HC Deb 29 April 1897 vol 48 cc1258-60

The estimated expenditure of the past year was £100,046,000; supplementary Estimates, £2,279,000—making a total of £102,325,000; but there were savings amounting to £848,000, so that the total Exchequer issues were £101,477,000, or £1,431,000 more than I estimated. Of this increase, £799,000 was advanced to the Egyptian Government on account of the Dongola expedition, which, as the Committee knows, will bear interest; £145,000 was due to the expenses of the Indian garrison at Suakin, and the balance of £487,000 was due to increase in the Army, Navy, and Education Votes. I do not want to preach a sermon on economy; I attempted that to a small extent last year; but I am afraid I must say that of all the spending Departments at the present moment, I fear the House of Commons is the worst—[cheers and laughter]—and until the want of economy or the want of trying to save leads us to increased taxation, I fear we shall see no change. The increase in. our expenditure since. 1892–93 has been over 12 per cent.; the increase in our revenues since that time, apart from fresh taxation, has only been nine per cent. ["Hear, hear!"] In five years our Navy expenses have gone up 40 per cent.—[cheers]—the expenses of Education have gone up 43 per cent. [Cheers.] Both these kinds of expenditure are very popular and, in my belief, very necessary—[cheers]—but I must own to some feeling of doubt whether, quite apart from all the differences that we discuss so much here as to denominational and undenominational questions, our system of elementary education is such as to give the nation the best value for its money. [Cheers.] After deducting the Exchequer issues from the revenue there was a surplus in the last year of £2,473,000. As the Committee are aware, that has been devoted to the purposes of the Military Works Act of this Session, preventing an increase of new debt instead of reducing the old debt. The result will be, as the Naval Works Act of last year has also done, to augment the balances in the Exchequer. The balances in the Exchequer on April 1, 1896, amounted to a sum considerably above the average— namely, £8,975,000. On the corresponding date this year they amounted to £9,867,00. This increase was due, of course, to the fact that, the Admiralty did not spend as much of the surplus of 1895–96 during the year as was anticipated. That surplus was £4,210,000; of this only £1,765,000 has been appropriated, leaving £2,445,000 still available, and, of course, the temporary augmentation of the Exchequer balances has enabled us to dispense temporarily with borrowing for other capital accounts. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean has more than once asked for a statement of naval and military expenditure which would include expenditure on capital account with the expenditure from revenue. I have not been able to frame any trustworthy estimates of the expenditure on capital account by the Admiralty or the War Office for the coming year, because so much of this work, at any rate of the naval works, is of a character that no one can accurately foresee. Take last year, A year ago the Admiralty took powers to expend 2¾ millions under the Naval Works Act, and, as a matter of fact, only £898,000 has been issued. It is clear that the estimate was entirely wrong. Work in the construction of docks, or harbours, or breakwaters, or under water depends so much on weather and seasons and other things which cannot be anticipated, that it is impossible to frame a trustworthy estimate. But I can give the right hon. Gentleman some account of the past two years. In 1895–96 the War Office expended on capital account under the Military Forces Localisation Act, £6,000, under the Imperial Defence Act £65,000, under the Barracks Act £549,000, making a total of £620,000. That, added to the expenditure from revenue in the same year, amounted to an expenditure of £19,091,000. Last year there was expended under the Barracks Act £420,000, under the Military Works Act £80,000, and that, added to the expenditure from revenue, amounted to £18,770,000. The naval expenditure under the Naval Works Act in 1895–96 amounted to £721,000, making a total of £20,358,000 for that year. Last year there was issued under the same Act £898,000, making a total of £23,068,000. Even in this account I am afraid the accounts for the year just ended are not yet accurately closed.