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National Expendituee

Volume 154: debated on Monday 15 May 1922

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asked the Lord Privy Seal what decision has been come to by the Government to carry out their intention of accelerating the reduction of expenditure; and whether he will state precisely why this work could not be done by a Parliamentary Committee having the Geddes terms of reference?


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he intends to re-appoint the Geddes Committee for the purpose of reviewing and developing the recommendations which they made last year?

The Treasury has already taken up with the Departments the question as to what immediate and prospective reductions can be made on their Votes for the current year, and, as soon as answers are received, will be engaged in discussing with them all possible means of effecting economies. Committees are also being appointed to investigate (1) the practicability of a Ministry of Defence as recommended by the Geddes Committee, (2) the amalgamation and co-ordination of services common to the various fighting forces, and (3) the feasibility of introducing a system of making lump sum instead of percentage grants to local authorities. No advantage would be gained—at least at the present stage—by setting up any further Committee to deal with such matters.

Seeing that the Treasury have negotiated with the Admiralty and the Admiralty have said that they cannot reduce the expenditure, will the Government, in view of the complete divergence of opinion between the Geddes Committee and the Admiralty, have a special inquiry made into the case of Admiralty expenditure?

There is another question on the Paper as to Admiralty expenditure in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn). I think my hon. Friend is a little too pessimistic as to the result of the discussions.

Having regard to the failure of the Treasury last year to effect economies and the fact that the Geddes Committee had to be appointed because the Treasury could not control the Departments, will the right hon. Gentleman give the Treasury an assurance that they have the Cabinet behind them in dealing with this problem?

I cannot accept the premisses of my hon. Friend. I think they are really unfair alike to the Departments and to the Treasury. If my memory serves me aright, a saving of something like seventy millions had been made by the Departments and the Treasury in combination before any proposals were submitted by the Geddes Committee. But that is past history. I could not, however, entirely pass over what my hon. Friend said. He may rest assured that the Exchequer and the Treasury and the other Departments know that the Government are behind the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury efforts to reduce the expenditure of the country.

Why does the Lord Privy Seal consistently refuse to a Committee of this House the power of checking expenditure which he was willing to give, and did give with so much success, to an outside Committee?

I have offered more than once a Committee of this House, but every time I have done so my hon. and gallant Friend has put down a blocking Motion.

The right hon. Gentleman has never offered to a Committee of this House the terms of reference he gave to the Geddes Committee?


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, of the £21,000,000 reduction on the Navy Estimates proposed by the Geddes Committee, only £4,000,000 have been effectively made?

Of the reduction of £21,000,000 on the Navy Estimates proposed by the Geddes Committee, only fourteen millions were specified. Of this latter amount not all, even if accepted, could have been realised in the current, year owing to terminal charges, including compensation for discharges, and to the fact that when you are dealing with a service spread all over the globe delays must necessarily take place in effecting the necessary reductions. In the Esti mates of the current year the amount is less by sixteen millions than the Provisional Estimate which was before the Geddes Committee. Of this figure approximately eleven millions is directly due to the results of the Washington Conference, leaving a sum of five millions; but in order to assess the effective saving for the future this figure has to be increased by the amount represented by the terminal charges referred to above.

Then are we to take it that the statement by Sir Eric Geddes, an ex-First Lord of the Admiralty, which is repeated in this question, is inaccurate?

The hon. and gallant Member is very anxious to embroil me with my right hon. Friend Sir Eric Geddes, but if he will take my answer for what it states, and will not attempt to provoke a quarrel between Sir Eric Geddes and me, I shall be grateful.

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been called to any particular items in the Report of the Geddes Committee which have not been complied with, such, for example, as the reduction of Pembroke Dockyard, which is absolutely superfluous?

Would the right hon. Gentleman send a copy of this answer to his right hon. Friend the Member for Central Glasgow (Mr. Bonar Law)?

My attention has been called to the case of Pembroke. It was my duty—my rather painful duty—to receive a deputation from Pembroke, who pointed out how entirely the development of the town had been the creation of the Government dockyard, and how disastrous to the town and the fortunes of people who had embarked their money in every kind of investment there owing to the Government dockyard, would be the closing of the dockyard. But I quite agree that, in these days of necessarily rigid economy, one must face even hardships of that kind, if it can be shown that the dockyard is not needed.