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Government Running Costs

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:39 pm on 18th January 2000.

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Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office 7:39 pm, 18th January 2000

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: notes that, compared to the previous administration, the costs of central Government have not risen in real terms, and have indeed fallen; supports the progress made by this Government in cleaning up politics and rebuilding the bond of trust with the British people, broken through the failures of the previous administration; welcomes the Government's actions to improve democratic accountability; endorses the inclusive approach to policymaking of the Modernising Government agenda, which involves more people from all walks of life; welcomes the improvement in standards in public life; and agrees, with the Sixth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that 'special advisers have a valuable role to play.'. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has painted an extraordinary picture. Few hon. Members would recognise it as an accurate or fair account of the way in which the Government have started to reduce costs and improve accountability in political life. It is a sham and a farce to peddle the notion that this Government are less accountable and less open than the previous Administration.

The hon. Gentleman referred in a cavalier fashion to perceptions; I shall deal in reality now, and answer some of the arguments that he has attempted to make.

The hon. Gentleman argued that costs have risen. I have just listened to figures produced by the Opposition that could exist only in a fantasy land—just like last Sunday's claim by the Leader of the Opposition that the total cost of running Whitehall has risen by £1,000 million in the past two years and that he would cut that to fund his health spending plans. That is not the real world. Those figures are ludicrous: they take no account of inflation—of the running costs of wages and of materials that people use in their work every day.

The real figures show that administration costs have fallen in real terms compared with those of the previous Government. We are spending less than the last Government on Whitehall bureaucracy. Spending was higher when the Conservatives were in power, yet they now say that they would make cuts in public services. We all know where those cuts would fall. The Conservatives would scrap the working families tax credit, the new deal and the national minimum wage; they would undermine child benefit and cut help for pensioners. Those are the first real cuts that they would make.

The hon. Gentleman argued that the Conservative party would make a difference in the health service. Would they make as big a difference as we did in the first year, with £21 billion announced for NHS spending? [Interruption.] In the first year, we announced a spending figure of £21 billion. I shall go on to give the figures for the second and third years, if Conservative Members will give me a break.

Spending on NHS bureaucracy has been reduced, and spending on front-line patient care has increased. We have done away with the two-tier system and, under the primary care system, patients' voices will be heard. We have started the building that will continue in the second year with the money that was announced in the first year. It will go on 37 new hospitals, the £100 payments towards winter fuel bills, free eye tests and increases in child benefit. Those changes have been made: they, and not the Opposition's perceptions, are the reality.

The hon. Gentleman's second argument is that special advisers are a drain on the public purse. I am sorry that he disagrees, as he made it very clear, with Lord Neill, who said last week in his sixth report that special advisers have a valuable role to play. Sir Richard Wilson, head of the civil service, has said that he does not think that the senior civil service—who number about 3,500 or 3,600—is in danger of being swamped by 70 special advisers; he does not regard what is happening as creeping politicisation.