HC Deb 28 April 1925 vol 183 cc58-60

Having dealt with—I will not venture to say disposed of these large preliminaries, important preliminaries—the finance of 1924, the position of our debt, and the return to the gold standard—I come directly to the Estimates for the current year. The Committee has already before it the Estimates of the Supply Services amounting to £407,471,000. I put the Consolidated Fund Charges at £391,929,000. Of the Consolidated Fund Charges, the debt interest, bearing in mind the savings on reduction of debt and on the conversions which have been effected, is put at £305,000,000, and the increased Sinking Fund at £50,000,000. The total expenditure for 1925 thus becomes £799,400,000. That is £9,400,000 more than last year's Budget Estimate, and £3,700,000 more than the actual expenditure of last year. I think this is a disappointing result, and It requires a word of explanation. The rapid changes of Government which have disturbed our affairs during the last three years have not been conducive to public economy. Not only have each set of new Ministers naturally wished to distinguish themselves by making Departmental improvements at the public expense, but three autumn General Elections have robbed the Treasury and the Cabinet—

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN

And the candidates.


I am glad to know that those burdens, collective in character, do not fall upon me. The successive Elections have robbed the Treasury and the Cabinet of the opportunity of making that searching and comprehensive scrutiny arid that timely review of expenditure which are absolutely required every year, arid which, under settled conditions, normally take place in November and December. I found it impossible, in the short time that there was between the receipt of the Estimates in January by the Exchequer and their presentation in Parliament in February, to make the examination I had desired to make of them. It is indispensable that Departmental demands should every year be thoroughly re-examined from end to end. I have been able, in the short time available—I have no doubt that the experience of right lion. and hon. Gentlemen opposite was the same—to do no more than, by rowing against the stream, to keep equal, or even not quite equal, with the current. The tremendous flow of demands for expenditure of every kind comes from every quarter, and in the short interval that was available, I could do no more than keep fairly level, and was utterly unable to effect any positive and net economy such as I would have liked to have presented to the House.

But if we may now come, and perhaps we may, to a period of settled government and continuity of policy [Laughter] it is all governed by the word "if," and I am not begging the question—if we may now come to continuity of policy, then a strict and prompt reversion to normal procedure is indispensable. The Estimates of all the spending departments in an advanced state of preparation ought to be in the hands of the Treasury by the beginning of November, in order that the issues arising out of them may 'be fought out amicably but exhaustively before the Estimates have to be presented to the House. Further, I have obtained the assent of the Prime Minister and of my colleagues in the Cabinet to the setting up of a Standing Committee of the Cabinet, not for the purpose of examining new expenditure—that runs a strict gauntlet—but for the purpose of overhauling blocks of recurring expenditure, in addition to the annual scrutiny made by the Treasury. I believe that we ought to aim at a net reduction in the Supply expenditure of not less than £10,000.000 a year. That is not taking an extravagant figure. It would be easy for me to get a more favourable response by giving a more illusory figure, but I should be content if we could be sure that the net diminution of our expenditure was not less than £10,000,000 a year—.


Each year?


Each year, progressively on Supply services. There should certainly be a saving of about £5,000,000 on the debt operations of each year, and there will be, I trust and believe, a certain steady expansion of the Revenue. From all those sources, if we were able to achieve that position—there is no reason at all why a strong and resolute effort should not achieve it there ought to be the means to present the tax payer with a certain mitigation of the heavy burdens which press upon him now. But it must be clearly realised that increased expenditure beyond what I am providing for this year and next year means increased taxation, and that reduced taxation can be achieved after this year only by a continued reduction of expenditure.