Orders of the Day — Finance Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 26th May 1938.

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

I said the Treasury, but I suppose that the Chancellor spoke for them. I do not suppose that the present Chancellor, after his long association and intimate connection with the Treasury, finds it unnecessary to be advised by the very able staff of Treasury officials. In 1931 the Cabinet were presented with a Bill of £170,000,000, and included in that Bill of extra money to be raised in the following financial year were two items, £56,000,000 for the continuance of what we had always met, the annual contribution to the sinking fund for reduction of debt, and £39,000,000 for payment to the United States of America as a proper annual provision. So, of the £170,000,000, £95,000,000 was for the reduction either of the internal or external debt. Apart from meeting the contribution in the first following financial year, 1932–1933, to the United States of America, not one penny piece of those two commitments presented to the Labour Government in 1931 has ever been met by the present Government; and every year there has been this continuance of heavy expenditure. The Government have made no provision for the reduction of debt, and to-day, within a few months of the time when Ministers were talking about prosperity and boom, they are adding day by day, indeed hour by hour, to the deadweight debt that the country has to shoulder.

I am making the statement as undeniable, that behind the facade of complacent, pharisaical humbug on the part of the Government, the real financial figures in relation to the British Exchequer to-day reveal a state of financial crisis beyond all doubt much more serious and much more devastating in the burdens that the country is being asked to meet, than was the case in 1931. [Interruption.] I heard a word or two, a noise or two from the benches opposite, as though that statement did not meet with unanimity. I make the statement not only with regard to the vast amount of expenditure the Government are asking the country to meet, not only with regard to the increasing burden of debt and unbalanced Budgets, but I state the fact that that is not all, for it is in spite of the Government having enormously increased existing taxation both upon the direct and indirect taxpayers; and I challenge the Chancellor to deny either of those main propositions.

Apart from a purely verbal statement that they alone are the people who ought to have confidence placed in them, there they stand holding the reins of office, a dying Cabinet. [Laughter.] I notice that there is a little hilarity about that statement, too. When I look at the arrangements made in the last week or two for a reshuffle of the gentlemen who occupy the Government positions, and I find that the two latest additions of added strength, of new life and blood to this super-Cabinet, are the Noble Lord who sits for the Fylde Division of Lancaster (Lord Stanley) and the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Secretary of State for Scotland, both representatives in this House of the most popular and pleasant type of parliamentary colleague, but neither of them calculated to be, either in the mind of the House or in the opinion of the country, added bulwarks of strength to British statesmanship, and when I consider the manner in which this Cabinet has been deteriorating year after year and now month after month, and how they appear to be completely bankrupt of any real live reinforcement from their back benchers, I do not think it calls for dispute when I suggest that the Cabinet is a dying Cabinet, old, weak, feeble, but holding on to office when it ought to get out and let the country begin to deal on a new and rational basis with the greatest financial problem that it has ever yet been faced with in peacetime, far greater and more serious than was the position in 1931.

I want to add one or two further comments about the present position in relation to the Chancellor's general proposals. In our Amendment we refer to the policy of the Government permitting excessive profits on rearmament and subsidies to private industry. We have had numerous debates in which in some form or other this question of armament profits has come up, but in dealing with the proposals of the Chancellor to meet the financial position it is essential that we should show that before the country is called upon to bear this increasingly heavy burden and at the same time to increase its national indebtedness, the country has a right to demand of the Government that even if every part of the rearmament programme should be found to be necessary, at least it should be provided in the most efficient and economical manner possible. We have warned the Government in the last two years that unless they have some really effective and rational system for dealing with the control of armament supplies, excessive profits at the expense of the nation would be certain to arise. We have already arrived at a situation which enables us not only to check the statement but to give the facts. I hope the House will pardon me if I give the names of a few firms' individual rises in profits. Take the well-known firm of Messrs. Baldwin's, Limited. I see that their net profit in 1933 was £142,000; in 1937 it was £521,000. The Consett Iron Company made a profit in 1934 of £91,000; in 1937 the figure was £636,000.