Treasury Secretary Liam Byrne has been accused bluntly of misleading voters about the damage to public services caused by planned Government cuts, by a senior Labour backbencher.
The Birmingham MP came under fire as he insisted Labour could cut public spending by £38 billion without harming schools, hospitals and other services.
In a heated Commons hearing, Staffordshire MP Tony Wright (Lab Cannock Chase) compared him to a surgeon refusing to tell the truth to a patient.
The session became increasingly stormy as Dr Wright told Mr Byrne his claims were “not logical” and “cannot be honest”.
Mr Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill) was giving evidence to the Commons Public Administration Committee, chaired by Dr Wright, which is conducting an inquiry into the effects of the recession on public services.
The Government has set out plans to cut the Treasury’s massive budget deficit by £82 billion within four years.
It is planning to increase taxes by £19 billion and cut spending by £38 billion, and argues that the remaining £25 billion will come from natural economic growth as the banking crisis ends.
But Dr Wright insisted it was not possible to take so much money out of the economy without damaging public services.
He said: “It’s just not logical to say we can have the biggest fiscal squeeze of modern times and it will do no damage to public services. That’s just not logical, is it?”
Mr Byrne retorted: “No, I think there’s a flaw in your logic.”
The Birmingham MP said one example was the Government’s plans to impose public sector pay rises “of either zero or under one per cent” for the next four years, which he said was possible because pay for workers such as teachers had already increased dramatically over the past ten years,
But Dr Wright said: “It cannot be honest to say you can do that and have no effect on public services. It’s just not possible, is it? Why not just say there will be pain? There will be difficulty?”
Mr Byrne told him: “There will be a degree of pain. But I do not think it damages your ability to deliver good public services.”
Dr Wright claimed that both the Government and the Conservative opposition were “cheating the electorate”. He added: “It’s like a surgeon who says to a patient, shall I cut your leg off today or tomorrow. And the patient wants to know why are you taking the leg off, is it going to hurt and how long the pain will be.”
Later, he told Mr Byrne that independent experts who had talked to the committee had all contradicted the Government’s position.
He said: “It is funny that everyone, to a man and a woman that we have had in front of us over these last few weeks, experts from everywhere, the Audit Commission, National Audit Office, independent commentators, everybody, have broadly given an account of events that leads to a conclusion other than yours. Isn’t that striking?”
Mr Byrne replied: “No I don’t think it is.”
Conservative Shadow Chancellor this week highlighted Tory plans to cut public spending and promised to publish detailed proposals for every department by the autumn, if the Tories win the forthcoming general election.
Labour argues cuts are needed, but says the Tories would threaten the recovery by making cuts this year instead of waiting until next year.