Lord Stanley's Statement.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 16th March 1936.

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Lord STANLEY:

That is over the whole defence Estimates. I have no objection to telling the right hon. Gentleman what is the estimated cost of making good the Navy deficiencies, but that is not the question which he put to me. I do not think he can say that there is any sign of panic in the programme which we have put forward or in the introductory statement by my Noble Friend the First Lord. There was a point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness with which I should like to deal now. I regret that he is not in his place, but he will be able to read my remarks. He complained that the cost of what we are getting now was enormous compared with pre-war days. He put his complaint in an extremely fair and friendly way. He called attention to one or two directions in which obviously there could be no comparison between present and pre-war prices. He talked of the non-effective Vote and about pay and about wages and their effect on contracts, but he left out two very important items—the advent of the Fleet air arm arid the large sums of money which are being spent on anti-aircraft defence.

Before coming here to-day I got some figures which I thought might be of some general interest to the House. They cannot be taken as accurate. They are only approximate. Taking the effective Services only, the provision proposed this year is £60,250,000. If pre-war rates and prices still obtained it is estimated that the cost would have been £39,832,500 while the original Estimates for 1914–15 were about £48,000,000. Taking the total Navy Estimates, ours are nearly £70,000,000. On the basis of pre-war prices they would have been £45,000,000 and the original Estimates for 1914–15 were £51,000,000. I do assure the right hon. Gentleman that we do everything we can to ensure due economy. In the days immediately after the financial crisis in 1931 we had to scrape together every penny we could and we got money from every nook and cranny. Now that, with an expanding programme, money is not quite such an impeding factor as it was then, we are still doing everything we can to see that the money is carefully and economically spent.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough asked several questions about the conference. I am afraid that at the risk of discourtesy I can only repeat what has been said before in answer to questions, and on the Supplementary Estimates on the Naval Conference, that it really is inadvisable to say anything more at the present time. We have given all the information we can. We have already told him why we thought it inadvisable to publish a White Paper before the conference started, and there has been this self-imposed pledge of silence on all Members which is, I think the only reason why the conference is still sitting. The right hon. Gentleman should have a little fellow-feeling because I notice that in a previous Debate—I presume it must have been on the Naval Treaty—he himself deprecated a discussion in public session on the ground that it would not be of assistance in bringing the conference to a successful issue.