HC Deb 09 December 1920 vol 135 cc2491-3

There will be, therefore, a great variation in detail from the Estimates which I presented. The Budget estimate of expenditure was £1,418,300,000, of which I think the House should remember that the big figure of £234,000,000 is not expenditure in the ordinary sense, but repayment of debt. The actual estimate of expenditure in the ordinary sense was £1,184,300,000, which included a sum of £20,000,000 for Supplementary Estimates to be presented in the course of the year. Supplementary Estimates have already been presented for sums required by the Civil Service over and above this amount to the extent of £10,000,000, by the Navy and Air Force to the extent of £8,000,000.

I pause for the moment to respond to the invitation of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Lambert). With the knowledge of an old Admiralty hand he examined some of the Admiralty figures, and he said with perfect truth that there was no justification for the numbers employed in the dockyards to-day except the desire of the Government to mitigate instead of increase the problem of the out of work. That is quite true. It illustrates one of our difficulties. There are to-day, I think, 16,000 more men in the dockyards and 17,000 more men in the arsenals and similar establishments than there were before the War. For some of these men employment has been found on work which the dockyards or arsenals have contracted, so to speak, work for which they will be repaid. But even so, when all allowance is made for that, the numbers are what they are, not because we want the men, but because we do not wish to increase the problem of unemployment in areas where it is already very great. My right hon. Friend was right, and the Government feel that we cannot continue indefinitely upon those lines, and though we are more reluctant than ever to increase discharges at present, we shall have to offer the men employed in these establishments the choice of further discharges or the acceptance by them of that system of partial employment which is being accepted in the great Lancashire cotton trade and, I think, in the great Yorkshire woollen industry. If they will co-operate with us in that we will maintain the number now employed. We might even be able to add to them. If they do not co-operate they cannot expect the taxpayer to go on indefinitely paying workmen for work which he does not want.

I interrupted my statement a little to deal with that point. These Estimates are already before the House. In addition, the House is aware that there will be an Army Supplementary Estimate for a sum only just short of £40,000,000. Of course, the detailed explanation of that Estimate will be given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War when he defends it in Committee, but I can give a broad outline at once to the House if they desire to have it. Of this sum of £40,000,000, £18,000,000 is due to terminal charges of the War, such as payment to prisoners of war, maintenance of the Assyrian and Chaldean refugees, and payment for supplies—I think £10,000,000—received from India during the War which have only now been brought to account. That is £18,000,000, as much a part of the cost of the War as the £8,000,000,000 of National Debt. £16,000,000 is due to the disturbed condition of the Middle East, which has prevented a reduction of forces contemplated in the Estimates and has even necessitated a temporary increase of the troops in Mesopotamia.


Why were these not in the Estimates of the War Office?


Because the disturbances which necessitated the additional troops had not taken place, and were not contemplated, and could not have been foreseen when the Estimates were framed. There are £2,000,000 for services retransferred from the Ministry of Munitions to the War Office, which must be revoted, but are no additional charge to the taxpayer, and £2,000,000 or more due to the condition of Ireland. Altogether, therefore, to the original Budget provision you must add £58,000,000. On the other hand, there are reductions which come as a set-off. Reductions have already been made to the extent of £8,500,000, and further reductions are anticipated within the year in the Estimates as presented of £52,000,000, altogether £60,500,000, as against the £58,000,000 of additional expense. Practically, you may say that the savings made or in sight afford a set-off to the additional expenditure which we have had to incur. The general result, as the House will see, is that the Budget total is practically unaffected up to the present time, but there may be, and I think there must be, some additional charge as the result of unemployment and of the steps which we may be called upon to take to deal with it, and there may be additional charges as a result of the coal strike and the loss of railway revenue which that involved. So much for the expenditure.

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