§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I beg to move (under Standing Order No. 8), "That this House do now adjourn."
We all realise the serious position that this country is now in with regard to its overseas liabilities, and we all know that there is a huge adverse balance in respect of our overseas payments and that there is a huge gap between our imports and exports, especially from and to the hard currency areas. We all realise the urgent need there is to close that gap; otherwise the country might even get into such a serious position as bankruptcy. We all realise that food, raw materials and machinery must have first place in our import programme, and that if we are to achieve economies in imports, they must be achieved in the less essentials. But the gap is vast. It runs into hundreds of millions of pounds. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on 8th July, told the House that during the first two quarters of this year, the rate of drawing on the United States and Canada for dollar credits, put together, amounted to no less than £400 million—that is an adverse balance at the rate of £800 million a year. Cheese-paring methods will not save such a situation as that which has been disclosed, and something far greater, far more radical and far more thorough than the Government have yet proposed or planned 664 is necessary to meet the situation. On 30th June, the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down to the House and made a statement immediately after Questions. Almost in passing he said:Some restriction of supplies of newsprint is inevitable, which will render it necessary to return temporarily to four-page newspapers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 30th June, 1947; Vol. 439. c 961.]It will be noticed that he gave no date for this restriction, nor did he indicate how long the Government thought it necessary for such a restriction to be imposed.
Before the war, the British Press received newsprint at the rate of 1,200,000 tons per annum. At present, the Press are receiving only 405,000 tons. That is practically one-third of what they had before the war. At first, the Government, in their statement to the Press, proposed to cut the present allowance by a further one-third. That would have meant not only a reduction of the penny newspapers to four pages, but a cut of 10 per cent. in their sales, and a reduction in their stocks to below the danger limit. Representations were then made to the President of the Board of Trade, and he met the Newsprint Supply Company on 7th July. That Company represents the national and provincial newspapers of this country and in their discussions with the right hon. and learned Gentleman they were supported by the trade unions of the industry. As a result of their representations, the Government agreed to a slight modification of their original demand. But the cut, even now, is to be 25 per cent of the present allocation to newspapers from all sources. The cut is to be for the next six months, and the result will be that from Monday next the newspapers will have only four pages, and sales are not to exceed the sales figures for June. At the same time, the Government announced that the price of home produced newsprint would be raised from.32 5s. per ton to 665 £39 7s. 6d. per ton, due to the increased cost of pulp in Scandinavia. Thus, this increase from £32 5s. to approximately £40 is to be added to the other difficulties of the Press.
What do the Government hope to achieve by this cut? They hope to achieve, during the next six months, a cut in the value of imports to the extent of roughly £1 million, and that is all. The amount of foreign exchange now being spent on newsprint and pulp comes to £9 million per annum. There is, therefore, a reduction of newsprint to 25 per cent. of the prewar supply, and a saving of foreign exchange, at the most, of not more than £2 million. Why this discrimination against the newspapers? The present supply of 405,000 tons of newsprint has left them in a position far below that of any other industry. I would like to know what cut the Government are proposing in films, which are using something between £14 million and £17million worth of dollars annually? We all know the difficulties with regard to books, and especially school books. The Government, I am glad to say, do not propose any further cut in the supply to users of paper for school books. The only cut they propose is in newsprint. The newspapers will have only 25 per cent. of what they had prewar. Commercial and general printers, and other industrial users, are getting, and will still get, 66 per cent of their prewar supply and book publishers are getting, and will get, 85 per cent. of their prewar supply. But Government Departments will get, as they are getting now, 177 per cent. Why is it only newsprint which has been selected for this killing cut down to 25 per cent? Why this undue discrimination against this industry?
It is impossible for newspapers to fulfil their proper functions if they are reduced to four pages. The Press is the raw material of democracy. It has to cater for the general interest, and not merely for politics, whether home or foreign—[Laughter.] I do not know why there should be all this hilarity on the part of hon. Members opposite. There is not one of them who does riot read a morning newspaper. Why should they treat this matter in this fashion? There is not one of them who does not turn to a newspaper for events, for comments on his own party or on the Government. 666 Newspapers have to cater not only for politics but for sport, the administration of justice, industrial happenings, even for meetings of trade unions and other bodies. They have to comment upon and discuss all the events which are of public interest. We all know that newspapers have to exist upon their advertising income. It is impossible for them to get a proper income which will enable them to sell newspapers at a penny, or to supply all the needs of news and comment, which the public require, in a four-page paper. At the same time, there will be a very serious cut in their advertising income. Who will be hit the hardest? Not the large papers with the huge circulations, which can spread their overheads over those enormous circulations. It will be the small, independent newspapers whose very existence is vital to the Press. It will be a tragic blow for some of them. It is rather ironical that those who will suffer most are those whom the Government have constantly said it is their policy to encourage—the small independent, newspapers. It that is so, why set out to kill them? Or is their statement of policy just another bit of hypocrisy?
There is another, more serious, matter. The Scandinavian supply of pulp to British mills is at all times very uncertain, and particularly so now. It is also very expensive. The price is approximately £40 per ton for newspaper made in mills in this country from pulp imported from Scandinavia, as against £30 for newsprint delivered to this country from Canada. The buying of pulp from Scandinavia for our mills is in the hands of the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade have been unable to enter into a long-term contract for the supply of pulp to our mills, due, in a large measure, to the high price. The main source of supply of newsprint is Canada and Newfoundland. It is Canada who has been so generous to this country, who has forgiven us our debts, who has lent us £250 million, and Newfoundland, who has had an association with us over the centuries—they are to be the sacrifices on this altar. They were the only sources of supply during the war which kept our Press going. Last year, they produced two-thirds of the world's newsprint. They can sell every ton they produce to American publishers and newsprint users, and on a long-term agreement. We can ill afford a breach of faith 667 with our own people, but it looks as though the Government were determined on such a course.
Two years ago, arrangements were made to increase the imports of newsprint so that larger papers might be published, and contracts were entered into. Then Lend-Lease came to an abrupt end. The Government then asked the Press to cancel the contract which they had recently made, and they did so. That was the first breach of contract made by this country, to which the Canadian people assented. However, they did not assent without a protest. There was deep resentment in Canada and then, in the summer of last year, the Government agreed in principle that the Press should make long-term contracts with its main reliable sources of supply so as to safeguard and provide for the future expansion of British newspapers. After long and very thorough negotiations, the Canadian and Newfoundland mills agreed to limit their contracts with the United States, who could have taken them all, and limit them in such a way as to enable them to enter, as indeed they did, into a five-year programme with the Newsprint Supply Company of this country, to supply what was, after all, only a moderate amount of newsprint. Before this could be done, the Company had to know how they stood with regard to payment for this newsprint, and the Government gave a written undertaking to provide both the import licences and the necessary dollars. Not only that, but with the Government's approval and at the request of the North American paper mills, the chief British newspapers signed contracts to continue their imports from those sources until 1959. That agreement was signed on 28th January, 1947. I will read what follows after Clause 8:This Contract is entered into by Buyer"—that is the company in this country—with the approval of His Majesty's Government, contained in a letter from Mr. H. J. Hutchison to Sir Walter Layton, dated r5th August, 1946, which states as follows: 'The Lord President informed you that the Government would be prepared to provide exchange and import licences for 250,000 tons of newsprint in respect of 1948 and 300,000 tons in each of the three following years, and you can contract in Canada on this basis should you find it necessary to contract so far ahead.'668 That agreement, as I have said, was signed as recently as 28th January, 1947. Just six months later, the Government withdrew its word, and compelled these people to withdraw from their contract and contract-out. The contracts have to be broken; they cannot now be carried out. One, therefore, asks the question: To where will Canada and Newfoundland turn? It is perfectly obvious. They will now turn to the United States of America, who not only can take all they produce but will carry out to the full the contracts they make.
I agree that it is necessary for us to be placed again on a secure footing, and to do all that we can to close this gap, running as it does into hundreds of millions, between the value of our exports and imports; but this is not the way. This is just feebleness. It is almost like trying to tow a ship which is out of control with a reel of cotton. This will deprive the public of free access to all the news and comment, and even deprive them of making their own comments, which they so often do, and for which space is provided in the newspapers. This will not close the adverse balance gap. One does not quite know the extent of the language which one can use in connection with this. It is just feeble, with a situation which calls for great and real action. I accuse the Government not only of unfair discrimination but of worse—of doing something which is futile, paltry and feeble.
The effect will be that not only will they create difficulties on matters of contract and matters of faith between this country and Canada and Newfoundland, which may imperil our future supplies from those countries, but, at the same time, they will imperil the freedom of the Press and the right of expression. That is a comment not only on the futility of their case but of their failure of vision. In January, they gave their word: in July they broke it. They are condemned in that way by their own case. But there is also the failure of vision. May I refer to one paragraph in the Economic Survey, 1947, proudly issued by the Government in February of this year. On page 19, paragraph 78 states:The United States and Canadian credits"—which have been running out at the rate of £800 million a year, and the total amount only came to £1,250 million— 669must last us not only until we have ourselves established a stable balance of payments and are exporting as much as we import; they must last until this special dollar problem is also solved.That expresses the amount of vision which this Government showed in February, 1947. In July, the situation has become so serious that they have to go to that Box and suggest, in order to put us on a stable footing, piffling small items of this kind. Let them think again and much more radically and on a firmer basis than they have done hitherto.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Haydn Davies (St. Pancras, South West)
I think it very undesirable that we can never have discussions in this House about newspapers, without their going along strictly partisan lines. I wish that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had not been quite so partisan in making this case. This has nothing to do with politics or any political party, but it has to do with newspapers and the freedom of expression which we all desire. I hope to try to bring the discussion back to a real consideration of the problems facing newspapers rather than any attempt to attack the Government.
I begin by asking the President of the Board of Trade whether it would be possible for him to illustrate the rather amazing answer that he gave this afternoon in reply to Questions about this situation. For example: What is meant by the Newsprint Supply Company having been informed that they might proceed by way of postponed deliveries? A contract was entered into to buy newsprint from Canada and Newfoundland, and it was signed, sealed and delivered. Do we pay dollars for that, or do we postpone payment and postpone obtaining the newsprint or what is this marvellous transaction envisaged in my right hon. and learned Friend's reply? And if it is not that kind of juxtaposition, where is the saving of a million pounds' worth of dollars in the next six months which, again, was referred to in his answer? Finally, if the matter can he reviewed in six months, what is it that is to be reviewed? Is it the question of postponing the 48,000 tons; is it a review of the matter of the million pounds' worth of dollars, or is it the whole machinery of newsprint between North America and ourselves that my right hon. and learned Friend had in mind in the answer he gave?
670 I ask those questions because, to be perfectly frank, newspapers are faced with the biggest crisis they have ever experienced in the whole history of the British Press. I hate to think what will be the effects on Monday morning throughout the whole of the industry. As I think the House knows, I am speaking as a journalist who has had something to say before now on the Press, and I am very concerned at the situation that is likely to develop as the result of the restriction on the import of newsprint. I think that this House should look askance at the fact that on Monday our newspapers will be the smallest newspapers in the world. I know that we shall have a series of cross currents in the House on this issue, but I was delighted today to find hon. Members of the Opposition rising in their places to support certain things I had suggested earlier in the day. I accept this belated conversion to the freedom of the Press, in which I believe, although on the last occasion when I happened to mention it, the Opposition were all against it. I welcome it because I believe in a thing called the freedom of the Press, and I do not consider that we can have adequate freedom of the Press if, next Monday, we are to have this restriction.
There is no partisan spirit about this. The fact that the proprietors of newspapers happen to agree with me is a mere accident. I have been attacking them all my life, and from time to time shall continue to attack them, but I have been receiving today telegrams from all over the country from branches of the National Union of Journalists who are extremely concerned about this decision. This is not just a trade interest in the sense that there are people pulling wires or bringing pressure on groups. It is a genuine concern on the part of all those engaged in the very important job of producing newspapers, and the trade union is as much concerned as the employer about the developments that are likely to result. My quarrel with the Government is not the same as that of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). My quarrel with them is that they encouraged the Newsprint Supply Company to go on making long-term contracts, that they encouraged them to the extent of giving a written confirmation of the fact that there would be dollar 671 exchange and import licences, and that then, when everything was signed and settled, they came along and made the announcement that it was not to be done.
I am very concerned about the effect that this will have in Canada and Newfoundland. We are entitled to put that serious point to the Government and to ask them how they are satisfied that in breaking their word in this way—I repeat that phrase, "breaking their word"—they are doing the right thing to encourage future commercial relations with the Dominions and the Colonies, or any other part of the world. It is all very well for my right hon. and learned Friend to say that he will review the matter in six months, but that will not satisfy the mills of Canada and Newfoundland, and I think we are entitled to have an answer from him on that point. As I understand the newsprint situation, the United States will take all the newsprint they can get. Contracts were made with us, and if we break our word and cancel them, the newsprint will go to the United States. In that case, where we are we afterwards to obtain newsprint when we are once more in a position to make longterm contracts? In other words, we are throwing away the goodwill of Canada at this moment, and at some time or another we shall have to go back to them and ask for further concessions; and having broken our word, we shall not be able to make that request. They have made concessions twice in the last few years, and I think it will be very hard to ask that it should be done again.
My main concern in this issue is not for the newspaper combines, who can look after themselves. I am concerned about the small independent local newspapers which will be hit by this in a way that this House has not yet fully realised. It is possible that the bigger firms, by reason of a pooling of all their resources and overheads, will be able to withstand it, but the small firms will suffer severely. Last time I spoke in this House on the Press, I made a plea for the small independent newspapers, and said that wanted to see more and more of them. If this cut is introduced on Monday, those newspapers will go to the wall and will not he able to keep going.
I am told that during the war we had four-page newspapers and that there were 672 no sackings. The answer is that about 50 per cent. of the personnel were then in the Forces, or were engaged on Government service. Now, all those people have come back to the newspaper offices. How on earth can a small newspaper keep going, with all these men and women who have returned, if they are now to be faced not only with a four-page paper, which means a reduction in advertisements, but also with an increase in the price of home-produced newsprint? I suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that the discrimination which this restriction will introduce against the small newspapers, as opposed to the large ones, is something which this Government should consider, believing, as I know they do, in the freedom of the Press.
§ Mr. Davies
I am always glad to have the confirmation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) on any matter affecting the Press.
§ Mr. Davies
I think there has been very unfair discrimination against the newspaper industry in this matter. I say "unfair discrimination," and I really mean it, because I could suggest ways in which cuts could have been made which would have saved far more than the £1 million worth of dollars involved. I believe that it has been worked out that £1 million in the next six months represents less than a farthing per head of the population per day. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether freedom of expression is not worth a little more than a mere farthing. I should like to know, for example, why we must continue to import into this country trashy American magazines which obviously have to be paid for in dollars. I have here an advertisement from an American agency inviting agents in this country to set up in business for the importation of American magazines. I should have thought that to import those American magazines would have cost us dollars, and I would prefer, instead of importing them, to import newsprint so that we could produce our own newspapers in this country. Here is an advertisement for agents—and I presume the Treasury have 673 given permission for dollars to be used in buying these magazines—
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Sir Stafford Cripps)
§ Mr. Davies
My right hon. and learned Friend shakes his head, but if that is so, why are these people allowed to go on advertising, because advertisements like this are appearing week by week, and one must assume that they are genuine, or action would have been taken before now to stop them. That is one way in which we might save dollars to buy newsprint. Then there is the question of the type of books which are imported into this country. They involve paper and dollars. I will not mention things like football pools. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because all Members know about them and it would be a waste of time. We know that there is a vast amount of paper being used and really wasted, and yet, to save this amount of money, the Government are going to deal a crippling blow at the newspaper industry.
My final word is an appeal to my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade. Is it not possible, between now and Monday, to have a second look at this situation? I appeal to him not to let this cut happen. If it does, he will deal the most vigorous and crippling blow at the newspapers of this country ever known in the whole of our history. I believe that a second look at this would convince even the President of the Board of Trade that somewhere there has been a mistake, and that it is not worth the farthing per head per day that this saving would make. I would go still further. In making a personal explanation, I am in a difficult situation at the moment. I have no desire to see the Government defeated, for I think it is the best Government we have ever had in our lives. As one who believes in the freedom of the Press and of newspapers, I should hate to see all newspapers transferred to hon. Members opposite. Therefore, I appeal to the Board of Trade not to listen to the arguments, which are spurious and bogus, that come from the other side of the House on this issue. As one of his most loyal supporters, I ask him to help those of us who work in the newspaper industry, and who believe in freedom of the Press and freedom of expression; and I appeal to him to stop 674 this restriction between now and Monday. I suggest that he should reconsider it for a week or a fortnight, and so give the industry time to have further talks with him as to how economies could be effected. I hope he will not make the ban absolute.
§ 7.44 P.m.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
I listened to the hon. Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Hadyn Davies) open his speech with a rebuke to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) for being unnecessary partisan in his observations, and he quite rightly said that this matter rises well above party. I did notice, however, that in a very short time he made a lapse on his own account and started tilting at this side of the House for having insufficient interest in the freedom of the Press. I shall try to follow his earlier advice and not his later excursion, and model my observations on this subject, such as they are, in a way that is not couched in party language as such. Let me say at the outset that there is no dispute as to the extent of the gap in our dollar balances and how that has got to be bridged. We are all agreed as to how serious it is, and if it could be shown that this cut is one which would make a really serious contribution to the closing of this gap, most reluctantly the House would take that matter into careful consideration. But so far, from the figures which the Government have given, it is perfectly clear that this cut makes no contribution of any significance to solving the problem with which we are faced. I do not think the Government will disagree that since these cuts were first announced tentatively by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a written reply to my Question about a fortnight ago, public opinion has been increasingly concerned.
There is a growing conviction, not confined to any one party, that the Government have made a grave mistake I will tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman why I think that conviction is growing. First of all, it is because of the size of the saving in relation to our present dollar debts. I reckon that one-fourth of a hundredth part of our total dollar deficiency will be saved in this way chat is so ludicrously infinitesimal that the public cannot be expected to take it as a serious contribution. Put it another 675 way. Take the right hon. Gentleman's figure of £2 million, which represents less than one day's expenditure of our American and Canadian Loans. That is the first reason why the public feels uneasy at this decision. But that is not the whole story. The British Press today is working on supplies of newsprint which are broadly equivalent to about one-third of the supplies which they had before the war. There has been a reduction of two-thirds in the availability of the raw materials of this industry. I ask the House to consider whether any equivalent drastic cut has been placed on the raw material of any other industry. It is a terrific cut. It can be compared, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman waved aside my comparison earlier in the day, with the position of American films which, so far, have not been cut in any way at all.
That is not the whole story. The public demand for newspapers has increased during the war. Presumably we are all aware of that, and I imagine there is no dispute about it. Certainly the Lord President of the Council could not dispute it, because he made an extremely eloquent speech on this subject—I am sorry he is not here now to remember his speech—on 29th October of last year, when he uttered great praise of the Press. He said:After all, none of us can disregard the totality of the newspaper Press"—I do not know what "totality" means but it sounds well—Press agencies and the periodical Press, we cannot underestimate the nature of that great institution, the powerful part that they play in our national life, and the even greater part which they perhaps could play in our national life.[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) does not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's point of view. However, they will not play the part mentioned by the Lord President because of the decision that the Government have just taken. Then he went on to say:The Press as a whole, in its own way, does function as a kind of unofficial part of the British Constitution."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 29th October, 5946; Vol. 428, c. 556.]That is a pretty good tribute from the Leader of the House. I do not think we are in dispute on the fact that the greater demand for newspapers at the moment is a good thing.
676 The newspapers have to meet that increased demand with a two-thirds reduction of their raw material before this cut is ever introduced. I have said that so far as I am aware, no other industry has been so drastically dealt with, yet we were told last week—this is where I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say whether I am right or wrong, because I saw he shook his head in reply to his hon. Friend just now—by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in the last financial year we spent upon the importation of American literary publications nearly half the amount it is now proposed to save. I am all in favour of the importation of foreign literary publications into this country. I hate anything which results in the closing of frontiers to the exchange of views among nations. I think that few factors contributed more to the war than the way in which Hitler succeeded in walling oft his country. Let there be no mistake. I want an exchange of periodicals; but it does seem to be out of all proportion that we should be inflicting a cut in this country on our own newspapers to the order of £2 million but we are spending £800,000 on the importation of American publications. That is 40 per cent. as it appears, from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said.
This is a cut which is to be inflicted on newspapers already limited to one-third of their prewar raw material. I want the Government to contrast for a moment a point which has been touched upon, but was not developed. What are the Government themselves doing, in their use of paper? After all, this is a fair contention. If the Government say to the newspapers, "We have not enough newsprint for you. We cannot allow you to have what you want," we might expect the Government to say, "We have cut our own paper and have reduced our ration, by which we estimate to save so much." The Government are not saving paper at all. In this respect the Government are using 177 per cent. of the paper that was used by the Government before the war. I make the suggestion: Let the Government reduce some of their own consumption of paper. Let them start perhaps with some of those posters which say, "Work or want." There are some of them back in my constituency, where people cannot work because they have not the materials to work with. Let the 677 Government reduce that poster. A few others might come down as well.
Mr. Skeffington-Ledge (Bedford)
I thought the right hon. Gentleman said just now that he was not going to introduce any partisan atmosphere. The point he is now making would appear to me to be a purely party point. We will answer the point.
§ Mr. Eden
I thought I was making just a human observation. I walk about the streets. I see these posters. Perhaps it ought not to have occurred to me that the Government are connected with them. I apologise if that point was unduly partisan. I was simply looking for ways of saving paper and I referred to the posters on the hoardings. I thought some hon. Gentlemen opposite did not like that particular poster. I thought that the more discerning among them said that the poster ought to come down. [Interruption.] Well, I have left the poster now, and I am just coming to the hare bones of the expenditure. The Government have spent this year 3,200,000 on paper. It is a very large sum. Could they not get it down a bit? Paper is a substance which represents dollars, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will himself admit. I am trying to be as little partisan as possible, but I think there is room for economy in the Government's use of paper, both in Government Departments and on the hoardings of this country.
Now I come to a further point which I want to make. What the Government are really now asking the newspapers to do—I ask the House seriously to consider this point—is: "You must do one of two things as the result of this fresh cut. You must either reduce the size of your paper to four pages, which means inadequate reporting of matters which should be fully reported, or else you must cut your circulation." Some papers will certainly decide upon the latter course, but I know that the result, from the point of view of the nation, is un- 678 satisfactory. It is not desirable that the citizens of this country should be unable to obtain the newspaper they want to buy. It is even more unsatisfactory in a free community that a citizen should not be able to say, "I don't want to take that paper in any more. I am going to take in the other paper instead." That is precisely what no one will be able to say after the Government have imposed this cut. Newspapers will be able to take no new readers.
I must be careful not to mention any newspapers by name. No one will be able to say, "On the whole, I don't think I want to read the 'Daily Blank.' I will read the 'Daily Something Else' instead," because the "Daily Something Else" will not be able to supply him with a copy of that paper. That is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs and it is not one which this House should welcome or even accept. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may say to me, "We had all this in the war. We had four-page newspapers." Of course we had. That is quite true, but that is not a relevant argument. We are now at peace. The problems we have to discuss are different. During the war we had virtually no political controversy and we had a national Government. Broadly speaking, there was no political controversy. There was certainly no legislation of a controversial character and there were no party issues which had to be put before the nation.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Does that argument mean that if we had a Coalition now, the Opposition objection would disappear?
§ Mr. Eden
I should imagine that the kind of Coalition which the hon. Gentleman would have, would require far more newspapers than there are at present to explain what it was up to. In war time, the whole national effort was concentrated upon one particular endeavour, whereas now there are all sorts of activities, such as sport and financial activities, which were in abeyance during the war but now need to be recorded in the Press. I hope we shall not hear too much, if anything, about the parallel between peace and war.
I come to a matter which has been lightly touched upon by the hon. Gentleman who preceded me. I want to underline what he said about local weekly newspapers. I ask the Government to look into this question of local weekly newspapers. They are an especial feature of our national life. They play a part in whatever part of the country we live, and they play a special part. The hon. Gentleman did not make this point, in connec- 679 tion with these papers, but it is one which the Government should bear in mind. The smaller the paper is in circulation, the more that paper depends upon its advertising revenue. If these small, local papers are compelled to cut their advertising revenue, the Government will be killing them. I do enter the strongest plea of which I am capable on behalf of these small papers.
I turn for a moment to the very important question of the contracts. I do not feel at all content with the replies which the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave this afternoon, and which seemed to be far from lucid. The Canadian Minister, Mr. MacKinnon has already said something on this matter. He has already issued a warning. He has said:We don't want to lose our market in Britain, which is a traditional one, upon which at one time the Canadian newsprint industry was dependent, but the situation is now reversed. If Britain cancels her new orders they would soon be gobbled up by Canadian publishers in British Colombia and Alberta, who are short of newsprint.However, business is business. If Britain cancels her contract, then new contracts will be drawn up with other bidders. This would be done with great regret because we are all anxious to keep Britain in the first placeWhat is the position about these contracts? I must for a moment call the attention of the House to that. The Newsprint Supply Company is the sole authorised importer of newsprint for the Press. Last autumn, as I understand—I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—Lord Layton and others went to Canada to negotiate new contracts with the Canadian mills. Before they left they received from the Board of Trade a letter confirming some verbal assurances which the Lord President of the Council had given. That is why I am rather sorry he is not here. He is very much concerned in this matter. He gave these verbal assurances that the necessary dollars would be available, and that was confirmed by letter. I am informed that the Canadian negotiators only agreed to sign those contracts—because they had many other offers—on seeing that clause in the letter from the Board of Trade saying that the necessary dollars would be available.
The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) read out 680 the actual terms of the contract. I will not weary the House by reading it again, but the contract is here and the right hon. Gentleman must have seen it. This contract, which included the quotation from a letter from the Board of Trade with the Lord President's assurance in it, was agreed before Christmas in Canada. As I understand it, the negotiators then came back here and—this again I ask the Government to note—before this contract was ratified in London in January it was again shown to the Treasury who, so I am informed, approved its terms. If that is so, how in the world can the Government say they have no responsibilities? Of course they have responsibilities. It is quite true they did not sign the contract or negotiate it themselves, but in the contract are terms containing the Government's undertaking and they were placed there with the full knowledge of the Government. I cannot conceive that the Government can have more direct responsibility than that.
I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to explain what he meant when he said this afternoon, "Next year we will examine the matter again." That assurance is of no value whatever because if these contracts are torn up, new contracts will be made by the Canadian authorities with other purchasers—no one can blame them for doing so—and next year there will be no chance to renew these contracts which bore Government confirmation and are now to be torn up. If these contracts are broken, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is striking a blow at the future supply of newsprint to this country and also striking a blow at British credit.
There is another observation which I must make on a subject not so far dealt with by any speaker tonight. That is the question of employment in the industry as the result of the Government's action. Here I base myself on the unimpeachable authority of the Minister of Labour. I ask the House to note what he has to say about that. On 3rd July he said:From what we have read and heard, the probabilities are that, owing to the dollar situation, the great newspapers of this country will come down to four pages instead of six pages. That will put a lot of compositors out of work. Well, the compositors can be put out of work, but they cannot be then put to work on brickmaking or brick-laying. It is 681 quite easy to push people out of a job, but it is not so easy to make sure that they are going into other jobs, even if all the factories are in handy places."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 3rd July, 1947; Vol. 439, c. 1632.]That is the Minister of Labour. I hope we are not going to be told by anybody tonight that if these men are forced out of work they can go to other work. We have the Minister of Labour's authority for explaining the impossibility of that. It is quite true. The Minister of Labour is right. There will be suffering and unemployment if this decision is upheld. In the circumstances it is not surprising that thousands of printers are joining in a protest against the Government's action. I have here tonight a report—hon. Members may have seen it—of what Mr. Willis, the general secretary of the London Society of Compositors, which is of course a trade union, said in an interview this afternoon. He said:It is my view and the view of my executive committee that we are being unreasonably singled out by the Government. Hitherto, there has been no union more loyal to the Government than us—but this is a question of bread and butter. We are prepared to share any necessary hardship with the rest of the country, but in this case we feel we are being singled out, and if there are any cuts in employment we have no vacancies.That is true, and I think it is fair to say that that is what the House also feels—that there has been an unjustified victimisation of one particular industry. I conclude with one quotation from the "Manchester Guardian," certainly not a paper which the House would regard as unduly partisan:There also seem, it must be said with regret, to be political motives, foreign to the spirit of a truly democratic policy, behind the Government's discrimination against newsprint.
§ Mr. Eden
I am quoting from the "Manchester Guardian." I thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman would like to hear it. It is not a paper which has always supported the party to which I belong. I could find many others, even, I think, including the "Daily Worker." The only paper that has kept silent is, I believe, the "Daily Herald." On the other hand, they more than made up for it by the big black print in which they set up the manifesto about the position.
I truly believe that the Government have made a mistake in this decision. Nobody doubts the formidable nature of 682 the problems that face them in regard to the balance of payments, but in this issue I am sure they have made a mistake. We would be out of Order if we suggested to the Government other ways—we could give a number of other ways—by which this saving could be met without having these drastic consequences. I have known Governments make mistakes before—even Governments to which I have belonged. Sometimes when they make these mistakes, it is probably the path of wisdom to come to the House, to admit it, and to retract it. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, taking the broad view of this situation and realising that in this of all times the nation needs be informed of the problems that confront us, will say that the Government have reconsidered their decision and will allow this necessary newsprint because it is imperative in the winter now approaching that the country should have the fullest opportunity of judging the issues that confront them.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Sir Stafford Cripps)
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr, Eden) that if the Government or I thought that we had made a mistake with regard to this, we should have not the slightest hesitation in admitting it. I should, therefore, like to try to explain to the House, in the light of the three speeches that have been made, the reasons that have actuated us in making this decision. First, I will make it quite clear that we do not not imagine that this particular cut will close the gap in the balance of payments, nor was that ever suggested or thought of; but, on the other hand, we have felt compelled in the existing situation to make such adjustments in our overseas payments as would extend as far as possible the period before the dollar credits run out. I think every hon. Member agrees that that is the right and proper thing to do. People will differ, naturally, as to the incidence of those cuts that have to be made, and perhaps it is not surprising to find that the Press are unanimously against this particular cut.
It would, indeed, have been extremely surprising if they had not been. Therefore, I do not think one ought to pay too great attention to the accounts that have appeared in the Press, as they are an interested party on this issue. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the 683 Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) asked what was the date and time of this restriction. It is quite impossible to say more than that, in coming to the decision on the import programme for the next year in general, and the next six months in particular, we have had in that programme to make certain cuts. What will happen at the end of the six months, I should not be so foolish as to prophesy.
§ Sir S. Cripps
It may be that a lot of people will have lost their jobs; it may be that a lot of people will have found jobs. That is difficult to say. However, we must make provision now for what is to happen during the next six months and therefore, as regards dates, it is something which has to happen over the next six months and, as regards the period, it is something for which we fix the end of the year as the immediate period, and the end of 12 months from 1st July as the ultimate period; but the second six months will be reconsidered before we finalise the import programme for that period and, quite obviously, nobody knows what then the position will be. I do not think that even the right hon. Member for Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken), with all the wisdom with which he can forecast in the "Financial News," would say that anyone would like to foretell what the position will be in six months' time.
I would like to deal with the factual situation as regards the newsprint paper supply, and I hope no hon. or right hon. Gentleman will make the confusion between ordinary paper and newsprint, because they are not interchangeable in fact. I might just pick up the point made by the right hon. Gentleman about the saving on Government account. He will be glad to know that, taking the period of which he speaks when the Government use of paper was 71,000 tons—177 per cent.—it has now been reduced to 55,000 tons, which is almost a 25 per cent saving over that period. We have made our contribution as well to this saving of paper. The actual position as regards newsprint is as follows. Last June to August—there were a number of talks which lasted over a couple of months—it was decided that 684 we were most anxious to expand the Press as rapidly as we could in the light of the then dollar situation and, after many conversations, we came to the conclusion that, if prices and other things remained as they were, we should be able to import 200,000 tons in 1947; 250,000 tons in 1948; and 300,000 tons in 1949–51, annually, and that was on the basis of the gradual expansion of the number of pages which papers could print.
There let me explain this point. People talk of the four-page newspaper, the present stage being a five-page newspaper, but of course there are many newspapers now with more than five pages, and they will be reduced only by one page. If now they are seven pages, they will be reduced to six, and it is not the case that all papers will be reduced to four pages. It means that all papers will lose one page from what they are now publishing. It was contemplated and hoped that under that arrangement we should get a gradual expansion of pages. Now, no doubt we may be accused of having been too optimistic and too desirous to assist the Press, but that is the only accusation on that ground that can be brought against us.
Unfortunately, of course, as everybody knows, since that time the dollar position has deteriorated very seriously indeed, to a very considerable extent due to the rise in prices which has taken place in the dollar market since that date. When the matter came to be reconsidered as from 1st July, we had to examine it and to see what the situation would be for the Press over the coming 12 months. These were the figures we found—the stock of newsprint was 128,000 tons; the home production was calculated at 225,000 tons, making in all 353,000 tons. Consumption for 12 months on the basis of reducing the newspapers by one page per issue, but maintaining their present circulation—which, of course, is very much greater than their wartime circulation—would require 355,000 tons.
It is felt necessary, of course, to maintain stocks. We cannot let stocks run down to nothing. That entails having a usable stock. There is a difference, because, there are certain types of paper in stock which in fact are not usable at the present moment. Usable stocks would be 78,000 tons as at 1st June, 1948. Owing to the change in the size of newspapers which the reduction in consumption en- 685 tails, a certain part of the present stock will become redundant, and it is estimated that that will be 20,000 tons. So that the gross stock in June, 1948—the mobile stock of 78,000 tons, plus the 20,000 tons, would mean 98,000 tons. That added to the amount needed for consumption, gives a total of 453,000 tons which will be required during the year. So imports will have to be 100,000 tons; that is, the 353,000 tons, plus 100,000 tons to make it up to 453,000 tons.
That is in respect of the contemplated figure of imports of actually 180,000 tons for this year. In the programme for this year there will have to be reduction of that importation by 85,000 tons; that is a saving of 48,000 tons falling into the first six months, which is a mere matter of convenience of arrangement. We originally hoped to make a saving of £3 million on paper this year, but we recognised the fact that we must leave enough to produce the one-page-less-newspapers, and could not split anything below that. Therefore, we readjusted our figures, and instead of £3 million, it comes somewhere between £2 million and £3 million estimated saving for the year. Those are the facts of the situation.
I now pass to the question of the contract which has been raised by a number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen. It is true that when this contract was entered into, the parties entering into it on our behalf, the British parties, had in their possession the letter which has been quoted, and which was incorporated in one of the paragraphs of the contract. That was the letter which set out the scheme I have mentioned, which was arrived at in June to August of last year. We were quite conscious, of course, that that was going into the contract, and we were most anxious that we should be able to fulfil the contract in the terms there set out. That is why we have suggested to the newsprint companies that, instead of cancelling the contract, they should arrange for a postponement of deliveries for six months, so that it can be reviewed at the end of six months, and then, if our position is such as to permit us to import that quantity of paper, we shall be able to take delivery of it under the contract. At the present moment, it is a question, provided, of course, that it can be arranged with the Canadians, of postponing the deliveries under the contract to the second half of the year, instead of taking them 686 in the first half of the year. My hon. Friend the Member for South West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) asked me to explain how that could be done. Payment is due against deliveries. If deliveries are postponed, payments are also postponed until the second half of the year. Other wise, we might as well buy the paper, put it in stock here, and not use it.
§ Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)
What the right hon. and learned Gentleman is telling the House, in fact, is that at the end of six months we may still not be saving £1 million—that we may be paying it out—but that in the meantime he does not care a jot if it has put men and women out of work?
§ Sir S. Cripps
The hon. Member need not think that he is the only person in the House who cares about people being out of work. Other people think of these things, and he need not put his questions in that way. By the beginning of next year, our position as regards dollar exchange may be better than it is now. If so, we shall be in a position to buy more paper with dollars than we are able to do now. We should be very glad if that position was—
§ Sir S. Cripps
People will be out of work if they are out of work. If one were to take the view, for instance, as regards tobacco workers, that one could not cut the amount of tobacco coming into this country because otherwise someone would become out of work, we could cut nothing. It is a most unfortunate fact that we have to cut some of our imports. We have to cut some of our imports of raw materials, and this is one of the raw materials which we have to cut. One has the deepest sympathy with people who are affected in any way by this cut, but one would have very much deeper sympathy if, as a result of not making any cuts, everybody was adversely affected, instead of, as one hopes, only a comparatively few people.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
In view of the Government's concern with this contract, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has described, does he not agree that the action now taken by the Government would entitle the Canadian party to treat this contract as at an end? If he does agree, does he not think that it would have been more 687 appropriate for the Government to approach the Canadians rather than the British party to the contract, which has not got it in its power to revise the contract?
§ Sir S. Cripps
We have always dealt with the Canadians through the Newsprint Company. That is why we suggested to them this method of postponing instead of cancelling, which might be an advantageous method, not only from the Canadian companies' point of view, but also from the Newsprint Company's point of view. We are obviously conscious of the fact that any action such as this may jeopardise future consignments from Canada, and we are most anxious to avoid it, but if one takes special considerations into account with regard to any commodity which it is proposed to cut, there are always special reasons why that one should not be cut. That is what makes the matter one of extreme difficulty. After all, we were living previously upon an import basis which was only some 70 to 80 per cent, of prewar, and everything, therefore, was already on a margin. There are certain things, like raw materials for our export industry, which it is absolutely impossible to cut. They cover cotton, wool and a lot of other things of that type, where some small material adjustment might be made, but which it is quite impossible to cut. The only other things we can cut which are coming substantially from dollar sources are machinery, which obviously we do not want to cut, because that concerns the rehabilitation of our industries, food and films. There really is not anything else left to cut.
So far as films are concerned, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are taking power to do what we believe is the only thing to be done. We are taking the only measures possible to save dollars on films. I told the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a Question—and I am sorry if he thought I was discourteous, because I did not intend to be—that it was really no good cutting films because all it means is, as film receipts are based upon the receipts of the cinemas, for half the entertainment value one must pay twice the price, and the dollars go just the same. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."] Therefore, we must have some other method by which we can stop the sterling being exchanged into dollars. That is the 688 device that has been put into the Finance Bill now, and when it comes into operation, it will be for consideration whether and how it should be put into active operation against American films.
§ Mr. Bracken
Could I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he were to cut by one quarter the amount of dollars he has given to one film monopolist, he could well provide for all the paper we would import from America next year?
§ Sir S. Cripps
The right hon. Gentleman is no doubt referring to the money that Mr. Rank is spending in America for the purpose of building up the' exhibition of British films. Whether it is going to be successful, as he hopes, nobody can say at this stage, but he certainly has entered into some extremely useful agreements for showing British films in America which should materialise very considerable dollar receipts.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I could not tell the right hon. Gentleman, because I am afraid I have not got the figures. All I can say is that the new agreements he has made are, of course, far more extensive for showing British films in America than anything we have had so far. Those who know about these things anticipate that we may make a considerable volume of dollars.
§ Mr. Skeffington-Lodge
My right hon. and learned Friend has, quite rightly, said that whatever cuts are made will be related to protests about them. The point which I think he has not answered effectively, is that the paltry saving which is brought about in connection with this newsprint cut is minute, compared with the great damage which it will do.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I quite appreciate that it depends rather on the terms "small" and "great" in that case. I would remind the hon. Member that all these cuts must be made up of comparatively small items. There is nothing we can slash, unless he wants us to slash newsprint altogether.
§ Sir S. Cripps
We cannot slash films at the moment, until we have power to deal with them. That we shall not get until the Finance Bill is through this House 689 and another place. In regard to the effect which this situation is likely to have, I really think that those who have spoken have done so slightly in terms of exaggeration. I think that it is not quite accurate to say that if one page is taken off the papers today one does away with the freedom of the Press. I hope that the freedom of the Press in this country does not depend upon whether they have four, five, or six pages. They are equally free however much they have. They may not be able to report so much. They may have to give some of the more distinguished cases that are heard in our courts rather shorter reports. There are some other things, such as serials in the Sunday Press, which may not be given so fully, and that would not necessarily be a bad thing for the country; nor does it interfere with the freedom of the Press.
§ Mr. Haydn Davies
In order to get this thing quite straight between us, may I say that the reduction in the number of pages might not interfere with the freedom of the Press, but the restriction in the sale of newspapers which this cut will involve from Monday, taking the sale figures for June, must restrict the freedom of the Press.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I do not really think that the hon. Gentleman is right in that. I think that, during the war, and especially in the latter part, there was a very great danger of that, because the figures were based on 1939, and there had been a great change of public opinion. Since then, there has been time for the papers to find their own level, and that has been going on for many months past, and I do not think that that can interfere with the freedom of the Press. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington told us that we would not be able to get the newspaper we want, or to change our newspaper. That is very unlikely, because, when we reach this high point of circulation, there are always enough people who are changing both ways. I think that, if the right hon. Gentleman tries to buy the "Daily Worker" instead of the "Daily Telegraph," or whatever he reads—perhaps I should have said the "Daily Telegraph" instead of the "Daily Worker" 690 —he will probably find that he will he able to do it.
We certainly regard this as a very unfortunate necessity, something which we hope will last as short a time as possible, but we cannot neglect the contribution which this can make, because, compared with the other things which could make a similar contribution, we believe that on the whole this is less harmful to the people as a whole. If we were to cut food in preference, I think everybody in the House would say it was wrong. If we were to cut machinery, which we want for the rehabilitation of our industries, everybody would say it was wrong; and the only point, I think, on which hon. Members might take a view is that films should be cut, in preference, and that, as I have said, is a matter with which we cannot deal until the Finance Bill has been passed, and then the means for doing that will be open to us. I hope that, after this explanation which I have given, the House will realise that this is not an attempt to discriminate against anybody. It is an attempt to get a contribution towards helping to stave off the time when we shall run out of dollars, and we hope that, by making these various efforts to stave off that time, we shall, in fact, improve the position ultimately for the Press, rather than make it worse.
§ 8.34 P.m.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
I ought, perhaps, to make it clear that I have no private interests to disclose. I have had my quarrels with the Government, when a felon blow was struck a few months ago at the type of paper with which I am connected, but I am endeavouring to forget that, even though it is impossible to forgive. My own particular paper is not, so far, threatened, and I do not want to put undesirable ideas into the right hon. and learned Gentleman's head, but I am a reader of the papers, and because I have made some study of the history of the British Press, the functions they discharge and have endeavoured to discharge in the national life, I believe, as everyone must who has studied the growth of democracy of this country, that there is nothing more dangerous than an uninstructed public opinion. I would almost rather have a benevolent dictator than a country ruled by a democracy which was not adequately instructed in 691 what was going on in the world around it. A Hebrew prophet once said:For lack of knowledge the people perish.This people is in some danger of perishing for lack of knowledge today. I note, it has been suggested even by the "Manchester Guardian," that the action taken by the President of the Board of Trade had, as one of its objects, to stifle criticism of the Government. I do not believe, and never have believed, that for a moment; I do not believe that there is a grain of truth in it. What I think has happened is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has cast about—as he was bound to do—for any means of diminishing our adverse balance, and has hit upon this expedient. He did not allow his mind—that alert and far-ranging mind—to dwell, as it should have done, and might have done, on the consequences which a step like this must inevitably produce.
I do not think that the ordinary person, or even the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself, realises what the position is in regard to the national Press. We are talking tonight about a cut which, in some cases, will amount to two pages, and, in others, to one page of the national newspapers. But this is only one last cut superadded to a series of earlier cuts. It is very difficult for most of us to cast our minds back to what the prewar newspaper was, so accustomed are we to the abnormal newspaper of today. Not long ago, I had occasion to look back and to compute what was the average size of newspapers before the war. I took a day in 1938, entirely at random. It happened to be 13th April. I found that, on that date, "The Times" consisted of 30 pages and the "Daily Mail" of 20 pages. From Monday next, "The Times" will consist of eight pages, and the "Daily Mail" of four pages. What are going to be the consequences to the community of a reduction like that? Let me take one single example. There was no more valuable feature of the prewar Press than the correspondence columns of "The Times." They constituted an open forum of public opinion, without parallel in any country at any time. In them, one had the highest authorities on any subject freely expressing their views and arguments, the very cut-and-thrust 692 and dialectic, out of which instructed and healthy decisions are made. I found that, on that date, the correspondence columns of "The Times" consisted of 117 inches. This morning, "The Times" contained 36 inches of correspondence. That is a reducton of three-quarters, so that, today, we have only a quarter of the space for that feature, and the toss to the community is immense.
This is where I differ from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who rather minimised the effects of this decision. I do not consider that it is a menace to the freedom of the Press; I do not think that the freedom of the Press is menaced if it is cut. But I do say that the effect is that, in these diminished papers, the public will be given more and more of what it wants, and less and less of what it is good for them to have. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who is of a kindly and charitable disposition, is already trying to give the public what it wants, though he is not conspicuously succeeding. But newspapers, which are in strong competition with one another, have to give the public what they want.
For example, a feature which is often discussed in this House—the reports of Parliamentary Debates—is something which I would say the public ought to have, although, frankly, it is not something which the public want. There is no avid desire to study the reports of Parliamentary Debates in this country, although it is of immense importance that Parliament should continue to hold its place in the national life, and that it should retain the confidence and respect of the public. It is not going to do that unless the public know what goes on here. I am perfectly aware that a precisely opposite argument could be framed on that point, but I prefer to stick to mine. At the present time everyone knows what reports of Parliament are like. Members who have made impressive speeches here in the evening open the newspapers next morning with high expectation and close them with deep depression. Even "The Times," which gives by far the best Parliamentary reports, can only give something quite inadequate which does not reflect in any sufficient degree what takes place in this House, and that must be so because the newspapers are their present size.
§ Mr. John Paton (Norwich)
Does the hon. Gentleman say that the great national newspapers with high circulations before the war carried appreciably greater Parliamentary reports than they do today.
§ Mr. Harris
There is no doubt that they reported Parliament far more fully than they do today. My point is that they will be able to give even less adequate reports of Parliament than we get now. The old proverb, "Out of sight, out of mind," has a great deal of truth in it, and affairs which are not reported, or not adequately reported, in the Press, do not make their impression on the public mind. Let me give an example. There is hardly anything of greater importance in international affairs today than that the firm support of every country should be ranged behind the United Nations. But there again, in order that that may happen, there must be some intelligent knowledge of what the United Nations are doing, and no one could pretend that the papers of today give us that information, or are able to do so. We are told when Mr. Gromyko applies a veto, and I agree that that takes considerable space because it happens so often, but the papers even in their present form cannot give us adequate reports of the important and interesting subsidiary activities of the United Nations, and if their space is reduced, the reports will become still more inadequate.
I have said that that is one of the most important factors in international relationships today, but I would put one factor still higher, and that is the necessity to knit ever closer together those mysterious and unseen bonds which bind the members of the British Commonwealth one with another, more than ever at the moment when we are saluting the entry of two more Dominions to the Commonwealth. We know too little of what happens to Dominion countries. We know hardly anything of the outstanding sympathy of Australia, South Africa and Canada towards this country and of the financial contributions which they are making and are offering to help us in our necessity. The loss arising from not knowing that is quite immeasurable, and there will be a further loss in that respect when the papers are still further reduced in size. There is nothing again, about which we need more information than Russia and her internal 694 and external affairs. Our supreme duty is to try to understand Russia. It is difficult enough with full knowledge, and it is quite certain that the information we get in our papers today is incomplete and partial. The more incomplete and partial that becomes, the less possibility there is of a good understanding between us and that great country.
In the old days when taxes of all sorts were imposed on newspapers—on the paper itself and on every copy of the printed journal—one heard a great deal about taxes on knowledge. Here we have not a tax on knowledge but an actual ban on a very great deal of knowledge, and the Minister who comes down here with such a proposal ought to do so in sackcloth and ashes. I wish the Minister of Education were here tonight, because this matter concerns him more than any other person on the Front Bench opposite. It will be asked in what other way we could save the £2,000,000 worth of dollars which this cut involves. In answer to a supplementary question of mine this-afternoon, the President of the Board of Trade reminded me that people must eat—a fact which, I confess I had overlooked. But having been reminded of that, I tried to discover how much the people in this country do eat and drink every year. I discovered that in 1946 we ate and drank imported food and drink to the amount of £572 million. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said tonight, I maintain that it would be far better for us to be content with eating and drinking £570 million worth this year, and leaving the papers as they are, than to cut the papers to the extent suggested and have this extra £2 million worth of food, the loss of which will not even be noticed when such an amount is involved.
I do not know who is to reply for His Majesty's Government tonight, but I would conclude by urging that to change one's mind after reflection is a sign not of weakness but of strength. As new aspects of the subject have been opened up in discussion in this House and in discussion in the newspapers, as new considerations are imported into the discussion, it is the highest statesmanship to be prepared to revise the decision than merely obdurately to stick to it because it has been once announced, and I do earnestly appeal to His Majesty's Government—I think it will be acknowledged that I have not said anything partisan tonight—not in any 695 spirit of criticism, antagonism or any spirit of hostility, to ask themselves whether some of the considerations which have been urged tonight do not raise in their minds the realisation of the immense amount of damage that will result from this ban. I ask them, considering that, whether they will not come down to the House to say—or say it tonight—that, after all, in the interests of the instruction and education of the people of this country—I am not in the least interested whether the papers maintain their dividends or not—but in the interests of the 25 million readers of the daily and evening papers in this country, they have decided to change their decision and remove this ban.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
I have promised to speak for only two or three minutes because I want to ask just one question that was not answered by my right hon. and learned Friend in his speech. I do not know if he is going to reply or who is to do so—
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
On a point of Order. Is it fair that a Member who came in late for part of the discussion, when other hon. Members want to speak has the right to speak, if only for two or three minutes?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
That is a reflection on the conduct of the Chair, which is out of Order.
§ Mr. Driberg
I do not know what the hon. Member is talking about. I think his mind must be wandering.
§ Dr. Morgan
My mind does not wander into the underground depths in which apparently the hon. Member's mind wanders.
§ Mr. Driberg
If I may continue, the question I have to put is simply this. I thought that my right hon. Friend made a rather convincing case in that passage of his speech in which he said that pegging of circulation does not in itself impinge on the freedom of the Press, and so on. I accept that. But he did not deal at all with one point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Haydn Davies) and, I think, other hon. Gentleman, and that is the very different effect that this cut will 696 have on large circulation newspapers and on small, local, independent papers. The effect on the latter class of newspaper is infinitely more damaging, I believe, and I should like to ask whether my right hon. Friend did make special inquiries about the actual effect that there will be on those small-circulation, local, independent newspapers. If it were so serious as to lead practically to the extinction of some of them, that, I submit, would be a definite infringement of the freedom of the Press, at any rate in some parts of the country. In my view, although the big-circulation newspapers can look after themselves, it would be little short of a national disaster if anything were to imperil the future of some of these small-circulation newspapers, including even such great and well-founded papers as, for instance, the "Manchester Guardian," or papers of that kind. I hope that whoever is to wind up the Debate will deal specially with this point about the small, as distinct from the great, properties, and say whether it would not be possible, even now, to devise some machinery by which the burden might fall relatively a little less disadvantageously on the small ones.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
We in this House have many reasons to know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade is a man of high intellectual calibre as well as fine character. I think however that the answer he gave tonight would have injured his reputation as a lawyer had he made that speech in any court of law. It was inadequate, it was confused, and showed—which one seldom finds in the mind of the President of the Board of Trade—a lack of knowledge of the subject which he was discussing. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."; I would not not make that statement unless I were prepared to prove it. This is not a party matter; there is no party Division on this. I hope very much indeed, if there is a Division tonight, that hon. Members opposite will back their own convictions, because Parliament itself has a voice, and is not merely Government and Opposition. When one thinks of the four Estates--Parliament, the Church, the Courts and the Press—I think the Fourth Estate is being treated very badly by the first.
Let me return to my case with regard to the speech of the right hon. and learned 697 Gentleman. He told the House that nobody knows what will be happening six months from now. Yet we then say to the Canadians: "Would you mind setting aside and keeping back your newsprint, for which we have contracted, and perhaps in six months' time we will have some money—or perhaps we won't?" A little later on the right hon. and learned Gentleman says: "We have no power to deal with films. Something may turn up. We don't know. But let us ask the Canadians to take a chance."
§ Mr. Baxter
Oh, yes, he did. The President of the Board of Trade said that the Canadians could be asked to hold up the deliveries for six months, when we might or might not be able to take delivery. That is exactly what he said.
§ Mr. Baxter
Then he said—and has said on more than one occasion—that not until the Finance Bill has been passed will the Government be able to deal with the question of reducing the imports of films.
§ Mr. Baxter
Then I am glad I have put it right. But have the Government which are so given to planning, no idea what they will do about films when the Finance Bill is passed? Must they wait until the Finance Bill is passed and then say: "Now let us, for the first time, consider films"? I am making a point which is very important, because the newspaper industry has been dealt a staggering blow.
§ Mr. Baxter
This destruction of the Press, this foul treatment of the Press, may be a matter for laughter on the other side of the House, but I think none of us wants to believe—
§ Mr. House (St. Pancras, North)
On a point of Order. Is it right that we should have such misrepresentation from the hon. Member?
§ Mr. Baxter
None of us on this side of the House wants to believe that the party opposite is antagonistic to the Press as an institution, but sometimes, from the way the party opposite behaves when this issue is being discussed, it is difficult for us to disbelieve it.
I want to come once more to the President of the Board of Trade. He says that the Canadians should, and he hopes they will, put aside the newsprint until we are ready to say we will take it. I say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his capacity of President of the Board of Trade, should know that there is not even the storage capacity over there for such a bulk of newsprint; there is not storage capacity in Canada for 50,000 tons. There is another thing too. The Canadians will not accept this proposition. [An HON. MEMBER: "How do you know?"] I am telling the House that they will not accept this proposition. They will enter into contracts with American and South American firms and newspapers, and even with Spain, all of which have been offering far above the price we have been offering. The President of the Board of Trade said that this will save us dollars. Incidentally, I notice that the figure has now gone up from £1 million to £2 million. I put it to the Government, that this will cost far more dollars than would have been involved if this mistake had not been made. Once the Canadians have entered into long-term contracts with America and South American countries, and with their own publishers and newspapers, they will be closed to us, and we shall have to fall back on the Scandinavian cartel, which has already, in one case, increased the price of newsprint by £7 10s., which is the biggest single increase in history.
By the misguided action of the Government, the solid protection of Canada is being thrown aside, and they will be unable to meet our commitments, if we should find some dollars under the pillow later, with the result that we shall be forced to buy from the Scandinavians at their price. I do not know who is to reply to this Debate. I do not see any great intellectual activity on the Government Front Bench.
§ Mr. Baxter
My old friend must not be lulled into too much confidence by that docile laughter behind him. His supporters are laughing to hide the action they are to take in the Division Lobby. I ask the Home Secretary, or the Minister of Health, to convey to the President of the Board of Trade my point about the increased cost, as against a saving, which, I think, is of importance.
I have one or two points which the House should know. One of the things which has been cut down is advertising, and about this there has not been much sympathy shown in this House. The art of advertising is the psychology of salesmanship. Salesmanship is the life-blood of industry, and in competing in a modern world, we have to advertise and go in for salesmanship. This country is in reverse. Advertising managers are trying to persuade their clients not to advertise because there is no space. Sales managers go out to persuade their customers that space cannot be supplied. This is no one's fault, as the shortage is, perhaps, inevitable, but this country, which will presently have to compete with a recovering world, is steadily in reverse, and this killing of the skill of advertising is a very serious thing in itself.
The unemployment caused by this misguided attempt at saving will run right through the newspaper industry. It will affect compositors, machine men, proof readers, all who make up the very life of the newspapers. I should like to think that in this case I had the backing of every Member in the House. Not long ago I addressed the Writers' Circle of the Forces, a gathering of young ex-Servicemen, many of whom have fine war records, and who want to become writers. I encouraged them. I said that writing was a good life, and that newspapers would be expanding. Now these young people have the gates closed to them. Everywhere people are asking, "Where are the young writers?" I agree that some of us have had our innings. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot), and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert), will agree with me when I say that, and when I say that we want to see young people being given their chance. They are not being given their chance. The intellectual life of this country will be stultified; it has, in fact, fallen to a level I have not seen for many years.
700 I am sorry if I have taken a little more time than I should have done, but even if the Government do not consciously look upon the Press as their enemy, I believe that that thought is at the back of their heads. The setting up of a Commission of Inquiry into the Press is an indication of it. Now they are imposing this foolish, misguided, and unfair cut in newsprint supplies. If it is said that the saving of £2 million worth of dollars is essential to the balance of our financial situation, let me say how £1 million can be saved. Cut the overseas travel allowance from £75 to £70, and there would be saved the best part of £1 million. Restrict the import of 10 first-class costly American films, and the other £1 million would be saved. I speak on this matter with some knowledge. Instead of that we have this new cut in newsprint. I agree that it does not interfere with the freedom of the Press, but it does interfere with the adequacy of the Press. It cuts down news from other countries. It stops enterprise, opportunity, and the natural expression of public feeling. The Government are fond of the phrase, "the twelfth hour," and I say to them that at this twelfth hour they should not make this blunder which will bring them into more disrepute than they have already been brought by way of the actions which they have carried out hitherto.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
I want to come back, for a moment or two, from the speech of the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) to which we have just listened, and with a great deal of which I agree, to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who opened the Debate. I was very sorry indeed to hear that speech. For the first time in this House I was made angry by something said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I liked the speech very much better when I read it two days ago in the "News Chronicle." Then it was an article written by Lord Layton, and it had none of the rather hysterical flourishes shoved round it by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. During the course of his speech some hon. Members on this side of the House, including myself, had occasion to smile, indeed, to laugh, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman turned on us with all the 701 pomposity of which he is capable and said "I am astounded that hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House find the freedom of the Press a matter for laughter." Of course, we do not. I will tell him why I, personally, laughed. He said that the Press was the raw material of democracy. That is a view of the Press—and a phrase—which I appreciate at once. I laughed because precisely that phrase had been used in this article by Lord Layton and the right hon. and learned Gentleman pinched it without acknowledgment. To the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and some other members of the Liberal Party, the freedom of the Press is both an article of faith and a subject for peroration. For me it is both those things, but in addition it is my bread and butter. Although I would on every possible occasion deride what I consider to be plagiarism and pomposity, I would never in any circumstances deride the freedom of the Press.
A point was made by the junior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Beverley Baxter) about the effect that this cut will have on the British Press. There has been a little exaggeration about that. The hon. Member for Wood Green, I gather, said that it would reduce British intellect lower than it is now if we cut the "Daily Express" from six pages to four. Frankly, I do not think that it will. Nor do I think that it will decrease the quality of the "Daily Express." Some of my colleagues laugh at the "Daily Express." I do not because, technically, it is a first-class paper. In fact the news published during the war by the "Daily Express" and by many others, in a four-page paper was almost as great as it had been in pre-war times in 24 page papers. The reason for that is not only smaller headlines but "tighter" writing and "tighter" subediting. I am not prepared to argue that four pages necessarily mean better production than six pages, but I deny that six pages will necessarily mean a better production than four pages. We have an example to look back on in recent months. Look at the use that the papers have made, so far as the reporting of the House of Commons and serious matters of that kind are concerned of the last in- 702 crease in newsprint. That extra space in very large measure has been used for a whole spate of comic strips, and I would deny entirely that this cut of itself will damage the production of our newspapers, the quality of writing and the quality of the coverage which they can give.
I agree with the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) on the point he made about the weekly papers and the smaller papers. I believe that they will be severely hit, and I am absolutely delighted to see that precisely the same point is now being made not only by the hon. Member for Maldon but also by the big newspaper proprietors, including Lord Kemsley. I am delighted to find at last that Lord Kemsley and the rest are being concerned about the future of small and weekly newspapers. Because I am absolutely convinced of their sincerity in this matter, I can tell them a way out of the difficulty and that is to make certain that the cut does not fall on these small papers. They can do that by seeing that it all falls on the big national newspapers.
Having let off that amount of steam, I want to come back to the points made by the hon. Member for Wood Green with which I entirely agree. It will be a very serious thing—I will not say a disaster for I want to try to avoid exaggeration—for the newspaper industry of this country if the Canadian contract is broken. It will be a breach of faith. We on this side of the House just as much as Members on the other side are concerned with the good name of this country and its ability and willingness to keep its word. There is a second point very well made by the hen. Member for Wood Green—if we break that contract we may for all time lose our main sources of supply in Newfoundland, because for many years the United States have been encroaching in that field and they will take it all if they get the slightest chance. That will mean we will have to take supplies from Scandinavian sources where newsprint is more expensive and the source less reliable than Canadian and Newfoundland supplies.
I believe we should make this cut in newsprint, but it is a pity that it was announced singly. The Government ought to have announced it as part a general programme of reduction, because it is not fair to say it only means a little bit. All these little bits add together, but where the Government made a mistake was in 703 announcing this little bit by itself. I believe we should make that cut, but we should not break the contract. What we should do—and this proposal has been put to me privately, on fairly good authority, and I understand that it is acceptable to the Canadians and also, surprisingly enough, to the newspaper industry, is we should continue to take newsprint under that contract, we should let the cut fall on the papers here and we should sell the surplus to South America for dollars. If that proposal is really acceptable, as I have been told it is, we ought to put it into practice at once, because in that way we shall be able to maintain a contract which is one of the most vital things for the future supply of this British industry and we will be able to effect the saving in dollars we all desire.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Sir Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) is one of those hon. Members who is a distinguished writer and who is a very good speaker, but who did or does follow the, to me, at least, deplorable practice of reporting the proceedings of this place over an assumed name, whether it is "Phineas," "Junius," or "Jack Wilkes," I forget. That seems a pity to me, but I shall look forward to the next issue of the paper for which I think he still reports for a report of this Debate. The partiality for writing under an assumed name has not surprised me, because it was not until towards the end of his speech that I had any idea if he was for this proposal or against it.
I was much shocked by some of the levity and laughter which has been shown by hon. Members opposite on this very serious subject. When my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) talked about the doors being shut to young writers, he was talking perfectly good sense. It does not matter whether he and I are finished or not, but it matters very much that the doors are being shut, if only for six or 12 months, to the new writers who have been in the Forces. They cannot get a story or an article printed through lack of space, and that is not a thing to be laughed at at all. It should be treated more seriously. This is a fundamental, and, in principle, a shocking thing. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Wilson Harris) recalled that in 1850 or so, the taxes on knowledge 704 were swept away after a great campaign. It was one of the great achievements of this country. Now we are in every respect going back to that situation now. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] For God's sake, do not say "rubbish." It hon. Members cannot listen to a serious argument without saying "rubbish"—[Interruption.] I am telling hon. Gentlemen of this House of the time when we had a tax upon knowledge. If we must go back to it—
§ Mr. S. Silverman
The hon. Member is really making a great deal of fuss about little. The word "rubbish" may not be a very pretty word, but it was not used about the abolition of the taxes on knowledge. It was used about the suggestion that we thought we heard the hon. Gentleman make that because we reduce the size of newspapers today for a limited period by one page, we are back in the period when we used to put taxes on knowledge.
§ Sir A. Herbert
It hon. Members would kindly refrain from making insane and irrelevant interruptions and if they will be silent, I will develop the point of my argument, which curiously enough has not been developed. I will now come back by saying that taxes upon knowledge were abolished and that was a great thing. I was interrupted when I said that we were now getting back to the same state of affairs. I was not talking only about newspapers. I say that in every department that appeals to the mind we have the same thing. We have a savage tax upon theatres, and music and films. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We have a tax upon plays, upon music and upon films. Books are held up in every possible way. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I know a little more about this place than some hon. Members. This is a Motion for the Adjournment and I can say this. We are to have a new Customs tax upon films. And now we are to have a new burden on newspapers.
Upon the whole area of things of the mind we are going back to a barbarous condition of things. For God's sake, let us not laugh at it. It sounds so smart to say things in this place like "Food before flicks," "Nuts before newspapers" or "Tea before 'The Times.'" Hon. Members laugh and boast about it, but it is a terrible thing. After all, 705 in a civilised State, which we think we are, food for the mind is just as important as food for the body. To say "Cut out books and have beer," or "Cut out films and have food," or "Cut out poems and have potatoes," is all very well if you are on a desert island. But we are not on a desert island yet—though before certain people have done with us, we may very well be. [Interruption.] When hon. Members read the report of this Debate tomorrow, or better still if a record could be taken of it, I think they will be sorry to be reminded of the senseless, uncivilised and barbarous laughter and behaviour they have shown.
This is a fundamental principle. Without going into the question of whether it is going to affect this or that newspaper, I say it is another obstacle and another tax upon the things of the mind. As a university Member, I will stand up for ever to oppose these things, but this is being done just for one million dollars. Why not American plays? Why not American books? Why not stop all the free flow of thought? Why only films? We spend £3 million a year on American publications. Thank God. Let them all come. Let American plays come. I do not want to stop the flow of thought and of ideas. Certainly I would never stand up here and laugh and boast because we are forced to do it. I will support anybody who goes into the Lobby against this barbarous thing.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Nally (Bilston)
There was a time when I entertained the highest regard for the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Herbert) who has just resumed his seat. When he has spoken in years past, I have listened to him, from the Gallery, with great pleasure. I know of no more pathetic spectacle to see, or of anything more pathetic to hear, than a great wit making a silly and stupid speech, and delivering himself of the quite ridiculous exhibition we have heard here tonight. He was right in saying he has been in this House a good deal longer than some of us. I hope when we have been in this House as long as he has we shall not be guilty in old age of the impertinence to others that he has shown to us.
I propose to say a few words on this subject, and it is a matter of complete 706 indifference to me whether hon. Members opposite consider it a partisan speech or a party speech or not. I could not care less. The words I propose to say will be an appeal from a loyal Member of this party to my own particular leaders. There has been a great deal of hypocritical nonsense talked from the other side suggesting that the Government desire to interfere with the freedom of the Press and that this cut has that effect. We accept that that is not so.
My main complaint against the Government on this matter is that it has been silly; it has been ill-advised; it knows quite well that it has made a mistake, and its main concern tonight, I feel, is rather to devise some means of saving its face on a proposition that it knows is largely indefensible. The Government is entitled to comment, as we all are, upon the use that newspapers make of their newsprint. There is—I do not think I am out of Order in using this expression—at the moment, for example, in the bulk of the Sunday papers what is literally a "whore-war" in process. Large numbers of the Sundays papers are engaged in seeking for serial stories of the worst possible type, designed to attract circulation. The Government are entitled to protest about it, as is every man and woman who cares for decency in newspapers and in general life. Newspapers are a commercial proposition produced mostly for profit and should for the purpose of this Debate, be so regarded, and the proposed cuts in their raw material judged accordingly.
It is no good the Government getting tough in this matter unless it demonstrates that in every other field of waste in our national resources and labour it is prepared to be equally tough. For 18 months in this House I have, I know, made myself something of a bore on the subject of football pools because I regarded and still regard the attitude of the Government towards football pools as being symbolical of whether or not they were prepared to take steps to deal with obvious, clear and undeniable waste of the worst possible kind. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have not the courage."] Why should the newspaper industry be face to face with this quite savage attack when the football pools industry is being left completely intact to carry on its business, even though its paper has been 707 cut? I have been asking questions for months about the labour involved in the pools. Fourteen months ago I asked the Government to undertake negotiations with the pools to try to reduce the amount of labour and materials used in that industry. A few weeks ago it was agreed that that should be done. Since that time the whole might and majesty of the Ministry of Labour has been engaged in those negotiations, and we are, one and all, gratified to know that no fewer than 13 females have agreed not to enter the employment of the pools, but to go into productive industry.
I have in my hands a Canadian magazine which was purchased at a London bookstall yesterday. It is selling on the bookstalls of W. H Smith & Son, at all the main railway stations, at 1s. Look at the weight of it. Why import this newsprint, already printed upon by the Canadians, and pay dollars for it when at the same time it is argued that we cannot buy Canadian newsprint for our own use? It is a quite fantastic situation.
I have a word to say about the position of the smaller newspapers. I know a small, important and independent provincial newspaper, and I am associated in a friendly way—not professionally—with members of its staff. A few months ago they had a plan. They were going to do something which, to the best of my knowledge, no provincial newspaper has done before. They were going to develop independent foreign representation, including, in particular, the sending of reporters and feature writers out to cover things like municipal developments and town planning in other countries. This proposed cut makes that plan absolutely impossible. At the same time as we are dealing with the dirt in the Press through this cut, we are, with equal effectiveness, preventing honest papers from developing real news services of the kind we desire. That fact ought to be taken into account.
There is also the psychological effect. I am told that the Leader of the House specialises, as I know he does, in these matters of putting over public policy. He considers policy questions from the point of view of the effect they will have. I say—if I am wrong I shall be contradicted—that at no time in the Government's consideration of these cuts—at no time whatever—was a single step ever taken or 708 a single question ever asked, to find out what the effect of this would be upon the provincial newspapers. The cuts themselves were first announced on 27th June, when the newspaper industry and Lord Layton were informed that the cuts were to be made. There had been no consultation whatever with any provincial newspapers and no inquiries were or have been made of these newspapers as to what the effect will be—and the effect is going to be serious. My information is that on 7th July the President of the Board of Trade interviewed certain representatives of the newsprint buying agency and he told them—on that Monday—that the full case as expounded to him would be put before the Cabinet. The following day—that is Tuesday—the Leader of the House in a speech to the House, referring to a question by the right hon. Gentleman the deputy Leader of the Opposition, said that the Government stood by its decision. If the promise made by the President of the Board of Trade was made the day before, that there would be reconsideration of this matter, are we to assume that between the Monday night and the Tuesday it had been gone into again and that further consideration given? I find it difficult to believe that in that space of time the matter could have been given the proper re-examination that was promised. I ask the Government to reconsider this. I believe it is in the public interest that they should reconsider this, I believe it is in the interests of the newspaper industry as a whole, but, above all, I believe it to be in the interests of the Government.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Byers (Dorset, Northern)
I think that all hon. Members will surely agree that it was a right and proper thing to have this Debate on this subject tonight and I feel, having listened to all of the Debate, that the attitude of all hon. Members would have been different if this newsprint cut had been one of 400 other readjustments made at the same time, and not just a single discrimination against one industry and one section of the community. I think that is the feeling of all sections of the House.
Listening to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade convinced me more than ever that a mistake had been made by the Government. I am not blaming the Government for this; it is the sort of administrative bad decision that one got 709 occasionally during the war at an Army headquarters or an Army group headquarters. It can happen at times, and my purpose tonight is to ask whoever is to wind up—the Minister of Health perhaps—if he will give some indication that this matter can be reviewed again, because, quite frankly, I was not impressed by the speech of the President of the Board of Trade and the excuses which he gave. Let us look at the advantages and the disadvantages. The advantages put forward by the President of the Board of Trade were, first, that we should save, or try to save—
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
On a point of Order, Sir, owing to the noise going on, it is quite impossible to follow this speech, although the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers) has a loud voice. Could we have a little more silence?
§ Mr. Byers
I shall not detain the House long but I want to put one or two points. The right hon. and learned Gentleman gave two reasons why this was essential, why it was vital: one, that we might save £1 million dollars—we might, because we shall review it in six months time to see if we are to expend it or not; secondly, this cut would stave off the difficult situation which will arise when the dollar loan runs out. That seemed to impress hon. Members in all quarters of the House. Yet it means that we shall stave it off for less than one day. That was the sort of argument advanced by the President of the Board of Trade, with his title of leading silk, and I think I am entitled to say that the House cannot agree to accept that type of argument on a matter which affects the Press of this country. Those were the only two advantages indicated.
The disadvantages have been detailed—the unemployment of specialists. That is the point. It is not just unemployment in the newspaper industry, but the unemployment of specialists who, as the Minister of Labour said, will not be able to be employed in other industries. Not only are you doing that for six months, but you are jeopardising the continuing supply of paper from Canada which may keep those men out of work for a long time. The President of the Board of Trade said, "But whatever you cut, whatever saving in dollars you make, will put somebody out of work." I must say 710 that I felt overwhelmingly a sense of indignation at the almost callous way in which he could regard this idea of throwing anyone out of work. The point is that there are ways of saving dollars without throwing people out of work. I do not know anything about this Rank deal in America, but I am told that several million pounds worth of dollars have been advanced to Mr. Rank to invest, in order to get some money back later. You will not get dollars back in six months but, if you cut that allocation down, you would not throw anybody out of work in England. We are now being told we are going to try to do a deal with America so that we can import more Empire tobacco—
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
Surely, if we cut down dollars for films, we should put film technicians out of work?
§ Mr. Byers
I would have expected the President of the Board of Trade to consider some of these alternatives, instead of just saying that if men are to be put out of work, they are going to be put out of work. The Government are to cut down newsprint at a time when it is vital that the public should be fully informed. We are going through a great crisis of some sort this winter; it is going to be vital, as the Government appreciate in their White Paper, and people should know what is taking place. In the "News Chronicle" this morning there was a survey of the six-page newspaper, which showed that the "Daily Express" and the "Daily Mail" gave two and a half times more coverage to Parliament in a six-page than in a four-page paper. That is of vital importance, and it is vitally important that we should not jeopardise the small independent newspapers. I ask the Government if it is not possible to find this £1 million worth of dollars in some other way? Why not take this matter back, and have another study made of it? The amount might be saved on 10 small items. I ask in the most conciliatory spirit, will the 711 Government not look at this again, and not say the final word tonight?
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Naylor (Southwark, South-East)
I am not attempting to enter into the discussion at this late hour, but my association with the newspaper industry in particular, and with the printing industry in general, prompts me to make a suggestion to the Member of the Government who is to reply to the Debate. I was present on Wednesday last at a meeting of the National Joint Industrial Council of the Printing and Kindred Trades Federation, and it is only fair that I should be allowed to point out to the House that a resolution was passed there deprecating the cutting of newsprint supplies, while recognising the difficulty in which the Government are placed. They also suggested that the Board of Trade was not yet in a position to come to a fair judgment on the decision, without having the expert advice that men engaged in the industry are able to give. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for South-West St. Pancras (Mr. Hadyn Davies) in an appeal to the Board of Trade to reconsider this matter. I ask the Government if they can give the Cabinet a further opportunity of considering the position after receiving representations on the matter, and to suspend the operation of the order for two weeks, in order to enable that to be done.
Something has been said about unemployment as a consequence of this decision. I am able to tell the House, as I am a representative of the industry, that there will be considerable unemployment among the newspaper staffs if this order is carried out. The newspaper industry in London alone covers thousands of men, and, if one takes the provinces also, many more. Only compositors have been mentioned tonight, but it is not only the compositors who will be displaced. It is the journalists, about whose handicap we have already heard, and there are other departments, right from the top of the building, each of which will be obliged to part with men as a result of this curtailment of their opportunities of employment. I do not suggest, for I know it is impossible, that the representative of the Government who is to reply tonight is in a position to say that the Govern- 712 ment will revoke the order. What I am impressing upon the Government is the desirability of giving an opportunity to the interested parties to place the whole of the facts of the paper situation before them, and to suspend the operation of the Order for at least two weeks in order to enable that to be done.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)
My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) has indulged in a piece of pure and simple special pleading. He is a member of a newspaper trade union, and has spoken from that point of view. I have also been interested in the newspaper industry for 30 years, and when I came into this Debate I did not know how I would vote in the Division. I have listened to the arguments and have been influenced by what I have heard. If all Labour Members are to approach the coming crisis in the sectarian narrow spirit in which it has been approached by my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Southwark, then it is "God help the Labour Party."
This is the worst Debate to which I have listened in this House. To hear one hon. Member after another speaking as they have done, no one would imagine that this old country was drifting into one of those dangerous and difficult periods in its history comparable with, shall I say, 1931 or 1940. The economic background appears to have been forgotten in a welter of sentiment. I am not afraid to vote against the Government. I have voted against them before, and I shall vote against them again. I came to this House prepared to vote against them on this occasion, but the factitious arguments which have been used, mostly by the Party above the gangway, have convinced me that my place is to go into the Lobby with the Government. I said "factitious," and I mean factitious. Always hon. Members are talking about saving the country, that the nation is living on tick, about America's eleemosynary attitude, always they are challenging us to produce some policy and to say what we propose to do. Yet, when my right hon. and learned Friend gets up and makes one single suggestion, we are told "You must not do that. There is nothing anyone must do."
713 I have voted against the Government and I shall vote against my own profession and my own trade union. I do not like doing it. I would far sooner go into the Lobby against my right hon. and learned Friend. I cannot do it, because no argument has been produced that is worth while.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I listened with very great care to the bulk of the Debate, particularly that part which has occurred since my right hon. and learned Friend the President of the Board of Trade addressed the House. I am bound to say that I think my task is particularly easy because I thought that after his speech there was no argument left about this issue at all. There has been some heat and we have been reproached by one of the hon. Members who has endeared himself to the House by his sense of humour, for laughing at some of the things he said. We have listened on several occasions to a good deal of hilarity from the opposite side of the House.
I want to make my position quite clear on this matter. If I thought for a single moment that the proposal made by the Government would have the appalling effects described—intellectual starvation, spiritual degeneracy, the exclusion of young writers from the opportunity of using their creative talents—and all those horrible consequences that have been described, including unemployment, though I must confess that when hon. Members opposite raise their hands with horror at unemployment I find it very difficult to listen to them seriously.—[Interruption.] I have made very many speeches in this House in years past about unemployment. They were addressed to hon. Members opposite and we never got any sympathy at all. We on this side of the House are the last people to take frivolously and without careful thought any action that might have the effect of throwing people out of employment. But the fact of the matter is that the appalling consequences described will not foliow the action the Government have decided to take. Indeed, if it be the case that there will be starvation of newsprint for books which ought to be printed, that can quite easily be avoided. Most of the national newspapers could take this cut quite easily and yet at the same time leave 714 plenty of newsprint for people who want to write things that ought to be written.
The argument has been used by one of my hon. Friends that the provincial papers, in particular the small papers, will feel this cut the hardest. That is an argument that should be answered. No one wants to see the small newspaper pass out of circulation any more than it has done at the hands of the chief supporters of the party opposite. No one has done greater damage to the freedom of the Press in Great Britain than the proprietors of the newspapers that are the most ardent supporters of the party opposite. The answer is that the provincial newspapers, many of which have seven or eight pages, will suffer proportionately less than the national papers which have five or six pages. They will lose one page, and no one would suggest seriously that the provincial papers are likely to be put out of circulation at this stage by a reduction in their size of one page. In fact we have had very many generalisations, and I challenge hon. Members opposite to produce any example of any newspaper that would be forced to sell out to a combine as a result of this cut. In fact, we have had no evidence of any sort at all. We have had a lot of airy generalisations.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the local newspapers have taken back practically all the ex-Service men employed by them before the war, and how can they continue to employ these men when they have to get seven days news into one weekly paper?
§ Mr. Bevan
That is an entirely different argument. There is the point, and no one denies it and my right hon. and learned Friend did not deny it, that one of the consequences of the cut will be, in many cases, and it may be in all cases, the reduction of employment. No one has denied it, but I was addressing myself at that moment to the argument that has been used on the other side of the House and on this side as to whether the newspaper itself would be extinguished and forced to sell out to a combine. It is obvious that, if we are to meet this situation, which is liable to become very much more difficult in the course of the next three or four months, as everyone knows, we shall have to adopt measures that will be unpleasant to different sections of the community. My right 715 hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained, when this cut was announced to the House that not only is newsprint being cut, but that there are other cuts as well, although no one has mentioned them in the course of the Debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "It would be out of Order."] If I am out of Order, the whole Debate has been out of Order because over and over again hon. Members have made reference to alternative cuts. There has been reference after reference to what might be termed an alternative to the cut. We are, in fact, at the moment, having to cut foodstuffs in order to conserve dollar resources, and I say at once—[Interruption.] I will read out the actual words:While, therefore, we shall not be able to afford all the imports of foodstuffs for which we had hoped …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1947; Vol. 439, c. 961.][Laughter.] I do not understand what hon. Members are laughing at. First of all, they deny a statement, and then, when they get the evidence, all we get back from them is a hoarse laugh. Therefore, there has been already some cuts in foodstuffs and I say—
§ Mr. Bevan
I answer the right hon Gentleman by saying that the right hon. Gentleman listened to none of the Debate at all after my right hon. and learned Friend had spoken. I am, therefore answering a Debate of which he is entirely ignorant. It was, therefore, decided, not only that we should make cuts in newsprint, but in food as well, and I speak here as Minister of Health, and I say, 716 that, if I have to choose between making further cuts in food and making cuts in newsprint, I will make cuts in newsprint. I think it is far more important to get food into our people's stomachs than to read "Forever Amber" in the Sunday newspapers. I understand that serial is going to be followed by another, about which some individuals may have heart—"More Orchids for Miss Blandish." This is an example of the intellectual level which we have attained in Great Britain. Everybody who has seen some of the national newspapers knows very well that they could take a cut in newsprint and still maintain a far higher level than they have maintained in the past, by cutting out a great deal of the rubbish which they have been printing.
On behalf of the Government, I resist the main arguments that have been put forward. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) asked us to postpone this cut for a fort-night, in order that there might he an opportunity of discussing the matter with representatives of the unions. But all the representatives have been met; every representative connected with this matter has had an opportunity of making his case known. This has not been sprung upon the House, or upon the industry. My right hon. and learned Friend has had a whole series of discussions on this matter, and we reluctantly came to the conclusion that it was necessary to make this cut. I say "reluctantly" because, for some time. I was connected with a weekly journal, and I should be the very last man to support any cut which might have the effect of driving serious weekly journals out of circulation. Indeed, I would be very reluctant to deprive hon. Members opposite of the education of that journal. As far as I am concerned, this is the position which we are taking up.
In conclusion, may I say that I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for South Nottingham (Mr. N. Smith) said. It is really a very serious thing for the morale of this country if, when we come forward at a serious time like this, and propose a reduction in our dollar payments, we should have special pleadings from various sections of the community, and, of course, exploitation of the difficulties for party purposes. [Interruption.]
§ If they wish to divide, I hope that my hon. Friends on this side will support the Government.
§ Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 113; Noes, 234.719
|Division No. 316.||AYES.||[9.59p.m|
|Astor, Hon, M||Head, Brig A H||Orr-Ewing, I, L|
|Baxter, A. B||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C||Osborne, C.|
|Beamish, Maj. T V H||Herbert, Sir A. P.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M|
|Bennett, Sir P||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Pickthorn, K.|
|Birch, Nigel||Hogg, Hon. Q||Pitman, I. J|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hollis, M. C.||Ponsonby, Col. C E|
|Bower, N.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Prescott, Stanley|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J A.||Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt -[...], W||Hurd, A.||Raikes, H V.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P G T||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Bullock, Capt. M||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Clarke, Col R. S||Keeling, E. H.||Roberts, Maj. P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J E.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland|
|Crookshank, Capt Rt. Hon H F. C.||Langford-Holt, J.||Ropner, Col. L|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Davies, Clement (Montgomery)||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A H||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C|
|Dower, Lt.-Col. A V G. (Penrith)||Lipson, D L||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W|
|Drayson, G B||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Drewe, C||Low, Brig. A R W||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Dugdale, Maj Sir T. (Richmond)||Lucas, Major Sir J||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Duncan, Rt Hn. Sir A (City of Lond.)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon A.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O||Studholme, H G|
|Fletcher, W (Bury)||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Fox, Sir G||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Thorp, Lt.-Col. R A F|
|Fraser, Sir I (Lonsdale)||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Turton, R. H.|
|Fyfe, Rt Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Gammans, L. D.||Manningham-Buller, R E||Wakefield, Sir W. W|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Marlowe, A. A. H||Walker-Smith, D.|
|George, Maj Rt Hon G Lloyd (P'ke)||Marples, A. E.||Ward, Hon. G. R|
|Glyn, Sir R||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Grant, Lady||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Granville, E. (Eye)||Mellor, Sir J||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Gridley, Sir A.||Molson, A. H. E.||Winterton, Rt Hon. Earl|
|Grimston, R. V.||Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||York, C|
|Hannon, Sir P. (Moteley)||Nicholson, G|
|Hare, Hon J. H. (Woodbridge)||Noble, Comdr. A. H P||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Harris, H Wilson||Nutting, Anthony||Mr. Frank Byers and|
|Harvey, Air-Comdre A. V||O'Neill, Rt. Hon Sir H||Mr. Wilfrid Roberts.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Dye, S|
|Adams, W. T (Hammersmith, South)||Bruce, Maj D. W T||Ede, Rt. Hon J. C|
|Allan, A. C. (Bosworth)||Buchanan, G.||Edwards, John (Blackburn)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Burden, T. W||Edwards, N (Caerphilly)|
|Alpass, J. H.||Butler, H. W. (Hackney. S.)||Edwards, W J (Whitechapel)|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)|
|Attewell, H. C||Chamberlain, R. A||Evans, S. N (Wednesbury)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C R||Chetwynd, G. R||Ewart, R.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Cobb, F. A||Fair hurst, F.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs B||Cocks, F. S||Field, Capt. W. J|
|Baird, J.||Coldrick, W||Fletcher, E G M (Islington, E)|
|Balfour A.||Collick, P||Follick, M|
|Barnes, Rt Hon A J.||Colman, Miss G. m||Foot, M. M|
|Barstow, P G||Comyns, Dr. L.||Forman, J. C|
|Barton, C.||Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camo well. N.W)||Foster, W. (Wigan)|
|Battley, J. R||Corvedale, Viscount||Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford)|
|Bechervaise, A E||Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S||Gaitskell, H. T N|
|Bevan, Rt Hon A (Ebbw Vale)||Daggar, G||Gallacher, W|
|Binns, J.||Daines, P.||Ganley, Mrs C S|
|Blackburn, A. R||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Gibbins, J|
|Blenkinsop, A||Davies, S. O (Merthyr)||Gibson, C W|
|Boardman, H.||Deer, G||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)|
|Bowles, F. G (Nuneaton)||Diamond, J||Gordon-Walker, P. C|
|Braddock, Mrs E. M. (L'pt Exch'ge)||Dobbie, W||Greenwood, A. W J (Heywood)|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Dodds, N. N.||Grenfell, D. R|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Grey, C. F.|
|Brooke, T. J (Rothwell)||Dumpleton, C, W.||Grierson, E|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Durbin, E. F. M||Griffiths, D. (Bother Valley)|
|Griffiths, Rt Hon. J. (Llan[...]lly)||Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Skinnard, F W|
|Griffiths, W. D (Moss Side)||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Gunter, R. J||Manning, Mrs L (Epping)||Smith, H. N (Nottingham, S.)|
|Guy, W. H||Medland, H. M||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W)|
|Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Mellish, R J||Sorensen, R. W|
|Hall, W. G.||Middieton, Mrs. L||Soskice, Maj. Sir F|
|Hamilton, Lieul.-Col. R||Mitchison, G. R.||Sparks, J. A|
|Hannan, W (Maryhill)||Moody, A. S||Stamford, W|
|Hardy, E A||Morgan, Dr H. B||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Harrison, J||Morley, R.||Strauss, G R (Lambeth, N.)|
|Hastings, Dr Somerville||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Sylvester, G. O|
|Henderson, A (Kingswinlord)||Morrison, Rt Hon H (Lewisham, E.)||Symonds, A. L|
|Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Mort, D. L.||Taylor, H B. (Mansfield)|
|Harbison, Miss M||Moyle, A.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Hobson, C R.||Neal, H (Claycross)||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Holman, P||Nichol, Mrs M. E (Bradtord, N.)||Thomas, D E. (Aberdare)|
|Holmes, H. E (Hemswor[...])||Nicholls, H R (Stratford)||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|House, G||Noel-Baker, Capt. F. E. (Brentford)||Thomas, I. O (Wrekin)|
|Hudson, J H. (Ealing, W.)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon P J (Derby)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Hughes, H. D (Wolverhampton. W.)||Oldfield, W H||Timmons, J|
|Hynd, H (Hackney, C.)||Oliver, G. H.||Titterington. M F|
|Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Palmer, A. M.||Tolley, L|
|Isaacs Rt. Hon. G A||Pargiter G. A.||Tomtinson, Rt. Hon G|
|Janner, B||Paton, J (Norwich)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Jay, D P. T.||Pearson, A.||Ungoed-Thomas, L|
|Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Peart, T. F||Walkden, E.|
|Jeger, Dr S. W (St. Pancras, S.E)||Pools, Major Cecil (Lichfield)||Wallace, G. D (Chislehurst)|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)||Porter E. (Warrington)||Wallace, H W (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Jones, D. T (Hartlepools)||Porter, G (Leeds)||Watkins, T. E|
|Jones, Elwyn (Plaistow)||Price, M Philips||Webb, M. (Bradford. C)|
|Keenan, W.||Prill, D. N||Weitzman, D|
|Kanyon, C.||Pryde, D J||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Kinghorn, San.-Ldr E||Randall, H E||White, C. F (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Kirby, B. V||Ranger, J||Whileley, Rt. Hon. W|
|Lavers, S.||Rees-Williams, D. R||Willey, F. T (Sunderland)|
|Lawson, Rt Hon. J. J||Reeves, J.||Willey, O G. (Cleveland)|
|Lee, F. (Hulme)||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Williams, D J (Neath)|
|Leonard, W.||Richards, R.||Williams, J. L (Kelvingrova)|
|Leslie, J. R||Ridealgh, Mrs. M||Williams, Rt Hon T (Don Vallay)|
|Levy, B W,||Rogers, G H. R||Williams, W. Ft (Heston)|
|Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Royle, C.||Williamson, T|
|Lindgren, G. S.||Sargood, R.||Wills, Mrs. E A.|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col M||Scollan, T.||Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J|
|Logan, D. G||Shackleton, E. A. A||Wise, Major F J|
|McAdam, W||Sharp, Granville||Woodburn, A|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Shawcross, C N. (Widnes)||Yates, V. F.|
|McGhee, H. G.||Shawcross, Rt. Hn Sir H (St Helens)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|McKay, J (Wallsend)||Shurmer, P||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|McKinlay, A S||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|McLeavy, F.||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|McNeil, Rt. Hon. H||Simmons, C. J||Mr. Snow and Mr. Popplewell.|
Question put, and agreed to.