HC Deb 04 March 1929 vol 226 cc6-7

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether and to what extent the Indian Army is being modernised and mechanised; and, if so, how the expense incurred is being met?


Steps are being taken to reorganise the cavalry and infantry on the home model, and to mechanise cavalry brigade trains, divisional trains, field artillery brigades and divisional ammunition columns. The process is expected to take four years. The extra expense will be met in the way indicated by the Finance Member of the Government of India in his Budget statement of the 28th February. I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT an extract in the form in which it was received here.

Following is the statement:

Military expenditure again showed no variation. Excluding 10 lakhs to cover the Shea Committee measures in connection with the Territorial force, net expenditure was estimated at 56 crores. Here Sir George referred to the recommendations of the Inchcape Committee, Sir Basil Blackett's pronouncements and the Army Secretary's statement of the 5th September on the subject of the programme for the modernisation of the Army equipment. The estimated cost of 10 crores had created a difficult financial problem, but the Government had decided that the military budget, could not be allowed to exceed 55 crores and that the special expenditure required must be found from economies made within the limits of that sum, and a plan was devised which provided that if the military budget was maintained at 55 crores for four years from 1928–29, then apart from abnormal or unforeseen circumstances the special expenditure should be met from it, savings in any year being transferred to the Suspense Account, which could be drawn upon in subsequent years.

This plan would remove the inducement to the Army authorities to rush through expenditure, to avoid the lapsing of grants, would equalise actual appropriations for a period of years and would result in wholehearted co-operation between the Army authorities and the Finance Department in the search for possible economies. Sir George Schuster, after explaining that normal recurrent military charges were put at about 53i crores for 1928–29 and at 52.94 crores for 1929–30, proceeded: The normal cost of standing military charges is thus being steadily cut down, and it is therefore possible to hold out the very definite hope that when the four years' programme of re-equipment is completed, the total military budget will, apart from any circumstances which cannot at present be foreseen, be substantially reduced. It would be unwise for me at present to commit the Government to promising any definite figure, but I can assure the House that the Finance Department will exercise the closest scrutiny of the execution of the programme. Although these ultimate savings are in sight, I am fully conscious that the House must share with me a feeling of disappointment that no immediate relief for the Budget can be obtained from economies which are really being effected in the standing military charges of the Army. It will, however, at least be something of an achievement if the important programme for modernising the equipment of the Army, costing about 10 crores, can be carried through in four years without increasing the budgetary provision. Moreover, it may be definitely stated that when the programme is completed the country will be provided with a more efficient force at a smaller cost. To give the country better value for its money must indeed be the keynote of our policy—a direction in which further progress must constantly and energetically be sought.

The Finance Member explained that there would be no change in the existing system of financial control and that the arrangement did not imply any binding obligation on the Government, but represented the policy they intended to follow if circumstances continued normal.