HC Deb 04 July 1899 vol 73 cc1420-3
CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

I beg to ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether it has been brought to his notice that the Hansard reporters have failed to obtain from the late Government contractor the back reckonings due to them for copy furnished and money advanced for typewriting the transcript of notes; whether he is aware that the average amount due to each reporter is £60, and that several of these reporters are now, as a consequence, in grave financial straits; whether any guarantee was taken as to the financial position of the contractor when his tender was accepted; and, if not, will he explain on what grounds; and whether, seeing that the Stationery Office has obtained its copy up to date, and that Government business has been facilitated by the reporters having surrendered their notes and transcripts, and in consideration of the conduct of those reporters, who are practically officials of the House, steps will be taken, by means of a special Vote, if necessary, to secure for them payment for labour of which Members of the House have had the benefit.

The following Questions also appeared on the paper:

MR. HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)

To ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether the Government accepted the tender of the late contractor for The Hansard Debates without any guarantee of his financial ability to carry on the work; whether he is aware that from time to time the late contractor failed to pay the members of the staff employed to report the Debates of the House the sums due to them for their services; and that, in spite of such failure, the members of the staff loyally carried out their part of the agreement, and have, since the bankruptcy of the late contractor, supplied the Government with their reports, and so facilitated the business of the Government; will he explain why, seeing that there are now due to the members of the staff arrears of pay amounting to £60 per man on an average, the Government have refused to make good these arrears; whether the Treasury are aware that more than one member of the staff has been reduced to severe financial straits in consequence of the treatment mentioned; and whether he will consider whether he can take any steps to remedy the grievance referred to.

MR. MCcLAREN (Leicester, Bosworth)

To ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether he has fully considered the ease of the members of the reporting staff of Hansard Debate, who, on the failure of the Treasury contractor, were left with considerable arrears of salary, and in some cases of disbursements, unpaid; whether these officials carried on the work of the Department and ensured the publication of the weekly parts of Hansard to Members of the House, notwithstanding that their weekly salaries were not met; and whether he can come to some arrangement, either directly with them or with the present contractor, so as to reimburse them for losses earned in the public service.


The Government did satisfy themselves as to Mr. Bussy's financial ability, and they further required two guarantees of £500 each from two responsible guarantors. The contract was a remunerative one, and the price paid to the new contractor is the same as that paid to Mr. Bussy. His failure was not due to the contract. The Government cannot, of course, make good arrears of pay due to the employees of all its contractors; but in this instance I desired to pay the employees out of the payments due to the late contractor, and was only prevented from doing so by the fact of his bankruptcy, which, of course, made it impossible to favour one set of creditors at the expense of others. In order to assist them as far as possible, we purchased from them copy not delivered to Mr. Bussy, and thereby ensured payment to them for it. Perhaps I may read a letter I have received from the chief of the staff: on behalf of the Official Debates staff I desire to inform you that the letter Which we understand has been addressed to several Members of Parliament with reference to our position in connection with the late contract is totally unauthorised by us or anyone on oar behalf, and has been circulated without our consent. We have written to the person whose signature is attached, demanding an explanation.

* MR. McKENNA (Monmouthshire, N.)

May I ask whether the money the right hon. Gentleman desired to pay to the employees was money due to Mr. Bussy or money to be paid out of the Treasury?


It was money due to Mr. Bussy for copies of Hansard.

MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)

Is it not true that at least two employees of Mr. Bussy have suffered distress of their personal goods on account of this failure?


I cannot answer that.


Is it proposed to take any steps to enforce the liability of the guarantors?


I have considered that, but I am afraid that, as these reporters were the employees of the contractor, we shall not be able to call upon the guarantors for that.


Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the case of the distressed Member of Parliament who, on the faith of the arrangement which the right hon. Gentleman made with Mr. Bussy, gave him a cheque for the supply of Hansard during the session, and is now stranded without any copies of Hansard, while other Members who did not show such promptitude in fulfilling their part of their arrangement have been receiving Hansard for nothing?


I am afraid the man who pays in advance before he receives a thing must run the risk of not getting it. What I have done in this instance is to take every step I could to see that these volumes should not be run up to a very high price, and that Members should be able to get them on reasonable terms. I therefore took upon myself to authorise the Stationery Office to buy up the whole of these spare volumes from the Official Receiver at 20 per cent. below their price, and we shall be perfectly willing to let Members have the benefit of that.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

Inasmuch as we have had this trouble in publishing these Reports for the last ten years, cannot the Treasury now do it properly?


The main difficulty in regard to the Government's undertaking the work is that there is a general opinion throughout the House that we do not want to have speeches reported at full length. If the Government did undertake the work, we should have every Member attacking them for not reporting his speeches fully.


Is it not a fact that the House, and each Member individually, has a certain responsibility towards these reporters, inasmuch——


Order, order! The hon. Member is now, in the guise of a question, making a speech.


Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the last paragraph of my question?


I do not see the necessity for a special Vote.