§ 6.5 p.m.
§ LORD LAYTON rose to call attention to the inadequacy of the supply of newsprint available for the British Press, the serious consequences of the additional restrictions recently imposed, and the necessity for honouring the long-term contracts made with Government sanction between the Newsprint Supply Company and the newsprint mills of Canada and Newfoundland; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, before moving this Motion I should venture to say for the record that I am not a disinterested party, but am Chairman of the News Chronicle and Star. I feel sure, however, that your Lordships' House will accept my words in the spirit in which I shall deliver them. They will be spoken not only on behalf of the Press as a whole but also for the public good.
§ I would also like to say that I shall not speak to this Motion in any partisan spirit. I have collaborated with His Majesty's Government, and with the Departments concerned, for two and a half years on the problems of supply and rationing of newsprint. Such collaboration was essential and was the only possibility in the circumstances. The alternative of complete Government control over the Press would, in my judgment, have been disastrous; and I think we may claim that the co-operative action between the Press as a whole and the Government has steered us through a difficult time, with fairness to all concerned, and, until the present time, without friction.
§ But something more than collaboration is needed for the supply of the basic material for the British Press. It is imperative also that there should be forward planning. We owe a very great deal in this country to our insular position, but it has some disadvantages. One of those disadvantages is that we grow within our boundaries almost none of the raw materials for making paper upon which we can print, although this country is the home of printing. Practically all our raw material has to be imported and paid for by export. That fact may have political consequences in years ahead. It also happens that the need for planning coincided with a world famine in newsprint immediately after the end of the war. During the last two years there have been constant discus- 820 sions with Government Departments to ensure the supply of basic material for the newspapers and, indirectly, for the periodicals produced in this country. It is essential that the material upon which we print should be assured to this country, and that does require a forward looking campaign. Agreement was reached in the spring of last year, when the Government accepted the view that a long-range plan was necessary, and a five-year plan was brought into effect for dealing with imported newsprint and the material for making newsprint in this country.
§ As I said just now, I do not want to criticize His Majesty's Government, or to suggest motives or anything of that kind, but I do wish to say most emphatically that in putting aside that long-range programme they committed a grave error of judgment. The error is of two kinds. First, in cutting the Press back to the four-page paper basis they gravely underrated the importance of the Press in a democratic community in these days and deprived the Press of adequate means of doing its job properly. And, on the other hand, they imperilled one of the very few pieces of constructive planning that had been done by collaboration between Government Departments and industry in this country. In so doing, particularly in the circumstances of the day, they imperilled the future supply of the British Press itself.
§ This Motion is in three parts. It refers to the inadequacy of supplies at present, to the grave inconvenience that will be caused by the additional restriction that was imposed during the past month, and to the necessity of honouring commitments entered into with the full backing of His Majesty's Government. I will refer very briefly to the role of the Press. One could discuss it in general terms, but there is no need for me to emphasize in this House that adequate information is basic to the successful functioning of democracy. Recently a Gallup Poll was taken in this country on the question: "What do you rely on most for forming your opinions: magazines, newspapers, books, radio broadcasts or some other source?" The answers (sometimes duplicated and therefore amounting to a total of more than 100 per cent.) showed in the total of the Poll that 58 per cent. said that they relied on newspapers, 41 per cent. on the radio, 13 per cent. on 821 books, and 8 per cent. on magazines and a number of other sources, including direct information.
§ Your Lordships will note that the question was not: "What did you take your opinion from?"; but "On what did you base your opinion"? By far the largest percentage of information is drawn from the newspapers. The percentage is 61 for men, and 54 for women. Women showed a higher figure for the radio, naturally enough, as the women can "listen-in" more in the home. This, I suggest, is really a social study of considerable importance. A note was made of the newspaper read by the people who were questioned. The interesting thing about this is that when you break that down, the figure for The Times is not 6i per cent., but 49 per cent. (that does not, of course, mean that people did not collect information from The Times). But the figure for The Times readers was: books 34 per cent.; radio, 36 per cent.; magazines, 17 per cent. In other words, the class that reads The Times is drawing information from many other sources besides the newspaper. When you take the class that reads the popular Press, books come down to 10 per cent., magazines well below 10 per cent., and so forth. The figures illustrate forcibly the point which would be expected, that the mass of the people buying the newspapers with large circulations depend mainly on those papers for their information. That is a very important fact.
§ With regard to the six-page and the four-page newspaper, I had an analysis made of various papers. We have been publishing four-page and six-page papers during the last nine months, and I find that papers such as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the News Chronicle, have, in fact, been able to print two and a half times the number of columns in reporting Parliament in a six-page paper, that they can print in a four-page paper. The same would be true if you took an analysis—and after all His Majesty's Government should make a careful analysis of these matters before making quick and arbitrary decisions which have such far-reaching effects—on foreign news. It is obvious that you cannot sell a four-page paper without including certain definite things. The back page is mortgaged to sport. In The Times about the same space is given to sport, 822 and commonly equals the space given to Parliamentary reporting. You could not sell a newspaper which merely give Parliamentary reports. You must supply what the public wants to read if you ire going to induce them to read what you want them to read!
§ It is, therefore, absurd to talk of inducing newspapers to print more of the kind of material which you think the people ought to have. The only way you can do that is to base it upon the standard item in a four-page paper. If you do have additional pages, you will get two results: you will get additional news, and you: will also get variety. If you do not get variety, then in effect you have a poor Press which becomes stagnant and will deteriorate. After all, variety is the essence of a free Press in a democracy. I am not arguing that four pages makes. a Press not free; but it makes it ineffective, and very inadequate to do its job.
§ Let me pass to the second point. I have already indicated one serious consequence of the four-page paper, which is that it standardizes the paper and makes it uniform. Everybody in your Lot d-ships' House will remember how during the War people said that all the papers looked alike. The Government are going the best way to make the papers look alike again, and that is not a healthy condition either for the Press or the people. It has serious repercussions, too, on employment. I can assure your Lordships that in every newspaper office to-day the executives are examining their costs. their employment sheets, and seeing what they must do to economize. They must economize for two reasons. One is a financial reason, but there is also a further consideration. If we are to have four-page newspapers for, let us say, two years, we know for certain that many of those offices overseas which we have been building up, those staffs which we have been gradually getting together, must be partially demobilized, for the simple reason that there is no room in the newspaper to print the stuff that comes over. Not only is it useless to maintain an office in idleness, but it is bad and frustrating for the people concerned.
§ The cut also presents a serious financial problem. I could give the House figures, but it is perhaps unnecessary. I merely mention that in the very week whim notice of this cut was given there was a rise in price of home newsprint, which 823 adds £2,000,000 to the bill of the British Press—even on the lower consumption—on the score of price alone. Shared out on the cost sheets of the various newspapers that is a very material increase. The British Press has had to carry higher wages; it has had to carry higher costs all along the line, and now there is a big jump in newsprint costs. The papers that will feel the pinch most are inevitably the independent papers, and the papers with the smallest circulation in their respective classes.
§ News of this cut has been greeted by resolutions of protest from the profession, from those who are employed in the industry, and from many commercial quarters. It induces a sense of frustration. It closes the door for two years, or whatever the period may be, to any serious intake into a profession which should play a very great role in the national life. We all know of the young men who have been wishing and hoping that, when they came back from the war, they might find openings in the journalistic profession. If this decision is maintained, their chances of getting in will be almost nil. I can think of no more cogent recommendation that the Royal Commission on the Press might make—and they might well make it as an Interim Report immediately—than that the kind of Press which they are trying to see established requires, as a first condition, a substantial increase in the supply of newsprint.
§ I come to the third point of this motion—that which concerns the Canadian contracts. The agreements that have been made are part and parcel of the planning to which I referred a little while ago. That planning is based on at least one-third of our basic supplies coming from the North American Continent, and the balance of two-thirds coming from Europe—our sources being respectively Canada, Newfoundland and Scandinavia. The reasons for this distribution are quite obvious. The first is military. During the war Scandinavia was completely cut off, and Canada sent us newsprint in addition to pulp for use by our mills at home. Secondly, there is the political reason. One would not like to feel that the British Press was completely dependent upon material from Scandinavia; I need not elaborate that.
§ Thirdly, there is a financial reason. If we are dependent upon one group, who 824 before have operated as a cartel, then the position of this country is liable to be seriously affected. It is simple common sense; insurance indicates that we ought to draw at least one-third of our basic supplies of an essential industry from an alternative source. It is on that basis that we obtained permission to make these contracts, but it was no good going to Canada without something more than permission to buy; we had to have a firm undertaking of dollars and import licences. I do not propose to say anything more about that undertaking because it was accepted in the debate in another place, and I am sure it will be accepted on the Government Bench this afternoon. It was a firm undertaking; it was a definite promise that the Government would supply the licences and the necessary dollars for the programme; otherwise I could not have gone to Canada last September with any hope at all of securing a long-range contract. When I got to Oriskany, a holiday camp some 200 miles north of Montreal, where were assembled half a dozen of the leading manufacturers of Canada, who between them have a capacity for making 2,500,000 tons of newsprint a year—a substantial part of the world's production—my first task was to impress upon them that this was a world problem and that there was danger if they sold all their production in the United States.
§ I was fortunate enough to pick up on the way up from Montreal a copy of the local paper, and it happened that I had in my bag a complete set of the national Press of England—a copy of The Times, the Telegraph, and all the London papers, the Manchester Guardian, and so on. I produced these from my bag when I got there, and presented them to those gentlemen with my copy of the Montreal paper, which weighed one and a half times as much as, and contained one and a half times the number of pages of, the whole of the national Press of Britain. It was impressive. The next thing they required was a Government guarantee, and that I was able to produce. Then followed a number of questions as to whether it was wise on commercial lines for Canada to enter into the British market. Was Britain solvent, and would she be solvent on a long-term basis? Were the Socialist Government going to check British recovery, or not? I do not propose to tell your Lordships the answer I gave, 825 except to say that I persuaded them to sign the contracts!
§ There was a rider added, however. These manufacturers said, "We know of the British newspaper owners, and we would like to have the general contracts underwritten." They asked us to sign twelve-year contracts—and most of us, with Government concurrence, have done so—to the extent of the total programme. The programme to-day is not merely a five-year programme; it is a twelve-year programme, of which the first five years are guaranteed in regard to foreign currency. It is an attempt to underpin the supplies of an industry and a profession whose raw material is not produced in this country. That plan is endangered by the action which His Majesty's Government have taken. It has also the grave disadvantage that it casts doubt upon a firm promise given by His Majesty's Government. Quite frankly, I myself do not know on what sort of ground I would go back to Canada to ask them to reopen negotiations if those contracts are not kept in being and honoured.
§ It is reasonable, however, to say to me as an objection, "That is all very well; a long-range plan is very important and helpful, and so on, but when it comes to the pinch necessity compels," or, as it has sometimes been put, more crudely—I am sure it will not be put like that from the Front Bench to-day—"You must have food before paper." That is a very crude argument, which is based on a misconception of priorities. There is a mistake that countries have often made in their planning, both in war and in peace. It is the fallacy of priority as against allocation. Sound planning is not putting A in front of B; we all learned in the war that good planning consists of how much of A is needed and how much of B. I say to His Majesty's Government that, in my opinion, they have made an error of judgment, and that they have got the proportion wrong between what is the minimum need for the British Press and what is the minimum need for food, for petrol, and for raw materials of all sorts for other industries. It is not a matter of priority, it is a judgment of balance, and on that argument I maintain, and we all maintain, for the reasons that I have given, that the figures are entirely in the wrong proportion. We therefore insist with the utmost emphasis—and 826 other noble Lords may have something to say on this—that these long-range contracts, both in the interests of the Press and of the credit of this country as a whole, should be maintained.
§ Let me add that it is not only Canada that is involved in supplies to the British Press. Canada is our insurance—and mean, of course, Canada and Newfoundland. That is our insurance; but the bulk of our material comes from the home mills fed by pulp from Scandinavia. That part of our supply is in the hands of the Government. The Board of Trade buys a rid imports this pulp whereas the Newsprint Supply Company buys and imports newsprint. In view of what has happened, and of the case I have attempted to make for larger supplies of newsprint, I would like to ask His Majesty's Government what assurance they can give us that the British mills are covered for pulp for the remainder of 1947 and for the year 1948.
§ We have submitted under protest to an immediate cut in the consumption of newsprint which has involved the loss of one page per day, or rather one page per issue, and there has also been re-imposed a limit on sales. We would ask that this cut should be reconsidered, for the reasons I have given. I, for one, think that it will be very prejudicial indeed to the public interest if the additional page is not restored before Parliament meets again in the autumn. I do not believe that either the proceedings of Parliament or the happenings at that time—the exhortations which will perhaps have to be made when we are in the midst of a crisis—can be adequately presented to the people unless that page is restored.
§ It is even more serious that the situation next year is left entirely in the air. Yesterday we met the President of the Board of Trade who, it will be remembered, said in another place that he was prepared to reconsider this problem in. January in the light of circumstances then existing. January is too late for dealing with 1948, and we were able to persuade the President that some action must be taken before September 1 to inform the mills as to what they are to produce next year, and he has therefore agreed to meet us before September 1. We shall be ho further forward at all, however, if the answer about 1948 is as non-committal as that which has already been given to us, which simply and bluntly says: "We 827 can make no commitment about what you may buy in 1948."
§ The purpose of my Motion is to urge the Government to accept and stick to a plan to safeguard the future supplies of the British Press on a scale sufficient for them to perform the functions which they alone can perform. Until now the sizes of our newspapers have been limited by the shortage of the world's production but, subject to an availability of supplies, and in order to avoid confusion and the constant adjustment and re-adjustment of plans and employment to which I briefly referred, I would like to draw from His Majesty's Government the following assurances. The first is that the Government regards an eight page paper basis (and please remember that when I speak of four pages this applies to the popular large circulation papers and involves correspondingly different paging for other classes) as the normal standard for the British Press during the next two or three years, and six pages as the bedrock minimum in times of economic difficulty.
§ I said just now that I believed that planning involves allocation. You may well say to me, "We are faced with a terrible economic crisis. How can you insist on a fixed claim?" My answer is that if planning is adequately performed, in view of the circumstances of to-day there should inevitably be a two-decker import programme: (1) what you hope to maintain, and, (2) what will be the bedrock, if the worst comes to the worst. I am asking that newsprint should be considered on the basis of such a two-decker programme, and that the lower figure should be what I should call the iron ration for newsprint. That, surely, is the conception which should be applied to-day to the import programme throughout. I suggest that, in view of the purposes and functions of the Press, an eight page paper should be regarded as the normal size for the next two or three years, if we succeed in going along as we are at present. On an iron ration basis six pages is the absolute minimum.
§ Secondly, on that iron ration basis of six pages we want a reaffirmation of the undertaking to honour the Canadian contracts; and, thirdly, we want an assurance from the Government that the home mills are adequately covered by a supply of pulp from Scandinavia. I invite the 828 noble Lord who will reply on this debate to satisfy the Press, which is in a very grave condition of uncertainty, on those three points. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I am sure the whole House will feel grateful to the noble Lord for his able and clear exposition of the grave position with regard to newsprint which has arisen at the present time. Particularly was I interested in what the noble Lord termed his non-Party approach, and his charitable interpretation of some of the aims and policy of His Majesty's Government which we, on this side, cannot exactly share. We feel—and I believe that the great body of people in this country are realizing—that the Government made a grave mistake in the step which they took in cutting newsprint supplies. The noble Lord, Lord Layton, has dealt with the home effects: I think that one might sum them up under three heads. First, the cut hits the small and independent newspapers first and hardest. It hits all, but it hits some worse than others, and the ones that can least afford to be hit are going to be hit the most. Second, the cut is going to cause unemployment in industry. Lord Layton has dealt with that. He has told us how news services throughout the world, which are run by British newspapers, will have to be curtailed. He has told us how newspaper executives are searching through their costing sheets to see where economies can be made. Third, the cut means that two years after the war this country will have the smallest daily papers in the world, except for ex-enemy countries—countries that we have defeated. And this is to be the case just at a time when we need to give the people of this country the greatest amount of information upon world events at home and overseas.
It is worth examining for a moment the reasons given by His Majesty's Government for this cut. I think it will not be disputed when I say that the reason is the need for economy of our dollar resources. That is the broad reason. But when we go a little nearer to the picture, we see that there is a disproportionate sacrifice demanded in respect of newsprint for a very small benefit. It has been calculated that the gap in our dollar needs is so great that this newsprint cut, by which it 829 is hoped, according to the figure given in another place, to save the equivalent of £2,000,000 a year, means a saving of about one-quarter of one-hundredth part of our prospective dollar deficiency. Against that we have to put the cost to the public of the lack of news. I do not think that any noble Lord can controvert the figure which I have given as to the extent of saving in relation to the problem we have to face of our dollar deficiency. There jumps to one's mind the question: Why discriminate in this way and select newsprint? It seems to me that the answer is two-fold. First of all, newsprint is an easy thing to cut. It is there, it is a big single item, from which something can be sliced, illogical as that slice may be, unjust as that slice may be. Secondly, one is driven to the conclusion that there are elements in His Majesty's Government who are not sorry that newspapers are being curtailed at the present time. A noble Lord opposite dissents. I am sure that if he will read the reports of speeches made by his colleagues in the Government, the Minister of Health, for example, in South Wales, or the Minister of Fuel and Power, railing against the Press, saying how terribly hard it is to govern with this daily misrepresentation going on, the noble Lord, in fairness, will admit that some of his colleagues do not exactly like the Press—and that it is not an overstatement. Some of his colleagues have certainly made use of expressions indicating that they do not exactly like the Press. From what they say it appears that they feel that the Press is not helping the cause of Socialism.
No other industry has been subjected to such treatment as is now being meted out to the industry connected with newsprint. And I repeat, that this is done just when we do need to convey to the people news of what is happening at home and abroad, and to give them reports of what takes place in the Houses of Parliament. I have heard many noble Lords complain, and I think rightly complain, about the inadequate amount of news space that can be allotted to reports of debates in another place and the House of Lords. The reason is, of course, that the Press have only a limited space which they can devote to reporting these matters. And it is just now, when the debates in this House and in another place ought to be adequately reported, that the reports will have to be further contracted.
830 Once I had the honour of working in a very junior capacity as a reporter on one of the daily papers owned by a noble Lord in this House. That was a good many years ago, but if you have once been a reporter on a paper, you dew lop a habit, or rather an ability, which you never lose—that is an ability to open a paper and to say that it is a good paper to-day or a bad paper to-day. I have always tried to keep up the habit of reading all the daily papers, and it does seem to me remarkable how free and fair is the general reporting of our daily Press in this country. Some may, or may not, like the editorial view-points, but, broadly speaking, most of the papers which oppose the Government to-day are giving far more space to the statements of Ministers and those who support the Government than to the statements of those who oppose the Government. Really, the only paper that does not seem to give a very free account of both sides of the debate is the paper which is tied to the Socialist Party. Look, if you like, at the Daily Herald and you will see, every day, a journalistic picture of perfection of Government. You never see any criticism. You would never think that anyone in the country spoke against the Government, and you would never imagine that any Minister did any wrong action. On the other hand, if you study other papers you will see general criticism of people irrespective of the Party to which they belong, and very free reporting of all points of view.
In spite of this cutting of daily newspapers it is worth noting that Government publications are flowing on in increasing quantities. Whereas before the war, newspapers here were absorbing approximately 1,250,000 tons of newsprint, they have recently been down to 405,000 tons. And they are now going to have a further cut. Government publications have until recently been 177 per cent. above their pre-war figure. They have been using 77,000 tons of paper. That is now being cut to 55,000 tons. But they will still be at a very considerable percentage above the pre-war level. It is not, I think, unfair to draw the conclusion flat the Government love their own publications, but do not very much like those which are produced by a free Press. I think that we might ask for a better example from the Government, as regards 831 the use of paper in their own publications and otherwise, than we have had recently.
Now I wish to touch very briefly upon a matter with which the noble Lord, Lord Layton, did not deal. That is the question of whether we are not prejudicing the position for a far longer time ahead than the Government say is likely. They say that they will review the matter in a few months, and that they may then be able to do something. The President of the Board of Trade has said that he wishes this cut to be only temporary. Now we may wish the cut to be only temporary, but when the cut is removed we may not be able to obtain newsprint again in the same quantities as before. I was able, last week, thanks to air travel, to be in Newfoundland, and I spent two days with the paper interests there. There is a real danger that we shall not get back our contracts if we delay too long—if we prolong the cut unduly. The position is this: it is a seller's market now for newsprint from Canada and Newfoundland. Canada and Newfoundland, after all, last year supplied two-thirds of the world's newsprint, and they can sell all that they wish in the United States. Buyers in the United States are willing to take everything that they can produce in that line, including the tonnage which will become available as the result of this deferment or cancellation—whichever term you may use—but the United States interests who acquire the plus of newsprint to that which they have expected are going to endeavour to do so on their own terms. They are going to say to the mills in Newfoundland and presumably also in Canada, "Certainly we will take extra newsprint, but we must weave it into the pattern of our long-term ten or twelve-year contracts." I do not know what will happen but there is a real danger and the men on the spot know that the danger exists.. Afterwards, when the Government come forward and say the position has improved, and you can have your newsprint back, the newspapers will have the greatest difficulty in re-obtaining the supplies they will have surrendered.
We think the Government have made a grave error and we think that, having made a mistake, they are somewhat obstinate in standing by their viewpoint.
832 We feel that more could be done. The whole capacity of home output which the noble Lord, Lord Layton, spoke about is at present working only 33 per cent. If our whole capacity worked at 5o per cent. output, it could turn out 420,000 tons of paper in the year, sufficient for the six-page paper three days a week. We ask the Government two things. First, to review again their decision and see if even at the eleventh hour they could not amend it and gain in stature by so doing in the general view of the public. Secondly, to review the position to make quite sure that the future is safeguarded as regards newspaper supplies, because newspapers play an essential part in the democratic world of to-day.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ROTHERMERE
My Lords, I suppose that I must follow in the footsteps of the noble Lord, Lord Layton, and disclose to your Lordships that I have an interest in the newspaper industry. Modesty prevents me from mentioning all the names of the newspapers, but I believe your Lordships' imaginations will supply them. I told the noble Lord who moved this Motion that I would support him on this occasion because I feel that your Lordships would wish as many of those in the newspaper industry as possible to he present here this afternoon, And although those of us who are personally affected would like to defend the economy and employment in the newspaper industry, at the same time I feel that the adequate paging of newspapers is just as much a problem of every single one of your Lordships sitting here as it is of those personally interested in the matter It is a subject for everyone and the newspapers, very naturally, have been unanimous in opposing this cut—a unanimity which has not been visible since the days of the war; a unanimity which has been all-inclusive—with the exception of one newspaper. Though the staff of that one paper have sent us messages of congratulation upon our efforts, they have been tied very severely to the ground, and they have not been able to protest in their columns.
The free Press of this country, however, has protested very vigorously, and I feel that it is a matter of almost national moment to see that the newspapers are able adequately to report the news of the country. When we are talking about sacrifices, I would like to remind your Lordships that during the war those who 833 are interested in the newspaper industry never made a single murmur of any description regarding the cutting down of the size of newspapers. On the contrary, we volunteered a great many cuts which were not even suggested by the Government; and when you realize that the newspaper with which I am connected came down in the course of the year from an average of twenty pages to an average of four, it shows that very great economies had to be made and dislocations corrected. There was not a murmur about that, and there never will be a murmur, either from the newspaper industry or any other industry, if it is perfectly obvious that it has to be done for the sake of the country as a whole. But when we find ourselves singled out for cuts which are very serious for the industry and which, so far as I can see, will do little to better the financial state of the country, I think we have a right to protest.
As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has said, £2,000,000 saved in the course of a year is not going to make the difference between the solvency and bankruptcy of this country. I believe that our adverse balance is something like £450,000,000. It does not make any sense at all. If the Government had come down and said, "You see the state of affairs in the country. There will have to be tremendous sacrifices by every part of the community and the newspapers have to be on the list for this sacrifice," I assure the Government they would not have had any protests from the newspaper industry. As it is, we feel that we have been unfairly treated. That is why we come here this afternoon to your Lordships to protest.
I see no reason why we should be singled out in this manner. We are a public utility. We are endeavouring to serve the country in the best way we can, and I am perfectly certain that your Lordships would desire there to be as large a Press as it is possible for this country to afford. We know that the raw material has to be bought from abroad with dollars. I am afraid a great many things have to be bought from abroad with dollars, and we have a feeling that there has been a certain amount of partisanship against the Press. That kind of vindictive partisanship is something which is rather novel in the public and political life in this country. So far as I am concerned, 834 the Government know perfectly well that the newspaper with which I am principally associated is not of their particular colour. It never has been, and I hope that it never will be. But there it is; you cannot have all the newspapers in the country supporting a Socialist Government or you will have a totalitarian regime.
On the whole, when I look at events over the last two years, I am absolutely astonished at my moderation. I am astounded because of the mistakes made by the present Government. I think they have had a better Press in this country than any other Government I remember. They have had an extremely good run, and I am not so sure, when I look at the state of affairs, that I have not erred in seeing that they had as good a run as they have had. In my view the country is in a very perilous condition, a most perilous economic condition; and I would say to the Government that in protesting about the newspaper cut under such conditions as we are facing, I feel it is a small thing compared with the problems which are to be discussed in another place, possibly next week. But it is the unfairness of the cut which has annoyed us. It is not so much the sacrifice that has been asked, but the singling out of newsprint that has riled us. I would like 1-Es Majesty's Government to understand that.
Before I sit down I should like to touch on a further question which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and that is in regard to the position of the mills. Again I speak as being interested in mills as well as in newspapers. The position with the mills is very chili-cult. You cannot run newsprint mills on a short-time planning basis; you have to plan far ahead. If you make contracts in November, with the consent of the Government, and then revoke them in June at the demand of the Government:, you cannot expect the mills to keep news-print indefinitely, waiting for consumption in this country. Once those contracts are broken, and once other contracts are made with other publishers elsewhere, then I do not know that there will be very much chance of getting the newsprint back here. I am quite certain that the mills in Canada and Newfoundland, will all the sentiment which they have for this country, will do everything in their power to keep newsprint for Great Britain, but I do not think it will be possible for them to keep it indefinitely.
835 I would ask His Majesty's Government seriously to consider what is to be done about these contracts. They are five year contracts which have been signed with these mills, and if they are broken there will be five or ten year contracts made with other people. I would suggest that something should be done (we have not yet been able to tell them anything) so that we may tell the mills what we propose in place of the five year contracts—that is to say, how much scaling down there must be. I ask that because it is only right and courteous that these mills should be told as early as possible. That is all I have to say on the matter. I ask your Lordships' approval for intervening on a matter in which I am personally interested. I feel that your Lordships are also interested in seeing that the Press is adequate, and that even the members of His Majesty's Government, if they will search their hearts, are interested. I hope that the noble Viscount who is to reply will be able to tell us that there is going to be a businesslike arrangement.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I want to intervene for only a very few moments. I would like to apologize to the House, and to the noble Leader of the House, for having perhaps broken the rules the other day when I asked a question. I was told from the Table that there was no chance of putting a Motion down, and that must be my excuse. A Motion has now been put down, and I would like to say a few words on it. I am not connected with any newspaper; I have no newspaper shares, or anything like that. I speak as a reader of newspapers, and one who desires to be well-informed. It seems to me that we are reeling into a crisis which will be perhaps the greatest this country has ever known in its history, and the Government, in their own interests, would do well to remember that they cannot expect to have the people of the country behind them unless they can give the real news to the papers. If there is any doubt about that, one has only to look at what is happening in South Wales, and in the mining districts of Yorkshire, where absenteeism is on the increase. Why is that? It is because the Government are not getting the seriousness of the position over to the people. If the Government could persuade the miners of Yorkshire, South Wales, Durham, or anywhere else, 836 of the seriousness of the position of the country, I am quite certain that the figures of absenteeism would go down with a bump at once. I have been connected with miners in my time, and I never wish to have to deal with a finer set of men. But you have got to tell them, and make them understand. It seems to me that it is absolutely vital for His Majesty's Government to do this.
It may be said: "We are only cutting the pages of the newspapers." But it has a much more serious effect than that. Yesterday we had a fairly extensive debate and several Divisions in this House. The Times to-day reports the proceedings in 37 lines; the Daily Telegraph is able to give a column and a half to it, I am glad to say, and very much more detail. But that is an example of how these cuts restrict the possibility of people getting information. Take the happenings in Palestine and Indonesia, or anything which is going on in the world to-day. How can you expect people to understand what is happening overseas? How can you expect them to appreciate the necessity for keeping British Forces overseas, or for having adequate Forces all over the world to carry out Government policy, unless you are able to explain the situation in detail to the people?
I have recently visited several of the countries of Europe—Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, and I paid a fleeting visit to Norway and Sweden. During the course of those visits I noticed one very surprising thing, and that was the extent to which people in those countries are accustomed to look to the British Press for really good, unbiased and balanced news. Only the other day in Oslo I noticed that quite a large proportion of the sales of one particular newspaper shop were of British newspapers. If we want people abroad to understand our position, surely that is a good thing. How can you expect the ordinary man in America to know what is the plight of this country unless you give adequate news? I suggest to the Government that this matter is one which calls for urgent reconsideration. I do not say that with any idea of making Party capital out of the question; I think it is much too serious and important for that. Why single out newsprint, as the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, has just said, while you are still continuing to import millions of pounds' worth of American films and 837 tobacco, and all these other things? If you are going to have a cut, make it an all round cut, and do not single out one particular industry like this, which, after all, is a vital industry, upon which the British people must depend in order to be able to understand the great problems of the day.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT CAMROSE
My Lords, I do not wish to address your Lordships at any length of time at this late hour. I think I ought to start by saying that I, too, am an interested party—I control just one newspaper. I think it is a very good newspaper, and I will say no more than that. It is perhaps as well that when the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, spoke so late in the evening he did not, as he threatened to do in the first part of his speech, name all the papers with which he is connected. I am afraid we should have been here for quite some time. I would like to endorse everything that has been said by my noble friend Lord Layton in the very able speech which he delivered in moving this Motion. There is nothing much left for me to add after what the three noble Lords who have spoken have said. I would like to emphasize, however, the words of the noble Earl who has just sat down that people are not being educated by the newspapers to-day. That has been a common theme in all the speeches, and I think it is one which my noble friend opposite will have difficulty in getting over.
I would add that I personally do not believe that the Government have done this with any political motive. But I do not believe they have done it intelligently; I believe they have blundered into it. I would agree with the noble Lord on the Front Bench that there are certain members of the Government who have what I might call antagonistic or masterful feelings in regard to the great Press of this country, but I do not think the Government did anything but blunder. I do not believe they realized what was going to happen as a consequence of this cut. As my noble friend Lord Rothermere said, their tied organ has carefully refrained from even mentioning this controversial subject. I think it is the only paper in the country that has not had something to say about the iniquity of the step which the Government 838 has taken. I say, therefore, that the Government have blundered, and I hope that the noble Viscount will be able 10 say something to-night which will show that they are going to blunder out.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (VISCOUNT HALL)
My Lords, we have listened to a very remarkable debate, a debate in which representatives of three of the most influential newspapers in this country have taken part. Each of them has had to declare an interest. I really think that everyone who takes part in a debate dealing with the Press should declare an interest—not that I have any personal interest, but because we are very interested in the Press. In saying that, may I take this opportunity of expressing—I think I can say on behalf of His Majesty's Government—the thanks of the Government and the nation for the work which the Press in this country has done during a period of very great difficulty in the dark clays of the war and since the war.
Indeed, I find it very difficult to say much in this debate. It has been conducted almost in an atmosphere of agreement, and with a background such as I have, I often feel that it is better to have a little bit of a "dog fight," so that one may get away from some of the difficult posers by fixing attention upon something else. But in this debate, as I have said, three representatives of the Press have taken part—three men who have had a life-time experience in the management and administration of the Press, each of whom has given service to the State in addition. Far be it from me to pretend that I know one tithe of one per cent. as much about the subject as any one of them knows. However, in the circumstances I will endeavour to do my best.
May I say at once that though the Government's action in connexion with this matter might be regarded as a blunder or a great mistake, it was not in any way done from the point of view of political partisanship. Every member of the Government reads almost every daily paper; indeed, one of the great advantages which the Press has at the present time is that so many people do not confine themselves to one newspaper. Each of us wants to know what 839 the other fellow says. That is one of the reasons why there is such a great demand. not only for the daily Press but for the Sunday Press, because we want to see what is being said by the other side. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Layton, in his excellent speech, put the position quite clearly when he referred to the Gallup Poll. I wondered whether he did not make a mistake from a debating point of view, because he said that 61 per cent. of the people who replied to the queries received from the Gallup Poll obtained their information from the newspapers. That happened with a five-page newspaper. What is going to happen if we have ten-page newspapers?
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I wonder whether it would stay at 85 per cent., and whether we want anything more than newspapers, because that would be all that was necessary for them to get all the information they wanted. I think it is a pleasing feature that there is this freedom of the Press in this country. The noble Lord referred to free expression of opinion by all papers apart from the tied newspaper. I am not going to guess which one that is, but I am tempted to compare it with another newspaper which possibly Viscount Rothermere knows without my telling him.
I think the position can be summed up almost in a nutshell. It is a question of money and obtaining the necessary dollars to meet the commitments in which this country is involved at the present time. I am pleased that the debate this afternoon was not broadened out to bring in the general economic situation, upon which I understand a debate will take place next week. I can assure your Lordships that it was not the desire of His Majesty's Government to place the Newsprint Supply Company in an embarrassing position when we decided to reduce the amount of newsprint but it was entirely a question of the difficulty of obtaining dollars. The dollar situation—and I do not want to refer to it—is a very serious one. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in another place a month ago, referred to the fact that we were using up the dollar credits which we have in America and Canada at the rate of £400,000,000 in the first six months 840 of this year, of which £40,000,000 was from Canada. If we go on at the same rate for the next six months, we shall use up £800,000,000 worth of dollars. It means that something has to be cut, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he made the announcement of the new import programme, referred to the fact that certain cuts were to take place. Newsprint has not been singled out. There are cuts in tobacco, cuts in petrol, and indeed cuts in films. The fact is that the cut in newsprint is smaller than any of the other cuts which are taking place. Indeed, His Majesty's Government started off on a basis of making a cut which would amount to something like £3,000,000, but as the result of conversations which took place between the President of the Board of Trade and the representatives of the newspapers that was reduced to the present cut. That is one of some 48,000 tons of newsprint which will not now be imported but which would have been imported under the contract, had it not been for this interference.
Let us see what this cut really means—and please do not think for a moment that I am attempting to minimize it. The cut means a reduction of one page in what is known as the "popular" news Press of this country; either a cut of one page or a retention of the size of the newspaper as it is at the present time, with a cut in the circulation. It is left to the newspaper proprietors to do one or the other, as they deem necessary. I was rather interested to see in the Sunday papers—I am afraid that I take more than one—that one paper apologized to its readers for the fact that they would have to reduce the space in their newspapers to retain the number of readers. If they retained the space they would lose 50,000 readers. Another well-known Sunday newspaper said, " We feel it is in the interests of our readers that we should retain our existing space and lose " (I think in that case) "70,000 readers."
I am not suggesting that that is not a great loss. It is a great loss, and one which a newspaper proprietor must take into consideration. The interesting thing to me—and please do not think I am criticizing them—was that both were agreed upon one thing: that it was necessary to put up the price of the two papers by a penny, making it three- 841 pence. There is, of course, a substantial increase in the circulation of newspapers at the present time, as compared with the circulation which they had prior to the increase in newsprint which was granted as a result of the agreement of last year.
Questions have been put to me as to the future, and I suspect that that was the real purpose of this debate. I am asked whether an assurance can be given, not only as to future supplies of newsprint, but also as to future supplies of the necessary pulp to keep the pulp mills going. I am fully aware of the fact that this is a very important industry, which is entirely dependent for its raw material upon imports—whether the import be in the form of pulp, in the form of timber, or in the form of newsprint. I believe that that is one of the great difficulties. With regard to home production of newsprint, I think it can be said that for this year, at least, sufficient pulp will be imported to produce 225,000 tons of newsprint for newspapers.
Let me turn now to the other question put by the noble Lord, Lord Layton, when he referred to the fact that the ideal at which the newspaper proprietors are aiming is an eight-page paper, and a six-page paper as an iron ration. Prior to the recent cut, the penny dailies consisted of live pages, while the provincials selling at two pence or more were eight-page papers. Lord Layton referred to an eight-page paper—that is the penny daily which he wishes to be put up from its present size of four pages to eight pages. This would mean increasing the provincial papers by an appropriate figure. On the present four-page basis, they require 355,000 tons of newsprint per year. That, of course, includes the 225,000 tons of newsprint produced in this country. On an eight-page basis this would need 616,000 tons of newsprint; and on a six-page basis 473,000 tons.
I am advised that at the present time it is impossible for us to recognize a six-page basis as a minimum; indeed, it would be larger than the size which was in existence prior to the cut. If six pages were allowed, and home production remained at its present figure, we should have to import 250,000 tons of newsprint per annum. That is 50,000 tons more than the figure of the contract which the noble Lord, Lord Layton, so successfully negotiated in 842 London for this particular year. An eight-page paper would mean an import of 400,000 tons. I ought to tell your Lordships that we cannot undertake that the newspapers should have an iron ration such as would enable them to produce six pages; but the President of the Board of Trade has agreed that he will do his best to tell the newspapers before September 1 what they may import in 1948. This will enable them to fix their minimum page-size and their circulations.
Let me deal with the matter of wood pulp a little more fully, because I know there are noble Lords present who are interested in this matter. Pulp for newsprint forms only a part of the total which is imported by the Paper Control, and some pulp is used for other purposes. The present sources of supply are Sweden, Norway and Finland, and to a lesser extent, Canada. So far as Norway and Finland are concerned, our supplies for 1948 are reasonably assured, but we have not yet made arrangements for our imports from Sweden; and we cannot, in any case, enter into contracts with that country until the currency position is somewhat clarified. We shall, however, be dealing with this matter in the course of a few months, and we have no reason to feel that if the currency is available we shall not be able to obtain at least the same quantity as we bought in 1947. So far as Canada is concerned, a representative of paper control is at present engaged in discussions with the Canadians for our 1948 supplies. Again, subject to currency, we should be able to meet our requirements to the same extent as in 1947.
I think that these were the two main questions put to me, and the questions in which noble Lords were most keenly interested. On the general position, again I am afraid I have to come back to the point at which I commenced. This it a question of currency. When noble Lords say: "Well, it is worth £1,000,000, £2,000,000 or £3,000,000," that is so; hut big things consist of small things out together. £1,000,000 worth of dollars means between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000. I am not for a moment suggesting twat this saving will do other than a very little to fill the gap; neither will the cuts in tobacco, the cuts in petrol and the other cuts which have been imposed by His Majesty's Government. But His 843 Majesty's Government had a very difficult matter to decide.
Were we to cut food? I am sure that there is not a single noble Lord but would say that food is more essential and more important than newsprint. Were we to cut the imports of essential machinery to be used for the purpose of increasing or improving the coal output of this country? Or, indeed, were we to cut other commodities which are so very essential to us? I think it can be said "No. It very much better that we should do what His Majesty's Government have done." I will go so far, with all due reverence, as to pray that the cuts which have been imposed will be of a very short duration. I am afraid that my reply has been a very inadequate one. The noble Lord gave me a difficult task, but I have done my best, and I hope that on the main points of the questions that have been put I have given not a satisfactory reply but a reply indicating what are the intentions of His Majesty's Government.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ LORD LAYTON
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just spoken has really said what I was disposed to say. He certainly cannot expect me to be so dishonest as to say that I would regard his reply to my questions as satisfactory. On the pulp position, for example, we are told that we are safe for 1947, and it is hoped that we will be safe for 1948. I suggest that a great deal more vigour could haw been put into the problem of this home mill situation; for example, by the collection of waste paper. You cannot use a large amount of waste paper in making newsprint, but you can use waste paper for board and release the fibre that is brought in as pulp from Sweden or wherever it may be; it would add to the newsprint production. There is in this country a substantial source which might be used to increase the production from the home, mills—a production which is thoroughly inadequate.
The noble Viscount has told us that we cannot admit an iron ration which would 844 make possible a six-page paper basis because it would involve importing so much newsprint; but it needs a large import of newsprint because the home mills are producing only 33⅓ per cent. of their capacity. The noble Viscount has said that it would take between 400,000 and 500,000 tons a year to meet our request for a six-page paper. Before the war, we consumed 1,250,000 tons; if we had been circulating the number of papers that we are circulating to-day, we should have been consuming 2,000,000 tons. The Government have put our needs at 350,000 tons. We have asked the Government to put the newsprint requirements into the balance with other items of our prospective import programme; if the Government face that situation they will agree that their figure badly underrates our need, considering that there are no other means of providing the information required by the people of this country. I cannot pretend that I am happy or satisfied with the answer that has been given. But I moved for Papers. We have none, so I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.