HC Deb 05 March 1936 vol 309 cc1553-6
46. Commander BOWER

asked the Prime Minister whether, having regard to the Government's programme for repairing gaps in Imperial Defence, he will call a conference of Dominion and Indian representatives, including Indian princes, with a. view to the Dominions and India contributing more materially to the defence of our common interests?


The fullest touch is maintained between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Governments of the Dominions and India on all major questions of Imperial defence through the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence and by the normal means of communication. I do not consider that the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend could usefully be adopted at the present stage.

Commander BOWER

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, now that India has got an approach to responsible Government, she might well approach the question of making a more responsible contribution towards the defence of our common interests?

47. Mr. MANDER

asked the; Prime Minister whether he will consider the advisability of calling a conference of the leaders of parties to see whether, in view of the international crisis, it would be possible to secure national support on the widest possible front for an armaments policy that was closely linked up with a system of collective security, in which each country made an agreed and co-ordinated contribution on specific undertakings?


The hon. Member's suggestion has been noted.

48. Mr. MANDER

asked the Prime Minister whether the policy explained in the White Paper of 1st March, 1935 [Cmd. 4827], remains in all respects the policy of the Government?


The policy of His Majesty's Government is fully set out in the recently issued White Paper of 3rd March, and to that I have nothing to add.


asked the Chancellor. of the Exchequer whether it is the intention of the Government to meet the whole cost of the programme laid down in the White Paper relating to defence out of revenue?

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

It will be more appropriate to consider the method of meeting the cost referred to in the question in the course of my Budget statement.


Are we to understand from that reply, and in view of the importance of the programme which will be considered on Monday and Tuesday, that this House is to have no information as to the expenditure?


Yes, Sir.


May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has not already made up his mind as to how the money is to be raised?


The answer is in the negative.


This question was originally put down to the Prime Minister and was transferred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. May I be permitted to ask the Prime Minister if he really thinks that it is in accordance with the traditions of the House for this very important matter to be withheld from the House at a time when this great defence programme is under contemplation?


I have not been given notice of that question, and I should like to see it down.


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he proposes to make a statement as to the approximate cost of the defence reconstruction programme laid down in the White Paper, as to over how long a period it is proposed to spread it, and as to the approximate additional annual cost of upkeep of the Forces resulting there from?


For the reasons given in the White Paper, namely, the flexible and variable character of the proposals as well as the difficulty of estimating accurately beforehand the possible rate of execution, it is not practicable to say at this stage, even approximately, what will be the total cost of the defence reconstruction programme. For the same reasons, it would be premature at present to frame any estimate of the additional annual cost of upkeep of the Forces resulting there from.


Having regard to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's answer to this question and to the previous question, does he not think that it is utterly unreasonable, and contrary to good public policy, that this House and the country should be expected to accept the policy laid down in the White Paper, involving huge expenditure, without the slightest knowledge as to how much it is, or the means by which that money is to be raised; and does he not think that it is contrary to good financial administration?


It is very important that the public should not be misled in this matter. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has had personal experience of the embarrassment that may be caused by giving figures without sufficient knowledge.


May I ask the Prime Minister whether, in the Debate on Monday, some indication will be given to this House and the country as to expenditure, having regard to the fact that without any figures misleading statements are likely to be made?


I have again not had notice of this question. I am at this very moment having under consideration various aspects of the matter which can be placed before the House of Commons, and of course that is one question that must be considered. I cannot at this moment give an answer to it.


Arising out of the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to me, is it rot a rule of every local authority in the country that before they are committed to a given item of policy the council are informed of the cost of that policy, and may I ask that the House of Commons should be treated at any rate as decently as a local authority?


That must be borne in consideration.


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make representations to the Departments concerned to ensure that the special areas of Scotland receive a fair share of the contracts to be placed for defensive armaments?

The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. T. M. Cooper)

As stated in the Debate on Monday last, it is the policy of the Government, other things being equal, to give preference in the placing of Government contracts to the depressed areas. It may be assumed that in the carrying out of that policy the claims of depressed areas in Scotland to a fair share of the contracts will be fully considered.


Will the right hon. Gentleman see that due attention is given to the establishment in Scotland of some of the duplicate Government factories envisaged in the White Paper?


I shall communicate that suggestion to my right hon. Friend.