Orders of the Day — Supply.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 20th July 1936.

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Photo of Mr Albert Alexander Mr Albert Alexander , Sheffield, Hillsborough

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has always followed this Government by faith rather than by sight. I should say from the experience we have had of this Government in the last five years, that the less faith is placed in them the better it will be for the country. It has been suggested that the Government's case for an expansion of armaments or for a rearmament policy was that the armaments were necessary in the light of their experience, from the point of view of maintaining collective security. I want to say, at this stage of this Session, when we are asked to vote this second lot of Supplementary Estimates for the Services, that the Government have no case at all, on their own action, for coming to the House of Commons and asking for a rearmament programme based upon collective security. In the light of the happenings of the last few weeks I also want to say to this Committee, and I hope the country will hear it too, that it seems to me very doubtful whether the occupants of that Front Bench opposite have ever believed in collective security or whether the Government have ever gone out of their way in reality to support the general idea of collective security.

It is well for us now that the country is faced with this bill to recall some of the facts. There are moments in the life of the Prime Minister when he reveals himself with a kind of simple honesty. There was the speech which he made in Glasgow on 23rd November, 1934—in the middle of the campaign which was carried on in certain quarters against the peace ballot. The right hon. Gentleman said on that occasion, and I hope I am not paraphrasing his speech unfairly, that he did not think that a collective peace system of the kind the Labour party were working for was practicable, and that in present circumstances—referring to the absence from the League of Germany, Japan and the United States—it was not much worth while thinking about it. That was in November, 1934, and I begin to think, having regard to the actions of the Government ever since, that that statement represented the real mind of the Prime Minister, and that it has coloured all the policy of the Government and given all the real dynamic action, if there has been any dynamic action, to the Cabinet in dealing with these questions.

We are being asked to-night, in these Supplementary Estimates, for £19,000,000, for 1936–37, to pay, not for the Government's policy in support of collective security but for their failure to stand up to their word in the matter—misleading the people, getting elected on fraudulent representations and then proceeding to run away from the commitments which they made. A good deal has been said in the course of the Debate on technical questions. In spite of what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping about German expenditure on armaments—and I think he was right in saying it—I want this House, in Committee of Supply to-right, to have a real look at the financial position. I say that this Government, which claims that it rehabilitated the nation's finances, is rapidly leading the nation to financial disaster. They are bringing the country to the position in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping put my colleagues in 1929. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The right hon. Gentleman had five Budgets, with an unlimited majority behind him, and he left us in 1929, in the words of the "Daily Mail," with a Treasury of empty coffers and bare shelves. He left us with a debt on the Unemployment Fund of £40,000,000. We have not forgotten those things. The Home Secretary seems to have forgotten them in his contribution to the spate of oratory over the week-end, but we have not forgotten them. Exactly as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, for five years, cleared up the ladder before Labour came into office, so the people who are sitting on those benches to-day, with their ruinous, suicidal financial and armaments policy, are driving the country into another financial crisis such as that for which they were responsible in 1929.

I am prepared to debate that matter at any time, and I say that to-night we have to look at the facts of the situation when we are asked to vote this large sum, and when we know that before the final appropriations are made we shall be called upon to find for the fighting services some £200,000,000. Before we vote this money we are entitled to examine the financial situation. In 1931 we on this side were charged with having an unbalanced Budget and an adverse trade balance and with engaging in reckless expenditure in the light of that financial position, so that there was no adequate means of balancing the Budget unless certain things were forced upon the country. When we were asked to balance the Budget in those circumstances there were two outstanding items included in the deficit—the annual payment on the Sinking Fund of the American Debt of £39,000,000 and the statutory commitments on the Sinking Fund.

I ask hon. Members to keep that position in mind when considering this armament programme to-night. I ask them also to bear in mind the fact that we have an adverse trade balance apparent on the first six months of this year, of £162,000,000. Anyone who has made a real study of trade movements in the last five or six months knows that it is the armaments programme of the Government which has helped to continue and increase that adverse trade balance. If we are to judge on the basis of income in 1935 from what are called invisible exports, then, unless we make a very big recovery in import and export trade in the next six months, at the end of this year we shall have a very substantial, real deficit on our trade overseas. If we had been in office and proposing the sort of armaments expenditure, which the Government are proposing now, in these circumstances, our blood would have been demanded, and we should have been hounded out by the leading lights in the City of London, but their political bias makes them prefer to keep hon. and right hon. Members opposite in office for the time being.

Look at the Budget which we are being asked to put into further deficit to-night. It is only a few weeks ago that the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the House with a so-called balanced Budget showing an estimated surplus of £1,000,000 but providing nothing for the payment of the debt to America and providing no adequate sum for the payment of interest and sinking fund, and in a few weeks, because of their armaments programme, the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes down here and says there is bound to be a deficit on the Budget this year and that the only question is as to how large it will be. I wonder, if we had got up in 1931 and made such a statement as that, what would have been said to us.—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is a question of confidence!"]—A confidence trick, not a question of real confidence. We were charged with spending too much money in the circumstances. Are the Government spending money? They are giving doles to their friends and trade to their friends. The whole basis of their armaments policy, as was very well said to-night by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), is giving out trade to their friends and still without, from the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, any adequate check upon profits. He gave us no real information as to what check there is on profits. Although we have asked for it again and again, we get absolutely no detailed information which would enable us to know that excessive profits are not being made.

So we get the picture. With an unbalanced Budget, with tremendous expenditure upon armaments, a worse financial situation is arising day by day, under this Government, than we had in 1931, and the Government think that, because of the political bias which is behind them in the City of London, they will get away with it, but I believe we shall yet be able to make the people understand it. I cannot for the life of me understand how the Prime Minister, of all men, should have been able to get away for so long as he has done with his duality of policy on collective security. Every time the clock ticks, the Government give one halfpenny to the League of Nations, and, under their programme of armaments, on which we are giving the final vote to-night, every time the clock ticks, £6 6s. goes on armaments.