HC Deb 19 April 1955 vol 540 cc47-8

Now to return to the Supply figure. I spoke at some length last year about the urgent need to control expenditure, and to achieve savings wherever possible, in order that the economy may carry, without undue strain, the heavy burdens which both external circumstances and our domestic policies impose upon it. The major strains are due, of course, to the continuing high level of defence costs and to the inevitable growth of the cost of the social services.

Moreover, we have had to make provision for unavoidable increases in salaries; and, although additional expenditure is involved, nobody is more glad than I that the cautious hopes which I expressed last year on the subject of equal pay have already been realised, and have been embodied in a firm agreement with the staff associations. This is now in operation. The wishes of Parliament have been carried out by this Government.

It is true that on both the defence and civil sides last year's expenditure was appreciably less than the figures I had budgeted for, so that this year's estimates represent a corresponding increase over last year's actual outgoings. Nevertheless, the fact that on a total of well over £3,800 million of Supply expenditure this year's Estimates are only £7 million higher than those of a year ago shows, I think, that during the last 12 months we have been making a special and sustained effort to curb non-essential expenditure. That effort has contributed not a little to enabling us to accommodate the inevitable growth in the cost of some of our essential policies.

Let me say for a moment or two what these are. First, defence. I said last year that we must see to it that we obtain some definite relief from the defence burden. The plans which were then in existence would have meant a considerable increase in expenditure in 1955–56. But as a result of a full review of our strategic needs and a careful scrutiny of the estimates over the whole field, provision for defence has been kept at a level which, broadly speaking, is not very different from the actual expenditure of last year. This is welcome so far as it goes; but the development of new arms, the changes which will follow the end of the occupation in Germany and the continuing reduction of American aid, all emphasise to the Committee the importance of maintaining our efforts to secure, within the new strategic framework, all possible economies in this field.