NHS Funding: 12th December 2012

Andy Burnham
I think that the hon. Gentleman should withdraw that remark, because there was no reduction in health spending on my watch. I left plans for an increase, as I am about to explain. He illustrates the point that I am making: we are getting half-truths, spin and misrepresentation from Government Members on NHS spending. Indeed, we just got some more, and it is about time that we had a bit more accuracy in the House from them.

The story starts with the 2010 Conservative party manifesto. Let me quote from it:

“We will increase spending on health in real terms every year”.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry)
Absolutely right.

Andy Burnham
Mr Dilnot may be watching; the Minister needs to be careful what she says.

That promise was carried into the coalition agreement, which said:

“We will guarantee”—

guarantee, mind—

“that health spending increases in real terms in each year of the Parliament”.

The Secretary of State has stopped nodding; he was nodding earlier. [Interruption.] I will be interested to hear how the Conservatives make those claims stack up, because week after week, Ministers from the Prime Minister downwards have stood at the Dispatch Box and claimed that that is exactly what they have delivered.

Until recently, this appeared prominently on the Conservative party website:

“We have increased the NHS budget in real terms in each of the last two years”.

Then, on 23 October, the Secretary of State said to the House:

“Real-terms spending on the NHS has increased across the country.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 815.]

[Interruption.] “It has”, he says again today. Okay, but this is where the story changes, because last week, he received a letter from the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Andrew Dilnot CBE. Let me quote the key sentence, which puts Mr Dilnot and the Secretary of State at odds, if I heard the Secretary of State correctly a moment ago:

“On the basis of these figures, we would conclude that expenditure on the NHS in real terms was lower in 2011-12 than it was in 2009-10.”​

[Interruption.] I am coming on to it all. In other words, NHS spending is lower, in real terms, after the first two years of the coalition, than when Labour left office.

Mr Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con)
Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the next sentence says:

“Given the small size of the changes and the uncertainties associated with them, it might also be fair to say that real terms expenditure had changed little over this period”?

Andy Burnham
Let me say to the Chair of the Health Committee that today I am challenging the veracity of ministerial statements made at the Dispatch Box. I am sure that as a former Secretary of State with many years’ experience of the House, he will know that when Ministers are at the Dispatch Box, they have to be accurate; they have to say the truth. A moment ago, the Secretary of State for Health said that he and the Conservative party were right to say that NHS spending had increased in real terms. That directly contradicts the letter that the Secretary of State had just been sent. Is it any wonder that the public are losing trust in the Government if that is the kind of arrogant spin that comes from those on the Government Benches, week after week?

Mr Dorrell
Andy Burnham
I give way to the right hon. Gentleman once more, but then I will make some progress.

Mr Dorrell
Is it fair to characterise the letter as saying that

“real terms expenditure had changed little over this period”?

Andy Burnham
That is what the letter says, but it is a cut; that is what the letter says. The right hon. Gentleman might say that, in the context of the NHS budget, £1.9 billion is not very much, but it is still a change, and it is a cut. He stood for election on a manifesto promising a real-terms increase. He has just acknowledged that there has been a real-terms cut. Does he acknowledge that there has been a real-terms cut? I think he will have to. I am amazed; the Conservatives come here today to try to con the public, yet again, into thinking that they are fulfilling their promise.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab)
I enjoy every moment in which a blow is landed on the Government; they squirm and try to come back. Will my right hon. Friend comment on how much of the budget is being thrown away and wasted on top-down reorganisation, redundancy payments and everything else that is going on?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)
We need short interventions. There are a lot of Members who wish to speak. I am a little bothered by the comments made; I am sure that the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) did not want to suggest that the Prime Minister conned people.

Andy Burnham
I am coming to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), because the context is that £1.6 billion, on the Government’s own figures, was spent on the back office, and taken away from the front line. The Chair of the Select Committee says that the cut was a ​little one, as though that is okay—“It’s really an increase, because it’s only a little cut”—but one has to add £1.6 billion to that to see the full extent of the diversion of funds from the NHS front line.

As the chair of the UK Statistics Authority has established, NHS spending was lower in the first two years of this coalition than when Labour left office. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that it is the same. Let us have some honesty here. Mr Dilnot says that it was a cut; accept what he says, and get on with the job. If the Secretary of State starts being a bit more honest at the Dispatch Box, he might get a bit more respect from the public.

The Prime Minister has cut the NHS—fact; but just as he airbrushed his poster, he has tried to airbrush the statistics, and he has been found out. To be fair, the Conservatives admitted it and corrected the Tory party website, but the problem is that we have a long list of similarly false claims made in the House that, as of now, stand uncorrected. Today, we invite the Secretary of State to correct the parliamentary record in person.

I am not surprised to see a few sheepish looks on the Conservative Benches, because we have been checking Conservative Members’ websites, and we found that the hon. Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), and for Hendon (Dr Offord), the hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Stephen Phillips), and the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham)—

Anna Soubry
They are sheep, are they?