HC Deb 02 August 1946 vol 426 cc1408-26

1.45 p.m.

Brigadier Mackcson (Hythe)

I wish to raise the question of the vast increase in forms, circulars, and regulations used for official purposes which has fallen upon this country during the one year of Socialist rule. I raise the matter because I feel there is a strong case for an inquiry as to whether or not some of this paper is being wasted. During the researches which I have been carrying out on the subject up and down the country, I have tried to look at it from the point of view of the ordinary man or woman on the farm, in the factory, in the street, and especially the ordinary man or woman in his or her home. The impression that I have formed, and I am not afraid to say it, is that instead of food, we have forms, instead of foundations for our houses we have forms, instead of freedom we have forms, and instead of fuel we have forms.

I do not wish to overstate this case. I fully accept that control and regulations are necessary during a period of shortage and that it is essential for the Government to have a strategic plan. I believe, however, that this Government are falling' down on their job. They are trying to fight the detailed battle of industry and agriculture, which cannot be done from Whitehall with paper work. It is leading to an appalling increase in the amount of raw material used for newsprint and paper being used by the Government instead of by industry.

If we take the case of food, I can quote the example of a baker in my constituency who supplies 800 houses. At the end of a rationing period he had to deal with 115,000 small pieces of paper. I do not know whether the Minister of Food is expecting to celebrate his silver wedding but, if he is collecting confetti, surely he could choose some other way. On my own farm I have to fill in one form for the Ministry of Agriculture for potatoes and another for the Ministry of Food. The farmer is in the front line and it is up to everybody behind to back him up. I do not see why a man on a motor bicycle should not come round and ask me how many potatoes I have got in the ground and then go away and with a piece of chalk and mark it up on a board in the W.A.E.C. office. I throw that out as a suggestion.

So far as freedom is concerned, there is a grave danger of "gagging" because of the shortage of newsprint. What is the situation of the Press at home? " The Times " yesterday reported that the President of the Imperial Press Conference, a distinguished Australian, came back to this country from Canada and America and said that consumption there was increasing. The Canadian newspapers were using 25 to 20 per cent. more paper and the American papers were using about 15 per cent. more. He is reported to have said that the size of their newspapers is about 48 pages, whereas we have four pages. The words which he is alleged to have used were that the shortage of paper was affecting the attitude of the public mind. I fully accept that with the shortage of dollars it is difficult to import raw materials, but I believe an energetic Government would have got them from the Continent and the Baltic and Scandinavian countries.

The present situation, where the papers of this country are 74 per cent. less in size than they were before the war and where countries abroad have more than ever, is intolerable. It is no use saying that it is a case only of dollars. I looked through the South African Press and found that their papers were two and a half times the size of ours. This matter should be given urgent consideration during the two months before we meet again. Then I hope that one of my hon. Friends will raise the matter if I myself should not catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I believe this shortage of paper is having a most unfortunate effect upon journalists. All the Press, including the " Daily Herald " and the " Daily Worker," have, I understand, loyally carried out their obligations and reemployed journalists who were in the Forces. I was very impressed by one of these gentlemen from the Dominions who attended the Imperial Press Conference. When I was lunching with him he said that one of the things which impressed him was that a very large number of our young journalists wanted to leave this country. They had their jobs but they did not get their " copy " into the papers and, as a result, they preferred to go to Canada or South Africa where they would not feel that they were working and yet unable to get their views, their reports, or their news published.

I was very disappointed when in answer to a Question I put to him the President of the Board of Trade said recently that he was not going to reduce the amount of paper supplied to Government Departments. There is a tremendous demand for it for education, novels, periodicals and publications of all sorts, not only of an educational and political nature, but of a light and even a sporting nature. It is almost impossible now to follow cricket, which is regarded as quite important in the county of Kent. Some of these forms could be dispensed with now. Let me take the question of fuel. When I asked a question a short time ago, according to the Minister of Fuel, we were getting only one per cent. of the oil produced by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Surely, we could wash out a very large number of forms concerning fuel which have to be filled in by the private individual and by industry if only we could import a higher percentage from Iraq.

The biggest offenders in creating paper work are the Service Departments. The Duke of Wellington and every great soldier since his day have complained of the paper work "churned out" from Whitehall. The moment the commander-in-chief is given decentralised responsibility, the paper work drops. I saw that myself very vividly in Egypt in 1939. When all our bits of paper were blown away in the Desert we were supposed to put in an explanation for everything we had lost. The moment the commander-in-chief had adequate powers, we were able to get ready for the job of war and a great decrease took place in paper work. The young men and women in the Forces are sitting at desks filling in petty forms. We know we have to have a large clerical establishment in an organisation like the Army, but I am prepared to wager outside this House with any hon. Member that there are now practically no units in the Army which are working to their normal clerical establishment. They are taking in young men who should be training in order to deal with this paper work. Hon. Members on this side of the House, who have as much experience as I have of Service matters, will bear me out. Here is an example. In my constituency, and in many other constituencies, there are halls which are requisitioned, or were until recently. Anybody could hire those halls by arrangement. In one case which I will quote, a gentleman in holy orders was accustomed to hire a hall for a social on Fridays in aid of his church funds. After filling in a form he went to the clerk and said, " Can I have a lease for a few months? " The clerk said, " I am very sorry; you must fill in a form for each occasion." He filled in the form, being a studious man, and after a few weeks he went back and said, "I see that on this form I have to fill in the size of the building. Surely the size does not vary. Need I do that? " The clerk said, " Yes, you have to." In desperation he started to enlarge the size of the hall in the form concerned until it became the size of the Albert Hall. Then, in desperation, he reduced it to the size of a postage stamp, but still nobody has noticed this.

With regard to the building of houses, many local authorities of Independent, Socialist and Conservative points of view would truthfully say that nothing has been achieved—so would many ex-Servicemen. There have been 300 instructions sent out by the Ministers of Health and Works. I am not in a position to say whether or not they are all necessary; I look at the matter from the worm's eye point of view. In the opinion of the town clerk of Bridgwater, 37 forms are needed before a house can be built. One of my local buliders wrote to me: It would appear the paper question is increasing daily. Instead of being able to build houses we must fill in forms from mom till night. In our experience the result is a great increase in overhead expenses and a corresponding reduction in results. I understand from that firm, which is quite a small one, that they have had 100 per cent. more clerks and 100 per cent. increase in telephone costs in a year. I ask if that is necessary. I think it is not. The " buck " is passed between the Ministry of Works and the War Damage Commission. The small people who have had their houses destroyed do not possess the capital to rebuild their houses, the builders are running out of capital and an impasse has been reached especially in coastal towns. There is a hold up in the rebuilding of houses owing to all the paper work, resulting in the slowing down in the settlement of these war damage claims.

With regard to freedom from want or our export trade, I took the trouble to inquire into a number of industries in the Midlands. There are many small businesses there; out of 13,000, 10,000 employ fewer than 20 people each. In those businesses the master man is not where his skill is needed in the factory. He is filling in forms to get licences for raw materials, pay-as-you-earn, purchase tax, import licences, etc. That sort of thing must force up the cost of the articles when they are produced, and in many cases it does not improve their quality. I cannot believe that all those forms are necessary. In the case of a slightly larger factory employing between 50 and 200 people, as the result of questions I had asked, a business gentleman whom I did not know came to see me. Later he wrote as follows: All these forms affecting businesses in Birmingham demand a special department with very complete and carefully indexed records, so that they may be at any time available for scrutiny by a Government Department, whose officials can visit us without appointment and can demand sight of this information. My clerical establishment is up 300 per cent. on the 1939 level without an increase of production and with a natural rise in costs. This state of affairs will produce a lower standard of living in this country because we shall not be able to compete in the markets in the world. That is the result of one man's inquiry. The result of my inquiry may be at variance with those of my colleagues, but that is what I have found. My general impression is that there are too many forms.

Let us look at it from the point of view of the Government. Broadly speaking, based on a recent question I asked, I believe that His Majesty's Government are using 80,000 tons of paper a year as compared with 20,000 tons which were used two years before the outbreak of the war. I would have expected a redaction because a large proportion of that paper increase was caused by the Services and by new Departments. I would refer hon. Members to the Civil Estimates for 1946 where, in Class VII on page 64, they will see that on paper alone the Coalition Government in 1945 were spending £1,610,000, whereas the Labour Government propose to spend £5,975,000 in 1946. That is not a decrease; it is a colossal increase. It breaks down into the most amazing figures. On Press advertisements the figures have gone up from £35,000 to £130,000. Some of these figures would be funny if they were not so tragic. On photography the figures have increased from £125,000 in 1945 to £420,000 in 1946. Why do we want to spend £420,000 on photographs; are we all going to be given photos of the Chancellor or of pin-up girls? It is perfect nonsense. The figure for printing and writing paper has increased from £1,040,000 in 1945 to £4,100,000 in 1946. There is little more writing paper available for the woman in her home or for the industrialist or for advertisers. What about blotting paper which, I think, includes wrapping paper? The figure has increased from £120,000 to £809,000 in one year. Those are staggering figures. What about the expense of printing forms? The Government's predecessors spent £910,500 last year. I thought that was enough. This Government propose to spend £3,272,350 in 1946.

Mr. Sparks (Acton)

Is not the explanation for that the fact that this Government is doing considerably more work?

Brigadier Mackeson

This Government is cluttering up the country with gross inefficiency and forms. Be that as it may, surely if £8 million more is to be spent on stationery and printing, would not the hon. Member or any ordinary person expect the salvage to go up or down? I would expect more to be salvaged. According to the Civil Estimates which I have here, the sales of waste paper are going down by £32,000 this year as compared with 1945. I am very grateful to the Minister for coming here. I am making a party case of this, because I believe Socialism will always be wrapped up in forms. I implore the Minister to make a careful inquiry in the next two months to see if he cannot give the free people of this country a little bit more freedom.

2.1 p.m.

Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)

I desire to support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson). He has given several very striking examples of the increase in the waste of paper caused by Government Departments in form filling. I want to make a general point, which really affects the whole trade and future of this country. There is a thing which we in business circles call " velocity of turnover." In ordinary parlance it is described as '' time is money." We are told by Ministers of the Crown—who had to face facts when they had the responsibility of office, who had to wake up to the fact that an increase in our export trade was a vital necessity—that our export trade must be increased. I will not detain the House this afternoon by going into details, but I have had case after case sent to me, showing how the export trade has been held up because the forms have not gone through; files have been lost, and export hampered for that reason. In addition to that, the internal business of the country is hampered. The other day I had a form, which I have since passed on to the Minister of Labour, sent to me by a. farmer who wanted a man released for a fortnight or three weeks to help him during the harvest. Speaking from memory, it was a page of foolscap with questions on both sides, asking the maiden name of the man's mother, the colour of her hair and eyes, or such perfectly ridiculous questions, merely to get a man released to help in a vital harvest for a fortnight.

I will give another reason why I think all this filling up of forms is very dangerous. I look upon this Government as one which has a lust for power, which is trying to get a stranglehold on every citizen in the country. The filling up of forms, whether it be for bread rationing or, when the National Health Bill comes in, the medical history sheet of every one in the country—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Edith Summer-skill)

The medical record.

Sir W. Smithers

In the Army we call it a "medical history sheet." In time there will be in the Government offices detailed particulars of every citizen of this country. This Government, in their desire for power over the individual, will be able to exchange all those details of our private lives between the different Departments, and use them for any fell purpose they may have at the backs of their minds. I now wish to give an example of how, in some of the villages, the filling up of these forms by law abiding people becomes an absolute impossibility. I give the example of Mr. and Mrs. Dabnor, who are grocers in the village in which I live. They had two sons in the Air Force, one of whom I think was killed. All through the six years of war they strove valiantly to keep the food supply going. They told me themselves that after a hard day's work in the shop they were working till one or two o'clock most nights of the week, filling up endless forms. The consequence was, their health broke down, and, for a time at any rate, the shop was closed. The other day the Minister of Food told me that the rationing of bread —no doubt the hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong; I am speaking from memory—would necessitate the printing of another 28 million cards. Recently, I have been in two different parts of the country, in small country villages, speaking to people like the baker to whom my hon. and gallant Friend referred in opening the Debate. Those country bakers say: "We do not want to break the law, but it is a physical impossibility for us to fill up the forms. We are going on providing our customers with the bread they want." What will happen when the end of the rationing period comes and they have to turn in their ration cards to get a further allocation, I do not know.

If this Socialist Government passes laws which are against the natural law— —[Interruption.]—Well, it is. The filling up of forms is against the freedom of the people. All this filling up of forms only accentuates the shortages and increases the work of the distributors. The system will inevitably break down. I can give another instance, of an old farmer. I will not say where he lives, because inspectors may be sent down to pursue him. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members may say " Oh," but that has been done. In my constituency, when they were picking strawberries recently, two gentlemen appeared, inspectors of the Ministry of Food, to watch the picking and despatch of those strawberries. The farmer told them exactly what he thought of them. I will not say what he said because I would be out of Order, but they departed quickly. That old fanner is not a very good scholar. He has a small room just inside his front door, which is used as a gun-room or a boot-room. Whenever a form arrives he opens the door, chucks it in and takes no further notice of it. When anybody comes round and says, " What about filling up your forms?" He says, "They are in there. I am busy at work in the fields. If you want them you can fill them up yourself, and I will give you all the details." That illustrates how this totalitarian system of control of our lives keeps breaking down.

Therefore, I support my hon. and gallant Friend in the effort he is making. There is a small attendance here today, but I hope this scandal will be taken note of in the public Press, and that the people of this country will rise up in their wrath and take every legitimate—I emphasise "legitimate"—action they can to stop it. The frustration and delay in housing, in the distribution of food and in the export trade because of this filling up of forms are giving a serious blow to the domestic and overseas recovery of the trade of our country.

2.10 p.m.

Mr. Braddock (Mitcham)

I think the House and the country are indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Brigadier Mackeson) who has raised this matter. It will give the Minister an opportunity of replying to a great many current criticisms to which the hon. and gallant Member has drawn attention. I agree with the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) that it does present difficulties to certain people who have not been used to dealing with printed forms. Everybody sympathises with them, and I can only ask that the various Ministries should give people in that position all the assistance they possibly can by making the forms as simple and clear as possible.

Sir W. Smithers

Burn the lot.

Mr. Braddock

Recently there have been, improvements in that respect, and I suggest that such proposals as that just made, to burn the lot, would under present conditions bring about impossible confusion. After all, we are all agreed, and it is not denied on any side of the House when the question is really faced seriously, that some sort of control is necessary at the present time. I would ask hon. Members to consider what the position would be, controls being necessary, if we attempted to do without forms. Suppose we had to deal with every individual commodity, and every individual person dealing in or handling those commodities, without printed forms. Talk about waste of paper—think of the amount of correspondence, think of the number of civil servants who would have to be employed, if every individual case had to have individual attention. And that is the alternative to filling in forms.

I happen to have had some experience in this matter. I was employed during the war both by the Ministry of Works and by the War Damage Commission, and I would say that if people who have to fill in forms would give the matter a little study and care at the beginning, they would find that it was not really so very difficult after all; having done that, if they would see to it that all the information asked for on the form was filled in in the proper place, it would render their business and the task of the various Ministries very much easier. I found, as the result of my experience in the Ministries, that when a form was not properly filled in, when certain information was left out, it caused additional writing, additional form filling and additional delays. Since coming out of the Ministries and going back into practice on my own, and finding myself having to deal with certain matters in the way of war damage repairs, I have discovered what an advantage it is to have forms and documents prepared which can be filled in to meet the various cases. Take the preparation of specifications for war damage in connection with various buildings. Suppose we had to deal with every individual building on its own, and had to write out a separate specification for every different job. It would need a tremendous lot of consideration and of duplicating or triplicating of writing, but by preparing an outline specification, which can be made applicable to almost any job, I have found a great saving in time, trouble and paper. I imagine that what I have discovered in my small way was discovered long ago by the various Ministries, and used to their advantage and to the advantage of the rest of the community.

There is one matter for criticism which I think the Minister would do very well to look into, and that is the amount of delay in dealing with correspondence and sending replies to the forms received. Dealing with correspondence ought to be hastened. It is too easily accepted in Government Departments that, an acknowledgment having been sent, the matter can wait. There ought to be a determined effort—

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

Ought there not to be a form prepared by the Ministries for delayed correspondence, to be rendered weekly?

Mr. Braddock

There ought to be a determined effort by the Ministers to impress upon their staffs the necessity of altering this system whereby weeks and weeks have to pass before replies can bo made. Believe me, at the present time, it takes on an average at least a month to get any sort of reply from the Ministries even when forms have been properly filled in. The war is over, we are at peace and we are going to win the peace, and I suggest that a determination to deal with correspondence and forms more rapidly would be to the advantage of all concerned.

2.15 p.m.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)

I want to add a little fuel to the fire started by my hon. and gallant Friend and stirred up, poked and brought into activity by the hon. Member for Orpington, (Sir W. Smithers). Nobody seriously suggests, as was indicated by the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Braddock), that forms can be completely dispensed with. Of course they cannot. It is only a question of degree, it is a question of how much our lives are to be wrapped up in paper and thereafter neatly tied round with red tape. This question of forms which we have been discussing this afternoon is one which stretches its tentacles into all sections of our lives at the present time. Everybody admits that a form is a nuisance; it is a nuisance not only to the sender but to the receiver, and it would be interesting if somebody could assess the proportion of our lives at present spent in filling in forms or unravelling them if one happens to be the recipient. Endless people spend their lives burning the candle at both ends, and I want to emphasise to the right hon. Gentleman that that is not the way to make both ends meet.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

Would the hon. and gallant Member excuse me—is it not a fact that many more people in this country spend their lives filling in coupons than filling in forms, and they seem to enjoy it?

Colonel Hutchison

But a coupon is only a form, it is an abbreviated example of exactly the same thing. Take newspapers, for example. We have heard a lot about the Press in the last two days; newspapers are distressingly short of newsprint, and what is the effect of that? Since most newspapers have some mild, if not strong, form of political adherence, the tendency is obviously for that adherence to become stronger and the other point of view more abbreviated. So whereas the Press should in principle be impartial, it is forced by shortage of newsprint to take up a much more definite attitude, to the disadvantage of the public, who in fact want their newspapers to be impartial and to state both sides of a question. Therefore, a great deal of the fuss that has boiled up lately about the Press is largely the result of a shortage of newsprint, and that shortage is undoubtedly contributed to by the enormous demand so graphically illustrated by my hon. and gallant Friend for paper for other purposes.

Then books. Only today I was talking to a book publisher, who says that one of the greatest difficulties in getting books to the public is not so much the shortage of paper as the demand made on the printers by the stationery offices. The public, once again, have to suffer in their reading matter because of the demand from the stationery offices. I would suggest that the Government should consider whether they could not appoint a controller of forms, or if you like a controller of controls, charged with the duty of inquiring into the necessity for all these forms and, once he is satisfied that they are necessary, cutting them down in number and in length and finally doing all he can to advise Government Departments to make them understandable and easy to fill in.

2.20 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Major Sir Frank Soskice)

This discussion started, I thought, on rather an unfortunate note. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who introduced it prefaced his remarks by saying that he did not want to overstate his case, and he then proceeded to launch upon what sounded to me little more than a harangue against Socialism. That is not within the ambit of this discussion. His example was then followed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers), who went even further in the same direction with, perhaps, even rather less discretion. I was particularly glad when the Debate was brought back into more constructive channels by later speakers. If one is to conduct Debates on those lines, both sides can do it, and some people might be inclined to suggest that the Conservative Party, which used less forms, did very much less work. Reference was made to the Ministry of Works; and some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House might be supposed to think that that was due to the fact that the Tory Party had no housing programme to use forms upon. But I hope the House will think that the proper course is to discuss this matter seriously, and to try to consider whether there is in fact, a wastage of paper, and whether, if there is, what steps ought to be taken to remedy it. I propose to discuss that, and to forget the more general, vituperative suggestions thrown about by the two hon. Members who initiated this Debate.

Sir W. Smithers

Does the Solicitor-General deny that it is part of the policy of this Government to use these forms to control our lives and our businesses from Whitehall? Surely, that is a political method and, therefore, ground for attack on Socialism?

The Solicitor-General

I have a clear recollection of a story about strawberries, I think, which seemed to form the central theme of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but which did not seem to me to be very conducive to the closer and more accurate consideration of this problem. May I try, in my own way, to deal with what is, I think, the issue? I am going to ask the House to accept the view that, in point of fact, the most stringent methods are adopted in order to prevent waste of paper. Of course, the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) accepted, as my hon. Friend who spoke on this side accepted, the position that, when we have enormous social problems to tackle, we must have a certain amount of forms for the purpose of regularising the proceedings taken in connection with them. He made, it seemed to me, a very attractive plea for simplification of these forms, as much as they can be simplified; and I am sure that everybody, on both sides of the House, will agree that, clearly, one does not want to throw them about broadcast, and have forms where they are not necessary. But there is in existence an organisation, a series of organisations, which functions in trying to prevent waste of paper. I want to tell the House, roughly, how that system works. All the big Departments have now developed sections which they call—

Sir W. Darling

Organisation and method sections.

The Solicitor-General

I am much obliged. Organisation and method sections. They function in all the big Departments, and there is a mother organisation and method section in the Treasury, which, as many hon. Members know, exercises a general supervisory jurisdiction over the other sections in the particular Departments. These sections are primarily charged with the duty of scrutinising the forms used, and of trying to simplify them, trying to make them short, trying to prevent wastage of paper in the use of the forms by preventing unnecessary duplication, and, generally, regularising and making more sensible the system operated by the Departments in the use of the forms. During the war, as hon. Members will remember, there was a particular committee set up called the Official Paper Shortage Committee, and that committee was charged, inter alia, with the duty of scrutinising complaints which came from the public of alleged wastage of paper. That committee, in point of fact, did go very carefully into those complaints, and, whenever there was a complaint of substance, did take it up with the Department concerned, in order to bring about a rectification of the abuse. I am in a position to say, of the very large number of complaints examined, that it was always found to be the case, with very few exceptions, that the wastage, in point of fact, was trifling, negligible. The committee exercised a constant watch over complaints. Very rarely was there a complaint which disclosed a wastage of paper which could be said to be other than negligible in quantity.

We have now gone back to the peace time system, and the Stationery Office replaces this committee in that respect. The Stationery Office does the work, in close liaison with those sections in the Departments to which I have referred, those organisation and method sections. The Stationery Office has, amongst its duties, the duty of scrutinising very carefully the estimates which come in from the Departments of their paper requirements; and not only does it scrutinise the estimates, but, as and when each Department makes demands for allocation of paper against its estimates, the Stationery Office scrutinises each and every demand. Each demand is scrutinised with the greatest care to see whether there is an apparent wastage involved; whether there is an apparent wastage of the paper; whether the paper to be printed upon is too large in size, and so on. The Stationery Office, and the experts in the Stationery Office, who have great experience in these matters, do act in very close liaison with the sections actually within the Departments. That is how it works, so that all demands go through this sieve. The Stationery Office, when it gets a demand for an allocation of paper wants to know whether the demand is sufficiently balanced, and whether it comes from a sufficiently high quarter in the Department concerned; and if it is not satisfied about that, it will refer the matter back, and make sure that the request is not some irresponsible one by somebody not with authority to order paper for specific purposes, but that it does come from a high quarter in the Department, and that the Minister himself is prepared to take the responsibility for it. There is supervision, constantly and deliberately exercised, on this question of paper consumption. That is how it works. Hon. Members will know that there is a Select Committee of this House that also is charged, as part of its terms of reference, with the duty of considering the use of public paper.

I want to go for a moment or so into the figures. In 1938 to 1939 the paper consumption was 44,000 tons. I take that as the starting point. Since that date, it would naturally be expected that consumption would go up very greatly because of the war, and so on; and the picture which is disclosed by the figures in the years which have supervened is that this consumption went up, year by year, in 1939, 1940 and 1941, and so on, until, in 1944 to 1945, the peak consumption was reached. That is to say that between 1938 to 1939 and 1944 to 1945 the consumption went up from 44,000 tons, in the first period, to 140,000 tons in 1944 to 1945.

Colonel Hutchison

Consumption by whom?

The Solicitor-General

That was the consumption of paper by all Government Departments.

Mr. I. J. Pitman (Bath)

Including the Services?

The Solicitor-General

Yes, including the Services.

Mr. Grimston (Westbury)

And the Post Office?

The Solicitor-General

Yes, including the Services and the Post Office. It went up to that peak figure in 1944 to 1945. In 1945 to 1946 the figure went down to 104,000 tons, a drop of 36,000 tons. That was between March, 1945, and March, 1946. When we get to the next year, 1946 to 1947, the only figure available is for the first quarter. The figure for the first quarter is 13,550. I am not in a position to say that that will be a constant figure throughout the four quarters. If it were a constant figure, the resulting consumption for the whole year would be, of course, 54,200 tons, which would show a very startling drop on the preceding year. In other words, it would be a drop from 104,000 tons to 54,000 tons. The peak figure was 140,000 tons a year. The next year it was 104,000 tons, and now, on the assumption that this increase will remain constant, it will be 54,000 tons.

Brigadier Mackeson

I have no reason to doubt the figures which the Solicitor-General has given, but, in the reply to a Question I put some weeks ago, the figure quoted was 21,600 tons. If the figures which the Solicitor-General has given are correct, it makes my case not so strong.

The Solicitor-General

The figure for the March quarter, 1946 is, as the hon. and gallant Member says, 21,600 tons. The financial year runs from March to March, and I was talking about the quarter which ends in June. For the quarter ending March, 1946, the figure was 21,600 tons, but for the quarter which ends in June it is 13,150 tons. Multiplying that figure by four, it may or may not give us a correct figure for the year, but suppose it works out at 60,000, 70,000 or even 80,000, there would be a great drop in consumption. It would be something like half the consumption of the peak year. This is very largely due, as was the extra consumption, to the consumption of the Services. It is reflected by the figures for the War Office, Admiralty and Air Ministry for the two quarters ending March and June, 1946. The relevant figures are: War Office, 6,000 and 3,900; Admiralty, 3,600 and 1,350; Air Ministry, 2,400 and 1,150.

Sir W. Smithers

Are these the only decreases?

The Solicitor-General

In the case of each of the Service Departments there has been a very marked drop. On the other hand, there has been an increase in the case of the Post Office from 1,000 to 1,750. This is due to the fact that telephone directories, which involve an enormous amount of paper, were not previously in issue. In the great majority of cases there has been a marked drop between these two quarters, and this is reflected in the total. There is every reason to anticipate that consumption will go down to not very much more than the consumption of 1938–39, when it was 44,000. Suppose that the figure for the quarter is constant, consumption will be about 54,000 tons. I ask the House to accept the view that this is a very satisfactory reduction, and that we are getting close to peacetime consumption. I would point out, without being disparaging to hon. Members opposite, that Government Departments arc now undertaking a larger burden of work compared with before the war.

Sir W. Darling

Does the Solicitor-General take into account the over-printed stocks which are in hand? It is suggested that in some Departments millions of forms have been printed in excess of their annual needs. Are these taken into account, because that would account for the reduction in the figures?

The Solicitor-General

I am told that the reduction is a reduction in consumption.

Mr. Grimston

There has, naturally, been an increase in the case of the Post Office, but can the Solicitor-General tell us whether an increase has been shown in the case of any other Department?

The Solicitor-General

In the case of the Ministry of Food, there has been an increase from 700 to 900 and in the case of the Beard of Trade, from 280 to 300. With these exceptions, consumption is decreasing all round. I wish to conclude with two general statements. I do not think they can be controversial, because they are by experts on these particular matters. Printing standards used by Government Departments are run on more economic lines than standards in private work. That is a conclusion which has been formed by the experts in the Stationery Office, whose duty it is to study this sort of problem. The second general statement is that every civil department is using less paper than in 1936 in every case where the staff and services performed are comparable.

Sir W. Darling

But the Government have expanded the Civil Service.

The Solicitor-General

Month by month and year by year, taking comparable staff and services, less paper is being used by civil Departments than in 1936. I ask the House to say that it is very creditable, and I hope hon. Members are satisfied, having heard of the organisation in existence and the results that have been achieved, that the position is entirely satisfactory.

Mr. I. J. Pitman

I am in great sympathy with the Solicitor-General. There is one question I should like to ask, because this may be misleading. Is not type area of paper used in the trade measure rather than weight of paper? Economy in the use of paper is now, quite rightly, being exercised by Government Departments, but it is not fair to make a comparison of tonnage for 1938, when con-sumption was on an extravagant area basis, with 1946, when it was on an economy basis.

The Solicitor-General

The only reliable and practical test which we can apply is the total weight of paper used. We have to take that total overall weight, and then an opinion can be formulated to see whether the general proposition I have enunciated is correct. It is the only practical way in which we can make a comparison and form an opinion.