HC Deb 13 June 1947 vol 438 cc1552-60

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do not adjourn."—[Mr. Michael Stewart.]

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Follick (Loughborough)

I want to raise a question today that should be of great interest to the whole of our population, because it concerns the future, to a great extent, of our large plans for the development of education. I speak now about the scarcity of paper in this country. That scarcity is brought about not so much by shortage as by wastage. There is a terrific amount of wastage of paper in this country caused by the use of paper by the pools' postal circularisation and posters for hoardings. I know quite well that there are regulations that forbid the use of the post for the pools, except in sending to their own subscribers, but those regulations are being openly flouted on every hand, because some pools are using the post for circularisation to an enormous extent—to such an extent that thousands of reams of paper are being wasted that could go for the provision of hooks for our schools.

Quite recently the Lord President of the Council exhorted us to return to paper salvage because we were short of paper. We all of us receive requests in the House begging us to go on using envelopes over and over again because we are short of paper. In our schools—in our secondary schools alone—we are short of about a million textbooks. In a leading article in the "Evening Standard" on 10th May I read this paragraph: London secondary schools alone are still short of 1,000,000 textbooks. In other areas, says the General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, because of the lack of paper schools are reverting to slates, which fell out of use 30 years ago. In Kent, secondary school pupils who would normally use 12 exercise books a term will in future only be allowed two. While this shortage is going on we are permitting wastage of paper in other directions. The hon. Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) has given me a list from Bradford Grammar School. They cannot get dictionaries, and they cannot get books for their examinations. Quite recently I had a conversation with the Minister of Education. He told me that at times he despairs of the paper situation. I had a further conversation with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, and he gave me some of the most glaring instances of the scarcity of the implements for education, that many of the textbooks have been thumbed so much that sometimes it is impossible to read them; that the art classes for youngsters showing their first interest in art and the first signs of their ability in drawing and painting have not only not got the right paper but are using scraps of brown wrapping paper. In his words—and he is sitting on the Front Bench now —their very keenness is blunted thereby. Many an artist who might be the glory of this country in future years may have his keenness blunted because we are wasting paper in a direction which is useless to our community. I have brought with me, as proof of what I am stating, four packets which passed through the post. Fortunately, the postmarks are very clear, and I have their dates. Week by week they have been going through the post: 27th March, 3rd April, 10th April and 17th April. Those contain not just a single sheet, but an abundance of paper, egging people on to go in for the pools, to try their luck. This is sheer wastage of paper.

I have gone to the extreme of having this paper measured up and weighed, and the House will be a little surprised at the quantity of paper wasted in this way. I am glad the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is here, because this will interest him. I received a letter from the person who had received those four circulars to which I referred. This is quite a reputable firm, but it is only one instance which I have followed up; there are dozens of other instances which have been brought to my attention. This man says: Evidence of the disregard, as well as the evasion, of the Paper Control Order is placed before you in the four issues submitted here with. These are not lonely specimens. Similar but smaller packages or circulars with envelopes have been arriving weekly since September, 1945. Complaint was made in January last to our local head postmaster concerning the misuse of our letterbox for such misdirected missives. That executive responded with apologies and a stoppage of the abuse for a few weeks, later to start afresh, as may be seen by the postmarks. Now, this is flouting the law, because according to the regulations the pools are not allowed to circularise, except to their own subscribers, and this person has never been a subscriber. Yet, in spite of protests, the circulars have continued to be sent to him.

I went carefully into the cost to the community of this system of circularisation. I had the paper weighed up specially, and I find that a regular circularisation of 10,000 per week—and 10,000 per week is not a very heavy circularisation for a firm; I know something about circularisation because I used to circularise for my own school before the war—with that amount of paper, 500,000 a year, would use seven tons of paper in the course of a year. Seven tons of paper represents approximately 1,000 reams. I will give the House a little information about what a ream produces. A ream of crown paper 15 by 20 produces 50 octavo textbooks of 160 pages. Therefore, the 10,000 reams used by such a concern, at the rate of 10,000 circulars a week, loses for our schools 50,000 textbooks a year. That is only one firm. A ream of this sort of paper, 15 by 20, at that weight, gives 166 copy books of 24 pages. That is to say, the community, by losing 1,000 reams, loses in its teaching and education 166,000 copy books a year by the circularisation of one firm. I think it is a perfect disgrace in a civilised community like ours when we are reaching out for the betterment of our education to allow the progress of that education to be held up by people of this description. I want the House to do something about it. I want this kind of thing to be totally prohibited. I want to prohibit the use of the post for this purpose. Let us wipe out this privilege of circularising subscribers, because that opens the door for this sort of unscrupulous behaviour. I want the post to be totally prohibited for the use of gambling at all.

Hon. Members opposite may very well say that I am advocating more restrictions and more controls and that this is totalitarianism. I would reply that they themselves brought in a Bill in 1927, on the very lines that I am advocating, against moneylenders, and the moneylender was never so harmful to this country as the pools are in the way that they are stopping the development in our education. The Moneylenders Act, 1927, prohibited any kind of advertisement except the plain statement of fact in the Press, and I want that same regulation to be brought in with regard to gambling concerns. I have sufficient knowledge of the Press and how careful they are about their advertisements to know that when they accept an advertisement, they accept responsibility for it and by their acceptance of it they guarantee the fulfilment of that responsibility.

If the Government follow my Suggestion it will have a three-fold effect. In the first place, it will stop the wastage of paper to the great extent that it is happening at the present time; it will prevent inducement to gamble; it will stop dishonest promoters. I am going to take the last one first. Some people may say that there are no dishonest promoters amongst the pool promoters, but there are. Advertisements in the Press mean that the newspapers trace up every complaint against the firm advertising, but the use of the post and the hoarding means that there is no check or brake upon them. On 5th May—and I have not gone very far back—there was a case brought against the pools when two men were charged with conspiracy under the name of the Reliance Pools of Croydon. One man said that he had not received any reward for correct forecasts. Another said he had not received his award although he had made application. Four others claimed amounts for correct forecasts and said that their letters had not been acknowledged. By allowing the post to be used for this sort of business there is not the same guarantee as when an advertisement appears in the responsible Press, because I can say of the Press, no matter what colour it may be or to what party it may conform, that when an advertisement is published the public have a guarantee that this sort of thing will not happen.

Secondly, there is the inducement to gamble. The person who has a gambling instinct will gamble anyhow and that cannot be prevented. However, there are people with a latent gambling instinct which may be there but has not been awakened. On reading inducements like this—that one man has won £20,000 and another £5,000, that instinct for gambling is awakened. It is ruinous to our industrial effort at the present time. How are we to get young lads back to work if they think they can make a fortune in that way? There is only one responsible newspaper which offers these inducements. It is a very respectable paper. I will not mention its name, but I would advise it, when it reads in HANSARD this reference to itself to stop the practice, because it is doing a lot of harm.

By introducing a Measure such as I am advocating we should save much waste of paper. The paper is useless because it is thrown out whether people read it or not. Hon. Members may get some idea of the damage that is caused if I tell them that in the three months October, November and December, 1945, there were 83,750,000 postal orders issued for this purpose. Hon. Members may say that that is a large amount, but by 1946, one year later, the number had increased 65 per cent., and there were 135,500,000 postal orders issued for the same three months. Think of all that paper, that printing and all that distributive labour, for an industry which is of no benefit to our effort as a nation. If we multiply that number by four, we have the figure of more than 500 million postal orders per year, and with an increase of 65 per cent. yearly.

We do not know how far it will still grow. Only yesterday I was informed upon very good authority that the pools are now going to extend their forecasts from football to dog racing and horse racing. What is to happen? We may find the whole of our educational system and our industrial effort upset. I therefore beg the House to listen to the figures I have given, to digest them and then to bring in the very simple measure that I have been advocating. It will confer untold benefit upon our nation and upon the future generation that is growing up to take our places, and who will otherwise be deprived of educational material on account of the waste that is taking place.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)

There is very little time left to carry on this discussion or for the Parliamentary Secretary to reply, but I must say that I object to hearing, whenever we have Debates of this kind, one specific subject always picked out. People who argue on this subject appear to be individuals whose minds are obsessed against one thing—

Mrs. Nichol (Bradford, North)

On a point of Order. I raised this matter on tri, Adjournment last March, but I only made the merest passing reference to football pools. I based my entire argument upon a great many other matters.

Mr. Follick

Upon a second point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have not had a word with the hon. Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol). I am not prejudiced. I have a gamble now and then.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

This is not the time for the hon. Member to confess.

Mr. Guy

I say that it is cant and hypocrisy for an hon. Member to talk about the liberty of the subject and then to say, "I have a gamble myself."

Mr. Follick

I was not speaking against gambling but against the illicit use of the post.

Mr. Guy

Hon. Members who argue against these customs, whether it is dog racing or any other kind of activity, interfere.with the liberties of the people who desire to participate in them. This pamphlet has been put before us this afternoon. Obviously it is the rules and regulations. I have no objection to it, but I have to the general remarks against the way pools, even honest pools, are run.

Mr. Follick

I was not speaking against the honest pools.

Mr. Guy

I would not have minded if the hon. Member had complained about the tons of rubbish delivered to us which is never seen and is thrown into the wastepaper basket. But hon. Members are always advancing objections to one form of gambling against another. What I notice about some of these cranks and faddists, as I have described them from time to time, is that they are often to be found looking at the newspapers and sometimes at the tape machine we have in the Lobby looking for the odd quarters and halves on the Stock Exchange quotations to see whether they are able to participate in some pleasure of their own. The ordinary individual likes to have a shilling or half a crown a week on the pools. I am sorry to intervene, but I am annoyed when these objections are raised time after time.

4.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Belcher)

On the general issue of the desirability or otherwise of the football pools, it is not my task to express an opinion. I am concerned at the Board of Trade with administering a system for sharing out a commodity which is in very short supply—paper. Whether or not the football pools are a good thing or whether gambling is a good or a bad thing, is not for me to say. Personally I feel that in administering our paper rationing schemes we should have regard to the essentiality or desirability of the various claimants for the limited supply of paper. I shall try to show in the few minutes left that that is what we do. Let me say at once that I am aware of the deplorable shortage of school books, among other desirable publications, and that I recognise the necessity for doing everything we possibly can in the interests of the nation to make possible an expansion of the output of school and other desirable books.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Combined English Universities)

We have heard that speech before.

Mr. Belcher

I do not think that hon. Members on either side of the House have heard this speech before. If they have been following the course of events, they will find that it has been possible as a result of the last Debate to effect a small improvement. I want to stress the point that we are anxious to do what we can. If hon. Members will do me the honour of listening to what I have to say they will see that what has been said this afternoon is not altogether a statement of the facts relating to a comparison between the pools and the schools.

Up to the end of February this year the allocation of paper to football pools was at the rate of 2½ per cent. of their prewar consumption. From March onwards that was reduced to 2¼ per cent. of their prewar consumption. This covers all forms of coupons and circulars issued by the pools. We are about to undertake discussions with the pools in regard to the allocations from July onwards, but whether or not it will be possible to reduce the supplies below 2¼ per cent. to include not only the coupons and the circulars but the envelopes in which they are despatched, remains to be seen.

Mr. Follick

How about the postal orders?

Mr. Belcher

I do wish the hon. Member would not interrupt. I have only four or five minutes left. The principal pool promoters who are allowed the 2¼ per cent. have given us an undertaking that they will not augment this by acquiring supplies from merchants and printers' stocks, for which no licence would be necessary. We have made inquiries as a result of the remarks made in this House from time to time, and there is no reason to believe that these pool promoters who have given us this undertaking are not fulfilling it. We only issue these licences to the book people; the others acquire their paper from merchants or from printers. We do not know the amounts they acquire, but we do not think they are large. It is almost impossible for them to be very large because the amount of paper carried by these merchants and printers is not so large as all that. The total quantity allowed to the major pools is about 400 tons in a four months' period and this enables some seven million coupons to be issued each week. However, the pools claim—and I think they are probably right—that their demand for coupons greatly exceeds that figure.

Let us look at books. The big publishers are licensed up to 80 per cent. of their prewar consumption. From July onwards 20 per cent. will be earmarked specifically for educational or export purposes. In addition there is a special reserve of 1,500 tons each four months' period of paper from which allocations can be made for important books which otherwise would not be produced. Their basic allocation at the present moment is, as I have said, 80 per cent. of their prewar consumption, but the publishers have been told we will re-licence any shortfall in a subsequent period so that the amount licensed in the future will exceed 80 per cent. and is likely to be at least 90 per cent. in the next period. The allocation amounts to 18,500 tons, so that the allocation to the football pools is less than 3 per cent. of the amount used for books.

Mr. Lindsay indicated dissent.

Mr. Belcher

The hon. Member may think so or not, but that is a fact, and it is ridiculous to state that the allocation of paper to the football pools is depriving in a serious manner the schools of textbooks or writing books because, if you took all the paper away from the pools and gave it to the schools, it would represent less than 3 per cent. of the total at present being received for books. We ought to keep a sense of proportion in this. The paper licensed for football pools has a negligible effect on total supplies even for books. Moreover, book production is restricted by printing and binding capacity due to shortages of labour and plant. Both of these will improve. We are doing our best. We are importing machinery even from dollar countries, despite our shortages of currency.

On educational books specifically, the position should improve somewhat as a result of the arrangements we have made to see that 20 per cent. of the basic quota is earmarked for educational or export books. Moreover, of the 1,500 tons a period special reserve for producing important books which would not otherwise be published, 1,000 tons is now earmarked for educational textbooks.

Mrs. Nichol

This is not an increase. It was a thousand tons before, in previous periods.

Mr. Belcher

I am afraid the hon. Member is wrong. In previous periods there was a special reserve of 1,500 tons per four months' period to be used for books which would otherwise not be printed. As a result of the Adjournment Debate, to which reference has been made, it was arranged that of this 1,500 tons, from that time onwards 1,000 tons would specifically be earmarked for educational books. That was the first time it had been done. It is not the case that this had been done in previous periods.

Because of the shortage of the type of book which is, quite rightly, worrying hon. Members we have considered the possibility of acquiring such books from other sources. We know that at least one publisher of university books has, by means of advertising, received a steady stream of secondhand books. We have also granted an open general licence as from 1st January this year for the free import of books from all countries for reading purposes, other than fiction, in English and children's books. Therefore, we regard the position not as satisfactory but as one in which there is some slight improvement. We hope that improvement will be maintained. We shall do our best to maintain the improvement, and to speed up and increase the supply of educational books because we recognise its importance. However, I cannot accept that taking away from the football pool industry this almost infinitesimal amount of paper at this moment and giving it to the book publishers would have an effect which would meet the desires of those hon. Members who have a keen interest in education, which share.

It being Half-past Four o'Clock Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put pursuant to the Standing Order.