HC Deb 01 April 1895 vol 32 cc597-601

I beg to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, whether his attention has been further drawn to the contract for publishing Parliamentary Debates, and to the fact that the words "connected with the composition, printing, and binding" do not appear in both the tender and the contract, and, whether he can explain how this has occurred.


I do not think I have anything to add to my reply to my hon. Friend's question on Thursday last. It is quite true that the precise words do not appear in both the tender and the contract, but the sense and the intention are exactly the same in both. Both tender and contract say that the contractor— shall he at liberty to obtain his reports from such sources as he may think most convenient. As regards sub-letting, the tender (subject, of course, to the foregoing provision), says— The contractor shall not underlet any work to be done under this contract without the written consent of the Controller. The contract merely specifies in more legal words precisely the same conditions as are provided for in the tender.


Arising out of that answer, I have to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will be good enough to peruse the two documents I have in my hand, one being a tender in which the words alleged do not occur, the other being a contract under which this firm is now operating, in which the words do occur. I further wish to ask him if he comes to the conclusion that he has been grossly misled—for nobody doubts the uprightness, courtesy, and sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman—whether he will take immediate steps to have this matter thoroughly and fully investigated, so that those public officials who introduced into a public document, after it passed this House, certain words altering the entire tenour of the contract, and thus brought disgrace on the best and greatest public service, may be summarily dealt with?


Order, order.


I must protest against the language used. I am not in the least afraid of having this question ventilated and discussed in this House, and I am surprised if the hon. Gentleman thought that the mode in which this question has been treated deserved such language that he did not bring it forward on the Vote on Account when it was before the House on Friday. I venture to say that any impartial person looking at the tender and the contract would say that, though they are not in exactly the same words, they are exactly the same in intention. There would have been no necessity for a special contract being entered into with Messrs. Waterlow had it not been that the Treasury, for the purpose of protecting themselves, inserted a clause with the condition that they might have the power at the end of one year or two years to terminate the contract.


I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not the fact that this contract would have been undertaken by other contractors at some £500 less had those words not been introduced.


That is not correct. I am sorry to say there has been a great amount of exaggeration and mis-statement on this question in several public papers. Any tenderer could have tendered in exactly the same way as Messrs. Waterlow, as all had the same tenders presented to them, and there would have been no contract necessary if it had not been for the insertion of the condition I have read. I know that the whole of these statements are directed against the arrangements which are made by Messrs. Waterlow for the reporting, which is done by The Times staff. Now I may tell my hon. Friend that, in addition to Messrs. Waterlow, there were further tenderers who applied to The Times proprietors to enable them to utilise the staff of that newspaper. That shows that there was no advantage given to Messrs. Waterlow, and if the tender of any other firm had been accepted they would practically have had the chance of utilising The Times staff exactly in the same way as Messrs. Waterlow.

MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

After the statement the right hon. Gentleman has just read I would ask him whether he is aware that two of the principal firms out of five tendering absolutely deny that view of the case. I would ask him, further, whether he is correctly reported in The Times newspaper of February 15, to have stated as follows:— The Treasury were not aware of the fact that the present contractors intended to sublet part of the contract. To do so is quite contrary to the contract.


Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that, I ask him whether he has not observed a remarkable improvement in the reports since the new arrangement was made?


In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy, I do not think I used the words he has quoted, The Treasury were not aware that Messrs. Waterlow would make arrangements for the reporting with The Times newspaper. I never used the word contract, but I said that there had been no sub-letting, but that what had been done with regard to the reporting had been done by arrangement between The Times and Messrs. Waterlow. In reply to my hon. Friend opposite, I may say that, under the present system, instead of having the services of seven gentlemen reporting in the gallery, we have under the new arrangement, the services of 16 gentlemen who report for The Times newspaper, and I venture to say the reports now furnished are as correct, as rapid, and quite as good as, if not better than, any which have been furnished previously.


May I ask him, in view of his statement, which is a denial of the truth of The Times report, whether the right hon. Gentleman disputes the accuracy of The Times?


What I dispute is, that I used those words. I have always said that I was not aware that it was intended to make such an arrangement, and I always said in answer to my hon. Friend, that there had been no subletting, but that there had been an arrangement between The Times and Messrs. Waterlow as to the reporting.


Arising out of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman as to this question not being brought on when the Vote on Account was under discussion, may I ask whether it is not the fact that the Vote on Account was closured?


It was closured at Twelve minutes to Seven o'clock.


But it was closured.


By universal consent.


The fact remains that it was closured.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, are we to under- stand that the words complained of as being inserted subsequently in the tender were there inserted subsequently by officials after the form of the tender had passed this House?


My hon. Friend mistakes his own case. The same tenders were sent to every person wishing to tender as were sent to Messrs. Waterlow. The tender of Messrs. Waterlow was accepted; the tender was then handed over to the Solicitor to the Treasury to carry out the contract, and, instead of using the exact words of the tender, he used more legal words, in order to protect the Treasury.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will let us see the letters which have passed between Messrs. Waterlow and The Times, in order that we may judge whether or not there has been a subcontract?


I have not possession of the letters. These are entirely a matter between Messrs. Waterlow and The Times, arid I do not think it necessary to call for them.


How is the right hon. Gentleman to spot sub-contracting if he does not ask the contractor to allow him to see the letters which may constitute the sub-contracting?


Those words show this—that Messrs. Waterlow wore at perfect liberty to employ either The Times reporters or the reporters of any other newspaper, or any persons outside a newspaper. Both the contract and the tender say they are at liberty to obtain the report from such sources as they may find most convenient.