Leaks show cuts cover-up, says Cameron

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Leaked Treasury documents show Gordon Brown engaged in a long-term "cover-up" of plans to cut public spending, Tory leader David Cameron said today.

Internal figures marked "confidential", obtained by the Opposition, suggested reductions of almost 10 per cent were under discussion as long ago as the Budget in April.

The Prime Minister has consistently sought to portray the debate about public spending as between Labour investment versus Tory cuts.

He used the word "cuts" for the first time in a speech to the TUC in Liverpool yesterday but Mr Cameron said he had previously misled the public.

"Wednesday after Wednesday, the Prime Minister stood up in the House of Commons and repeated the line that the coming battle was between Labour investment on the one hand and Tory cuts on the other," he said at his regular press conference.

"All those words have turned to dust and, as I consistently warned week after week, reality has now caught up with our Prime Minister."

He went on: "Gordon Brown was denying something that his own civil servants were telling him was true.

"In this confidential Treasury document, written just five months ago, the Government plans to cut spending on public services over the next four years.

"The tables also reveal that the Labour Government is planning to cut capital expenditure - that is spending on schools, hospitals, roads and other capital projects - over the same period.

"Let me make it clear: they are not wrong to be planning cuts but they are wrong to try to cover up their plans for cuts.

"This is about honesty, it is about trust. This is about not taking people for fools. And on this issue, as I have to say on so many others, the Prime Minister does not seem to have learned."

Mr Cameron said the Tories were being "open" about the need for public spending cuts "whereas the Prime Minister, week after week at Prime Ministers' Questions, said 'This is not the policy of the Government, we won't have 10 per cent cuts' and all the rest of it. And yet here we see in a document very clearly 9.3 per cent cuts in departmental spending".

The Tory leader said he was saying something that had not been said by an opposition leader for 30 or 40 years: "Public spending needs to be cut and will be cut by a Conservative government."

The Tories are following an "ordered process" of identifying which areas of departmental spending would be cut.

Mr Cameron, asked if he was calling the Prime Minister a liar, said: "What he has said is very clear ... he has to explain himself. It seems as if he was saying one thing in Parliament while his Government was planning to do something different.

"The words are there, the document is in your hands, he has to explain whether he was being straight with people or not."

Asked about comments by George Osborne yesterday suggesting major defence projects may not be safe from cuts if the Tories win the next General Election, Mr Cameron said: "He was asked the question, how easy is it in Opposition to get the details of defence contracts, and how much do you know, and what George said in his answer is basically it is very difficult in Opposition to get these details, and you don't know very much, and it is very difficult to find out about these matters.

"That is one of the difficulties we have to overcome in setting out more about public spending, because particularly in the areas of procurement, it is incredibly difficult to get to the bottom of programmes within the defence department."

He added: "It only highlights the need for a proper strategic defence review. We have said we will hold that if we win the election, we will get on and do that very quickly."

The Prime Minister's spokesman insisted Mr Brown "would never mislead Parliament" and said the PM had been "entirely consistent" in saying that no spending plans had been fixed beyond 2010/11 because of the economic uncertainties at home and abroad.

Although Mr Cameron stopped short of branding Mr Brown a liar during his press conference, a document issued at the same time by the party was headed: "Labour's 100 per cent lies about 10 per cent cuts from the mouth of Gordon Brown."

Mr Cameron repeatedly refused to set out detailed cuts his party would implement or whether he would go further than the 9.3 per cent cuts outlined in the document.

But he said: "These are Government plans. We didn't accept their plans in 2009, we don't accept their plans for 2010, we think they are on the wrong path and we would go about those differently."

And he went on: "We will say more, but don't underestimate the progress that we have made already.

"An opposition party, saying from opposition, very clearly, 'No ifs, no buts, if you elect us we are going to have to cut public spending because of the fact the deficit is so bad'.

"I cannot remember an opposition leader ever being that candid and frank about what needs to be done."

The Tories had already set out plans to save money by scrapping ID cards, reducing bureaucracy, abolishing quangos and lowering the cost of politics, Mr Cameron said.

The party had also been clear about the need to get the deficit down, he argued, adding: "That is a world away from the evasion and frankly shiftiness that we have had from the Government - the people who are meant to give a lead in difficult times, who have been playing politics and playing political games rather than squaring up to the British people and saying what needs to be done.

"Even when he (Mr Brown) said the words yesterday it was still the usual - it came after hours of obfuscation."

And Mr Cameron denied charges that his party was looking forward to making cuts, saying: "The Labour line at the moment seems to be that somehow we are salivating or excited.

"It's just rubbish. Nobody wants to reduce public spending."

He went on: "The reason we are having to cut public spending is because it's the right thing to do for the country, because the size of the deficit is so out of control.

"There is no relish in doing this, but politics is about telling the truth about the big decisions that need to be made and trying to take the country with you.

"That's what needs to be done. That's what the Prime Minister needs to do."

The PM's spokesman would not comment on the leaked document, saying there were "a number of documents that would be around that would have within them assumptions at various stages of the planning process".

He told reporters: "The most important point is that there are no plans for departmental spending beyond the current spending review period.

"The fact that there remain uncertainties about both the global and the British economy makes it difficult clearly to make further predictions.

"But we are entering, and I think that was the point the Prime Minister was making yesterday, a very different public spending climate."

Asked whether Mr Brown had misled Parliament, he said: "The Prime Minister has been entirely consistent in what he has said about the spending review and the implications of the spending review. He also set out yesterday in his speech to the TUC the broad parameters within which any decisions will be made."

Pressed to respond directly to the Tory "lies" claims, he said: "He has given the House of Commons the information that has been required in answer to questions."

Asked again, he said: "It is an obvious statement that the Prime Minister would never mislead Parliament, clearly."

He said plans "across the whole piece" would be set out "when the right time comes, which will be around the time of the PBR (Pre-Budget Report)".

But he would not be drawn on whether that meant the delayed Comprehensive Spending Review would be carried out prior to the autumn mini-budget.

"The decision on a Comprehensive Spending Review is a question for the Chancellor."