National Expenditure.

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland. – in the House of Commons on 26th July 1938.

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Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, having regard to the fall in revenue which has taken place during the present financial year, he will state what steps His Majesty's Government propose to take to check expenditure, national and local, which is chargeable to revenue?

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

I would refer my hon. Friend to the statement I made on the Third Reading of the Finance Bill on 15th July.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

As there has been a further fall in revenue since the right hon. Gentleman made that statement, can he not now give some indication of what steps he is proposing to take to prevent a crisis arising next year?

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the people of this country will not stand for any economies at the expense of the social services while immense profits are being made out of armaments?

Photo of Sir Louis Smith Sir Louis Smith , Sheffield, Hallam

Is not the right hon. Gentleman alarmed, as most industrialists are, at the increasing adverse balance of trade in this country, and will he do something about it?

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

Will the Chancellor bear in mind the fact that the people of this country expect an increase in the old age pension?

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what steps he proposes to take to control Admiralty expenditure in future, having regard to the fact that the cost of converting the "Majestic" was £472,056, as compared with the sum of 150,000 originally suggested by the Admiralty to the Treasury;

(2) whether his attention has been drawn to the high cost of the educational services in the three defence services; and whether he will consider the desirability of appointing a committee to inquire into the cause of this high cost?

Photo of Mr Thomas Kennedy Mr Thomas Kennedy , Kirkcaldy District of Burghs

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his attention has been drawn to the report of the Committee of Public Accounts in which grave uneasiness is expressed as to the machinery of financial control at the Admiralty; and what action is being taken to remove the cause of that uneasiness?

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the large differences disclosed between the estimated and actual costs of conversion of both the trawler "Vulcan" and the "Majestic," he can take steps to ensure that in all future estimates more exact figures are made available to the Treasury in the first instance?

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

The matters referred to in these questions all arise out of, or are closely related to, the observations contained in the second report from the Committee of Public Accounts, 1938. This will be considered without delay, and, as is usual, a Treasury Minute dealing with the various matters raised in the report will be laid before the Committee, and will no doubt be published by the Committee in due course.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that our checks on this very large expenditure on armaments are sufficient to prevent a repetition of incidents of this character, which have alarmed the public and which suggest great possibilities of waste?

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

This is a case in which the original Estimate was substantially exceeded, and that is the subject of the observations in the report of the Committee of Public Accounts. As I have said the report is under consideration by the Treasury by whom these reports always are considered. Naturally any comments by the Committee of Public Accounts are of particular interest and value to the Treasury

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

But is it not a fact that the report of the Public Accounts Committee always comes too late and after the damage has been done; and will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether it is not possible, in view of the enormous expenditure which is now going on, to improve the system of checks?

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

I am as much interested in providing additional checks as anybody in this House could be, but it does not necessarily follow that in the particular instance to which the Committee has called attention the explanation is to be found in an absence of checks.

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

When can we expect to have a statement of the evidence given to the Committee by whom this matter was discussed?

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

I will make inquiries and let my hon. and learned Friend know. I cannot give an answer now.

Photo of Mr George Griffiths Mr George Griffiths , Hemsworth

Is not the only check to have an efficient Minister in the Defence Department?

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

On a point of Order. May I point out that no answer has been given to Question 58, which has no relation to the report of the Public Accounts Committee. May I ask the Chancellor for an answer to that question?

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

That question was included with others in the answer which I have just given, though I appreciate my hon. Friend's point that it does to some extent deal with a rather different subject matter. I am not prepared to undertake to appoint a committee to inquire into this particular matter.

Photo of Mr Ernest Thurtle Mr Ernest Thurtle , Shoreditch

Is not this another proof of the inefficiency of the Treasury?

Photo of Sir Stanley Reed Sir Stanley Reed , Aylesbury

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his attention has been directed to the Second Report from the Committee of Public Accounts drawing attention to the wide gap between the estimates for the conversion of the former White Star liner "Majestic" (£140,000— £612,056) and the trawler "Vulcan" (£27,000—£50,697) and the actual costs incurred, and recommending that the existing arrangements for financial criticism and control at the Admiralty should be carefully examined to secure that they operate effectively at all stages; and will he take measures to initiate a costing system not only in the Admiralty but in all the spending Departments?

Photo of Mr John Simon Mr John Simon , Spen Valley

I am aware of the terms of the report to which my hon. Friend refers, and I would refer him to the answer which I have just given to my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) and other Members. I am not sure what precisely my hon. Friend has in mind in referring to costing systems in this connection, but I can inform him that such systems are already extensively employed in the Admiralty and in other Departments where it is advantageous to do so.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (1) whether his attention has been directed to the second report from the Committee of Public Accounts; and what steps does he propose to take to deal with the issues raised and to prevent a repetition of the same;

(2) whether he will make a statement on what action he proposes to take to carry out the suggestions made on pages 22 and 23, paragraph 34, dealing with the purchase of plant and machine tools, contained in the second report from the Committee of Public Accounts?

Photo of Captain Euan Wallace Captain Euan Wallace , Hornsey

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which has just been given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams) and other hon. Members and which indicated the procedure which will be followed in connection with the report from the Committee of Public Accounts.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

Is it not the case that all these replies relate to the past and that what hon. Members are asking is what steps are being taken now to check this expenditure?

Photo of Captain Euan Wallace Captain Euan Wallace , Hornsey

If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to my right hon. Friend's answer I think he would see that steps for the future are referred to in it.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself satisfied with the answer which was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Photo of Captain Euan Wallace Captain Euan Wallace , Hornsey

I am afraid that is not a question which ought to be addressed to me.

Photo of Captain James Duncan Captain James Duncan , Kensington North

Is it not the case that there is a committee in being which looks after existing expenditure, namely, the Select Committee on Estimates, on which there are Members of the party opposite; and will my right hon. and gallant Friend hasten this year's report of that committee?

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether his attention has been directed to pages 22 and 23, paragraphs 34 and 35, of the second report from the Committee of Public Accounts; what plant, etc., consisting of proprietary articles were bought at makers' list prices; can he state the names of the firms from which the proprietary articles were purchased or are to be ordered; whether the prices have been checked, how they compare with other prices; arid is it intended to give consideration to the possibility of making arrangements under which the reasonableness of prices could be more definitely checked?

Photo of Captain Euan Wallace Captain Euan Wallace , Hornsey

Yes, Sir; and, in reply to the last part of the hon. Member's question I would refer to the answer which I have just given to him regarding the procedure to be followed in connection with the report in question. To give the information asked for in the remaining parts of his question would involve such extensive and detailed inquiries in the three Defence Departments that I do not think I should be justified, at this time, in asking them to incur the resulting expenditure of time and labour. I can, however, assure the hon. Member that all relevant information will be at the disposal of the Treasury in considering the observations of the committee on these matters.

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent Stoke

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware of the widespread suspicion which prevails throughout the country, particularly among people who are closely in touch with these questions; and can he inform the House whether it is the case that a committee has been set up consisting of machine tool manufacturers and whether this committee is composed of people who are responsible for importing certain machines into this country?

Photo of Captain Euan Wallace Captain Euan Wallace , Hornsey

I could not answer that question without notice.

Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman make inquiries from members of his own party about this matter?