Expenditure Arising Out of the War.

Part of Supplementary Vote of Credit, 1941. – in the House of Commons on 16th December 1941.

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Photo of Captain Harry Crookshank Captain Harry Crookshank , Gainsborough

I am not intending to speak long, and if I were to answer all the points put by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), each one of which would provide adequate material for a long speech, I am afraid we should not get on with the other business on which he also wants to speak. I should like to thank the hon. Members who have spoken for their reception of this Vote of Credit, and more particularly for the anticipatory welcome which they have given to the new certificates to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made reference. I have not much to add to what he has already said, but I will comment on one or two of the remarks which have been made in the Debate. When these Vote of Credit papers come along I always feel a paternal interest in them, because they are over my signature. That piece of caligraphy is now attached to Votes of Credit for £7,800,000,000 which have been presented in ray name in this House. I think that the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) must have been extremely pleased that the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) should have interrupted him, because it enabled him to give us a most interesting analysis of what he considers the way in which savings are coming in. On reflection, I am not at all sure that most of us would not agree with what he said. It was a very brilliant, and, I think, it must have been an impromptu, description of what is going on.

Perhaps a little more emphasis might be put, in the savings talk that goes on, upon the non-spending aspect of it, because that is fundamentally the most important. I hope that hon. Gentlemen who are helping the various campaigns will make a special point of that aspect in their speeches, and will try to encourage people to refrain from spending the money which is in their pockets. It may truly be said that the very rich find it difficult to do much direct saving in these days, and that some are fortunate if they can meet their tax obligations without having to liquidate any of their capital. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the campaign as a whole would be helped very much if the limitation of 500 on holdings of National Savings Certificates were removed. My right hon. Friend answered a Question on that point in the House recently and stated that he had no evidence of any real necessity for such a step. Such analyses as can be made of the figures show that the number of people who actually hold 500 certificates is not very great. War Savings Certificates are intended largely for the small saver among the poorer sections of the community, although it is true that the Surtax payer can take out 500 of these certificates, which happen to be exceedingly profitable from the point of view of interest, compared with other securities which are available. However, the primary object of the certificates is to encourage small savings, and there is no evidence as yet of appreciable holdings of as many as 500 certificates by individuals. There is no reason why every member of a family in the section of the community for which these certificates are intended should not have certificates, and the average family might hold quite a lot of them in that way.

The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White)—he is not here at the moment—referred to the national expenditure. I would remind him, in case he reads what I say, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not specifically say in his speech that expenditure being up by £200,000,000 over his Budget estimate necessarily meant that the gap would be increased by that amount. My right hon. Friend gave as his reason the fact that the size of the gap depends not only upon expenditure but also upon revenue and other factors. No doubt Lord Kindersley and the organisation which he directs will take note of the criticisms made by the hon. Member about War Savings posters, but as the hon. Gentleman himself has noticed the posters of which he complained, it is evident that those posters have had some effect. If posters are noticed, I imagine that they have already achieved one object for which they are put up.

The hon. Member said something, which was countered by the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland), about what was going on in Germany in regard to methods of saving. I say instinctively that I wonder whether what one gets out of Germany to-day in any direction has any relation to the facts. Probably even in the field of savings that is true. After all, the greatest swindle ever perpetrated on a nation was a scheme of saving, invented by the Germans—the buying by instalments of the people's car. It may be that there are other snags of that kind about schemes which are now going on, and I think I should treat them with some reserve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham also said that my right hon. Friend should be very careful to see that Departmental control was instituted over expenditure within the Departments. He suggested, as I understood it, the appointment inside the Departments of someone, not being the permanent head of the Department, to control such expenditure and to see that it was wisely carried out. It is of vital importance to make sure that these vast sums of money are wisely spent, and it is the duty of all of us to ensure that the maximum economy is achieved, but we are always fortified in that regard by the reports of the Select Committee of this House, which makes such valuable directions to that end. My hon. Friend overlooked the fact that it is already the function of a special financial officer in the Departments to examine what my hon. Friend has in mind. The business of these officers is to criticise proposals for new expenditure and to watch expenditure made on behalf of the heads of the Departments. My hon. Friend can rest assured that we shall try our very best to see that expenditure is kept under constant review.

Another thing he said was in relation to what my right hon. Friend said about tax collection. My hon. Friend thought that doubts were being expressed by my right hon. Friend as to the practicability of collecting taxes at the present high rate, but I must repudiate that interpretation. There are no doubts of the practicability of collecting taxes. What my right hon. Friend has in mind is to devise some way of making it more convenient for the taxes to be paid. The prudent man is supposed to be he who puts aside week by week and month by month during the year something towards what he knows he will have to pay next year or, in the case of the Surtax payer, the year after; but such persons are all too few. Usually taxpayers are somewhat hard pressed when the demands come in and they see exactly what they have to pay. My right hon. Friend has come to the conclusion that some inducement in the way of a certificate which could be bought, and which would have a certain apparent value later on, might be helpful to taxpayers.