HC Deb 18 July 1854 vol 135 cc403-11

said, he begged to move for a Select Committee to consider the most efficient mode of providing for the printing required for the Houses of Parliament and the public service. There were at present two modes of supplying this printing work—namely, one under the control of the Stationery Office and the other by what were termed the Parliamentary printers, who received 20 per cent for printing Parliamentary papers. He thought it right the printing and stationery of the House of Parliament should be placed under the surveillance of the House itself, seeing that they amounted to some 80,000l. a year. He had no doubt a saving of 40,000l. annually could be effected under these heads. He did not speak without information on the subject, as he had embarked much money in a printing speculation some time since, which, had it been supported, would have resulted in cheapening, as well as facilitating, the art of printing, which was now very imperfectly understood by the great bulk of society, and even by men who had large capitals embarked in the business. By the system to which he was referring, he undertook to demonstrate that no less than 6,000 letters could be composed in a hour, whereas only 1,000 could be composed at present. He undertook to demonstrate that that which now cost a shilling, could be done under the new system for one farthing. In fact, the 5,000 letters which now went to make what was called a "galley," could be composed or "set up" under this system at a charge of 7½d., though the cost of such at present was 3s. 10d. These were not mere assertions; he should demonstrate them, and that the saving would be some 40,000l. a year, which, in a time of war, with taxation pressing heavily on the community, ought not to be overlooked. He undertook to give the Foreign Office a good and useful printing office, which it had not at present, and also to ensure them a system which, on occasions requiring confidence, could be managed by their confidential clerks, who would be enabled to compose and print confidential communications, in any language, in the briefest possible time, and at the least possible expense to the country. He (Mr. Greene) was not anxious to have anything to do with the composition of the Committee; let Her Majesty's Government nominate it, and he would be ready to carry his statements into proof. He, therefore, thought he was not asking too much at present, when the result was certain to be the demonstration of economy, simplification, and expedition in the printing department of both Houses of Parliament.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed, to consider the cheapest, most expeditious, and most efficient mode of providing for the Printing required for the Houses of Parliament and the Public Service.


said, the question was one of very great importance, involving considerations much more serious than those already brought under the notice of the House. There were, in fact, two questions before the House of an entirely different character. The first was, as to the printing required for the Government and Houses of Parliament, and whether it was performed in the best manner. Now, as respected the printing done for the Government, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) of course, could not speak of that limited part which was of a most confidential character, and which could not be considered on ordinary mercantile principles. But with respect to the ordinary printing of the Government, as far as he was aware, he believed the best arrangements which the market permitted were made for that purpose. As regarded the printing of Parlia- mentary papers, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not informed, but he had every disposition to believe that considerable economy could be effected. However, it was not a matter that belonged to the Executive Government to consider; but his belief was that if a Committee were appointed very considerable advantage might be expected to result, as he had no doubt that portion of the public service might be more advantageously and economically performed than at present. Having arrived at that opinion, he should think it but right to act upon it on the proper occasion. At present he did not think there would be any advantage in appointing a Committee to inquire into the subject. The Session had now arrived at a period so advanced that it was plain no Select Committee could make progress with so important a question in the time that yet remained before the Session terminated. However, it was a question of time, and should be considered of during the recess. But even if the Government should not move in the matter, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) should be glad to see the House undertake an inquiry into a matter so entirely within its own control and cognisance. However, he believed the Motion of the hon. Gentleman raised other considerations—considerations of delicacy and difficulty, of which, perhaps, he was not aware. The hon. Gentleman was himself interested in a trading enterprise of great importance, which, according to his own representation, tended to economy and expedition in the important process of printing.


said, he begged to state that he formerly was interested in the matter, and had embarked a large sum of money; but that he was not pecuniarily interested at present.


said, he certainly inferred, from the hon. Gentleman's previous statement, that he had an interest in the proceeds of that money so embarked. If that were so, that consideration of itself would, in his opinion, raise many subjects for doubt as to why a Committee of Inquiry should be sanctioned by that House, on the Motion of the hon. Gentleman. The House would require to exercise great caution before appointing such an instrument of inquiry into the enterprises of a commercial character, in which one of its own Members had a pecuniary interest, and in which the apparent object was to turn the discovery to such purpose that it might be employed by himself. Even if such were not the case, there were other grounds on which it would not be possible to accede to this Motion. The hon. Gentleman called the attention of the House to the application of a new mechanical process in the art of printing, the effect of which would be to reduce the expense of setting up a galley of 5,000 letters from 3s. 10d. to 7½d.; as also to simplify and expedite the art of printing generally. The question then resolved itself into this, whether it was a fit matter for that House to undertake to determine upon the comparative excellence and cheapness of different mechanical processes, or to leave the question to the open market, where the capital and enterprise of the country afforded a better means than that House possessed of deciding the matter? They were on secure ground in going into the open market for the best and cheapest; but they would be on dangerous ground if they, the stewards of the public money, undertook to examine into these matters, and to decide which was the best and cheapest, in defiance of the judgment of those engaged in trade, and who speculated on improvements of that description. Ought not the proprietors of the morning newspapers to take an interest in a system which would reduce the expenses of printing from 1s. to a farthing, as also accomplish in an hour what now required six hours? There might be something of a spirit of monopoly in the present system of printing; but if the valuable invention referred to by the hon. Gentleman combined all these advantages of time, economy, and a reduction of expenditure of some 4,800 per cent, why had it not been availed of sooner? It would be wrong, in his opinion, to make that House an organ for experimenting on questions of the kind. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not undervalue the statement of the hon. Gentleman; and, if the attention of the trade had not been previously directed to the subject, he felt glad an opportunity was afforded the hon. Gentleman of submitting his statement to the House. If the hon. Member could do as he alleged, he would be a greater benefactor to mankind than Faust and Guttenberg, and bronze statues would soon be raised in his honour. In conclusion, he wished it to be understood that the Government were most desirous to adopt any plan by which the Government printing would be more economically performed. If any hon. Member was interested in the pe- cuniary result of an enterprise of this kind, it was a serious matter for him and for the House to consider how far they would be justified in granting an inquiry of this kind. He hoped the House would not accede to the Motion of the hon. Member.


said, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in any affair of this nature, if a Member had a pecuniary interest, it was matter for grave consideration whether he should in any way possess the advantage of the sanction of that House upon his undertaking; but he thought that when such an important saving was in question an inquiry should be conceded.


said, he perfectly concurred in the principles laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the guidance of that House, but he could not see what distinction there was between the case of printing and that of the manufacture of small arms. The right hon. Gentleman had stood up in that House on a former occasion to advocate the Government's becoming manufacturers of arms on a very large scale instead of going to the public market, where the means of producing arms were as extensive as the means of executing printing. He hoped the Report of the Committee of which he (Mr. Geach) was a Member would prevent the right hon. Gentleman from persevering in the course on which he had entered. With regard to the Motion, he entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it was not desirable for the Government to undertake what was proposed by the hon. Member for Kilkenny. He could not help remarking, however, that he believed that, if the invention for perforating postage stamps had not been referred to a Committee of that House, it would never have been adopted. He was satisfied that a much larger saving might be effected in the printing of postage labels; but in almost all the Government offices there were people holding permanent appointments who were obstructive of anything like improvement; and it required a Committee of that House, composed of persons who were accustomed to business, and who would not be put aside by a mere statement of difficulties, to do anything effectual. He hoped that next Session the right hon. Gentleman would call in the assistance of a Committee with regard to Government printing and avail himself of the services of Members of practical experience.


said, the hon. Member who had last addressed the House having alluded to the manufacture of small arms, he begged to inform him that the Government had carried on the manufacture of small arms for many years; but with reference to the case alluded to, he was prepared to say that if they could have found fifty or sixty manufacturers of them upon improved principles, they never should have thought of turning manufacturers themselves. The only reason why the Government thought of undertaking the duty was, the difficulty of finding persons willing and competent to perform the work they required to be done. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Geach) expressed an opinion that the Treasury were willing to promote economy in every branch of expenditure, but that there were permanent officers in every department who obstructed all improvement. He could not assent to this statement. He was bound to say that it was not the fault of the Treasury that inquiry had not been made into the expense of public printing before. More than a year ago Mr. M'Culloch and Sir Charles Trevelyan pressed the subject upon his attention, but, owing to the pressure of Parliamentary business, it had been found impossible hitherto to take it up. He had, however, given preliminary instructions for a thorough investigation during the recess, and if the subject should not be concluded during the recess, then there would be no objection to a Parliamentary Committee.


said, it was his opinion that economy would be materially promoted by the appointment of a Committee; and he hoped the inquiry would be taken up in earnest at an early period next Session.


said, he must complain that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had treated the subject derisively, and that he had not given sufficient care to the main subject of discussion. Attention had been called to a mechanical contrivance by a person of great scientific skill, to which his hon. Friend (Mr. J. Greene) had lent aid by supplying funds to work it out, and the result of which would produce enormous improvement in the art of printing. His hon. Friend had pledged himself to establish this fact to the satisfaction of the Committee. When a Member of that House made such a statement, he con- tended that it was deserving attention. The printing for the two Houses of Parliament cost, he believed, 120,000l. a year, and his hon. Friend said he could effect a saving of one-half. He (Mr. FitzGerald), therefore, submitted that this was a matter well worthy of inquiry. Besides, he urged that the invention. if practicable, would be found to produce the greatest effects upon education. He had seen the contrivance himself, and certainly it appeared to be of great simplicity. He should support the Motion.


said, that if the hon. Member who had brought forward this Motion had confined himself strictly to the terms of it, there might have been no great objection to it; but he had very candidly stated that his object in obtaining the Committee was to discuss the merits of a particular patent. Upon this point, however, he thought that the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been complete. It was not the duty of that House to inquire into the merit of a particular patent, because, if it were available for anything, no doubt it would be taken up by the trade to whom the House offered its printing for competition. There could be no question that the general expense of printing for that House was excessive and might be curtailed, but this was very much owing to the enormous amount of returns which were moved for. An hon. Gentleman, or one of his constituents, thought that a particular matter ought to be inquired into, and he forthwith moved for what was called an unopposed return; that was to say, he went to the Secretary of the Treasury, and said, "If you will not give me this I shall make a Motion, perhaps occupy the whole evening and prevent going into Supply." The Secretary of the Treasury, whose duty it was to expedite business, was of course driven to say, "Well, then, take your unopposed return." The fact was, that accounts and descriptions of everything under the sun were printed for that House under the name of unopposed returns, and this it was that occasioned the great expense of printing.


said, he must protest against the doctrine that under no circumstances was a patent a fit subject for inquiry by a Committee of that House. On the contrary, he held, if any hon. Member made out a case showing that a patent might be turned to the public advantage, that it was the duty of that House to inquire into it. He would remind hon. Members that some years ago a Committee of Inquiry into the postal communication with Australia entered into the whole question of the screw as a propeller moved by steam; and he believed that the appearance of the screw was materially encouraged by the investigations of that Committee. The Committee now proposed might, it seemed to him, produce somewhat analogous benefits, and he believed it would, for having seen the invention in question, he must say it appeared to him one of a valuable public character.


said, he should support the Motion. The proposal of his hon. Friend (Mr. J. Greene) did not rest upon the merits of the invention, but upon the existence of an abuse admitted by the Treasury. He had had some little experience in printing himself, and, therefore, he might safely assure the House that the invention recommended by his hon. Friend embodied improvements of the most ingenious and admirable character. And although he would not venture upon any prophecies as to its ultimate success, yet he felt sure that there never was a system that more fully justified inquiry and examination than that brought forward this evening.


said, he considered the proposed inquiry to be invaluable; and though it might not be brought to a close that Session, yet the House would, by consenting to the Motion, be laying the foundation for a complete investigation next year. As far as regarded the merits of the invention itself, all he would say was, that the Bible Society, a body well calculated to speak upon such a subject, were enamoured with the project.


said, he felt it his duty to oppose the Motion, and for the reason that he did not think the House of Commons ought to be made the channel for advertising inventions. On more than one occasion the House of Commons had been found puffing schemes which traders would not take up, and when they had been finally rejected as useless, the inventors had come down upon them for compensation. They had lately an instance of that in the case of postage stamps. And how did that end? Why, in the House of Commons having to pay 4,000l., and their being made the laughing stock of the commercial community. The hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Lucas) spoke much on the excellence of this invention; then let him try it himself. Was he not a proprietor of a newspaper? And when he succeeded in realising his theories, it would be quite time enough for the House of Commons to take them up. They were told also that the Bible Society entertained a high idea of the project, and that it was admirably adapted for their purposes. Then let the Society carry it into effect. The Bible Society required a great deal of printing to be done, and at a cheap rate; they were, therefore, the best persons to test the experiment. No doubt the House of Commons might print a great deal too much, and considerable reformation was needed on that head, but at that period of the Session it would be ridiculous to set about an investigation of that kind, and he should, therefore, strongly oppose the Motion.


, in reply, said, he must deny that it was possible for private individuals to test the value of the experiment equally well with the House of Commons. The Treasury themselves had admitted the great necessity of reform in this branch of the public expenditure, and as no steps had been taken to remedy the evil it was evidently not safe to leave the matter in their hands.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 56; Noes 32: Majority 24.