§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I am well aware that the Library of the House comes under your control, Mr. Speaker, assisted by the advisory Library Committee, whereas in an Adjournment debate such as this Government responsibility must be involved. All I am concerned with tonight is the setting up of a Press cuttings service as such, whether or not connected with the existingLibrary—although that would obviously be desirable.
Far from wishing to be discourteous to Mr. Speaker or appearing to reflect on the Library in any way, I know that it is an excellent Library and that the staff could not be more helpful.
I do not share the low opinion of Parliament and its working which is very widely held today and expressed on television and elsewhere. Since I came to the House eight years ago my estimation of Parliament has risen, although from time to time I may have been highly critical of the use made by the leadership of the three parties of the opportunities which Parliament presents.
But there has been a continual evolution of Parliament to meet the demands which have arisen through experience and through new techniques or conditions of life. What I am proposing tonight is a further step in this evolution. It is made at a time when I hope and believe that there is very wide interest in the question of improving the work of Parliament in all parts of the House. My object is to show how a Press cuttings service would work and how it would help Members of Parliament to do their work more efficiently, thoroughly, easily and quickly. I maintain that a Press cuttings service is a necessary tool of our trade which at present we lack.
§ Mr. Allaun
How would it operate? If a Member of Parliament wished to 946 prepare a speech or a Question he would visit the cuttings service in an accessible part of the House, preferably near the Library, and ask for the file on that subject. It would not consist of books. The file would contain everything in date order which had appeared on that subject in any national newspaper—the cutting itself and not merely a reference to the cutting; and the cutting would be mounted on quarto paper. The file would be up to date and include even that morning's news. Nor would the file contain mainly leading articles or feature articles. The real substance would be news items, however brief—sometimes only one paragraph. The great virtue would be that the file would be complete. I suggest that such a cuttings service would be based on the model of an ordinary national newspaper file, which is usually divided into three categories—personal, foreign and general.
In the personal section one file would exist for each well-known individual. The files would be arranged alphabetically and each file would contain all the events in the man's career, his activities, achievements, speeches and eventually his obituary—in fact, all the references ever made to him in the Press. For a very prominent individual an additional file would have to be provided almost yearly, otherwise the file would be too bulky. Similarly the foreign section would be arranged alphabetically under the names of countries. For a small country two or three files might suffice, and for a large country such as India there might be 200 files, sub-divided under, say, industry, steel, five-year plan, religion and so on.
The general file would be the largest. It would be arranged alphabetically, say from advertising to zoology. Here, too, there would be sub-classifications. For instance, under housing there might be 300 separate folders—for architects' plans, building industry, building controls, building societies (with separate files for the different societies), Bills and Acts, caravan sites, Conservative Party policy, evictions, and so on.
Members of Parliament would not be permitted to take the cuttings away, because of the possible failure to return them, as happens with books. They 947 would study and make the necessary notes on the spot and, if lengthy copies were needed to take away or quote, photostatic copies could be made by members of the staff. The folders would be kept in metal filing cabinets, each with 100 folders, perhaps with 10,000 cuttings in each. In other words, it would be compact and not require much valuable space.
What would be the advantages? Events are now taking place so fast that no individual can find it easy unaided to keep up with them, even in his own limited sphere of interests. One person cannot read every newspaper every day. It is even less possible to remember or quote all that one wishes. Absence abroad, perhaps on a delegation or on a holiday, may prevent access to English newspapers. Yet ignorance of one fact may make a speech unbalanced or a Question ridiculous. With a Press cuttings service it is possible in a matter of minutes for an M.P. to learn what is said outside the House as well as inside, developments in other countries or in other cities, local government experience, and to obtain the evidence of public opinion polls.
By a quick look through a file it is possible to discern the whole trend or solution to a problem which otherwise might not be evident. No self-respecting journalist working on a national newspaper would think of tackling a subject without first referring to the file, whether he be a leader writer, sub-editor, reporter or feature writer. This is how so many writers appear to have all the facts at their fingertips. If I may be forgiven for revealing a trade secret, half the work is done for them.
At present Members of Parliament are not helped in this way. As things are, the dice are heavily loaded in favour of the Ministers of whichever party happens to be in government and against private Members. The executive Government have staffs of expert civil servants to help them, and rightly so. I understand that some form of Press cuttings service is available in most of the twenty-two Government Departments. I am told that the Board of Trade Library alone, which admittedly includes other things besides Press cuttings, costs about £56,000 a year to maintain, or nearly four 948 times as much as what I am proposing.
A Press cuttings service would give the back bencher a chance to meet Ministers on more equal terms. This may be one reason why Governments of any political colour may not look with too friendly an eye on the proposal now being made. I ask the present Government to do the right thing in the interests of a truer democracy.
What I am saying tonight is intended in no way to cast any reflection on the existing House of Commons Library services. They are invaluable to Members, and some of us who use them a great deal are deeply appreciative of what is being done by the helpful, friendly and efficient staff. What is proposed is a major extension of these services which would better equip Members. Just as today the main Library assistants will in a few minutes trace and produce from Hansard the relevant statements made inside Parliament, so in future they or others could, equally quickly, produce the material provided by the world outside the House. Indeed, this has to a limited extent already started. Both for home and foreign affairs, an embryonic, yet excellent, Press cuttings service has already been established. What I am seeking is a very big extension of this, which certainly could not be done by the existing staff.
How much would it cost? I am indebted to one member of the Library staff, Mr. Englefield, who has made a careful investigation of Press cuttings libraries in six national newspapers, the B.B.C. and the Institute of International Affairs. The staffs of these organisations involved in this work vary in size from eight to twenty-eight. The Daily Herald employs an average number, fifteen men and women, full-time in its Press cuttings library. Some of them start work early, when the newspaper office opens, and others commence work in the evening and go on until 4 a.m.
I estimate that about half this number would be required by a Parliamentary cuttings service, since at least this proportion is concerned on the Daily Herald with filing items of sport, entertainment, human interest, sensational crime and also with pictures for the picture library of Press photographs and so on—material which would not be required by hon. Members.
949 When exactly a year ago tomorrow I asked the approximate annual cost of running such a service for.hon. Members, employing eight people, I was told by the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury that it would be about £6,000. Since then conditions have altered and this sum is probably an under-estimate. Some research has been done by Mr. Englefield, who estimates the cost to be nearer £15,000 a year or, upon reconsideration, rather less.
This amount of £15,000 compares with a total Government expenditure of nearly £6,000 million a year or precisely one four-hundredth of a farthing in the £ of present Government expenditure.
In Japan, West Germany and the United States, generous research facilities are provided. The Library of Congress which includes things other than a cuttings service, spent £700,290 in 1962–63 dealing with 100,000 specifically Congressional inquiries. It employs a staff of 215. Of these, thirty-nine are research specialists on a salary scale of more than £4,500 a year each. As a result, the research information facilities available to the legislature are equal to those at the command of the executive Government.
In this country the Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House has 13,000 box files and its staff cut extracts daily from thirty newspapers. Why cannot British hon. Members enjoy equal opportunities? The spending of £15,000 a year represents only a fleabite in terms of Government expenditure, though it would make a great contribution to the proper working of hon. Members, Parliament and democracy itself.
It might be argued that it would be unfair to incur this expenditure for a service which might be used by only a minority of hon. Members. The answer is that its helpfulness would soon become so apparent and well known that few hon. Members would consider action by means of speech, Question, Motion, lecture, letter or article without first consulting the cuttings service.
I do not expect a definite reply tonight. I should merely like an assurance that the matter will be carefully considered and, since an accom- 950 modation committee is likely to be set up soon, that its members will also consider this important topic.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I sympathise with one aspect of the speech of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). A Press cuttings service to an hon. Member is an extremely useful ally in the course of his Parliamentary and constituency duties.
I know of no hon. Member who buys himself a Press cuttings service, except myself. I do it and it costs me £150 a year. I had a long battle with the Treasury in 1955–56 demanding that I be allowed to charge this £150 against my Income Tax on my Parliamentary salary. In very arbitrary fashion they refused to allow me to do so. They produced a document entitled "Income Tax, Expenses, Members of Parliament" issued by Her Majesty's Inspector of Taxes, Public Departments, and their decision was based on an arbitrary ruling in that which states that expenses which are not allowable against Income Tax for hon. Members—and it names them all—include periodicals, books, and newspaper cuttings.
I pointed out to the Treasury, who agreed, that my salary as a Member of Parliament was assessed under Schedule E. I said: "Suppose that I charge my Press cuttings against my income under Schedule D, which, as a self-employed man, being a television performer, broadcaster and journalist, I may do?" I was told that it would be quite in order to move the £150 per annum which I was claiming from Schedule E to Schedule D, and that I could then charge it against Income Tax and Surtax assessment under that Schedule. Not only was I allowed that particular year, but I was allowed the three preceding years as well, and for every succeeding year thereafter I have availed myself for tax purposes of the cost of a personal Press cuttings service for my Parliamentary research and other allied work.
This is grossly unfair. If a Member of Parliament does not happen to perform on television or radio and is not assessed for any part of his income under Schedule D, he may not avail 951 himself of the cost of a Press cuttings service as a charge against his Income Tax or Surtax. If, on the other hand, for some part of his income he is assessed under Schedule D, he may so avail himself.
This all illustrates the jungle of incongruities and anomalies which exist today in the Income Tax law. While it would be ridiculous to concede what the hon. Member for Salford, East asks—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
For this simple reason, that there are 630 Members of Parliament, and, if the cost of a Press cuttings service for each of them averaged £150 a year, which is not unreasonable at the present cost of Press cuttings, then the total cost for Members of Parliament alone, not for specialised services or subjects, would be 630 times £150, which is £94,500, not the £15,000 of which the hon. Gentleman spoke.
§ Mrs. White rose—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Because the hon. Lady is usually so rude as to interrupt but is never one to give way herself. Now I will give way.
§ Mrs. White
Very gracious indeed of the hon. Gentleman. It so happens that, having been a professional journalist myself, I have some knowledge of the matter, and, since I was on the Library Committee which looked into the question, I also know something about the cost.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Perhaps the hon. Lady will tell me what is the cost per 100 or per 1,000 of Press cuttings.
§ Mrs. White
The Press cuttings mentioned by the hon. Gentleman would not be one per Member in the way he suggests. A very large proportion of them, the great majority, would be of common interest.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I cannot argue it in detail, but I can tell the hon. Lady that she is talking nonsense. The whole lot would have to be indexed and would have to be bought.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
The point I am making to the Financial Secretary is that we do not want a Parliamentary service of this kind, which would be inordinately expensive. What we want is a reform of the Income Tax laws which would allow a Member of Parliament, whether assessed under Schedule D or Schedule E, to charge the cost of such a personal service against his Income Tax assessment.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
To take up the last point made by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro), he, of course, always moves on the assumption that Members of Parliament can afford this sort of thing from their salaries. Our point, and the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) makes, is that this is one of the services which ought to be provided. The hon. Gentleman might use it quite a lot. I might use it quite a lot. Others on both sides would not need to use it. But everybody knows that the Government side are fully armed on all these matters. There is never a Minister who goes to the Box to answer at Question Time without having to hand the answer to every possible question.
The point of principle here is that the Legislature ought to be armed to meet the Executive on something like level terms. I leave the hon. Member with this thought. A General Election is in the offing. By making this application and these representations this evening, we might be doing a world of good for the Opposition that is likely to be in six months' time. Everything for which we ask now we might be asking for hon. Members opposite. They should be grateful and cede the principle while there is yet time.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Alan Green)
I have a wide-ranging debate to which to reply and I do not have much time in which to do it. I start by taking up the remarks of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), and I hope that this is some sort of reply to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), whose debate this really is.
My first concern in this matter is not the General Election or any juxtaposition of the parties in this House that may possibly happen at the General Election. My concern—and, I am sure, the concern of the hon. Member for Salford, East—is with the affairs of this House, on whichever side we sit. That is what I have to consider tonight, and not whether it is of advantage to any individual or party, on whichever side of the House he happens to sit. Therefore, I welcome the hon. Member's defence of his experience of the workings of Parliament and I agree with him. A great deal of nonsense is written about the way in which this place works by those who are not fortunate enough to have direct experience of its workings, as the hon. Member and I have had. I therefore welcome that opening remark of his.
The hon. Member has been good enough to discuss the subject matter of this debate with me and I realise the reality of his interest. I appreciate the point he made about the difficulties of private Members when confronted with the machine-given answers, if I may put it that way, of the Executive, whichever party the Executive may happen to represent. I must reject the suggestion that the Executive, of whatever party, denies this service to hon. Members in order to give the Executive a particular advantage. I can only hope that the hon. Member will accept this from me. It is a point which he suggested and I must answer it.
A real difficulty, which, I believe, the hon. Member appreciated while he was speaking, is to estimate with any real precision the size of the demand for this service. Certainly, I cannot myself make that estimate. The estimate of the size of the demand has to be made by the House as a whole.
Speaking for the Treasury, where I accept the cost is subsequently involved 954 —that is a second and separate consideration—I find it difficult to make any kind of estimate of the size and true nature of the demand for this service. The interests and needs of Members of Parliament are as wide as life. This is literally true. I am not inviting pity on this, but it is extraordinarily difficult for a member of the Executive to help the House in estimating what would be the cost of meeting the needs and requirements, not of the hon. Member for Salford, East, who knows what he wants from this service, but not knowing what all other hon. Members would accept or want from this service. It is extremely difficult for me to estimate the size of this service if it was to meet the needs of all hon. Members. That is my difficulty.
I am forced, therefore, to put this back to the House, I hope in acceptable terms. If the House can make up its mind, if hon. Members can make up their collective mindsby a majority, as they always do, as to whether this service is required, then at that point it will be more easy for me to say what will be the cost of it. At that point Members can again, of course, make up their minds whether, at that particular cost for that particular service, that is indeed what they want. I cannot in advance of knowing what the real needs are, before they are fully expressed, give any estimate of the cost of a service such as this.
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Sir G. Nabarro), I do understand the point which he was making. I am extremely glad that we were able to accommodate his particular personal point. I see the force of his argument that this, too, should not be a personal point relating solely to him, but I am none the less glad that his particular personal point was accommodated by this very large and generous Department, and I hope he is not unhappy about that fact himself.
I do not think I can go further tonight than to say that this is really a matter for the House; it is not, at this moment in time, strictly speaking a matter for me.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman does appreciate, does he not, when stressing that he is speaking as a subordinate member of the Executive, that originally we understood that the Leader of the 955 House would deal with this on behalf of the House? I understand that the hon. Gentleman is deputising for the Leader of the House, so it seems to me that in his argument that he is speaking for the Treasury he is rather out of touch.
§ Mr. Green
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think he has totally misunderstood me. I am sorry he should have done so. I do not think I am in a real sense deputising for the Leader of the House, or would presume to do so. I am in no such position. Nor would I presume it. I am pointing out, as the Leader of the House would also have had to point out, that this is very much a matter on which to take the opinion of the House. The Leader of the House would himself have said that, too. What I am saying is, as a Treasury Minister, that after the opinion of the House has been taken—this seems a thing honest to point out—then, of course, it would fall to me or to my successor to point out what this would cost. I cannot do that till the opinion of the House has been taken. It is not possible to judge the nature or cost of this till that opinion has been taken.
When that opinion has been taken the House will want to know the cost of this, because the House as a whole is as careful, I trust, in the disposal of public money, even though it may be for the interests of the House and therefore 956 the workings of democracy, and as careful about the disposal of relatively small sums of public money, as it is careful about the disposal of relatively large sums of money. It would only be at that point that I would be in any position to offer any kind of advice, which I am not in a position, I regret to say, to offer to the hon. Gentleman now. Nor would the Leader of the House have been in any better position to offer advice other than that I am now offering. Of course we consider these things, but that is very much more a matter for the House to consider than a member of the Executive at this point.
§ Mrs. White
What steps were taken to decide whether the House needed a Library of books? What steps were taken to discover what demand there would be, for instance, for the statistical section of the Library?
§ Mr. Green
There is the Library Committee. It is very much a matter for Members of the House, and very little a matter, certainly at this stage, for any member of the Executive. 1 repeat, it must be a matter for Members of the House. The point that it is important for Members has been aired fully tonight by the hon. Member for Salford. East, and I would think that the House would be grateful to him for doing so.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at a quarter to Eleven o'clock.