Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £48,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for Stationery, Printing, Paper, Binding, and Printed Books for the Public Service; for the Salaries and Expenses of the Stationery Office; and for Sundry Miscellaneous Services, including Reports of Parliamentary Debates.
§ Sir FREDRIC WISE
In regard to this Vote, and especially in regard to paper, I notice that the extra cost of paper is £78,000 on a total original sum of £470,000. I should like to know the cost per ton, and where the paper was purchased? I should also like to know in regard to item G—"Binding, etc.," why the expenditure on departmental printed books, account books, registers, etc., is expected to exceed the original estimate by £15,000? Perhaps the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will answer these two questions?
§ Viscount SANDON
I really think that under this heading we are up against 1579 one of the biggest questions of economy in the Government Departments. It is not so much the things in themselves, but the spirit that lies behind them, as waste here must mean the same in many other directions. I have had experience over five or six years since the War, as also even during the War, and hon. Members know that we have enormous envelopes enclosing a very small strip of paper with, perhaps, a couple of lines written on it. I hold in my hand a large envelope with an unfolded slip of paper dealing with Income Tax. This, I would suggest to the Committee, is absolutely unnecessary waste, and when this is spread over all the Government Departments, a very large sum of money must be involved. We all know that in the mass of communications we get from Government Departments about our constituents the vast majority come in large envelopes, with, perhaps, a bare acknowledgement inside. It is most lavish. I am not able to afford this excellent kind of paper, nor can we afford it, either, on behalf of the taxpayers. I feel it is quite possible that drastic cuts could be made in this direction. I would suggest, too, that in these kind of cases, postcards might well be used. Personally, I conduct the greater part of my correspondence by this means.
The class of paper used is beautiful and lavish to a degree. Private Members cannot afford it! Why, then, should the Government Departments be able to afford it? I also suggest that communications at present enclosed in envelopes should be folded, and that would make the use of large envelopes in many cases unnecessary. I have had a private valuation made of the types of paper used by the various Departments, and although I will not give the figures, as I have not yet verified them, in any case it seems to me to be scandalous that this most luxurious paper should be utilised, and paid for by the taxpayers' money, when much cheaper paper could be used. I am personally interested in this matter, and in my private capacity, as I have to buy paper for my own use. Much as I should like to use such excellent paper as this Government paper, I cannot afford to do it. The thing is unpardonable.
1580 I also suggest that where thick paper is used, typing might easily be done on the back as well as on the front. Then, again, in the case of printed forms. In a large number of cases there is left blank column after column, which also suggests that something is wrong there. In a Government Department after the War I saw what went on in the way of waste. For instance, in the matter of blotting paper, it used to be changed in the office of the Secretary of State whenever an ink mark appeared upon it. The same sort of thing happened with the pen nibs.
I should like to make it perfectly clear that I am not complaining of the Stationery Office, because I have in front of me a most admirable Circular, dated July, 1920, sent out by that Department My complaint is that the excellent directions are not in any way carried out by the Departments, and I could wish the Stationery Office had more authority to enforce their demands in these matters. The 14 points of this Circular are excellent. In large type those concerned are told for the sake of economy:Do not use a large envelope when a small envelope will do.We are constantly asking for the expenditure of public money on various most useful items, and this is refused us because the money is not available. Where has it gone? It has gone in tiny unfolded slips in large envelopes. I want to ask in all earnestness and seriousness whether the Government Departments ought not to have more authority to insist upon the suggestions being carried out. I trust that the Financial Secretary will exercise what pressure he can to see that the matter is looked into.
§ Mr. BAKER
I am very glad to hear it; I did not know it. The last speaker has dealt considerably with this matter, but it seems to me perfectly clear, if I may say so, that it is somewhat difficult to talk much on a Supplementary Estimate if you are on the Labour benches. I do not propose to pursue the line taken by the last speaker, except to say that I do not think that there is the slightest 1581 foundation for the charge that the Civil Service does not try to comply with the request of the Stationery Office and the Treasury in the exercise of economy. I should like to begin by expressing regret that these Estimates are taken without a preliminary statement from the Minister The Vote that we have just left is an excellent illustration of how badly things can be done. This Vote is now being presented to the Committee without a word of explanation or justification for the details which we have to consider.
In the first place, I should like to inquire why it is that the expenditure on "paper for Parliamentary Publications, Non-Parliamentary Publications, Departmental Forms and Circulars, Pamphlets, Stationery, etc.," has risen by £78,000 especially when it is remembered that the original Estimate showed an increase of £5,000? Then, take "Miscellaneous Office Supplies":The expenditure on typewriters, duplicators, calculating and other labour-saving machines has proved larger than was anticipated,and the figure is quoted at £21,000. Again, it is in the original Estimate £5,000 higher than the Estimates of the previous year. I do not regret that Government Departments are turning to up-to-date methods. I think it is a matter for congratulation that calculating and other labour-saving machines are being introduced. I would not be understood for a moment to be necessarily against expenditure of that sort. What I do say is that the representative of the Treasury, presenting details of this character, should, in my view, take the Committee into his confidence, explain the policy which has been pursued, and claim the credit which is due to the Government Departments which have successfully introduced these labour-saving appliances. I want to say something more than that. I should like to learn from the representative of the Treasury the origin of these machines. I regret that nearly all these particular labour-saving appliances came from overseas. I am afraid it is so with regard to first-class appliances of this character. They seem infrequently to originate in this country. Whatever may be the position with regard to that, I should appreciate a statement as to what is the origin of these various duplicators and other labour-saving machines. I 1582 would also, if I am in order, like to ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether he can tell us anything further in regard to the "Guide to Official Statistics."
§ Mr. BAKER
I was under the impression that it came under E—Paper, Parliamentary Publications, etc. The point I was going to submit was that there is a market for Government publications if the Stationery Office and the Treasury will only realise the existence of that market, and endeavour to place the publications within the reach of possible purchasers. It is constantly being brought to my notice that this particular volume, "Guide to Official Statistics," is very highly thought of, and would be greatly appreciated by every student of modern political economic affairs if it were more widely known. The question of Blue Books possibly comes under some similar heading, but I believe many publications issued by the Stationery Office under this heading are invaluable to any student of modern affairs.
It is to me a matter for regret that the Stationery Office does not, by adopting a more attractive make-up, endeavour to place their goods upon the market in competition with the goods of a similar character produced by the ordinary commercial publishers. There is the further point that sufficient regard is not had to the price at which the publications are issued. I would submit that where a publication is to be printed, whether or not there he a public sale, the cost of setting up the type and preparing for publication should form a, charge against the Department concerned, and that the publication should be placed on public sale at a figure which will meet the subsequent cost. It is not satisfactory that such a large mine of valuable information should remain locked up in these Blue Books when it would be so valuable if got into the hands of the people. I would appeal very strongly to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to consider the few points which I have put forward. Finally I would like to call attention to a resolution passed at the Conference of the Library Association held in Glasgow on 8th September, 1924. The resolution says:This association, while appreciating the recognition by His Majesty's Treasury of 1583 the Special Committee's plea for cheaper Government publications, as evidenced by the Government subsidy of 50 per cent., regrets that the concession has been made at the expense of previous privileges; and, as the smaller public libraries in particular are still unable to procure an adequate selection of such publications, the association requests the Committee to make further representations to the Treasury with the view of reducing considerably the present prices of Government publications and of establishing depository libraries in selected geographical areas.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Ronald McNeill)
Before I give anything like a general explanation of this Supplementary Estimate, I should like to say a word or two about the two speeches that have already been made, because I think they are likely to be helpful to us. I can assure the two hon. Gentlemen who have spoken and the Committee generally that in this Department, as in all others, the one thing we are more anxious for than anything else is economy, as far as it can be combined with efficiency. My Noble Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Viscount Sandon) made some suggestions which may be valuable, such as that postcards might occasionally be used in place of letters, and that envelopes of more economical size would occasionally suffice. Those suggestions will no doubt be taken into account. I agree with the hon. Member for Bristol East (Mr. W. Baker) and I do not believe there has been, in these respects, any very widespread disregard of economy, having regard to the convenience that most people find in using envelopes and paper adapted to the purpose in hand.
Those suggestions will not be lost sight of, and possibly may be of some use on future occasions. The hon. Member for Bristol East made suggestions also with reference to that part of the Estimate which comes under the head "Appropriations-in-Aid." There, again, I can only say that we are very anxious to promote as wide as possible dissemination of the information contained in Blue Books and other Government Departmental publications. I agree with him that very often they contain masses of information which would be of great value to the public; but I do not know whether he altogether realises the difficulty there is in getting any large sale for papers of that sort without extensive advertising, 1584 which, of course, would add very largely to the cost of the Department and might, in its turn, come in for very pungent criticism in Parliament. Many of these publications are extremely costly as regards paper, printing and so forth, and in the absence of widespread advertising I do not think the Stationery Office would be justified in printing large numbers of copies, or giving them out to the public at any price which would not recover the cost of printing. There, again, I can promise the hon. Gentleman that we will carefully consider the suggestions he has made, and we are entirely at one with him in the object he has in view, which is to get as large a circulation as possible.
The hon. Gentleman rather reproved me for not having given some general explanation of this Supplementary Estimate at the outset. I was quite prepared to do so, but I thought hon. Members might like first to put questions. I submit to the Committee that the Stationery Office is the Government Department in which it is more difficult, perhaps, than in any other to make a very accurate forecast of what the expenditure of the year is likely to be. Demands for supplies come to the Stationery Office from the other Departments. Within certain limits, each Department will know what its own policy is likely to be, and what its own expenditure is likely to be; it has only to make a forecast limited to its own activities. The Stationery Office has to furnish supplies for all the Departments, and whether the demand will be much larger or much smaller than usual does not in the least depend upon itself—or very little upon itself—but almost entirely upon what will be done in the various Departments. The actual margin of error in estimating, as shown in this Supplementary Estimate, is about 3 per cent.—very little more than 3 per cent.—not a very large margin of error. I hope I shall not be straying outside the limits of Order in making this passing observation, that the whole of the Supplementary Estimates for this year represent together less than 1 per cent. of error on the total Budget expenditure of the year. Therefore I think we may claim that on this particular Vote, as on others, the estimating this year was not very wide of the mark.
As I said with reference to a Vote last week, I submit that under-estimating, 1585 which has to be made good by Supplementary Estimates, is far better than error in the direction of over-estimating, which only means that we are taking more out of the taxpayers' pockets than is really necessary, merely in order to escape criticism which may be made in this House and to save Parliamentary time which may be necessary to get Supplementary Estimates through. If I remain at the Treasury, I would far rather that we should have the trouble and the time necessary for getting through Supplementary Estimates at the end of the financial year than avoid them by the only way in which they can be avoided, the very easy method of starting with so large an estimate that the Department is certain to be well within the mark and, so far from requiring Supplementary Estimates, will make a considerable surrender to the Sinking Fund. This Supplementary Estimate is due mainly to two causes. From the time of the Geddes Committee, when there was a great push for economy, until last year, there has been a decrease in these Estimates.
§ Mr. McNEILL
That is this year, the current year. Up till last year there was a small decrease. I will give the figures if they are challenged. For 1922–23 the actual expenditure was £1,553,077; 1923–24, £1,523,965; 1924–25, £1,471,418. Up to the end of 1924–25 there has been a progressive and steady, though not a very large, decrease in the expenditure on this Vote. At the time when this Estimate for 1925–20 was prepared, the full figures for the preceding year 1924–25 were not known. The figures for the six months were known, but not the year's expenditure. The actual expenditure for the first six months of that year amounted to £821,094. The calculation was made—and I do not think it was an extravagant calculation in making the Estimate for this year—that that level would remain fairly constant. But after the Estimate had been presented to Parliament it was found that the first six months of the previous year did not provide quite so trustworthy a basis of calculation as had been supposed. The reasons for that are twofold. First of all, all the Departments had large reserve stocks of paper and other stationery requisites from the War 1586 period, and under pressure, constant pressure, from the Treasury and public opinion to keep their Estimates as low as possible, they were, to a greater extent perhaps than was realised outside the Departments, keeping down their demands on the Stationery Office by using up existing stocks. As was inevitable, they came to the end of those stocks, and it was after the Estimate for the current year had been presented that it was realised at the Stationery Office that there were likely to be larger demands from the Departments on account of the exhaustion of stocks.
5.0 P. M.
The Stationery Office themselves had also, during the last year, run down their stocks to vanishing point. They did that in order to bring about a new standardisation of paper, and with it a different denominational unit. In the interests of economy and of finance they introduced a system by which the ream should consist of 500 sheets, instead of 480 as hitherto, and it, would have been very inconvenient, in fact more than inconvenient I am told, to have had these two stocks on hand at the same time. Therefore it was desired to get rid of the old stock, before bringing the new system into operation, and that resulted in the necessity for replenishing their stocks to the extent of £40,000. The second reason for the under-estimating is the astonishingly large increase in Government business all round. I will give the Committee one or two illustrations. As I have said, there has been a genera1 increase of business in all Departments, and although it may not be very great in any one Department, they all concentrate on the Stationery Department., and it therefore makes itself felt more severely there than in the other Departments. This increase in Government business all round amounts to 12½ per cent. One hon. Member asked me something about the cost of paper, and in that relation I will give some figures which I think will answer his point. This increase of 12½ per cent. in Government business makes itself felt in paper in this way. In 1924–25 the amount of pa-per purchased was 9,870 tons, at a cost of £303,900. The increase in paper, due to the increase in Government business, amounts to 1,234 tons and costs £38,000. That shows how this increase 1587 in business throughout the Departments makes itself felt in paper at the Stationery Office. It makes itself felt in other requirements, of course.
An hon. Member opposite asked me a question about binding and mechanical devices. Since the Estimate was presented, there has been a great development in the use of mechanical labour-saving devices, and although we have to pay for them now when they are purchased, we hope they will produce economies in other directions and make themselves felt in other Votes. There has been an increase for new loose-leaf ledgers of £6,000, and filing appliances, £2,000. Arrears of binding of books and papers, which has been postponed as long as it could be postponed, but which could not be postponed any longer, represents an increase of £7,000. The rest of the increase has been spread over the whole administration. I will give the Committee some examples that will show the sort of thing of which I am speaking in the use of these mechanical appliances. I compare the first six months of 1924–25—they are the figures on which the Estimate was based—with the same six months of 1925–26, and for these devices alone the Air Ministry's increased demand was £691; the Admiralty's £2,790; Customs and Excise £2,387, and Post Office £3,773. These are the increased demands in these Departments for these appliances alone, and they will be found under sub-head G. Let me take office appliances. Here the general increase in Government business accounts for a supplementary demand of £16,000. Duplicating and calculating machines amount to £2,500, typewriters and repairs and accessories come to £2,000, and new typewriters £500.
Let me point out, in case any hon. Member should think there is any extravagance in respect of repairs and accessories, that the actual amount for repairs to typewriting machines, spread over the whole Government administration, comes to rather less than 10s. a year per machine, which I am told is a great deal lower than the ordinary standard in commercial offices. Let me give one or two examples of this increase in general supplies, which will show the Committee how the work has increased in Government Departments. In six months there has 1588 actually been an increase in the demand for fine cord of 3,000 lbs. in weight.
§ Mr. McNEILL
It is under the heading "Miscellaneous Office Supplies." An increase in the demand for these supplies has made this Supplementary Estimate necessary. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the cord used for?"] Hon. Members are asking me for a detail which fairly bowls me out. I have not been through all the offices to see the exact use which is made of this cord, but in the case of the next two items hon. Members' own intelligence will supply the answer. There is an additional requirement of 1,000 bottles of paste.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I can assure you, Sir, that "Miscellaneous Office Supplies" covers a very large proportion of the increase in the demand, and I submit am entitled to show the Committee, when I am asking for this additional sum, the sort of materials which it is necessary for the Stationery Office to buy and the sort of quantities which are necessary.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Then is it the case that the description in the note is not exhaustive? Do other articles account for the increase?
§ Mr. McNEILL
Oh, yes. There is one other item which I should like to mention, because it has impressed me very much, and I think it also impress hon. Members. In this six months there has been required an additional 8,000 quarts of ink. If hon. Members say that the only way in which this Supplementary Estimate can be legitimately attacked is that we ought to have foreseen these increases in typewriters, in binders, in paper, in arrears of binding, and in all these sorts of miscellaneous office supplies, then I say that you cannot possibly foretell when the original Estimate is framed, with any degree of accuracy how much of these articles will be required during the coming year. All you can do is to go on the Estimates of the last few years. As I have shown, the Estimates of the previous years show a small decrease, and therefore I think it is reasonable to assume that we have gone as near as we can to forecasting what would be required this year. It is much better to ask the 1589 Committee for £48,000 as a Supplementary Estimate than to show the Committee later on that £48,000 or £50,000 has been surrendered. We have not done that. We have used all the original Estimate, and there can be no harm in our coming to the Committee, and saying that we require this small additional sum.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us some information about deductions from the Vote, "Anticipating Savings on, other Subheads," about which nothing has been said?
§ Mr. McNEILL
That has been the result of the economical methods pursued by the Stationery Office, and a saving has also been effected by doing a larger proportion of the printing on the Stationery Office premises rather than by contract. I do not think I need make any apology for asking the Committee to vote this Supplementary Estimate. I have endeavoured to give a frank account of why it is necessary, and if any further detail be desired I shall be only too pleased to give it to any hon. Member.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I am sure the Committee has listened very gratefully to the meticulous care with which the right hon. Gentleman has explained this increase, but I think our satisfaction must be tinged with a little surprise when he is reduced to quoting a few little things like string and ink, to account for an increase of £48,000. I want to question the calculations of the right hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, it would have been better for him to have invoked the aid of one of his own calculating machines when he says that there is an increase of only 3 per cent. on the original Estimate.
The original Estimate was for £470,000; the revised Estimate is for £548,000. The additional sum required is, therefore, £78,000, and that is a 16 per cent. increase—indeed, 16 per cent. is an understatement. In the case of the binding account, the error of the Department is 14 per cent., and in the case of the Miscellaneous Office Supplies the error is 18 per cent. I admit that the right hon. Gentleman was able to take out two sets of figures, and say that the relation of the one to the other was 3 per cent., but the actual error made by the Department is 16 per cent., 14 per cent., and 18 per cent., respectively. There are one or two minor items, and one is connected 1590 with a publication which has just been issued. It is a book written by the Noble Lord the Member for Southampton (Lord Apsley), in which he explains how he went to Australia disguised as a settler. I believe that has been published at the Government expense, and I wish to ask whether that comes under "Parliamentary or non-Parliamentary publication"? At the same time, it would be useful to tell us how many copies have been issued, and what price the Government have paid for them? I read in the booklet how the Noble Lord dressed himself up as a settler, and went to Australia on the cheap. All I say is, that if the Noble Lord wishes to spread that information among his colleagues, it would be better for him to do it at his own expense.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
Then I will raise the point when the appropriate Vote comes up for discussion. There is another item:The Receipts from the Sales of Government Publications and from Advertisements in and Sales of the Gazettes are expected to be greater than was anticipated.I went to the Library, and consulted a copy of the "London Gazette," but I was not able to find any advertisements.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I am not saying there are no advertisements in them, but I am speaking of the "London Gazette." I noticed that the rates for advertising in the "London Gazette" are £1 10s. for a quarter page tabulated. I think that charge is much too small. I would like to ask if the "London Gazette" is a paying publication. I know it has exceptional facilities for private and secret information and the publishing of official communications. It ought to make a handsome profit every year, and should not be run at a loss. I would like to ask what effort has been made to increase the revenue from advertisements. I know of a newspaper which, by increasing its canvassers, double its revenue without affecting its circulation. I would like to point out that it might be possible to double the income of the "London Gazette" by doubling the number of advertisement canvassers, and some efforts should be 1591 made to make it a paying proposition. I want to say a word about the £48,000 which is the additional item required under these various headings. Instead of approaching this question in a petty spirit, trying to save on ink and string, the right hon. Gentleman should try to make the Stationery Office a paying Department, instead of coming to this House with an Estimate of £1,600,000.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I shall be quite content if the right hon. Gentleman can show under these particular items that some attempts have been made to put things on a paying basis.
I want to refer to the expenditure on paper. I gather that this item of £78,000 is required to meet the increased cost of Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary publications. I would like to ask if any attempt has been made to go through a list of the Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary publications, in order to see whether any of them can be discontinued so as to make such a Vote as this unnecessary. We get periodically a big printed paper giving the list of Parliamentary and Command Papers issued by the Stationery Office, and anybody who looks through it will at once see that it contains an enormous number of publications which I do not think most Members of this House ever read. On an average there are some 300 Command Papers issued every year and about 200 Parliamentary Papers. I quite appreciate the fact that a good many of them are probably issued as a result of Acts of Parliament or Regulations, but some of them have been in force for some considerable time, and it is quite possible that the reason for issuing them may now have disappeared.
In the same way there may be a certain number of Command Papers which are really unnecessary. I know we have the Publications and Debates Reports Committee, and I do not know exactly what the supervision exercised by that Committee amounts to, or what power it has. But I would like to suggest that if it is possible that Committee should be allowed to exercise some discretion with regard to the number of Parliamentary 1592 papers which are issued, and I think that Committee should be consulted as to whether some of them could not be discontinued. So far as the Command Papers are concerned, I do not know the procedure adopted, but I believe the question as to whether a Paper should be issued or not is settled between the Government Department concerned and the Stationery Office. Could the Stationery Office not consider a little more closely whether some of the Command Papers could be discontinued?
There are a certain number of returns presented every year with regard to the procedure of this House, giving the number of times the House has adjourned, or the number of times that certain Motions have been moved, for which, honestly speaking, I cannot see any use, because such information is contained in the ordinary proceedings of the House and is bound up with the "Journal." Therefore, I cannot understand why we should have these Summaries printed every year. The hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) has suggested that the "London Gazette" might be made to pay its way if used more as a medium for advertisements, and he suggests that the advertisement rates should be increased. I have always understood that there were two reasons for the publication of the "London Gazette." One was to publish a list of appointments in the Civil Service, which would not be a very good medium for advertisements, and the other is to publish a list of bankruptcies. I think that is the reason why people do not take advantage of this medium for advertising purposes.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
If the hon. and gallant Member will get hold of a copy of the "London Gazette" he will find it devoted to a large number of other uses which cause it to circulate in many quarters that ought to make it profitable.
I do not think that it has a very large circulation at all. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take up this question of reducing the number of publications, and ascertain whether some of them cannot be discontinued.
§ Mr. GILLETT
The arguments of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down may have something in them, but one of the difficulties is that if you 1593 put a list of these publications before hon. Members it is certain that one hon. Member would declare some of them were unnecessary, whilst others would say those same publications were necessary and ought to be continued. I think the Financial Secretary will agree that, although he has given us certain information about Miscellaneous Office Supplies, the great increase in regard to all these things in unduly heavy, and I think the same criticism might be made about these various items as have been made about the supply of paper.
I would like to say a word or two about the way in which the accounts are presented. In the original Estimates we have no information as to what the amount of paper in stock was at the beginning of the year. We have had the same difficulty in another Government Department, and that makes it all the more difficult to decide as to how far the now demands are really in excess, because we cannot tell whether there was a large or a small stock of paper at the beginning of the year. Consequently the figures are a pure fallacy on that account. It is quite possible that the Government had not any paper in stock at the beginning of the year, and on the other hand they might have had a large stock. Does the same state of things apply to Miscellaneous Office Supplies? If all this is purely expenditure, I should like to know why such a large increase is needed in regard to these various items. I understand there has been a suggestion that paper is going to be put under the Safeguarding of Industries Act, and I have been wondering whether the right hon. Gentleman has been laying in a large store of paper in order that the Government may come out on the right side.
§ Mr. H. WILLIAMS
I want to reinforce the remarks which have been made by the hon. and gallant. Member for Bootle (Lieut.-Col. V. L. Henderson) about unnecessary publications. I have one or two Government publications in my hands. Here is one showing the election expenses and giving the returns, and it has been issued quite recently. It runs into 95 pages and contains details of what every candidate at the last General Election spent under all the principal headings. It has been issued 15 months after the event, and the whole of the information it contains has been published 1594 in the local newspapers, because that is a requirement of the election law, and yet this very expensive volume is printed and sent out. I see a certain amount of information in regard to how much hon. Members have spent, and I am wondering whether it is all quite as true as it is supposed to be.
At any rate that seems to me to be a quite unnecessary publication. Then there is another publication, "Closure of Debates under Standing Order No. 26." It runs into 15 pages. Technically, the responsibility for that publication rests with the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means, because he moved it, but the real responsibility lies with the whole House, because no one challenged the proposal to print this return. Then there is another pamphlet, "Adjournment Motions under Standing Order No. 10," which last year were nil. I really do not know what public purpose is served by issuing such a document. Another publication is entitled, "Business of the House, Sittings." The number of days the House sat last Session is 148 days, but it does not give the number of nights. In all seriousness, I think there is a gross waste of public money caused by the printing of unnecessary documents, and this is one of the effective opportunities for dealing with the matter.
The hon. Member for East Bristol (Mr. W. Baker) drew attention to the high price of Government publications. I am inclined to think that the commercial policy adopted by the Stationery Office is all wrong. Many documents that they sell have to be printed in any event for official purposes, and what is sold to the public represents the surplus product, which could be profitably sold at much less than the average price of the whole issue. The result of the new policy adopted, as a result of the Geddes Committee, has been so much to enhance the price of many Government publications that there is to-day practically no public sale for them at all. Some hon. Members may occasionally look at the Annual Statement of Trade, which is generally issued about a year after the year to which it relates. The volumes are, I think, now priced at £2 2s. These documents have to be printed in any event, and, I think, rightly, for the public service. But no one, except possibly a few propagandist societies, ever buys them 1595 to-day, although before the War they used to have a fairly substantial sale. Again, the price of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Proceedings of this House is 6d., whereas before the War it was 3d.
I think that if a really progressive sales policy were adopted by the Stationery Office, a very considerable revenue might be earned. I was astounded at the economic business policy propounded by the Financial Secretary. He said that if we advertised, we should spend money; but the object of advertising is to spend money, in order that you may get still more back. He would then come along with Appropriations-in-Aid so large that we should have no Supplementary Estimates at all under this head, and possibly we should reach the stage indicated by the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones), that it would be a paying proposition. May I also make the suggestion that the get-up of these publications, in many cases, is deplorable? No one would ever buy a Government Blue Book for what it looked like. Those who are skilled in the production of books know that very often an appropriate get-up helps to sell the document, but no one would think of buying a Blue Book on these grounds. I admit that the OFFICIAL REPORT of Parliamentary Debates, which we commonly call "Hansard," is rather better got up than some of the others, but I think that if there were a photograph of the star speaker in every Debate on the front page the circulation might be substantially increased, particularly in that Member's own constituency.
In all seriousness, I wish that the Stationery Office would adopt a more progressive commercial policy with regard to sales of publications, and would review the whole theory upon which they are now working with regard to their prices. I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney that more might be done in obtaining advertisements for some of the publications. It is true that the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" is fairly successful in the number of advertisements that it has; it has a large number of small advertisements; but I am quite certain that the sale of a document of that kind could be quadrupled if real energy were put into the selling of it, and that it would bring in an enormous revenue, because it has 1596 a high-quality circulation as it is. That is still more true of the "Board of Trade Journal." I would ask the Financial Secretary if be will represent this to the Departments concerned, which are largely responsible in this matter. The Stationery Office is responsible for publishing, and is often responsible for advertisements, but, if a Department has such a high sense of its dignity that it does not want advertisements in its publications, the Stationery Office, quite clearly, cannot render the best commercial service which it might do in other circumstances. I shall be very grateful if the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the suggestions which I have made, and give them full consideration.
§ Major ATTLEE
I do not want to follow the very interesting point that was put by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) about unnecessary publications, except to say that I quite sympathise with his objection to the interesting document issued to-day in reference to election expenses, because he is £60 over the mark.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
No. On a point of Order. The hon. Gentleman does not understand the document. He has taken the first column, which shows the legal maximum, but that excludes what is paid to the agent, and all personal expenses. If he had understood election law a little better, he would not have made such a mistake.
§ Major ATTLEE
I am glad to be corrected by the hon. Member. At the same time, be does come among the very select band who exceed the limit shown in the first column—there are very few of them—and perhaps that is why he did not like my talking about it.
§ Major ATTLEE
What I really wanted was to ask for some further explanation about the surprising fact, which I do not think has been noticed before, that there has been an increase of 12½ per cent. in Government business recently. It had not previously struck me that the present Government were so extremely active, and I should like to know in what directions this increase of 12½ per cent. has occurred? We have heard something about manilla paper jackets, and about hundreds of pots of paste, and I should like to know in what direction these are 1597 being utilised. There is such a thing as a sort internicine warfare between Government Departments, which we certainly do not want to see increase. Anyone who has been in a Government office has seen those large files, with their jackets, which go backwards and forwards between, say, the India Office and the Colonial Office, and so on, and I am wondering if it is that sort of increase which we are getting.
Why this sudden increase? It seems to me that somewhere there must be a terrible influx of work, to cause the use of such an enormous amount of paper. The amount of paste, also, is, surely, very large. Is it due to the controversy that raged last year between the Admiralty and the Treasury over economy in cruisers'? Is it due to the general economy work of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or to the vast amount of inter-Departmental correspondence? I think we ought to have some explanation of this 12½ per cent., because it appears to be an all-round increase. If it occurred only in one Department, there might be an explanation, but an increase of 12½ per cent. in the business of Government offices, without anything to show for the benefit of the country, seems to me to be simply an increase of 12½ per cent. in inefficiency. Is it an increase in the Post Office, or the War Office, or the Foreign Office, or in which office does it occur; or is it merely a general increase? If it be a general increase, I think it is quite time the Chancellor of the Exchequer put his foot down, in order to stop too much letter-writing, minuting and printing. If it be in some special office, I think we should have some special reason for the increase.
§ Major the Marquess of TITCHFIELD
I want to ask my right hon. Friend only one question, and that is, what happens to all the waste paper in the Government Offices? I am informed that during the War this waste paper was sold at a very good profit, and I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether it is sold at a profit now.
§ Sir FRANK NELSON
I should also like to ask my right hon. Friend one or two questions before he replies. He will remember that he informed the House, I think towards the end of December, in answer to a question, that no fewer than 273,000,000 telegraph forms were used. 1598 I think he indicated that he would be good enough to look into that matter, and see whether he was satisfied as to whether undue extravagance was or was not taking place. Would he also consider whether there is not a certain amount of extravagance in this House which might be curbed? Hon. Members come day by day and take their copies of the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates, and so on, and these papers are used and then left here, and nobody ever seems to know what becomes of them. In addition, there seems to be an enormous waste of notepaper in the Library. Could my right hon. Friend tell us whether, during the last two or three years, the quantity of notepaper used in the Library has increased or decreased?
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I wanted to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman, but before doing so I should like to say that the remarks of the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) rather interested me. I always thought that he was against State trading, but this afternoon he has advocated State trading very eloquently indeed. Perhaps he has been convinced that the State can do some of these tasks very much better than private enterprise. The point that I desire to put to the right hon. Gentleman is this. As hon. Members know, we receive from time to time documents relative to work of the League of Nations, and Members become conversant with what has transpired at Geneva in consequence. I have on more than one occasion raised the issue with the Minister of Labour in the House, as to whether we could get information and documents from time to time as to what is transpiring in the International Labour Office at Geneva. It will be remembered that the International Labour Office at Geneva is part of the Organisation of the League of Nations, but, although I have made the request on more than one occasion, I am not sure whether it has been acceded to, though I think a promise was made that it would be. I should very much like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman whether we may in future get documents relative to the work of the International Labour Organisation, on the same lines as we now receive documents in relation to the League of Nations itself?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am afraid that that is a question which I really cannot 1599 answer, at all events at the present moment, because it is not a matter which comes under the Stationery Office. It is a matter of policy, and I think the hon. Member ought to address his question, probably, to the Foreign Office. The Stationery Office, of course, is an executive office, which carries out instructions received by it from the various Departments, and, if it receives instructions to produce literature with regard to the League of Nations, it will, of course, do so; but it would be out of the question that it should take the initiative. Therefore, I do not think I can give an answer on that subject at the present moment.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lime-house (Major Attlee) spoke about the 12½ per cent. increase, and seemed to think that it must be due to some extraordinary outburst of departmental letter-writing. It is not so at all; it is a general increase. I did not say that it was a sudden increase; I think it is a gradual upward curve of Government business. It has, however, been more marked recently. For example, this year there has been the widows' pensions scheme, which was not, of course, foreseen at the time when the Estimate was made, and that has caused a large demand upon the Stationery Office. Then there has been a steady growth in Post Office work. I have not the actual figures here, but there has been a, very steady growth in the size of the Telephone Directory, which continues to grow more and more. All these factors, of course, accumulate, and, owing to their cumulative effect, much greater demands have been made on the Stationery Office all round.
The hon. and gallant Member asked whether the Foreign Office had anything to do with it. Of course, the Foreign Office has a great deal to do. Since the War, a number of new nations have come into existence, and that has involved gradual additions to the work of the Foreign Office, which reflect themselves in the work of the Stationery Office and everywhere else. Moreover, during the last year there have been very exceptional demands in connection with the printing of Statutes. The enormously bulky codifying Acts that have been passed in relation to real property have made the annual Statutes this year a very much bigger job, both in printing 1600 and in material. Again, our system of taxation necessarily becomes from time to time more complex. There are more graduations in the Income Tax, and there is a larger and more complicated system of rebates. All these changes of policy immediately make themselves felt in the demands upon the Stationery Office, and account for the increase to which I have referred.
Several hon. Members have spoken about Parliamentary Papers, and have asked whether some of them could not be done away with. That is a subject which I myself have gone into in the short time I have been at the Treasury, to see whether economy is possible. As an hon. Member opposite pointed out, if you begin rashly any particular form of cutting down papers, you never quite know whether you may be causing legitimate discontent to Members of the House. If, for instance, I were to draw a somewhat arbitrary line, and say, "There is no occasion to print this or that sort of Government paper," how can I tell the requirements of some other Members, and how do I know that I may not be cutting off exactly what some hon. Members particularly require? It is exceedingly difficult to economise in that particular, and there is a great deal of very legitimate jealousy on the part of the House of Commons against having its privileges with regard to Parliamentary papers of all sorts interfered with.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. H. Williams) gave four examples of what he considered to be redundant Parliamentary papers. Could the right hon. Gentleman point to any particular use to which any single one of those papers could be put? The hon. Member's argument was that not one of them was of any use. Can the right hon. Gentleman give any argument to refute that?
§ Mr. McNEILL
No, and I have not the slightest intention of trying, for the very reason I have given, because my opinion on the matter would be of no more value than that of the hon. Member who has asked the question. Neither of us is competent to judge to what extent these papers may be used by other hon. Members. An hon. Friend behind me asked whether the Stationery Office could not approach the Publications Committee. 1601 I have been a member of that Committee. I think it does very valuable work, and I am certain in this respect the Government would very much welcome any help they could get from the Publications Committee, which is in a very much better position than the Treasury or the Stationery Department for making any discrimination, and deciding that certain documents need not be printed. If the Publications Committee will make recommendations as to economising in the printing of Parliamentary papers of one sort and another, I am certain that will be of great assistance to the Treasury, and will be carefully considered. I should warmly welcome any recommendation that comes with the authority of the Publications Committee.
The hon. Member who is apparently at present leading the Liberal party is particularly interested in the "London Gazette." I have no doubt he will be extremely gratified and probably surprised to know that we make something like £25,000 a year out of the Gazette. He quoted certain advertisement rates of notices which have to be put into the "London Gazette," and said they are exceptionally low. They are not ordinary commercial rates, which are much more remunerative. An hon. Member opposite suggested that we were very extravagant in the sort of paper we supply to Members of Parliament, and he thought we might economise in the stationery. Apropos of that I should like to take the Committee into my confidence with regard to a little experiment of my own in economy. I have myself been in the habit, in the more wealthy and more properous days of the country, as many other Members have been in the habit, when we were going to make a speech, of taking a few of these large, long envelopes, which were particularly useful for making a few notes. I brought it about that a certain number of scribbling pads were placed about in different parts of the House for the use of Members. I am not making any accusation against any party or any individual, but the fact remains that, instead of the scribbling pads being used as I had anticipated from time to time by Gentlemen who were going to make a speech, they all disappeared from the precincts of the House, not leaving even so much as a trace of the cardboard 1602 backs. That sort of matter requires more active assistance from the House if it is to be carried into effect with really economical results.
§ Mr. W. BAKER
Will the right hon. Gentleman reply to two definite questions that were put to him. One was in regard to the origin of the typewriters and labour-saving machines that are being introduced, and the other is a question of first-class importance with regard to the stocks of paper that are accumulated by the Stationery Office and the Departments, and which are not shown in the accounts.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I am not sure whether I can really give accurate answers. I said there had been a great depletion of stocks. If the hon. Member wants me to go into greater particularity and to show exactly what the stocks were at the commencement of the financial year, I am afraid I am not in a position to do so, and could not at a moment's notice obtain the information. If he will put a question down, I shall be happy to get the information.
§ Mr. GILLETT
Would it not be possible in making estimates of stocks of goods, to let us know how much there is at the beginning of the year, so that we may add that to the amount of money spent during the year?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I should not like to say off-hand whether it would be convenient to do that or not. I do not know that that particular form of information would really be of very much use. As regards the nationality of these labour-saving devices, I am afraid it is a fact that British workmanship has not produced as yet a very good article. Almost all the best typewriting machines are still of American make. There are only three British-made typewriters, as far as my information goes, now on the market, the British Empire, the Barlock and the Imperial, all practically new designs, and the Stationery Office is at present testing them. With regard to calculating machines, I am not able to say exactly what is the nationality of each. They are very expensive machines, some costing as much as £130 I cannot tell from the names, and I have not the information as to their source of origin, but my impression is that here again the Americans are still far ahead of us in the production of this particular 1603 article. But with regard to typewriters, wherever we can find a British machine which is at all equal in efficiency to foreign-made machine, we will certainly give the preference to the British article.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us information about the disposal of surplus publications as waste? Are they all sold, and if so, are they sold by tender?
§ Mr. McNEILL
I really cannot say for certain. I presume they are, but they have a very small market. There is no form of literature which is less likely to have a general market than old Blue Books.
I know they have not a general market, but, I thought there must be considerable quantities of them left from time to time, and I wondered what is done with them.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I really cannot answer that question straight off. It never occurred to me. I know there is £18,000 a year for waste paper.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
I should like to press the point that the Government should take some steps to allow the Publications Committee to review the publications circulated and printed. It is not merely the circulation of these publications that entails expense. The mere circulation of a few extra copies is a very small item compared with the original cost of composing them. I imagine that a great number of them are publications which have to be produced under the provisions of Acts of Parliament, and in order to reduce the number legislation would be necessary. Therefore, the matter is really a very pressing one, and if nothing is done this spring we shall have to wait another year. I would therefore, press the point whether the Government could not take some prompt measure which would lead to this desirable end.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. R. DAVIES
The right hon. Gentleman has been very courteous in his reply to the questions raised on this side of the Committee. He made a statement which I should like to have cleared up. He said that some of the increased expenditure arose in connection with the introduction of the widows' pensions scheme. 1604 That, of course, is obvious. Is it not a fact that, although this expenditure is shown here, the main expenditure on this account will be recoverable under the pensions scheme later on?
§ Mr. McNEILL
That is so. In reply to the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Macmillan), I do not think I can go beyond what I have said. I do not know to what extent there are any powers of this sort. It would be very difficult for the Treasury or the Stationery Office to discriminate, unless they had some authority more than they have now from the House. That is why I referred to the Publications Committee. I can promise the hon. Member that the whole matter shall be looked into as carefully as possible, with a view to seeing whether any economy in that direction is possible.
§ Question put, and agreed to.