HC Deb 26 April 1926 vol 194 cc1693-6

4.0 P.M

So much for debt and saving. But, after all, it is expenditure which governs the position. Let us then look at expenditure itself. I made so full a statement to the House on this subject on the Second Reading of the Economy Bill that only a very brief supplement is necessary now. The Committee may again find it convenient to keep the Blue Paper in their hands for a few moments. The new Table, which I presented on the Second Reading of the Economy Bill, will be found on page 8, Table VIII. The Estimates of the so-called Supply Services have been published at £417,241,000. I estimate the Consolidated Fund Services,as stated in the Blue Paper, at £395,400,000. The total estimated expenditure is, therefore, justover £812,500,000 as against about £799,500,000 the estimated expenditure for last year, and £826,000,000 the actual expenditure. But if we wish to compare the Estimates of this year with those of last year, comparing like with like, we ought to reduce this year's expenditure first of all by £2,700,000 on account of the book-keeping change which as I have several times explained to the House has occurred in connection with teachers' pensions and which involves no additional charge. We ought to reduce this year's expenditure by practically £1,000,000 on account of the Excise Duty which we shall recover On the increase of the Beet Sugar Bounty. We ought to reduce it by £4,100,000 on account of coal, which did not figure in last year's original Estimates. It would seem also reasonable to omit the increase of £4,250,000 which is due to the extended healthy remunerative activities of the Post Office and the Road Fund. Thus, on a comparable basis, it may be said that the actual burden of expenditure this year is approximately equal to our original Estimates of last year, but included in the new Estimates are nearly £19,000,000 of additional expenditure arising either from the automatic growth of pensions and other statutory charges or from decisions of policy taken by the House and by the Government last year. Let me mention some of them. The widows' and old age pensions scheme, £5,750,000; the automatic growth of the original old age pensions, £1,250,000; the new cruiser programme, £3,750,000; the real increase, apart from book-keeping, in education grants, £1,100,000; the increase in health and housing grants, £750,000; the net increased cost of the beet sugar subsidy, nearly £1,000,000; Empire marketing, £500,000; steel houses, £370,000. All these details have already been set forth in the White Paper issued in connection with the Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, and I will not occupy the attention of the Committee with them. But it is to be remembered that the whole of these new Services, as to the necessity for which or the value of which everyone can form his own opinion according to the part of the House in which he sits and the item of expenditure which he particularly favours or dislikes, have to be paid for either by automatic reductions in the expense or out of specific economies effected, not upon the whole great volume of our annual Budget, but upon those limited sections of our expenditure that are readily controllable by Parliament or by the Government. All these new Services have been achieved practically without any net addition to the public charge, and, so far as the class of expenditure which is directly and primarily under the control of the Executive is concerned, namely, that section on page 10 of the Blue Paper, National Administrative Services, aggregating £165,000,000 last year, there is a net reduction in that controllable branch of the expenditure of upwards of £7,000,000, £4,000,000 of which is upon armaments.

I have had many jeers and reproaches about promising to try to reduce expenditure on the Supply Services by £10,000,000 in the past year, but, surveying all that has been done, the result that has been achieved, namely, a reduction in this limited sphere of £7,000,000 net and the compression of £19,000,000 of new expenditure within the total of the expenditure of last year without any appreciable addition, I do not feel that those two achievements are unworthy of the immense time and labour which the Government and the House have bestowed upon the subject. It is obvious that further continuous effort is needed. There will certainly be new demands in the course of the present year. There will certainly be an automatic increase in pensions and a growth of incremental scales and the normal statutory grants accounting for not less than £5,000,000 or £6,000,000. Even if we are only to hold our own, a further reduction to this extent is imperative, and it is not until such a reduction of expenditure has been discovered and effected that any net diminution of the burden can be achieved. Without upsetting the country by violent change, without repudiating the lawful obligations of the State, without endangering the national defence, without harsh reactions in the social services of the country, we shall persevere in our thankless but indispensable task of curtailing expenditure.

I am authorised by the Prime Minister to say that the Cabinet Committee on Economy will pursue its work unceasingly, thus inculcating upon all Departments and branches of the Public Service the extreme importance of saving money in every possible way. The Estimates of the three Fighting Services will be considered jointly. It is only by a prolonged and searching process of balancing new weapons and new organisations against old weapons and old organisations and weighing the relation of all of them in a combined and integral system of Imperial defence, that our Fighting Services will attain either true economy or full efficiency, and, if I do not dwell more upon this point this afternoon, it is because the Prime Minister has promised an early and full day's debate upon the co-ordination of Imperial defence, and this matter it would be more appropriate to examine in detail on that occasion.

The question of the substitution of block grants—that is not to say fixed grants, because obviously they must be reconsidered from time to time, but grants which arc not related directly to expenditure—for the present percentage grants are already under the consideration of expert and Cabinet Committees. It is not our intention—there I pass from cash to credit—to renew the Trade Facilities Act next year. We have reached the conclusion that that process has exhausted its usefulness. I make no promise, I give no undertaking as to results—I made none last year—but, upon the aim, the effort, the mood, the policy of thrift and retrenchment, on behalf, not alone of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but of the Prime Minister and of every single member of the Government, I give a solemn undertaking, even after our recent dreary experience, that we will continue in the matter of economy to do our utmost.