HC Deb 21 April 1936 vol 311 cc37-8

3.33 p.m.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

I shall begin my statement this afternoon as usual by making a brief survey of the more salient features of the national finances of the past year. Perhaps the most remarkable, not to say astonishing, fact to be observed is the final surplus of nearly £3,000,000—to be exact, £2,941,000. The Committee will remember that last year after allowing for an estimated increase in the yield of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise of some £14,000,000 and after distributing about £9,500,000 in various remissions of taxation and restoration of cuts, I expected to have a surplus of £500,000. I had allowed what seemed to me a sufficient provision for Supplementary Estimates of £4,000,000, but we live in times which recall: The uncertain glory of an April day; Which now shows all the beauty of the sun, And by and by a cloud takes all away. The Supplementary clouds which obscured my sky in 1935 amounted to nearly £22,000,000. There were, of course, some savings on various Votes, but in the end, I had to find very nearly £14,000,000 more than I had expected for Supply services. After so disconcerting a drain upon our resources that we were able to finish up with a true surplus—including the margin available within the fixed debt charge for debt redemption—of nearly £15,500,000 is a really wonderful demonstration of the buoyancy of our revenue. Some of my hon. Friends will think it is a demonstration of something else, namely, the excessive and unnecessary caution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in estimating the possibilities of revenue expansion. However that may be, I myself remain of the opinion that subsequent events have fully justified my convervatism. In my Budget Speech last year I warned the Committee that we were approaching a period of fresh anxiety in Europe, which might have its repercussions on our finances. I do not think the Committee will quarrel with me when I say that we have every reason to congratulate ourselves upon the fact that we have been able, up to the present, to take comfortably in our stride these new and unexpected demands on our resources. The only other item on the expenditure side of last year's account which I need notice is the total for the Consolidated Fund services, which exceeded my estimate by about £2,400,000. That excess was due to the necessity for meeting certain liabilities under the Trade Facilities Acts, and I am still hopeful of recovering some part of this expenditure from the debtor companies at a later stage.