HC Deb 15 February 1939 vol 343 cc1730-1
Mr. Attlee

(by Private Notice) asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he has any further statement to make in regard to the financing of the Defence programme?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)

The House will recall that on 29th November last I made a statement that in view of our increasing expenditure on Defence preparations further borrowing powers would be needed, and that it was my intention at the appropriate time to ask Parliament to pass legislation for this purpose. The Defence Loans Act, 1937, authorised borrowing in connection with our rearmament programme to a total of £400,000,000 in respect of the quinquennium 1937–38 to 1941–42. It was made clear at the time of the introduction of that Act that the limit of £400,000,000 was by no means final, and that if conditions required it Parliament would be asked to authorise a measure of further borrowing. Accordingly, a Ways and Means Resolution is being tabled to-day upon which to found a Bill which will double the amount which may be raised in the five-year period ending 1941–42 so that the total loan authorised becomes £800,000,000; the expense of rearmament met out of borrowed money up to the present is just under £200,000,000, so the result of the new Bill will be to provide for the future a total authority of about £600,000,000.

The Bill will follow the same lines as the Act of 1937, but I propose to include among the purposes for which these Defence Loans may be used expenditure on Civil Defence and the purchase of food and other essential commodities under the Essential Commodities Reserves Act of last session.

The Prime Minister authorises me to add that a White Paper on Defence has been prepared, and this will be in the Vote Office immediately after Questions to-day. No doubt a Debate on the White Paper will be desired, and the occasion of the discussion in Committee of the Ways and Means Resolution would appear to provide a convenient opportunity.

Mr. Attlee

Would it be possible for the Prime Minister to indicate when he proposes to have the Debate on the Ways and Means Resolution?

The Prime Minister

I think it will be convenient if I anticipate the usual Business Statement which I shall make To-morrow by informing the House now that it is proposed to take the Committee stage of the Ways and Means Resolution for the Defence Loans Bill on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

Mr. Ballenger

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the £200,000,000 which has already been issued of the first £400,000,000 has been exhausted, and whether it is proposed to issue a new loan on account of Defence at an early date?

Sir J. Simon

As regards the £200,000,000, my statement was that the expenditure on re-armament had already amounted, up to the present, to just under £200,000,000. I cannot make any statement as to the date of any future issue. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter which has to be very carefully considered with experts.

Mr. Garro Jones

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the statement relating to Defence which is about to be issued gives particular attention to the financial aspect of the re-armament programme, and, having regard to the fact that this aspect is now a matter of some complexity, if it does not give particular attention to the financial aspects, whether we may have a White Paper which does?

Sir J. Simon

The White Paper will be available as soon as Questions are over, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to wait until he sees the White Paper.

Mr. Garro Jones

It will be too late to ask the right hon. Gentleman after I have seen it.