§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, 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, 1922, for meeting the. Deficiency of Income from Fees, etc., for the requirements of the Board of Trade, under the Bankruptcy Act, 1914."
§ Sir F. BANBURY
This is a small Vote, but I should like some information with regard to Item G, "Stationery and Printing." The original Estimate was £6,000, and the revised Estimate is £15,000, being an increase of £9,000, or nearly treble, and I should like to know why it is that there should have been this enormous increase, especially as I understand that stationery and printing, owing to the decline in the cost of materials and reductions in wages, should have cost less during the last three or four months than they did before. The fees under the Bankruptcy Act have also increased considerably, and I presume that that means that a great many more people have become bankrupt. That is a matter which requires the attention of the Government, in view of the heavy taxation which they are asking the community to pay.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Sir William Mitchell-Thomson)
I will do my best to satisfy my right hon. Friend, but first I would explain that this is a token Vote of £10, and the fact is that the extra expenditure required is £12,720, whereas the extra Appropriations-in-Aid to deduct are £12,710. That is entirely satisfactory from the taxpayers' point of view, but it is unsatisfactory owing to the fact that it indicates that the only business that has flourished in the country in the last year has been the bankruptcy business, but I should add that this is not a matter in which this country is 1808 singular, for the same phenomenon is found in practically every other great industrial country throughout the world. The increase in Item G is practically entirely due to the general increase in the bankruptcy business. The local printing rates are considerably increased over what they were before the War—an increase, I believe, of 200 or 300 per cent.—but the increase here is practically entirely due to the increased amount of work. The actual number of receiving orders in 1920 was 1,594 and in 1921 3,495.
§ Mr. HOGGE
We cannot allow this Vote to pass without drawing attention to the fact that the Government, at any rate, have been successful in driving a great many people into bankruptcy. The figures which the hon. Member has just given for 1920 and 1921 show that there has been an increase of over 100 per cent., and there must be something very materially wrong in the state of affairs which compels these people to seek refuge in the Bankruptcy Court. The only thing we can congratulate the Government upon is the success of this particular Department, and I think that is a melancholy satisfaction to which my hon. Friend is entitled. I do not think the explanation he has given in regard to stationery is quite satisfactory. The cost has more than doubled, but the number of bankruptcies has not risen in anything like that ratio, and there should be some explanation of that difference. I know that both printing and the price of paper have been, and remain, high, but they have come down very considerably now, and if we are to accept the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary that the business has doubled, I think an increase of £9,000 on the original Estimate of £6,000 shows that there must be some leakage somewhere.
§ Major M. WOOD
I hope the Committee will compare Item D with Item G. The former shows that the original Estimate of receiving orders was 600, but the actual numbers will not fall far short of 1,000; that is to say, there has been an increase under that Subhead of something like 40 per cent., but the increase under Subhead G is 150 per cent. The point that we want to know is why there is such a great difference between the increases under Item G and the increase 1809 under Item D, because the two seem to be interdependent. Why should the cost of printing go up so much more than the number of receiving orders, which, I should have expected, would have determined the printing bill?
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
The short answer to my hon. and gallant Friend is that the receiving orders dealt with under Subhead D are not precisely the same as those under Subhead G. The former refers only to country receiving orders, whereas Subhead G covers the whole ground. I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend's rapid mental calculation of an increase of l50 per cent. is quite correct. As a matter of fact, the increase in the business represents something like 120 per cent. on the actual figures, and to take a particular instance within the last year, and in the period covered by the Vote, the price of the "London Gazette" has been increased very considerably.
§ Colonel P. WILLIAMS
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether any steps are taken to check these Estimates at the Board of Trade? Is there any waste of stationery or postage? I see that the business here has not doubled, yet postage rates have more than doubled. In the original Estimate £1,400 was taken for portages, whereas in the revised Estimate £3,000 is taken—an addition of £1,600. That seems to show that there must be some leakage somewhere, and that the business is not conducted on an economical basis. I should, therefore, like to know what steps are taken to see that there is no waste going on.
§ Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
The short reply is that this Department, among other Departments of the Board of Trade, was inquired into in the last few weeks by the Geddes Committee, and if my hon. and gallant Friend will turn to the Geddes Report he will see that, whatever may be said in that Report of other Departments, with regard to this particular Department the Committee offer the remark that they have no observation to make. Therefore, so far as any complaint of the nature which he has indicated is concerned, I think he may take it that the Geddes Committee were satisfied
§ Question put, and agreed to.