HC Deb 24 February 1904 vol 130 cc884-98

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £31,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1904, for Stationery, Printing, and Binding for the Public Service to pay the Expenses of the Stationery Office, and the Cost of Reports of Parliamentary Debates."


said he had put down an Amendment to reduce this Vote by £1,000, in order to call attention to the very serious and increasing extravagance of this Department. It was not the first time he had called attention to the extravagance of this Vote. Four years ago the Vote amounted to £507,000; now it came to £732,000. If it were not for the sale of old materials in South Africa which would not recur they would have had to add £17,000, which would have made the total Vote £750,000 or three-quarters of a million spent on the Stationery Office. Two years ago they were told the increase in the Vote was due to the war, and that when the war was over the sum would go down again. Last year there was a reduction in the Estimates of £60,000, but when the Supplementary Estimates came forward they were asked to go back on more than half that reduction, for the total sum now required was £48,000 and not £31,000 as put from the Chair. He wished to make one suggestion by which a saving on this Vote might be accomplished. Since the new Rules were adopted replies were circulated to unstarred Questions. He was not aware that any hon. Member asked for that. When he put a Question to the predecessor to the Secretary to the Treasury he was informed that Members wished the unstarred Questions to be circulated in that form in order that they might send them to their constituents to show what important persons they were. He had never heard of any such request. He found the mass of Papers which was circulated every morning a nuisance. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty was very fond of asking Questions, both starred and unstarred, and what the hon. Member cost the Exchequer in this way he could not imagine. Sometimes a sheet was taken up in a Question and Answer occupying five lines, and there was nothing on the back of the page. It was an outrageous piece of extravagance that printing should be done in that fashion. Why should not the Questions and Answers be printed continuously and on both sides of the paper. He wished the Secretary to the Treasury would state what the cost of printing and circulating the Answers to unstarred Questions was during last session, and also how much would be saved if the Answers were printed continuously and on both sides of the paper. It was a nuisance that hon. Members should be flooded with Answers to other hon. Members' unstarred Questions. If an hon. Member wished his Question and the Answer to it circulated, he could send them up to the Press Gallery, and arrange for their circulation himself. At present half to three-quarters of the Papers circulated consisted of Answers to unstarred Questions. That was one way in which expenditure could be reduced. Another way would be to estimate more carefully the requirements of the House as regarded Blue-books and other publications. He would like to have a statement of what the wastage was annually in connection with publications which were not circulated. The officials might not be able to estimate exactly what would be required, but it would be better that Members should run short of publications occasionally than that an immense number of copies should be wasted. He moved the reduction of the Vote as an emphatic protest against what he considered the scandalous extravagance of the Department.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That a sum, not exceeding £30,000, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Whitley.)

* MR. MALCOLM (Suffolk, Stowmarket)

said he heartily associated himself with the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken with reference to the unstarred Questions. Their bulk was a great nuisance, and people did not want them. As regarded wastage, he thought it was on the whole better that there should be a certain amount of wastage rather than Members should be unable to obtain the Blue-books they might require. It would be extremely convenient if a registered telegraph address and also one of the telephone numbers of the House were printed on the note paper. There were frequent complaints in reference to the present long address for telegraphic purposes. As regarded The Parliamentary Debates, the contract was constantly changing, and he did not know precisely what it now was. At present the reports were an extraordinary jumble. Sometimes hon. Members got other hon. Members' speeches for reference and the speeches were often extraordinary nonsense. If the gentlemen who were called the official reporters received £9,500 a year, he thought it was a large sum to get for doing work so badly. He thought The Times resume was infinitely better than the official report. If the official reporters had to supply a verbatim report, they fell lamentably short of their duty. He agreed with the hon. Member for Halifax that the bulk of the unstarred Questions circulated should be reduced.

* MR. BULL (Hammersmith)

said he wished to draw attention to the way in which the Historical Manuscripts Reports were printed, and the poorness of the paper used for so valuable and permanent a work.


said that would not be in order.

MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, E. Toxteth)

said he wished to know what was the exact amount of the credit balance from South Africa? With regard to the Parliamentary reports his experience was that the reporting was excellent.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

said he agreed with the criticisms with regard to the enormous increase of the Vote. He thought it was due to a want of proper supervision. He wished to know who was directly responsible for checking the accounts of the Department. In his opinion no one man could possibly discharge the duty properly, and he suggested that a Committee of three Members should be appointed to supervise the Department. That would not necessarily mean superseding the official in charge, but it would be a check on extravagance. He had been a member of a Committee which had inquired into the matter a few years ago, and it was then found that there was no full open competition for the contracts. There appeared to be an opinion that when a firm once obtained a contract and discharged the work properly there was no necessity for a new contract. In his opinion enormous fortunes were being gained from the way in which Parliamentary printing was conducted. He would suggest that the contracts should be perfectly open. Last session a debate on an important subject had to be adjourned because the Parliamentary printers had undertaken so much work that they were not able to have the Papers ready for the day allotted for the debate. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. Member that answers to un-starred Questions should not be circulated, if that were adopted the only way of arriving at an Answer to a Question in which one was interested asked by another hon. Member would be to run round the House and try and find the Member who asked the Question.


said his suggestion was that instead of having fifty or sixty sheets of paper sent to them hon. Members should have all the Answers to un-starred Questions sent on one Paper.


If the hon. Member did not suggest that the Answers should not be circulated—

MR. WHITLEY (interrupting)

said what he complained of was the bulk of the Papers, which might be reduced by 80 per cent.


regretted that he did not quite follow the point raised. If the hon. Gentleman suggested that on the ground of economy the Answers to unstarred Questions should not be circulated, he hoped that his suggestion would not be followed. An hon. Member opposite wanted to make it easier for people to telegraph to Members. If he had his way he would charge double, as it seemed to him they ought not to do anything to facilitate the addition to the many communications they now received. With regard to the question of the reporting, there had been several Committees to consider that question, and it was not fair to blame the reporters for not giving accurate accounts of the speeches made in this House unless they were asked to supply a verbatim report. This House had left to their discretion the question whether the speeches should be reported fully or not, and it was left to the commonsense of the reporter to make an intelligible report of the speeches made. If in the exercise of that discretion he did not make it read as well as it might, it was not the fault of the reporter but the system. Nothing less than a verbatim report was of any use as a record, and nothing else was worth the money. They all knew that when a Minister looked at the report of his speech he had the right to take out what he did not like, and put in something he did, and when hon. Members came down a year after to pin a Minister to the statements he had made they found in the Debates quite a different version. It seemed to him they must make up their minds either to carry out the recommendations of the various Committees, and have a verbatim report, or else leave the matter to the discretion of the gentlemen who reported the speeches as at present.


said the hon. Member opposite proposed to add to the horrors of this House. He proposed to add verbatim reports of the speeches made in the House. The imagination recoiled from such a suggestion.


I said it was the only thing to do.


said if hon. Members were really reported verbatim many of them would be very much amazed when they read their speeches, for only about one in ten was capable of finishing a sentence. With regard to these reports he noticed that sometimes a Member would be reported in the first person and sometimes in the third. One would suppose that that would depend on the eminence of the Member, such as members of the Treasury Bench, for instance; that there would be some rule. But he had noticed that the same Member was re ported sometimes in the first person, some times in the third, and sometimes in the first and third in the same speech. Some understanding surely might be arrived t between the Treasury and the contractors in this matter, as to some definite rule being adopted which should be adhered to. There was one very great defect in these Parliamentary Debates, which was that far too much time was taken in the printing of the reports, and not enough time was left to the Members for correction. He would suggest that the Treasury should insist that the printing should take one day less, and that Members should be given one day more for corrections. With regard to the unstarred Questions, he agreed with the suggestion of his hon. friend. The unstarred Questions and their Answers did account for the bulk of the Papers circulated. That more dignified document the Votes and Proceedings was printed on both sides of the paper and a considerable amount of matter was got into a single sheet. He thought the practice might be adopted in the case of the unstarred Questions, in which case the objections of his hon. friend would be got rid of. There was a very large in crease in the printing and publishing department owing to the increased demand of the Inland Revenue under a new system adopted by that Department. But he understood that that new system was of such doubtful merit that it would have to be abandoned.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said he had very little sympathy with what was now going on. There was great complaint on both sides of the House as to the amount spent on the Papers circulated to hon. Members, and suggestions were made with a view to economy. If the suggestion of hon. Members was carried out, the difference in the price of the Paper now and the price then would be at the most 2s. a day. He had still less sympathy with the hon. Member for King's Lynn, who was extremely anxious that his speech and others should be reported more approximately verbatim than at present.


On the contrary I objected to it.


said then he did not know what the hon. Gentleman was talking about. A great many hon. Members, at all events, objected to their speeches not being reported verbatim. There were gentlemen in the Gallery perfectly ready to report speeches for those hon. Gentlemen which they could send down to their constituents, but whether their constituents would peruse them he did not know. The fact that hon. Gentlemen had to realise when they made a speech in this House, was that that speech was not going to boom through futurity. Every hon. Member who spoke looked upon his speech as an epoch-making speech, but how many speeches were remembered three days after they were delivered. The hon. Member for King's Lynn wished for further time to correct his speeches. Why should he correct them at all? There could be no particular object, for he surely was not under the impression that they were all going to read them Let not hon. Members exaggerate the importance of the question of reporting, Every few years they had a long debate, and the general feeling was that speeches should be reported verbatim, and some years ago in one of those discussions a proposal was made that there should be a trap in front of the Table, and that every ten minutes a reporter should come up through the trap to catch the words that might be missed in the Gallery. It seemed to him that there should be, as in France, a précis of the debate for general purposes, and that only those things which were worth remembering should be put into the official report. If hon. Members studied, as diligently as he had, other hon. Members when making a speech, they would find the hon. Gentleman repeating the same thing over and over again, and it could not be said to be desirable that the unfortunate reporter should be compelled to take down all those repetitions. How many numbers of Hansard were bought in a year by Members of this House? [An HON. MEMBER: None, we get them free.] That was true, but they would not buy them if they did not get them free. Putting aside public institutions, he doubted whether a couple of hundred were sold. Of course, the speeches of Ministers were important, but not on account of the ability of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench who made them, but because they did not speak for themselves, but for the country, or a policy, or a Party, and, therefore, it was necessary that there should be some record of what they stated. The debates would frequently be compressed if there were no reporters in the Gallery at all. He appealed to the Committee not to exaggerate these trifles, or to imagine that the country cared one sixpence whether they had the speeches of Members or whether they had them not.

MR. MOON (St. Pancras, N.)

suggested that Answers to Questions should follow each other consecutively, but only on one side of the paper. The system of printing Questions and Answers on double pages was most inconvenient, and he hoped that whatever course might be taken with regard to printing more than one on a page the pages would be kept separate.

* SIR A. HAYTER (Walsall)

was sure the Committee would desire to place the blame, if any, for the increase upon the right shoulders. The Public Accounts Committee had had before them Mr. Pigott, the head of the Stationery Office, who distinctly explained that the increase was not within the control of that Department. The public Departments them selves, and not Mr. Pigott, were responsible. The Departments estimated what they would require, and the increased Estimate was due to the fact that the Departments had made increased demands upon the Stationery Office. He thought he ought to make that statement in justice to a public servant. With regard to the Blue-books all public libraries in large towns had power to ask for copies. In this way some of the spare copies went, and it was very difficult to estimate what the exact demand would be.

MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

asked whether the contractors for The Official, Debates were permitted to act also for any newspaper. His reason for asking was that the dissatisfaction with the reports might proceed from the suspicion that in allotting space to Members too much consideration was given to journalistic, rather than strictly historical ideas. With regard to the suggestion that there should no longer be any circulation of Answers to unstarred Questions, he was confident that that would lead to a large increase of starred Questions. These Questions and Answers were really debates in epitome. They were a safety valve which probably aved the House the times and trouble of debating many subjects.

MR. CORRIE GRANT (Warwickshire, Rugby)

thought that there was another aspect to the question of the reporting of the debates, and that was from the point of view of the public interest. The House had long ago decided that it ought to have a record of its debates. The question was whether the present report answered the purpose. Could it be made better at its present cost? He thought it could. The House had derived no advantage from the improvements effected in printing of late years; its reports were supplied no more expeditiously than they were, say, ten years ago. Would the newly appointed Secretary to the Treasury state his views on the question of reporting, and was he prepared carefully to consider the question? Two or three Committees had presented Reports on the subject, but their recommendations had been ignored. Speeches of journalistic interest were always reported, but there were other speeches, not so attractive perhaps in form, but which, coming from Members specially informed, contained matter particularly suited for a record. Those speeches did not at present get thoroughly reported in Hansard, and consequently a great deal of material was lost to the House which might otherwise have been of much assistance to Members who wished for information. The Secretary to the Treasury might receive much help if he would put himself in communication with the Chairman of the Press Gallery Committee, to see whether from the gentlemen concerned in reporting the debates of the House he could get some suggestions. The hon. Member for the Stowmarket Division was entirely mistaken in supposing that too much was paid for the reporting. Reporting daily became more difficult in the House. When there were only the two great divisions in the House it was comparatively easy to estimate what a speaker would say, and there was no difficulty in reporting him. Nowadays, however, when a Member rose it was impossible to say which of four or five policies he was going to support, and much attention was frequently required to discover the real point of his remarks. The House in dealing with its Hansard ought not to be niggardly. The salaries paid to the reporters ought to be higher than those paid to the representative of any newspaper, because the work was longer and the responsibility greater. He thought the House had never recognised how good a report they might get if they would only pay a fair price. He hoped the new representative of the Treasury would give careful attention to this matter and see whether he could not put the reporting on a really satisfactory basis.


asked whether it would not be possible at the end of the session to have the debates relating to Ireland published in separate volumes. He believed that the debates were supplied in such a form to members of the Irish Government, and it would be a great convenience to Irish Members at large if such an edition was rendered generally available. The expense would not, he thought, be very large.

MR. GODDARD (Ipswich)

pointed out that, although most of the speeches in the debate had been directed to the question of reporting, only £500 of the Supplementary Estimate was concerned in that branch of the Vote, whereas the total, excluding Appropriations-in-aid, amounted to £48,000. He was rather surprised that there should be this very excessive Supplementary Estimate this year. Apparently a good deal of this expenditure had been brought about by the war, and therefore they had very good reason for supposing that when the war was ended there would not be any further necessity for Supplementary Estimates on the Stationery Vote. He was afraid that this Department had been really the butt of nearly every other Department, and they were never likely to effect any economy in the Stationery Vote unless they put a little restraint upon the other Departments; they seemed to be able to call to any extent upon the Stationery Department, which did not seem to have any check whatever upon other Departments. They would not effect any economy until they devised some means of bringing pressure to bear upon the other Departments so as to prevent them making these extra demands. That was the direction in which they would have to look for economy.


I will reply to hon. Members as shortly as I can. At the outset I should like to make this one remark. I am sorry to have to make the confession that, since I have been at the Treasury, I have not been able to give much attention to this matter of the contract for the reporting of the debates. I assure the House that I shall, as soon as I have the opportunity, devote my attention to it, and endeavour to see if I can do something to carry out the wishes of the House. In regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Stowmarket, as far as this contract is concerned, it was presented to the House of Commons as a Parliamentary Paper in the usual course. In regard to Questions, a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Halifax, I have ascertained that the cost last year of the system of circulating unstarred Questions and Answers has led to a very considerable expenditure. The matter is one which is very largely in the hands of the authorities of the House, and I cannot promise to take any immediate steps. I think, however, that I pretty well know what the opinion of the House is on these points, and I shall be very glad to consult with the authorities of the House and see if something cannot be done to meet the clearly expressed wishes of the Committee. I understand that a large number of Members would prefer that the Questions should be printed in the usual way, instead of beginning a new leaf for each Question, and that, I believe, would effect a saving. There might also be a considerable saving in the number of Papers sent out. The hon. Member for Stowmarket asked a Question about stamping the telegraphic address and telephone number upon the notepaper. I hardly like to take the responsibility of doing that without further support from the House, but it is clear that a certain number of hon. Members would find this a convenience, and there would be no difficulty in doing it. I propose, therefore, to see if a stamp can be prepared, and, if so, I will arrange for a certain amount of the new writing-paper to be placed about as an experiment. In reply to the hon. Member for Liverpool, I may say that the amount of money he has mentioned is for stationery supplied in connection with the War Office. As has already been pointed out, it is almost impossible for the Stationery Department to resist any demand made upon it by other Departments, and it has often to supply those demands in an extravagant manner, because they are wanted very quickly, and consequently they are more costly. The House should remember, when complaints are made about the heavy cost of printing and stationery, that it is largely due to the very great demand for information which comes from the House of Commons itself, upon fiscal, War Office and other questions. No doubt this demand for information is perfectly legitimate, and I can only say that the Government will do the best they can to provide that information, and it will be printed in the best possible manner by the Stationery Office. But when the House of Commons complains of this expenditure hon. Members must at the same time remember that they are very largely responsible for that expenditure. So far as I am concerned, I shall do my best to carry out the recommendation which has been presented to us, but I must say that I do not at the present moment look forward to any very substantial reduction in this Vote, although I will make every effort to keep the amount within as moderate limits as possible.


said he understood from the statement made by the hon. Gentleman opposite that a large part of this expenditure had been incurred in respect of printing for the Board of Trade in connection with the inquiries upon trade. Surely that was a thing which was likely to cease after a time, and then they would get some respite from this increased expenditure. With regard to the reports of their proceedings, they were ample, although they were not very efficient. They did not want more money spent on those reports, but they wanted them shorter, and perhaps rather more sensible and clear. He noticed that sometimes the reports were in the first person, and sometimes in the third. He thought at any rate they might always be alike, and that would simplifiy matters a good deal. There should be as much economy as possible in these contracts, especially at this time, when the country was so short of money.


said some hon. Members thought that the expense incurred in connection with the so-called fiscal inquiry was money which had not been very well spent. How much of the Supplementary Estimate represented money which had been devoted to the cost of printing and stationery in connection with that inquiry?


replied that he had not the information at present but he would endeavour to ascertain the exact amount. In regard to the Question asked by the hon. Member for the Hallam Division, he understood that there was nothing in the contract to prevent the printing firm or the reporters from undertaking newspaper work.


Will the hon. Gentleman rectify that in future, so that the reporting shall be perfectly independent of newspapers.


I cannot undertake to rectify the contract. I think that is very much a matter for the House to deal with itself.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

said that with reference to the question raised by the hon. Member for Clare as to the desirability of publishing all the Irish debates together, he would like to inform the hon. Gentleman that the volumes were supplied to the Irish Members of Parliament. He did not think it would entail very much additional expense if some more copies were published. He asked the hon. Gentleman to inquire whether that could be done.


said the hon. Gentleman had very frankly met the chief points raised, and that being so it might seem a little ungracious on his part if he were to press the Amendment. He moved in the interests of economy, and he had elicited the general opinion that the House would support the hon. Gentleman in endeavouring to bring about economies in various directions in connection with the Printing and Stationery Department. The hon. Gentleman was responsible to the Treasury, and he ought to back up the chief of the Printing and Stationery Department in resisting unreasonable demands from the different Departments. He asked leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


said he understood this Vote included the cost of the fiscal inquiry. What amount was devoted to that purpose?


said he was unable to state exactly how much should be apportioned for the cost of the inquiry. He would make inquiry in regard to that.


said the Committee ought to know now, because they might object to it. The House never agreed to the fiscal inquiry. A mass of statistics had been published which might, or might not, be useful, but surely they ought to know approximately what the cost of the inquiry had been. The Minister in charge of the Vote should have everything at his fingers ends so as to be able to explain every single item.

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