HC Deb 25 February 1936 vol 309 cc350-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £235,200, 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, 1936, for Stationery, Printing, Paper, Binding, and Printed Books for the Public Service; for the Salaries and Expenses of the Stationery Office; and for sundry Miscellaneous Services, including Reports of Parliamentary Debates.


The Stationery Office acts as agent for printing for other Government Departments and its expenditure is determined entirely by the demands made upon it by those Departments. This increased sum is caused entirely by an increase in the activity of certain Departments which has involved a great deal amount of printing and greater expenditure in the way of raw materials than was originally estimated. Under Sub-head A, Salaries, it is the familiar item "Restoration of Cuts" which accounts for £2,600. There is also a figure of £8,100 due to the fact that it was found necessary to take on additional staff in the printing and other departments. Sub-head E refers to paper. Our original Estimate is exceeded by £93,000. This appears a heavy item, but it is due to the fact that in the last quarter of last year immense demands were made upon the stocks of paper on account of fresh printing required for the Unemployment Assistance Board and other Departments. Our stocks were brought low and this sum became necessary to replace them. As regards printing, the excess is £73,000, also due to the extended activities of the various Departments; the Post Office has made very largely increased demands on the Stationery Office for printing and so have the Air Ministry and others.

Sub-head G—Binding is really because of the same increase in activity, but £2,000 under this particular sub-head is due to the fact that there has been an effort made recently to overtake the arrears of binding necessary in the British Museum. A great part of the binding work in the British Museum is done by the skilled men at the Stationery Office, and we have to try to overtake arrears, and that has caused this expenditure. Under Sub-head H—Books and Maps, £3,000 more is required owing to additional requirements of certain defence departments. The item "Miscellaneous Office Supplies and Services." includes things like typewriters, copying machines and various mechanical devices such as are now used in large offices. That cannot be regarded as entirely an expenditure without result, because it leads to increased efficiency and to economy in the long run.

7.31 p.m.


We do not propose to challenge the Supplementary Estimate which has just been submitted by the hon. and learned Gentleman. We agree with him that, on the face of it, the sum which the Committee is now asked to vote appears to be somewhat large, but the explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman certainly appears to indicate that, whatever is now being asked for, is justified in order to secure the efficiency which this Department succeeds in giving. I note that under Sub-head E—Paper, there are these words: Departmental forms and circulars, instruction, etc., hooks, pamphlets, etc. What relation has the word "instruction" to the other words used under that particular sub-heading? Are they books of instruction or some kind of instruction which has been given inside the Department for the carrying out of the duties of the Stationery Office? Under Sub-head I—Miscellaneous Office Supplies and Services, £25,000 is shown as expenditure on calculating and other machinery, and it appears to be a comparatively large sum. I wonder whether, following upon the introduction of this number of calculating machines, there is likely to be any reorganisation of staff in consequence of the introduction of mechanical devices. I shall be glad if the hon. and learned Gentleman will explain these further points.


I do not quarrel with the Supplementary Estimate. When the Estimates Committee examined the estimates of the Public Records Office it was found that the printing of the Record Office was very much behind hand because the Stationery Office had to do it in between their other work, and I wonder whether part of the sum now required is due to acceleration of work for the Record Office?

7.33 p.m.


The comparison between Sub-heads E—Paper and F—Printing is not clear to me. The sum of £93,000 for paper seems to be a very heavy addition, and one would expect it to have some relation to the item for printing of £73,000. I find that £50,000 of the printing expenses is actually in respect of contract work for which presumably no paper will need to be purchased by the Department. That leaves only 223,000 for printing at the Stationery Office printing works. One has to take into consideration under Sub-head E the sum of £52,000 for Departmental stationery, which seems to be an extraordinarily additional expense. It has hardly been accounted for at all in the explanation given by the Financial Secretary. Leaving that out of account, there is still £41,000 worth of paper as compared with only 223,000 worth of printing done by the Stationery Office. When I consider the necessarily expensive operation of printing and the highly skilled labour which is employed, I am still a little in the dark as to how this very large sum for paper has been necessitated, and I should be obliged if the hon. and learned Gentleman would give some further explanation.

7.35 p.m.


If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. O. Roberts) will look at Sub-head E he will see that it is meant to read: Departmental forms and circulars, instruction, etc., books, pamphlets, etc. I do not think that he need have any fear that the introduction of calculating machinery will lead to re-organisation of the staff in the sense in which he fears. Most of the staff are established civil servants, and the introduction of the machines means that the work will be done more expeditiously. I am unable to answer my hon. Friend the Member for North Kensington (Mr. Duncan) as regards the Record Office work and to say definitely whether it has been done, but I will make inquiries and find out. I do not think that it is realised that the Stationery Office conducts a vast business, including the printing of the whole of the Telephone Directory for the Metropolitan area and for all parts of the Kingdom. If the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Griffith) will bear that in mind, he will see that it is very difficult to draw any definite conclusions from the comparison of printing and paper costs to which he directs attention. I do not know whether he heard my explanation of the £93,000 for paper, but the fact is that the Stationery Office has always to carry a very large stock of paper, so that the amount which appears in any account for paper includes, of course, the stocks on hand. He may take it that there will be a carry over of paper actually purchased which might render the sums disproportionate. I hope that I have made the matter clear to the hon. Gentleman.


I notice that it is mentioned that part of the increased expenditure is due to an increase on Reports of Parliamentary Debates. Does that mean the copies of the OFFICIAL REPORT, or does it include all kinds of Parliamentary reports?


Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell the Committee whether or not the printing of the new Regulations under Part II of the Unemployment Act, 1934, and their withdrawal involved the nation in a huge loss and consumption of extra paper, which perhaps may or may not have had something to do with the increased Estimates.

7.39 p.m.


The Parliamentary publications which are mentioned include many sorts of Parliamentary publications. The OFFICIAL REPORT is printed by the Stationery Office at one place, but in addition a large number of White Papers and the Estimates and so on are printed there also, and the Estimate includes all that comes under the heading of Parliamentary Papers in the ordinary sense. I cannot answer the question of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) off-hand. I am satisfied that the printing operations of the Stationery Office are conducted with great economy and foresight, and I have not the least doubt that if any loss was involved it would be rendered as small as possible.

7.40 p.m.


It is hardly fair for the hon. and learned Gentleman to come before the Committee and ask for money without being able to explain for what purpose it is to be used. He should tell the Committee what is meant by the sum of £25,000 for calculating and other machinery. Is it the intention of the Government Departments to go in for calculating machinery? If so, the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to tell us what effect it has upon the staff. There is another item which no hon. Member would allow to go by if he were examining a balance sheet as a shareholder—the item called Office Sundries amounting to £8,500. What is this sum? If we could obtain answers to these questions perhaps we should be able to expedite progress with regard to the Estimates.


The hon. Member upbraids me for not explaining this matter, but I would point out to him that I dealt with it in the first place.


I beg the hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon.

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