Expenditure Arising Out of the War.

Part of Supplementary Vote of Credit, 1940. – in the House of Commons on 16th October 1940.

Alert me about debates like this

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

We have had put before us probably the vastest sum of money to be found by any community or that any Parliament or country has had to face. The right hon. Gentleman put his figures before us as if he were addressing a P.S.A. and as though it were the most casual thing to ask for these vast additional sums. He put the figures before us without any covering, without any embroidery or without any explanations, but perhaps they are more impressive in consequence. I could not help thinking how some of his great predecessors, with eloquence and imagination, would have made these figures a reality to the national consciousness. I do not think the people realise, certainly the House of Commons does not realise—that is shown by the empty Benches and the comparative indifference of the Committee—the vast sums which the nation has to find. It is the nation which, one way or another, will have to find them.

I think the occasion would warrant the right hon. Gentleman taking the nation more into his confidence. My feeling is that we must face the facts that inflation is actually in action. Prices of almost every commodity are rising except those which the Government regulate like bread and the other articles controlled by the Ministry of Food. I do not believe that the nation is conscious of the vast sums which have to be raised and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to justify his appointment he must take his position more seriously and not brush aside the Vote which we are now about to pass, as a mere incident in Parilamentary life which requires no comment. The right hon. Gentleman speaking as Chancellor of the Exchequer almost boasted of the large sums which have to be raised. Of course we recognise that the nation is prepared to give its last penny to secure its liberties and to gain the victory but the right hon. Gentleman should have given some more assurance to Parliament, that he is satisfied that there is no waste, that there is efficient control and that every penny is being usefully spent.

I notice that my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee on National Expenditure is here. That committee does its best to scrutinise and investigate expenditure after that expenditure has been made, but the real responsibility cannot be shifted from the shoulders of the right hon. Gentleman to any committee, however efficient and however diligent. On previous occasions I have expressed a doubt, which I reiterate, about whether the ordinary machinery of the Treasury is efficient to discharge its vast duties in relation to the great spending Departments, particularly Departments like the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The Treasury works on a peace-time basis, with the same out- look, the same mentality, the same rather cumbersome machinery. It is a diligent guardian of practice and precedent in investigating the appointment of an additional clerk here, or the scale of salaries to be paid there, in some particular Department, but something very much larger is required now—a larger outlook and a larger review. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has fortified himself by the appointment of a small committee of very able economists and financiers. I have no doubt they are behind him constantly in dealing with questions of large policy but they cannot take over responsibility for the daily routine of criticising and supervising the scale of expenditure.

I suggest to the Committee and the right hon. Gentleman that it would be worth while to examine, in the light of this vast expenditure, whether the system of control through the Treasury is efficient for its purpose. I repeat that the right hon. Gentleman must take a larger outlook of his responsibilities and stir up the national conscience to a realisation of the vastness of the expenditure—not only that which is before us now, but that which is likely to arise in the future. He has pointed out that this Vote by no means represents the limit of the liability which is likely to be put on the nation. He said that the expenditure of £9,000,000 a day is likely to be increased before long. The hulk of the people are still unconscious of their burden. True, London has been going through an appalling ordeal during the last five weeks but when you go to the provinces and the provincial towns, where wages are more plentiful and money is freely circulating, you find little sign that the ordinary man realises the vast expenditure which sooner or later we shall have to face.

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if it should be necessary to put on even further burdens, the country will be prepared to shoulder them. Let him put forward his scheme, not in a few months time but as soon as possible. If necessary, let him be prepared to introduce another interim Budget. Vast as our taxation is in relation to the scale of the expenditure, it is not large enough—as I think the right hon. Gentleman will be the first to recognise—to meet our liabilities. If he is to justify the great position which he holds at the time of national crisis, not merely as Chancellor of the Exchequer but as a Member of the War Cabinet, he must make the nation realise the vastness of our expenditure and the terrific scale of the financial liability of the State.