HC Deb 31 March 1947 vol 435 cc1666-8
Mr. Eden

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether you are yet in a position to make any statement in regard to the difficulties in connection with the printing of the OFFICIAL REPORTS of the House and of Standing Committees? You will recollect that the matter was raised by me and a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends and also by hon. Members in other parts of the House, on 27th March, and that you then said: I shall be glad to look at this matter between now and Monday."—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th March, 1947; Vol. 435, c. 1412.]

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that I have only a very short statement to make. Since Thursday last, when questions were asked about the availability of HANSARD Reports of certain Standing Committees and of Debates in the House late at night, I have had the opportunity of looking into the matter more closely. The trouble appears to be due mainly to the shortage of reporters—which is not confined to the HANSARD staff, but is general throughout the shorthand-writing profession—and, in part, to the unusual weight of work which has had to be covered. A little over a year ago the HANSARD staff was increased to an extent which was deemed to be adequate, but, because of the experience of the past few weeks, when as many as 20 Sittings of Standing Committees within the space of three days have had to be reported, in addition to late Sittings of the House, the whole position has had to be reviewed, and proposals are now being examined which, when worked out, will, it is hoped, meet the present situation satisfactorily.

Perhaps I should add that the actual question raised by the hon. Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) has not been before the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports, and that I propose to refer it to them, that is to say, the point about the reports of certain Standing Committees not appearing until 48 hours after the Committees have sat. I should add further that I have found out that one of the reasons for that is that we are so short of reporters that we are using the reporters of another place. They report Committees here in the morning, and they then have to go back to another place to report the Debates there in the afternoon, and they have no time to transcribe into longhand the notes taken in the morning. That is why the Committee reports cannot be printed the same night, and are not available until 24 hours later. I am sorry that I cannot give a better answer.

Mr. Eden

I am sure, Sir, that the House is much obliged to you for your reply. May I ask the acting Leader of the House whether, during the period of the Recess, he will give this matter further consideration and see whether he cannot either give assistance to you, Sir, to increase the staff, or reduce the pressure on the Standing Committees?

Mr. Arthur Greenwood

With regard to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, that is primarily a matter for the authorities of the House, and not for me. Anything that we can do to assist the authorities of the House in increasing their staff, we will certainly do. If, as I said before—which met with the disapproval of the Opposition—hon. Members opposite would agree to curtail their speeches, that might obviate the difficulty. But I should hope that the pressure of work in Standing Committees would be very considerably eased between Easter and Whitsuntide.

Mr. Eden

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his appeal to hon. Members on this side not to speak so much? Surely he knows that we are guillotined anyway, and that the guillotine victim may speak for the length of the period which elapses until the knife falls?

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that this House is proving itself a very bad em- ployer of labour, and is in danger of overworking its reporters?

Mr. Greenwood

I have been aware of the over-employment of people in this House for longer years than has the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Nicholson

That, I suggest, is treating flippantly quite a serious reproach. I say that when we get reporters working up to 60 hours in a five-day week, it is dangerous, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will treat the matter with the seriousness which it deserves.

Colonel Sir Charles MaeAndrew

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman realises that the matter is even more serious than has been suggested, and that a Committee which proposed to sit this afternoon could not sit because the reporters were not available?

Mr. Bowles

I did not understand the point about the shortage of reporters, Mr. Speaker, until you said that they also reported the proceedings in another place. Supposing that Standing Committees meet three mornings and two afternoons a week, and that they still have to do the reporting in another place, how do they catch up with the work? Is there not a bottleneck also in the printing of the HANSARD reports?

Mr. Speaker

I think not. I think it is the inability of the reporters to transcribe their reports into longhand, and to deliver them to the printers. The other day I thought that, perhaps, the printers were partly responsible, but now I think that that was a mistaken idea, and that the difficulty is that the reports do not get to them in time.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen

Is it not a fact that the reason for the shortage of reporters is because they are so miserably paid?

Mr. Austin

As one of the main difficulties is the transcription into longhand, could not something be done to obtain dictaphones to bring the reporting up to date?

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members must realise that not any reporter can report this House. It is a very highly technical job, and the reporters are very hard to find.