Spending on government departments had risen by £2bn since Labour came to power and civil servant numbers were to increase for the first time in years, the Tories said yesterday.
William Hague, the Tory leader, accused the Government of spending money on "pen-pushers, not police, bureaucrats, not teachers, and spin-doctors, not real doctors". This would be the first year in a quarter of a century when the number of civil servants went up and the cost of running the Department of Trade and Industry alone was rising by £114m over three years, Mr Hague said at question time.
Cutting Whitehall is a central part of Tory election strategy. Mr Hague has said a radical reduction in costs could help pay for the party's tax guarantee, under which taxes will be reduced regardless of the state of the economy. But the Government has argued that such policy would inevitably lead to a cut in public spending.
In the Commons Tony Blair dismissed the charges of increased spending as "pathetic", reminding Mr Hague that his party's "short money", which it is entitled to as the official Opposition, had risen threefold. Mr Blair said: "On value-for- money terms, if you are getting three times the amount of short money, you should get better advice than you got than to ask these questions again."
Mr Blair accused Mr Hague of running around the country telling people that if a few special advisers were got rid of, he could "rebuild the health service and cut everyone's taxes. The truth ... is, you say you will cut everyone's taxes. You will spend the same amount of money and then you will spend more money on defence and farmers and local government and asylum ... as well," the Prime Minister said.
"The truth of the matter is, this pathetic attempt is because Hague-onomics is beginning to be found out. By the time we get through with them in the next general election, your economic policy will be in ruins along with your party," Mr Blair added.
He claimed the moral high ground over the recent asylum dispute, pledging that Britain should always be willing to honour its "noble tradition" of taking in asylum-seekers genuinely fleeing persecution. "It is important that we recognise that this is a problem we need to deal with; we are dealing with it, but it should be dealt with in a reasonable, responsible and tolerant manner. There is a duty on all of us to treat this issue responsibly, not to inflame it or exploit it.
"We need to tackle the abuses of the system - we are - but we should never turn our backs on those fleeing persecution and we should never put at risk our reputation as a tolerant multiracial society; we should be proud of it."
The matter was raised by Gerald Kaufman, Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, who praised the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, for allowing right of entry to Britain to a 13-year-old Kurdish boy who, he said, fled to Manchester from the "murderous" Iraqi regime. Mr Kaufman asked the Prime Minister: "Which do you regard as preferable: that that boy should have been allowed to await the asylum decision with his elder brother, who already has refugee status, or whether he should have been put in a prison camp, as proposed by the Leader of the Opposition?"Reuse content