HC Deb 19 March 1925 vol 181 cc2487-514

It may appear at first sight that an increase in the Vote of £ 4,700,000 is rather alarming, but I hope to be able to convince the House that in arriving at this figure we have had regard, and very careful regard, to economy, so far as it is compatible with complete efficiency. I am sure that the House would not wish that in the provision for our naval service we should do anything but consider efficiency first. It is only fair to say that of this increase of £ 4,700,000 a very considerable amount is not an increase to the taxpayer, but merely a transfer to this Vote from other services. For the first time, there appears in the Navy Estimates a charge for the Fleet Air arm of £ 1,320,000. This charge previously has been borne on the Air Vote, and it is exactly the same sum as was put down last year. Therefore, that is merely a transfer from one Vote to another without any difference to the pocket of the taxpayer. The same may be said of another smaller sum of £ 50,000 which we bear this time for experimental work which we do with the War Office at Shoeburyness, and which previously has been borne on their Vote. That means that you have to deduct £ 1,370,000 from the total increase of £ 4,700,000 in order to make a fair comparison, and the true figure of the increase, therefore, is £ 3,330,000, which I hope to be able satisfactorily to account for to the House.

There are certain automatic and inevitable increases which I have to bear on the Estimates this year, and I think the House would like to know what they are. First of all, there is an increase due to wages awards of £ 620,000. There is a reduced quantity of war stores to be drawn upon without replacement, which accounts for another £ 622,000. It means that the stores which accumulated during the war are becoming exhausted, and there are not now stores left to be drawn upon except such as have to be subsequently replaced. There is no surplus. Then, again, I anticipate smaller appropriations-in-aid to the extent of £ 280,000. There is an increase in the non-effective Vote of £ 155,000, again automatic, and there are automatic increases in Navy pay and the men's marriage allowance of £ 178,000. Lastly, there is an increase in Vote A for men required for the ships already laid down of £ 251,000. This makes the total of automatic and inevitable increases £ 2,106,000, which, again, in order to make a fair comparison, I think you must deduct from the £ 3,330,000. On the other hand, it is only fair to say that we save £ 580,000 by not having to pay annuity in respect of the Naval Works Loan, which has had to be paid in previous years. There, therefore, remains £ 1,804,000 increase beyond what I have already mentioned. I should like, if the House will be good enough to allow me, to remind it of what my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Amery) said when he was moving this Resolution two years ago, and when he introduced estimates amounting to £ 58,000,000. He used these words: I should be failing in my duty to this House and to the country if I suggested the possibility of further reduction in our strength in succeeding years. On the contrary, I must ask the House to keep clearly in mind that these are exceptional Estimates, framed to meet an exceptional financial situation, and that the economies which we have achieved are, in part at any rate, due to the postponement of the necessary expenditure which will have to be made up with the return to more normal conditions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1923; cols. 1090-1, Vol. 161.] That makes it very clear that he then anticipated what has actually happened. He anticipated that by following a policy of reducing expenditure to the lowest point he was preparing for his successors a future increase. That is not all, because, although, as he said then, he had cut the Estimates to the bone, the following year the party opposite, when they were in power, not content with the cut to the bone, cut very considerably below the bone. Although the Colonial Secretary then presented Estimates amounting to £ 58,000,000, the Estimates of the party opposite were reduced to £ 55,800,000, including £ 1,800,000 for new construction. It will be seen that the legacy which I have inherited from both my predecessors has put me in the unfortunate position of, having to make up in this year what they over-reduced, as I think, in previous years.

I now come to the increases which cannot be described exactly as automatic, but which arc, I think, inevitable. We have to spend £ 190,000 on the beginning of a retubing programme for cruisers and destroyers that were built during the War. There are a large number of them which will become due to be retubed almost simultaneously, and it was thought more economical to spread this work of retubing over a longer time, and so we have provided £ 190,000 for it this year. The position of our Fleet at Malta has rendered an increased staff there necessary, and the cost of the increased staff in foreign waters is £ 163,000. Then new dockyard machinery to the extent of £104,000 is necessary. I think nobody will grudge that, because it must mean greater efficiency and probably a saving in the future. We have increased requirements for material—again partly due to the depletion of stocks of material—£ 352,000, and increased requirements for Sea Stores—again partly due to depletion—£ 328,000. We have got to spend £ 216,000 on torpedo and fire control, and for new special apparatus. There have been great advances in scientific discoveries connected with warships in the last few years, and it is absolutely necessary—indeed, it is all-important—for our Fleet that we should be up to date in all the latest scientific appliances for defence as well as for attack. Then we have to complete the reserve of ammunition which requires £ 53,000, and we have got to overhaul fuses and powder cases for safety's sake, costing £ 88,000. We have also inserted a provision of £ 350,000 for officers' marriage allowances.

Viscountess ASTOR

Hear, hear!


I shall have something to say on that later, if my Noble Friend will have patience. There are other increases amounting to £ 230,000, and that brings the amount up to £ 2,074,000. In fairness I must deduct from that sum £ 270,000, which is reduced expenditure on ships actually under construction. That brings the total net increase to £ 1,804,000, which exactly accounts for the total increase, together with the items I have mentioned before. That, I think, is the least we could possibly do. There are many things I should like to have done which, for reasons of economy, we have not done, and I am not sure that even now I am not placing myself in the position that both my predecessors occupied, of postponing some things which it would have been much better to face at once. At any rate, I feel that I shall be fully justified by the House in proposing the figures that I am proposing to-day.

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