HC Deb 05 August 1896 vol 43 cc1551-6

4. "That a sum, not exceeding £376,571, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897, for Stationery, Printing, Paper, Binding, and Printed Books for the Public Service, and for the Salaries and Expenses of the Stationery Office; and for sundry Miscellaneous Services, including Reports of Parliamentary Debates."

MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

asked the Secretary to the Treasury what steps the Government intended to take to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee which sat on the subject of official Parliamentary reporting the Session before last. One of the unanimous recommendations of the Committee was that the Members of the House should be supplied daily with a verbatim report of the previous day's Debates. Did the Government intend to take any, and if so, what steps to carry out this recommendation?


asked whether the present system of reporting was to continue? He did not attach much importance to being reported himself. But many Members of the House attached great importance to being able to read the speeches. They often stayed away, and wished to have a complete account of what was said in their absence. But they were obliged to attend, because it was said that the reports were inefficient. The old system of reporting was better and more carefully carried out, though, of course, more expensive than the present system, which was considered very unsatisfactory by a great many Members of the House.


said that anyone who had the slightest knowledge of reporting must know that the present system was entirely bad. The system, as far as he could make out, was that a certain report was made from a certain publication, and then the reporter went back to his notes, and picked out an odd sentence here and there until he managed to make up the regulation quarter of a column. This was a state of things which should not be allowed to exist any longer. As far as he was personally concerned, he did not attach the slightest importance to whether he was reported or not, but he thought that, out of respect to the traditions of the House, they ought really not to allow to go into the "Parliamentary Debates" reporting of the character that now appeared there. Quite a number of hon. Members would not even take the trouble to correct their speeches, so highly absurd and ridiculous were some of the statements which were attributed to them. When they were spending so much money on Uganda and elsewhere, he thought that, out of respect for the traditions of that House, if for nothing else, they ought to have some system by which there should be some decent kind of reporting. They had only to turn to the columns of the leading Scottish newspapers to see that it could be done well, and not at an extravagant price. He certainly thought this was a matter to which the Financial Secretary should give his best attention. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not, as on the last occasion that he had to communicate with him, tell him to approach him through the Scottish Office.

MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would be willing to give hon. Members a copy of the "Parliamentary Debates" each day with the other Papers distributed to Members of Parliament? He thought the "Debates" of the House was far the most important of the Parliamentary Papers which were printed, and yet it was that which there was the greatest difficulty in obtaining. He quite agreed that the speeches of Members were badly printed, and, perhaps, there was some advantage about that. Some of the Front Bench speeches were well printed, but, however much hon. Members might desire to study such speeches, they often experienced the greatest difficulty in obtaining them. With the Parliamentary Papers there should be one copy of the proceedings of the previous day's Debates sent to hon. Members when Parliament was in Session. He asked the Secretary to the Treasury to inform the House what he was doing or intended to do to carry out the recommendations of the Committee on Stationery Contracts, and what was being done by the present Departmental Committee.

* MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield)

expressed the hope that, the Secretary to the Treasury would take some steps prior to the commencement of the next Session to reduce the expenditure on perfectly useless printing. Hon. Members received each day the print of Amendments to Bills which were not to be discussed, together with many other Papers with which they need not be troubled.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

ventured last year, with a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, when the Stationery and Printing Vote came before the House, to press for the appointment of a Committee. Unfortunately the terms of reference to that Committee were so narrowed that they were precluded from going into the question of the expenses of printing. Roughly, the stationery ran into something like £1,000,000 a year. The reference to the Committee was confined to the narrow points embodied in the Report that the Secretary to the Treasury was asked to see carried out. It was his intention to again appeal to the Government to re-appoint that Committee, and to widen the reference, so that when they considered the question of the printing for the House of Commons, they might ascertain whether some substantial economies could not be effected. The whole question of the reporting of the Debates should also be gone into, so that, instead of getting the second-hand report they now got, they might obtain their report at first hand. It seemed to him that, when so much money was being spent in connection with the Printing Vote, and a Committee had been sitting for something like four months this year, there had been a waste of time seeing that the Committee had not brought up a single recommendation by means of which speeches could be better reported, and the enormous amount of waste paper—specimens of which they saw every morning—considerably diminished. Some of this waste paper, he was sorry to say, found its way into libraries and other places at a higher price than waste paper. He thought the House of Commons ought not to spend such a large amount as was spent upon the Department to which this Vote related, and he appealed to the Secretary to the Treasury between now and next February to discuss with the chief of the Stationery Office whether they could not have another Committee, to confine itself to the two points of the consideration of economies which might be effected in the amount now spent, and the better printing of the "Parliamentary Debates."


was sorry that on the former Committee they had not the advantage of the assistance of the hon. Member who had just spoken, because, although he was a Member of that Committee, he withdrew after the first sittings, the Chairman having decided that the terms of the reference did not enable the hon. Member to go into certain subjects he desired to raise—such, for instance, as the setting up of a Government printing establishment. He fully agreed that very many useful reforms might he effected in connection with the Stationery Department, and in addition to the Committee which sat, and of which the hon. Member for West Islington and he were Members, he had appointed a Departmental Committee—Departmental in the sense that there were only two officials on it, the whole of the rest of the Committee consisting of Members of the House, chosen impartially. This Committee would go into the whole question of how far it was possible to effect economies in the Printing and Stationery Contracts of the Stationery Department, and he hoped a very substantial improvement in the system would be the result. With regard to the question put to him by the hon. Member for Islington, he had to say that certain of the recommendations of the Committee to which he had referred were already being carried out. There was one Government Department in regard to which, through no fault of its own, but through a misinterpretation by the contractors of the Resolution of the House of February 1891, certain work had not been carried out in accordance with the terms of that Resolution. He referred to the National Board of Education in Ireland. There could be no doubt whatever that this Department's printing did fall within the scope of the Resolution, and the work in future would be carried out in accordance with its terms. The hon. Member for Islington suggested that a copy of the "Parliamentary Debates "should be issued gratis to Members on each day of publication. There had already been several Debates as to the heavy expenditure incurred for printing, and he did not think they would be justified in making any further outlay in that direction. With reference to complaints—which he was bound to say were the first he had heard—of the reporting of speeches at the present time, he knew there was a feeling in the House a few years ago that all speeches should be reported at full length. He did not know whether a verbatim report of speeches would always be satisfactory to hon. Members. He should also doubt whether, except in exceptional cases, other hon. Members would be found to read those speeches. The late Government found that to report the speeches verbatim would entail a very heavy expenditure, and the present abridged report was adopted. Some hon. Members would perhaps like to see their speeches reported at greater length than they were under the present system. A certain proportion of each speech was bound to be given, and if hon. Members found the reports were not sufficiently long, they could make additions themselves when they got the proofs. As to the suggestion that the contract should he brought to an end, he did not see any reason for taking any such step. The complaints were few, and the present arrangement was that the contract should run until December 31 of next year, unless it was terminated by the Government previously. Rut if it was terminated before then they would have to pay a larger price for the "Parliamentary Debates." The charge now was £300 per volume, but if they terminated the contract, they would have to pay £350 per volume. He thought he had answered the different points that had been raised.

Resolution agreed to. 5. "That a sum, not exceeding £26,700, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Civil Service Commission. Resolution further postponed.

Postponed Resolution to be considered further To-morrow.

Whereupon, in pursuance of the Order of the House of the 20th day of July last, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put.

House adjourned at Half after Five o'clock.