HC Deb 20 April 1937 vol 322 cc1605-7

I am sure the Committee are now quite ready to face the new year with all its implications. But before I come to the moment when I shall pronounce those familiar words "Open, please," a certain amount of preparation is necessary by way of examination of the expenditure that will be required and of the amount of revenue which will be available on the existing basis of taxation. I begin with the Fixed Debt Charge. That has stood for four years now at £224,000,000. During that time it has provided £45,500,000 for the redemption of debt. When I come to consider where I should fix it this year, once more I come up against the Defence programme. The Defence Estimates have shown that I am proposing to borrow for that purpose a sum estimated at present at £80,000,000 for this year. In view of that fact it would be absurd at the same moment to attempt to start a Sinking Fund for the redemption of debt. I propose, therefore, to keep to the old figure of £224,000,000. Although even now it is still possible that at the end of the year there may emerge some margin for debt redemption, I think it will be only prudent to repeat the precautionary measure of the last few years and to ask for power to borrow for the payment of the contractual Sinking Funds.

Similar considerations to those which have precluded me from increasing the amount of the Fixed Debt Charge, also govern my treatment of another matter to which I must direct attention. Under the existing law if there is a deficit in one year the Chancellor of the Exchequer is required to set aside an equivalent amount in the following year for the redemption of debt, unless he is specially exempted by law from that obligation. In strictness, therefore, I ought to add to my expenditure for the new year the amount of the deficit on the old one, but in the present circumstances I propose to follow the precedents of the Parliamentary years 1931 and 1933, and to ask again that I may be relieved by the Finance Bill from this obligation for 1937–38.

On other Consolidated Fund services I shall want £8,000,000 for Northern Ireland, £3,200,000 for "Miscellaneous," and £300,000 for the Post Office Fund, making a total of £11,500,000, which is slightly under the expenditure last year. When I come to the Civil Estimates one change of presentation is necessary. That arises out of the decision last year to abolish the system of earmarking Motor Vehicle Duties to the Road Fund and to bring the Road expenditure out of the self-balancing items into the annual Estimates. That means, therefore, that this year in the presentation of our accounts both these items, revenue and expenditure, in connection with roads, are withdrawn from the category headed "Self-balancing revenue and expenditure" and they will appear under the ordinary revenue and ordinary expenditure. On the other hand, since the proceeds of the wireless licences are retained in the Post Office revenue I propose to keep the grant to the British Broadcasting Corporation in the self-balancing items, although it is now shown as a separate item in Class 4 of the Civil Estimates and not as part of the Post Office Estimates.

The estimated expenditure on roads last year was £24,795,000, and for the current year the corresponding figure is £28,500,000. The amount to be voted, after taking into account the balance in the Road Fund of £5,000,000 and the estimated amount to be received from fees and fines, which is nearly £1,000,000, is £22,500,000, spread over a number of Votes details of which were given in the Vote on Account. This £22,500,000, therefore, is a new addition to Supply expenditure and is covered by the estimated product of Motor Vehicle Duties in the revenue.

The estimates for the Supply Services, leaving out the self-balancing item of the Post Office, are already known to be £620,218,000. That, however, includes the grant for the B.B.C., which I prefer to retain in the self-balancing items and which amounted to £2,870,000. Deducting that, the net amount is £617,348,000, made up of £198,268,000 for Defence, and £419,080,000 for Civil Votes. I am proposing, however, to add another £10,000,000 to that figure as a margin for Civil Supplementary Estimates. The total of Exchequer issues for the Supply Services last year, including for comparison £27,427,000 Motor Vehicle Duties which were apportioned to the Road Fund and included in the self-balancing items, was £594,657,000, and, therefore, the real increase this year in the Supply Services is £32,691,000, made up of Civil Votes £20,495,000, and Defence Votes £12,196,000. Of course, hon. Members will have in mind that that figure for Defence excludes the £80,000,000 which is estimated to be borrowed under the Defence Loans Act.

I am now in a position to summarise the expenditure for 1937–38, including the £10,000,000 for Supplementary Estimates, the Civil Votes, and omitting the self-balancing items: Fixed Debt charge, £224,000,000; other Consolidated Fund charges, £11,500,000; Supply Services, £627,348,000; total, £862,848,000.