lib Dem manifesto was a promise to make 15 million people better off by scrapping the council tax.

Party leader Charles Kennedy claimed the Lib Dems were the "real alternative" in the election campaign, describing Labour and the Conservatives as the " statusquo" parties.

The 20-page manifesto, published in the format of a tabloid newspaper, also called for British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year.

The proposed abolition of the council tax is the most high-profile of the Lib Dem pledges, and the party has run a long campaign using the slogan "axe the tax".

The party is proposing to introduce a new local income tax instead.

It would be set by local councils, although Lib Dems say they expect the average rate to be around 3.75 per cent.

For a person earning £21,949, average full-time pay, this would come to £645, below average council tax levels.

Mr Kennedy predicted that the new levy would prove popular with voters.

He said: "Our local income tax, that will replace the unfair council tax, is a taxcutting measure.

"Its overall burden will be less than the overall burden of the council tax."

Figures released later by the party confirmed that the amount raised by the local income tax would be £2.4 billion less than comes from the council tax now.

The shortfall would be funded from the party's proposed new 50 per cent tax rate on incomes over £100,000.