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Last Updated: Monday, 18 June 2007, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Blair seeking 'permanent' reform
Tony Blair
Tony Blair pictured at a previous appearance before the committee
Tony Blair has called for a "permanent revolution" in public service reform to meet the public's "high expectations".

He told MPs he believes there should be "self-sustaining and self-generating" change in schools and hospitals.

Mr Blair was speaking during his final appearance as prime minister before the House of Commons liaison committee.

He spoke of frustration at "forces of conservatism" in public sector unions who end up competing "over who can flag up the most resistance to change".

It is a myth that we have somehow said we would not bother with Parliament any more - it is just not correct
Tony Blair
Prime minister

But he also admitted he had not done enough to praise public sector workers and make the case for change.

"Sometimes we say it and it doesn't get heard, but we need to do more," Mr Blair told the committee.

Mr Blair also questioned "whether the pace and scale of change has happened fast enough in certain areas".

In health, criminal justice and parts of the education system "it has only been in the last two years, three years that we have really been pushing things forward with the vigour I now think it is absolutely essential to do", said Mr Blair.

'Sofa government'

Mr Blair, who steps down as PM next week, has faced the committee - made up of chairmen of the select committees - twice a year since 2002.

On Lord Butler's criticisms of Mr Blair's informal style of government, Mr Blair said the former cabinet secretary had only been in his job for the first eight months after Labour came to power.

He said he did not recognise the description of "sofa" government from Lord Butler, who used the term after he later headed an inquiry into the quality and use of pre-Iraq war intelligence on weapons of mass destruction.

"Over the past years, it just wouldn't be correct to say there isn't a proper functioning Cabinet government," he said.

"I mean, there's - I don't know - 50 different Cabinet committees. I chair only 16 of them.

"All of the major public service reforms we've done in the last few years have been not just through Cabinet committees but Cabinet itself, with detailed discussion on it."

Mr Blair added: "I don't believe, having done this job, I am the first prime minister that has also discussed issues with a few people who work closely with me, or with individual Cabinet ministers.

"It is true there is a sofa in my study but that can not be a huge innovation either."

He said it was "perfectly natural" to have discussions with special advisers but policy development had been led by individual departments - including in controversial areas such as nuclear power.

Debate

He also denied sidelining Parliament during his 10 years in power despite having the worst voting record of any recent prime minister.

He said he had been questioned more by MPs than his predecessors and opened himself up to scrutiny by the liaison committee.

"It is a myth that we have somehow said we would not bother with Parliament any more. It is just not correct."

But he added "we need to look at more innovative ways of having a debate", saying there was "too little" discussion of ideas in modern politics.

He said that prime minister's questions was "politics as theatre".

'Elected mayors'

He also cautioned against a fully elected House of Lords, saying politics would benefit from people with "wider experience" entering Parliament.

He also backed a further shake-up of local government, telling MPs he believed "we will eventually have elected mayors in most of our big cities", adding they should be given more power over public spending.

He is being questioned about a range of domestic and international issues during the 90 minute session, including the situation in Iraq and this week's EU summit.


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