HC Deb 30 April 1919 vol 115 cc180-2
The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

I come now to the current year. I do not propose to enter into any details of the expenditure of the year. The Estimates have been presented and there are more fitting opportunities to discuss the matter, but there are one or two observations I should like to make about them. In the first place, large as the Estimates are, they are less than 50 per cent. of the Estimates of last year, and well under 50 per cent. of what would have had to be provided if the War were still going on, and what, under such circumstances, we should have provided without complaint, and I think with very little difficulty.

Secondly, the Estimates are not Estimates for a normal year. The year is wholly abnormal. The Estimates for the fighting Services are admittedly so. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War could not contemplate normal Army Estimates of £440,000,000 gross and £287,000,000 nett. So, too, with the Civil Service. A great deal of criticism was aroused by the presentation of such large Civil Estimates, but, as my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury has already explained, the comparison which was made with the Estimates of last year was wholly misleading. For in this year we are dispensing with Votes of Credit. The increase therefore as compared with last year is apparent only, and due to the provision in the ordinary Votes for charges which have hitherto been borne in Votes of Credit. Moreover, a very large part of these Estimates, approximately £275,000,000 out of a total sum of £495,000,000, is due to expenditure on temporary charges arising out of the War. I think the Committee was of opinion that it was right that Votes of Credit should be terminated at the earliest possible moment, and responding to that view, freely expressed in the last Parliament, and to the undertaking of my predecessor that it should be done, if it were possible, we have formulated ordinary Estimates instead of Votes of Credit in the current year. But I am sure that the Committee will recognise the extraordinary difficulty of estimating under such circumstances as the present, and will not expect from us, or hold us to, that accuracy which it is the pride both of the spending and other Departments to achieve in normal years. Already I have to make additions to the Estimates which have been presented which will not surprise Members who have followed what has been happening. Since the Estimates were published it has been necessary to assume new obligations for loans to our Allies to the amount of £28,000,000. There are liabilities of £20,000,000, as explained by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to-day, in respect of coal. Further, unemployment benefit has been extended for a further period, though at reduced rates, and I have to provide £8,000,000 additional for that purpose. Then, I have to provide out of the Consolidated Fund capital for Loan expenditure under the Land Settlement Bill, and I estimate it for the current year at £5,000,000. Finally, there is an additional Civil Service war bonus, under the recent award of the Arbitration Board, which may cost us another £4,000,000 in the course of the year. I must, therefore, allow in my calculation for an excess of at least £65,000,000 on the Estimates as at present presented.

The only other item of expenditure with which I need deal is the Debt Charge. I put this at £360,000,000, of which £29,800,000 will be required for services within the Fixed Debt Charge, and the balance of £330,200,000 for services outside that Charge, including the new borrowing to be effected during the year. Under present circumstances, and so long as borrowing must continue, I cannot make provision for a Sinking Fund. The total expenditure for the current year, after allowing for the additional expenditure which I have just described, will be £1,434,910,000.