HC Deb 09 December 1920 vol 135 cc2489-91

The question raised by the Motion before the House is a grave one, and I am not sure that a still graver question does not lie behind it in the events of the last few days, which have moved even so sternly reticent an authority as yourself, Mr. Speaker, to indignation. The Government is on its trial, but I think that something more is on its trial, and something greater than the Government—this House itself. The question is whether we are to be governed by ignorant, irresponsible clamour or by the Commons in Parliament assembled. For myself, I ask no fairer, no better tribunal than this House. It is to them, and them alone, that I am responsible for the discharge of my functions. As long as I possess their confidence and receive, as I have received, in full and hearty measure, the support and co-operation of the Prime Minister I will do my best to serve them.

My right hon. Friend who moved this. Resolution said he did not want an expression of opinion to-day, whatever it might be, to be a mere pious resolution, like the last resolution passed upon the subject. Why does he call it a mere pious resolution? Has he looked at the progress of reduction in expenditure? In 1918–19 our gross expenditure was over £3,140,000,000. In 1919–20 it was reduced to £2,106,000,000, but we were borrowing to make both ends meet. This year, apart from the provision for the redemption of debt, it is reduced to £1,282,000,000. We may not be proceeding as rapidly as my right hon. Friend would wish, or as the circumstances of the country require, but do not let the House be under the impression that immense progress has not been made, and that the Government are not as conscious as the House itself of the need for economy and for careful husbanding of our resources.

I promised, in answer to an hon. Gentleman the other day, that I would attempt to give some information on this occasion in respect to the financial situation of the present year, and not deal only with the future. I shall have to make, I am afraid, a considerable demand upon the patience of the House, but I believe that they will wish me to do so. There is no doubt that there is a great deal of anxiety—genuine and not unnatural anxiety—as to the prospects of the current year, and as to the extent to which the House or the country can any longer place reliance on the Budget estimates of revenue and expenses. There has been, it must be admitted, a great change since the Budget was framed, and even since the Budget was presented, a great actual change, and, perhaps, an even greater psychological change. To the over-hopefulness, over-confidence, over-lending, over-borrowing, over-trading, and over-speculation of the earlier months of the year there has succeeded a reaction which, I think, has now tended to go too far in the opposite direction. There is a great and real change in the situation. Trade is stagnant. Orders are hard to obtain. Instead of fresh orders being placed, old orders are being cancelled. A feeling of anxiety and unrest is a natural consequence, and must affect the Budget estimate of revenue, and, in its ultimate consequences, the Budget estimate of expenses.

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