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The Deputy Prime Minister: There are 20,000 post offices in the country and 19,000 of them are in private ownership. That is nothing to do with the Government.

Mr. Prescott: The right hon. Gentleman understands the point that I am trying to make. The Cabinet discussion was not about corner-shop post offices, for God's sake; it was about the Royal Mail and the Post Office as we know it and about how services can be guaranteed and expanded. That is clear in people's minds.

We agree that the Government can get a proportion of the necessary funds from private finances and we have made it clear that a Labour Government will not increase either the basic or the top rate of income tax. With the exception of our windfall levy on privatised utilities, Labour's spending plans do not involve any extra taxation.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I heard the right hon. Gentleman saying two totally different things: first, that income tax rates would remain as they are and secondly that there would be no other increases in taxation. I want to be absolutely clear that that is what he said. As I understand it, the only pledges that have been given involve income tax rates.

Mr. Prescott: We will not increase the income tax rates, including the top rate. The Deputy Prime Minister talks about allowances and other matters, but past Chancellors, the present Chancellor and the Prime Minister have always made it clear that they do not give details of changes before a Budget. That applies as much to us as to the Chancellor and the Government.

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is saying that every other tax level is up for grabs under a Labour Government.

Mr. Prescott: Let me quote the Chancellor, because this is precisely our position. He said:

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    That is the position of the Government, the Chancellor, and of anyone with any sense. We have made clear, and the Deputy Prime Minister was fair enough to repeat it, exactly what our position is.

Mr. French: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prescott: No, I must wind up; I have been far too long. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Perhaps I should wind up on that point.

We have put forward our proposals, we have costed them carefully and we have indicated our priorities. We have made it clear that the release of capital receipts from the sale of council houses will provide self-financing expenditure for improving housing stock. We have said that the money allocated from the windfall levy will go on jobs and skills for 250,000 people. As soon as they take office, a Labour Government would need to audit the Treasury. The Deputy Prime Minister made great play of that, but it is only right that we should do it because we cannot believe half the figures that we have been given. It is fair to say that there should be an audit.

Mr. Waldegrave rose--

Mr. Prescott: I am going to go on.

The Tories tell us that spending limits can be met without raising taxes. None of our pledges requires higher taxes other than the windfall levy to create jobs. In government, we will cut out the waste, inefficiency and wrong priorities in the £300 billion Tory spending bill to meet Labour's priorities.

Mr. Waldegrave rose--

Mr. Prescott: No, I am going to carry on.

As a start, we will use our windfall levy on the privatised utilities to put 250,000 unemployed young people back to work. We think that that is a top priority and we intend to implement it. That will release resources to invest in education and front-line services, instead of increased public expenditure on the welfare bills of failure. Other spending plans will be paid for by re-ordering existing priorities. The bureaucracy in the health service--

Mr. Waldegrave rose--

Mr. Prescott: I have gone on too long. The right hon. Gentleman agreed with me when I said earlier that I would sit down.

On education, we have made it clear that we will cut class sizes to 30 for six and seven-year-olds, financed by abolition of the assisted places scheme. All those arguments were heard during the Wirral by-election. People there gave their judgment. Their message to the Government is: enough is enough and time is up. Soon the people of the whole country will judge us in a general election. What we say today will be judged in that election. This debate, called by the Government to deal with Opposition policy, will only confirm the view of most people that they have had enough of this Government and want a Labour Government to take their place.

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6.32 pm

Mr. David Hunt (Wirral, West): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on a brilliant speech. He set out the ingredients of a winning general election campaign. The economic figures were remarkably robust. Many of us cannot recall such consistently good economic figures for a generation. That would be thrown away if there were a change of Government. He also exposed the inadequacies of the Opposition, which were exemplified by the speech of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). We had some fun with him, particularly when he departed from the script carefully prepared for him by my long-standing friend, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson).

Now and again, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East assumed virtual reality, especially in a series of comments in which he said that, while the Government may have targets, the reality remains the same. He never sought to answer a point that fills me with anger. We may laugh at him, but what he said could be serious for the country.

The right hon. Gentleman is trying to pretend that he could walk into a position--we are not sure which--in a Labour Government, were Labour to win, and--against the background of the policies that he set out--would be able to stop the country falling into the economic ruin it fell into under the previous Labour Government. Last time, things were so bad that the Labour party then failed to win a general election for 23 years.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Wirral by-election, but the last Wirral by-election was 21 years ago next week. Before my constituency was split into Wirral, South and Wirral, West, there was a by-election. He kept referring to the Wirral by-election, so I shall tell him what happened at it.

The country was in a serious economic mess. The Labour Government had inherited unemployment of 500,000, and trebled it to nearly 1.5 million, without tackling any of the economy's deep-seated problems. Inflation was rising fast towards 30 per cent. That was why Labour changed the link for pensioners from prices to earnings. It was done not to increase pensions, but so that pensioners would not get the increases they should have got for prices that were roaring ahead. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman could desist from calling me a twit--

Mr. Prescott: It was said by another hon. Member.

Mr. Hunt: I heard the right hon. Gentleman.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. I think that that proves my point about the valuelessness of seated interventions.

Mr. Hunt: The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has not sought to answer a point raised during the Wirral, South by-election makes me especially angry. I remember the Wirral by-election, because I remember the state of the country at the time. However, during the Wirral, South by-election, he went on the BBC's "Close Up North" programme. He has not responded to the question that was put to him, but I am willing to give way at any stage of this analysis. His only comment in his speech in

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discussing free eyesight and dental tests was that Labour would present the electorate with its priorities on public expenditure. He did not seek to explain the context of his remark on television, but merely referred to Labour's public expenditure priorities.

In his last general election manifesto, the right hon. Gentleman said that he would restore free eye tests and dental checks. I am sure that the member of the audience who put the question knew the right hon. Gentleman's track record: that he had always fought for that right--not an aim, but a right, a restoration.

For the sake of accuracy, I have managed to get a transcript. I have a video of this programme, and I offer the right hon. Gentleman the opportunity to watch it. I have not found many takers for such an opportunity. I would be happy for him to see it, because he would see that his body language could have left no one in the audience in any doubt what he was saying. The audience member asked:

The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East answered:

    "Yes. I think it should be a right."

Not an aim, a right. He went on:

    "You've got to find the money to finance it".

If I had heard the so-called deputy leader of the Labour party say on live television, "You've got to find the money to finance it," I would have concluded that he was trying to communicate to the electorate of Wirral, South that the money would be found to finance it. That would not have been an unfair analysis. I feel very angry indeed that, following that broadcast, the Labour party issued a statement saying that the right hon. Gentleman

    "gave no such spending commitment: the Tories have deliberately misquoted him."

I am a devotee of the election manifesto of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. I have a copy here. I saw him shake his head when my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said that the right hon. Gentleman had pledged a statutory minimum wage of about £3.40 an hour. He shook his head and said no. Under the headings "Labour's Way" and "The Economy", alongside some pretty pictures--if I can describe them as such--of the right hon. Gentleman, his manifesto refers to

    "a statutory minimum wage of about £3.40 an hour."

The right hon. Gentleman cannot continue to have it both ways. He promises the electorate in his manifesto and promises the electors of Wirral, South one thing, and then comes to the Dispatch Box and says the opposite. If he had wanted to make sure that the electors of Wirral, South and the people watching that television programme knew exactly the position, he could have said, "By the way, this proposal is not in our early manifesto."

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