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Public Expenditure

Volume 887: debated on Tuesday 25 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will publish a White Paper setting out in detail the effects of the latest cuts in public expenditure by her Department.

No, Sir. I am not aware of any cuts of the kind the hon. Gentleman seems to have in mind.

Does not the right hon. Lady think that it is about time she took the country into her confidence about the cuts which are being made piecemeal in such projecs as St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington and hospitals in Birmingham and Leeds? Does she not think that it is about time she joined the ranks of her colleagues who are trying to spell out to those who are responsible for much of our inflation that every fresh breach of the social contract means less money for the nation's health and welfare services?

I merely say to the hon. Gentleman that I think it ill becomes any Conservative Member to use the word "cuts" about the future prospects of my Department. That is the suggestion that is coming from supporters of the then Tory Government which instituted the cuts of December 1973 and reduced my public expenditure programme for health and personal social services by £138 million. Conservative Members have no right to try to give the impression that we are facing cuts in my Department. In the current year we have already restored £100 million worth of that reduced expenditure. Some of it has been restored in national health services. It is true that we have said—and we must continue to say—that the growth in the expenditure of my Deparment can only be modest over the years ahead if we are to get on top of our economic difficulties. None the less, it would be misleading to suggest that there was anything but growth.

Why should we have any cuts at all in public expenditure, whether in my right hon. Friend's Department or any other Department, while the Cabinet and the Government can seemingly find approximately £250,000 to satisfy the Queen?

My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that that is not within the scope either of my Department or of the Question before the House. I must tell him that I am thinking in terms of expenditure in my Department of much more than £200,000.

In real terms, has the expenditure for which the right hon. Lady's Department is responsible been maintained or reduced?

The expenditure for my Department, as the White Paper on Public Expenditure makes clear, reveals a situation of steady growth. [Interruption.] Oh yes, it is a position of real growth in real terms. This is an extremely important point. The figures I have given are based on real terms. Already this year the Government have added £600 million in Supplementary Estimates for my Department to cover the increases in pay and prices, and the inflation-proofing of the expenditure on the National Health Service which we have introduced, along with the marked improvement in the pay of the people working for the Service, has done a very great deal to restore the flagging morale of the NHS which I inherited.