Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Sunday, 5 July 2009 15:58 UK

Hutton calls for spending honesty

John Hutton
John Hutton stepped down as defence secretary in the reshuffle

Voters expect honesty from politicians about public spending, former cabinet minister John Hutton has said.

While it was difficult to be precise about figures years ahead people knew things were going to be tight, he said.

Labour says the Tories are planning 10% cuts, while the Tories say Labour are not being honest about their own plans.

Shadow business secretary Ken Clarke told Sky News it was "absurd" to pretend "every single item of public spending" was essential to recovery.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are under pressure to spell out what spending cuts will be needed to rebalance the public finances and reduce public debt.

'Dishonesty' row

Last week Tory leader David Cameron suggested there was a "thread of dishonesty" in Gordon Brown's premiership and said he refused to acknowledge that the Treasury's own figures forecast a fall in total spending after 2011.

Mr Brown told the BBC he "always told the truth" and warned politicians against making "personal attacks".

There have been reports some cabinet ministers are unhappy with fighting a general election on a platform of investment versus "Tory cuts" and believe the government should be more upfront about the economic challenges.

'If they continue with this huge deficit, at some stage our national credit rating will collapse'

Mr Hutton - one of several ministers to leave the cabinet in the recent reshuffle - said he believed the government had been clear about its priorities but said the debate had "to deepen a little bit".

"I don't think you can go on saying we can continue to spend as if nothing has happened in the last year or so - people know something big time has changed," he told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show.

"Politicians have got to lead that debate and be clear with people about what's happening," he said.

"People are much more grown up than we often assume, they understand there's a change coming, they want to be clear about what the priorities are."

'Absurd' argument

Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke accused the government of "shutting down" debate on exactly where cuts might fall, accusing it of "cancelling" its spending review because it was "politically convenient" to do so.

"We need some options put before us and some proposals put before Parliament," he told Sky News.

"To go on the basis that nothing's changed, to argue as the prime minister argues that every item of public spending at the moment is an essential part of our economic recovery is absurd.

All of us are going to have to make our choices, all of us are going to have to set our priorities and the public will judge
Alistair Darling

"They should have a spending review then we, as a responsible opposition, would have to respond to it."

Former Tory PM Sir John Major told the BBC if public spending was not cut significantly, the standard rate of income tax may have to rise by 5p.

He said the 50p tax rate on high earners announced in the Budget would provide "relative petty cash compared to what will be needed".

"You may well get 5p on the standard rate, you may well get VAT at 20%.

Speaking to Sky News, Alistair Darling was asked if he was one of the ministers advising Mr Brown to level with voters on the economic problems.

He replied: "Gordon and I have many discussions and both of us are absolutely clear our priority now is to build our economy, to resume with great vigour the drive to make sure this is happening in other parts of the world because our future depends on that."

He said all political parties would have to "set out our stalls" before the next election.

"I am very clear that things like education, health, transport, these are important matters. But as I have said time and time again, all of us are going to have to make our choices, all of us are going to have to set our priorities and the public will judge."



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