§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Wilkins.]
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
We now return to the subject of newsprint supply which is not perhaps quite so incongruous as it may appear after the very important Debate to which we have been listening, because the supply of newsprint for the great variety of the Press today constitutes one great and powerful arm for informing public opinion and fortifying the public to face the problems and terrors that lie ahead. I think it very clear that it would be most unfortunate if this Debate on newsprint were held in Secret Session. That might rob the Debate of much of the significance which I think hon. Members in all parts of the House attach to it. It would certainly remove from those ears outside, who are listening to what we say, much of what they want to know from the Floor of the House.
I can inform the Minister that there is no question of forcing a vote on this matter. If we did, of course, we might have an even more successful Division than the one we had earlier. It is better that there should be no Division, because every hon. Member must agree on the vital importance of the Press fulfilling what is now a constitutional function. The more we can discuss this question of the supply of newsprint in the absence of rancour and consider the merits of the case as a case, and the more objectively and dispassionately the case can be put, the more successful we may be in persuading the President of the Board of Trade and the Government to examine the matter afresh and attempt to make things easier for the Press of this country.
It is important that we should not approach it from a fractious point of view, and that we should not, for example, take the point of view of a single newspaper, and that I am certainly not going to do. I shall rather attempt to give a general view. In the same way, we should approach the matter from the point of view of the Commonwealth as a whole, and then take into account the discrepancy between the supplies in the United States and those available to our own newspapers here.
758 If the Press is to give the help which it can and must in future, it must not only have more newsprint, but more confidence in the Government in providing that newsprint for the future, and anything which the President of the Board of Trade can say tonight in the way of restoring confidence to the Press, and to its managers and proprietors, will help to restore confidence in the future of supplies and will do an incredible amount of good in all quarters of the Press.
It is an open fact which is accepted by all, following upon the Royal Commission on the Press, that there is very great importance in securing an adequate supply of newsprint. The Royal Commission on the Press, on page 161 of its Report, said:We would stress the importance of securing, at the earliest possible date, a supply of newsprint adequate to the needs of the industry.In the evidence given by the Newsprint Supply Company to the Royal Commission, they used these words, which I think sum up the position better than I can do myself:Evils flowing from this continued and intensified shortage of newsprint can hardly be exaggerated. The public lacks news and information, and the stimulus of a free and copious discussion of all topics of national interest.Then, they go on to say:The British public is definitely becoming an ill-informed public, as many instances reveal. Having regard to British responsibilities abroad and British problems at home, this should be regarded as a major and political problem.It is as such that we want to raise it this evening. This quotation ends:It can only be solved by putting the Press in a position to discharge adequately its full normal functions.If I am to address myself to this subject in the spirit which I announced at the opening, it will be necessary for me rapidly to run over the following points. First, to make some reference to the past history of this business and to weigh the effect of the newsprint supply shortage this year; then to refer to the newsprint outlook for 1951 and to discuss some of the remedies which we suggest might be possible for the Government to take.
I say straight away that, on the close examination of this matter, there is no single remedy which can be applied 759 alone to solve this problem altogether. That is the result of my own very careful examination over the last week since we decided to raise this subject. There is, however, this opportunity of restoring confidence, and, by a variety of methods and remedies, supplying more newsprint to the newspapers.
I think the main facts of the story since the end of the last war are pretty well known. The 1945 contracts with Canada were cut by the Government when Lease-Lend ended. These contracts were for about 224,000 tons annually, but only 93,000 tons were imported in 1946. After the American loan, new contracts were entered into providing for a gradually steady increase, and these were approved by the Government. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton) indicated on 1st May:… the Board of Trade … wrote a letter in which they said:'The Government would be prepared to provide exchange and import licences for 260,000 tons of newsprint in respect of 1948, and 300,000 tons in each of the three following years, and you could contract in Canada on this basis.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st May, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 1425.]This was addressed to the Newsprint Supply Company, and those words were confirmed in the same Debate by categorical statements by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When the President of the Board of Trade interrupted me at Question Time the other day, he sought to remind me of my own moral behaviour, which I hope is quite pure and spotless before the House, and trusted that I should never recommend the breaking of contracts. I should like to ask him if he himself and his Government have not—if he does not like the words broken contracts—at least shuffled out of contracts with the Canadian suppliers, in view of certain difficulties in which we were placed? There is no doubt that, as a result, confidence in Canada, which is a vital source of supply to this country, has been very much shaken.
Continuing with the story, orders within the original contracts were then entered into for 150,000 tons in 1947 and for 300,000 tons in the three years following. These orders having been cut in July, 1947, a new agreement was entered into for 105,000 tons in 1947 against a 760 contract figure of 150,000 tons, while the imports for 1948 and 1949 were to be 100,000 tons. In January of this year, the Newsprint Supply Company were informed of the decision to cut all imports for the first half of this year.
It was only on 9th May that the Government agreed to provide dollars for the import of 25,000 tons from Canada in the second half of this year. By this time, the Canadian Mills were heavily oversold, the majority of their products having gone to America, and the United Kingdom is likely to receive only 10,000 tons in 1950. If they compare that figure of 10,000 tons with the original figure of 300,000 tons, hon. Members will see what a genuine crisis is facing the newsprint suppliers and the Press at the present time.
The position therefore today is that the six-page position on newspapers—the seven-page outlook having ended in the early part of July—for the ordinary daily can be maintained only by drawing on stocks, and, for the first time for a period which I feel is so long that I do not like to mention it, the Newsprint Supply Company and those involved have to sink their reserves below the figure which the Government themselves acknowledged to be the minimum figure, namely, 100,000 tons. If we continue like this, at an average running-down rate which I have ascertained to be about 1,500 tons a week, it is likely that we shall have a reserve of only 65,000 tons to meet all eventualities by the end of the year.
The reason why this situation is so serious is that the real rub and hardship is going to fall round about Christmas time. At that time, it may well be, quite apart from the international situation, that the Baltic and the St. Lawrence River will be frozen up, and that emergency supplies will be very hard to come by. Further, there is the great uncertainty of the international position, and I am not surprised that all those with whom I have discussed this matter take a very grim view of the possibility of being able to maintain even the six-page daily newspaper.
Hon. Members may well ask why there is difficulty in publishing at this time when there are only six pages for the normal daily. This necessitates a short digression 761 on my part to discuss the effect upon the newspapers generally of a shortage of newsprint. Take the question of providing the public with foreign news. There is no doubt that in a six-page newspaper, once it has been decided to provide certain space for different subjects—to do a little bit for this and a little bit for that; a little bit for sport, finance, and so forth—no room is left for maintaining a continuous and informed interest in public affairs on the part of the British people, and that is why the evidence given before the Royal Commission on the Press was right in saying:The British public is becoming definitely uninformed on many of the major issues of the day.The newspapers have to confine their space almost entirely to items of the day and are unable to feed the public with warnings about the future.
Let us take the subject of sport. The effect of the present shortage of newsprint is rather anomalous. If one wants to get the very best accounts of sport, apart from the mere results of sporting events, one has to look to the most expensive papers, for it is only in the most expensive that it is possible to give a full account of sporting events, quite apart from the results. We know it is possible to purchase an evening paper in return for a penny and find who has won the 2.30 or the 3.30, or anything else—and if it is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition we are all very much gratified—but one cannot read a proper account of sport unless one buys an expensive paper, which means that the people are not getting the full accounts on sport which they deserve, thanks to the shortage of newsprint.
A further problem, which is another anomalous result of the shortage of newsprint, is that all the various types of newspapers are affected differently. The newspapers which stand to give a full chronicle of national events and sell at a large sum of money, are shipped in one way, and the six-page newspapers are prejudiced in the way I have described. In fact, it is what one may describe as the popular newspapers who depend on selling the news only by headlines and by strip cartoons who do not suffer so badly from the shortage of newsprint as their rivals. I have never been one to make 762 any differentiation between the different organs of the Press, and I believe it is just as well not to do so, but the fact is that the people who want to get a considered and educated opinion on events are being hit much more hardly than those who want to take in the news by the eyes, or by the strip cartoon.
I think this is a most undesirable result of the shortage of newsprint. But when we go further and look at the problems of circulation, size, and fair distribution, we find further difficulties. The distribution of newsprint is run by a rationing committee with which the Government keep contact, so I have only a limited power in putting questions on this matter to the Government. I should like to suggest the possibility of adjusting distribution so that an individual newspaper is able to decide whether it wants to "go nap" on size or on circulation, because the shortage of newsprint today very often benefits the person who makes a stunt and thereby gets a wider circulation, and does not leave sufficient independent authority to individual newspapers themselves to decide whether they want to specialise on size or circulation. If the President of the Board of Trade can help in that way without upsetting the constitutional machinery which already exists, that, I believe would be favoured by certain sections of the Press.
I have given some description of the effect of the shortage of newsprint on the newspapers, but my general impression for 1950, without overstating my case, which I said I was not going to do, is that the shortage of supplies could be faced with less concern if there was hope that some more newsprint might be available some time this year from some source, and if there were definite prospects for more for next year.
This leads me to examine the question of the future. The Canadians, under their arrangements, demand continuity of contracts. They required the Newsprint Supply Company to let them know by 30th June this year the tonnage to be imported in 1951. As yet a further example of the dilatory and muddled manner in which the Government have handled this matter, the Board of Trade refused up to 29th June, 1950, to allow the Newsprint Supply Company to enter 763 into commitments beyond 30th June, 1951. It was only at a later date, on 20th July, that the President of the Board of Trade announced that dollars would be made available for the import of a further 37,500 tons in the second half of 1951. He said, as reported in HANSARD of that date:Provided that the Newsprint Supply Company can place the necessary contracts for delivery before the end of that year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2463.]I cannot speak officially on behalf of the Newsprint Supply Company, and no doubt we shall hear more about that subject in this Debate, but I believe it to be the case that it has been possible through the generosity of the Canadians to adjust their supplies and to accommodate this country to that extent. If so, we must agree that a certain advance has been made by the concession for the second half of 1951, but, even so, that means that the six-page-at-the-most newspaper will be able to be continued right through 1951, but without any hope of any additional supply or without any hope of getting back to the level of reserves which the Government themselves already regarded as being basic—namely, 100,000 tons.
Therefore, we are going to face 1951, with all the possibilities of the troubles there may be, with the possibility of a General Election, whether it takes place before or after the New Year—it is impossible to say, but with the possibility of the election falling within this time—and with no reserve and no adequate promise from the Government of further amounts forthcoming. Therefore, hon. Members will see that it is very likely that our newspapers will be further cut down, unless the Government in this Debate can give a further assurance to the industry.
Now I come to the latter half of what I want to say in discussing remedies. The position of imports is a very difficult one, because, of course, we are bound by dollar exchange, and I think we shall find it extremely difficult to get much more this year from the Canadian mills owing to our handling of the situation. The President of the Board of Trade is right in saying that the majority of their supplies 764 have gone to the United States of America, and he is perfectly right to say that the Americans, compared with us, are getting an absolute glut of newsprint.
I heard recently of a friend of mine who carefully weighed himself before starting on an air journey back to this country. He arrived with his baggage and himself at almost exactly the same weight, but he made the mistake of buying two American newspapers just before boarding the plane, and was refused entry. We all know how these American newspapers are packets of stuff, and how almost every other country is doing better in this way than we are. Even the Australian newspapers are running 18 and 20 pages whereas we have only enough to stick to the very modest and skimpy amounts allowed to us by our Government.
Taking into consideration the difficulties of the dollar shortage, I must make an appeal to the Government that if the international situation permits, more dollars may be released for this perfectly legitimate end, and that we may fit better into the general system of imports from Canada which was almost part of our economy in the past. The position of Scandinavia is a very difficult one, and I think they are supplying us with almost as much as they can manage. It has to be remembered, too, that a good many of our Scandinavian supplies come from Finland, which is not situated very conveniently, in view of the international situation.
On the question of the next remedy, that of exports, the President of the Board of Trade said on 18th July:We are considering, at present, what the volume of our exports should be for next year; but I hope that hon. Members will think twice before they press us to reduce the level of our exports."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2233.]I want to take up with the President his remarks when he said that the Government are considering what the volume of our exports should be for next year. I presume that to mean that their mind is not absolutely made up. Therefore, I must ask the President to reconsider this question of exports for the coming year. The raising of our exports from the neighbourhood of 60,000 tons to 100,000 tons has made all the difference to the British Press.
765 I should be the last to advocate the breaking of a contract, and I do not intend to do so. But, as Australia takes 75,000 tons of our 100,000 tons of exports, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he could not get together with the Australian Government or—which would be much more valuable—call a general Commonwealth discussion, or encourage these interested to do so, so that the Commonwealth may discuss the pooling of its resources in newsprint. We should, thereby, ensure some equality of distribution which takes account not only of Australia but also of South Africa, Bermuda, Trinidad, Singapore and other parts of our Commonwealth and Empire.
I should like to acknowledge the efforts and the interests of the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Menzies, on this problem during his visit here. There is no desire on the part of the British Press or of the Opposition to prejudice Australia, or to arouse any threat that Australia, owing to the demand for dollars, would turn to other sources, and so forth. But I suggest that the whole of this Commonwealth newsprint situation wants discussing, with the energy which we always ask the Government to bring to bear upon our economic problems on an Empire scale. That is a reasonable request, and I do not believe the President of the Board of Trade should turn a deaf ear to it. He ought to give an assurance that, compared with the comparatively liberal supplies of newsprint in Australia, our own Press will be better treated in this country.
The next remedy is home production. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the mills at home are now nearing full production. My own impression is that they were originally asked to step up to about 71½ per cent. of their pre-war production. Now, I understand, some of them are able, if permitted, to go above that figure. I understand, from my own inquiries, that their difficulties arise chiefly from the provision of raw materials for the mill, in some cases pulp and in one case logs. If it is possible to step up the raw materials, the British Press can obtain more material from the home mills. I hope the Government will be able to make some announcement on encouraging increased production in the home mills. If so, by this Debate and by this method we shall have extracted a little more newsprint for our Press.
766 On the ratio of newsprint supplied to periodicals and dailies, it would be extremely invidious for the Opposition to take sides as between periodicals, dailies, weeklies, provincial papers and Sunday papers and others. In March of this year the Government freed the periodicals from control. Some of them decided to print on paper, better than ordinary newsprint, called "mechanical printing paper." The result was that some of our home mills turned over some of their production to this paper and, to that extent, prejudiced the production of newsprint for the ordinary dailies and other weekly newspapers. I have done a great deal of research into this subject. I find the result is that there are about 25,000 tons more being allowed to what are known technically as periodicals, small users and other purposes than last year. If we could get a few tons from this source to supplement the dailies and other newspapers, that would be a little remedy which, when all is amassed together, would provide more for our home newspapers. We do not desire to take sides, but we do want fair shares.
There are other types of papers, the provincials and weeklies, which are of special value. The provincial newspapers have a special problem of their own. I have read their representations. It is true to say that in a good many cases, though not in every case, the whole paper amount is not being taken up by individual provincial newspapers. But there are many cases of provincial weeklies, such as exist in my own constituency, where a great effort is made to make the local paper a chronicle of events.
The paper is sent overseas to people who have lived in the district. When it reports a bazaar, every person taking part has to have his or her name in the paper, otherwise they are offended. When it reports a garden fete, even those who provide the refreshments for tea have to be mentioned, otherwise circulation would not be maintained. I have often helped the local reporter with names of those serving at these estimable functions. They are not political—I have a local personal life as well as a political one.
I plead that this sort of weekly newspaper should be allowed sufficient newsprint to keep going. There is also the 767 special problem of the evening provincial newspapers. All this question of allocations between different types of periodicals, different types of London newspapers, and different types of provincial papers, mornings and evenings and weekly papers, wants very careful handling, particularly by the constitutional machinery of the newsprint people themselves. I know the President has been receiving deputations and I hope that he will consider these matters when he receives representations in future. I hope that he will do much to clear up many misunderstandings.
I have concluded the case I wanted to develop for obtaining more newsprint for our Press, of all sorts, in this country. I have not taken a particular line, nor have I wished to support a particular newspaper. I wish to put this matter on the constitutional basis, and to say that newsprint, like other matters we have been considering on Defence, is the material of an army for informing public opinion and an army which the Government have wilfully neglected and, we believe, have betrayed. It is, therefore, up to the President to give us an answer today which, taking into account the difficulties I have been at pains to mention and to put as fairly as I could, will get from one or more of the sources I have mentioned some more newsprint for our Press, which has a constitutional and honourable position in our country.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
I do not intend to intervene for more than a few minutes; indeed, it would be very wrong of me to do so after the very knowledgeable and detailed speech delivered by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler). It is, of course, fortuitous that this Debate should be taking place immediately after our very great Debate on matters relating to the very existence of this country, and life and death. It is fortunate that that Debate should be followed immediately by a Debate upon the subject of newsprint and the information that is given to the public.
In this rapidly changing world, in which so many Government experiments, and so on, are being conducted in various parts of the world—changes in science affecting the mode of life of almost all 768 of us—it is only right that we should get the fullest and the very best information. Unfortunately, we have at present not only a small amount of newsprint, but we are threatened with an actual cut. One realises that owing to the great demands that are now being made in various countries, there is a shortage of newsprint. Ordinarily, newspaper proprietors and those who supply newsprint would have been looking ahead and planning.
I charge the Government with not having done two things: indeed, I am not sure that even the war-time Government was not partly responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves today. First, they did not at any time pay sufficient attention to the importance of supplying the public with full information about all matters; second, it has been thought, apparently, that newsprint could be bought from week to week or month to month, just like any other commodity, whereas, in fact, this is a matter of long-term contracts which have to be entered into over a long period.
The result has been that contracts, unfortunately, have been broken. Nothing worse can possibly happen to any people or, indeed, to any person than broken contracts. We have broken our contracts, especially with Canada, on more than one occasion, and it has done us a considerable amount of harm, and rightly so. We in this country have always laid great stress upon the sanctity of contracts, and it is upon that, that our reputation has been built up throughout the world. Once made, a contract should be carried out.
What is required is long-term planning. I ask the President of the Board of Trade: What have the Government really got in mind for the future? What is the minimum amount of newsprint which they think is required for a newspaper so that it can give its public, in a proper form, the fullest information that it could possibly give? I suggest that the very minimum size of a newspaper is eight pages. Anything less than that is bound to lead to trouble, not only to the newspaper and its staff but in reducing the information which can be given to the public in general. What priorities will be given to newsprint when we have to buy it from dollar countries? Will it have a high or a low priority? If the President of the Board of Trade could 769 answer those two questions it would be of immense value to the newspaper world.
I deeply regret the cut in newsprint since the beginning of the war, in particular because of the effect it has had upon our young writers. The great essayists of the past spent their apprenticeship and learned their trade on the newspapers—men like Chesterton, Belloc and A. G. Gardiner; one can go further back to Thackeray, Dickens and the like. It was in the newspaper world that they really began. Nowadays, there is very little opportunity for the brilliant young man wishing to acquire a mastership of language and of his trade. He may write something absolutely brilliant, only to find that the sub-editor has ruthlessly put a blue pencil through it and the whole of his work has been reduced to a sentence or two. That is really bad for the whole country—not merely for that young man but for the literature and the education of all of us. I deeply regret that that is happening today.
The right hon. Gentleman very rightly referred to the provincial newspapers. They perform two functions. They perform the function of the national newspaper and give the national news, but they also have to deal with the particular area in which they circulate, and they have to cover the whole of that area. It is, therefore, only right that they should have especial protection from the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman has described the local weekly. I would describe it as the family paper—the paper which is taken home and read from cover to cover, including all the advertisements.
There is one local paper at home, produced not quite in my constituency but just outside it, which, I remember, was brought home by my father on Wednesdays, and we all read it from beginning to end. I still look forward to receiving that paper. I still read it, beginning with the auctioneers' advertisements and then going on to the full accounts of the concerts, marriages, local shows, the list of those who attended the funerals, and so on. Those are really essential in the country districts. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will pay heed to this, and will see that such newspapers get a fair quota of the newsprint available.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
I want to say a particular word for the provincial Press—the evening and weekly newspapers produced in the provinces, especially the small ones. I have a feeling that they are very important indeed to our morale and our happiness, and to our community life. I know of some local weekly papers which are so well read that they literally go into every house in the town. Indeed, I know of one whose circulation is higher than the number of houses in the town. This is very important, from a great many aspects, and I want in my brief remarks to emphasise what they are.
There is, first of all, a very great variety in the different facets of English life which they portray and mirror, and there is also a great variety in their ownership. Many of them are independent single units. Others belong to small groups, and this great variety in ownership ensures a great variety of points of view. I am not going to say that I subscribe to the view that large groups of newspapers are necessarily to be criticised, but I think we would all agree that the extent to which our newspapers are in independent hands and are free to exercise the splendid tradition of independence for which our editors have so long striven is a source of great strength to us.
In the rural areas they are to a considerable extent the only newspapers which are read. There are parts of my constituency where I am convinced the farmer looks forward to his weekly paper and does not, in fact, get any other paper. It is to him not merely his contact with the outside world but his means of learning about the markets and about matters that affect his business, and it also provides him with the lighter reading which he wants during his week-ends.
There is an enormous amount of local sport which it is important that we should encourage and there are, also, the shows which take place among agricultural societies, dramatic societies and a number of intellectual societies which thrive locally and whose shows need to be reported and deserve to be reported. An editor wrote to me the other day in this connection and said, "I have to use too much blue pencil." By that he meant two things. First, he meant the sense of discouragement and 771 frustration among his staff, who go out to get good stories and then find either that there is no room to print them or that they have to be cut down to a few lines. Secondly, he meant that important aspects of the local life of his town could not be properly represented in the local paper.
Another aspect relates to the contribution which these local papers make to the efficiency, the integrity and the democratic background of our local government. There are some towns in which there is virtually only one party on the local council. The only critic of the activities of such a council is the local paper. It is not good for anyone to be without criticism and the local paper serves an important function in criticising, fairly and shrewdly, the activities of the local council and of local officials. The liberty of the citizen depends to some extent upon the vigilant exposure by the local paper of anything which is bad or open to proper criticism in the community. The paper, therefore, makes a real contribution towards our way of life, quite apart from the entertainment and social life which is mirrored by the good, responsible local paper.
There is yet another aspect which I consider most important. No small enterprise can start without having to face the difficulty of competing with the existing, established enterprise, which has good will and custom. The small enterprise must, therefore, advertise; it must advertise locally and there must be a paper in which it can buy space. An undue limit upon the paper available is, therefore, a definite deterrent to the development of the small business, the small manufacturing enterprise, the small commercial business, the small boarding house—a deterrent to any development of that kind which is new and fresh. A great part of our strength depends upon the very great variety of small businesses which we have always been in the habit of developing and extending. Indeed, many of them become quite important contributors to our export trade.
I have communicated with the editors of all the local papers which serve my constituency and its district. They tell me that they appreciate the difficulties which the nation faces over dollars. Equally, they all tell me that they do not think it is entirely fair that so large a part 772 of the home production of newsprint should be exported. I do not think they would wish us to break contracts, but I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to answer one specific question. Of all the tons of newsprint which were exported last year, or which he estimates will be exported in the next year, how much is subject to contract and how much is not?
Lastly, I would say that, whether it be in peace or in war, or in a period of anxiety such as that which we now face, the influence of the whole of our Press—national, Sunday, evening and local—is of the very greatest importance in helping the Government, of whatever party it may be, to guide the nation, and in helping the nation itself to be of good heart and of good morale. It is, therefore, false economy to deny our people the means of expression and the means of mirroring their thoughts, their views, their aspirations and their hopes.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
I have first to declare an interest in this matter, as I am the manager of the Newsprint Supply Company and Chairman of the Newsprint Rationing Committee. In these posts I am responsible to a board of directors who represent the whole of the newspaper industry in the country; and, when I say that, I mean literally every publication in the country which is classified as a newspaper, as distinct from magazines or, as we normally call them, periodicals. In the Supply Company we are concerned only with newspapers, and that covers very many hundreds of publications, ranging from the great national dailies, at one end of the scale, right through the whole range of the provincial papers and the local papers down to even a few small sheets which are given away free and which live entirely by advertisements.
For the last two years our job has been two-fold: first, in co-operation with the Paper Control, it has been to try to ensure an adequate supply of newsprint for the newspapers; secondly, it has been to try to ensure its equitable sharing among all the people for whom we are responsible. We have always worked in these tasks in double harness with the Paper Control. On the supply side, they have always dealt direct with the British newsprint mills. They have been responsible, until very recently, for the raw 773 materials for the mills; they have fixed the production of the mills. We, on our side, have had the task of buying manufactured newsprint from abroad—of course, under Government licence.
I want to say a few words about the rationing side of the problem, because it is one of very great importance. Since the Rationing Committee started in 1940, the principle has always been that of fair shares for everyone, without any discrimination. From the beginning we set our faces against anything in the form of what I might call qualitative rationing. We have never concerned ourselves with the value of what might be put into the papers concerned. I emphasise this point because, lately, some claims have been made by individual newspapers and groups of newspapers for special consideration on various grounds. The provincial newspapers have been mentioned here, and the local newspapers, and we know that there is a very soft spot in the hearts of many hon. Members and, indeed, in the Newsprint Rationing Committee, too, for them.
But we have to be fair to all. The case which has been made for the provincial papers was supported by a letter in "The Times" yesterday from a local editor, who compared the obligations falling on a local paper with those falling on the national Sunday papers, much to the disadvantage of the national Sunday papers, which have sometimes been the subject of comment in this House, too. It is quite true that a 2d. provincial weekly has the same number of pages allowed to it as a 2d. Sunday paper, but it has to be remembered that the nine-page ration which the Sunday paper receives today, in common with the provincial weekly, is a very much smaller proportion of that Sunday paper's pre-war consumption than it is of the pre-war consumption of the provincial paper. In other words, fair shares have not necessarily meant equal shares, in the sense of equal sacrifices. Under this system, those who had most to give up have given up most. That applies also to the great national dailies, and it is a point which should be borne in mind when we consider rationing and special claims for special groups.
One point I want above all to make on this rationing is this. I hope no one will suggest we should have the 774 rationing of papers according to our conceptions of what the value of their contents may be. It would be an impossible task; it would involve censorship, and it would be a real threat to the freedom of the Press. I hope this question of rationing will be left to the Newsprint Rationing Committee, which has had 10 years' experience now of the job, which is representative of the whole industry, and on which also the Director of the Newsprint Division of Paper Control always sits.
I want to refer briefly to one or two things that have been said in this controversy about newsprint during the last few weeks. The President of the Board of Trade has been rather worried by Questions on this subject, and has had to give a great many answers. In the course of them he has said one or two things on which I shall have to join issue with him. He said in answer to one Question that only this year the newspapers were left quite free to settle the size of their papers within broad limits, and that the newspapers were to blame for having made too optimistic estimates; and he said the Government had accepted the estimates made by the Newsprint Supply Company.
It is really important that the House should understand where the responsibility lies for the situation that we are facing now, and I should like in that connection to quote one letter we received from the Board of Trade. It is dated 27th March. It was written in reply to the pressure by the Newsprint Supply Company for permission to maintain the seven-page size of papers which had been granted for the period of the General Election. The letter says:It has been agreed that discretion should be given to the Newsprint Rationing Committee to authorise the printing of seven-page newspapers from time to time when the necessary paper is available, provided that the stocks of newsprint available for newspapers should not be allowed to fall below 100,000 tons.And this is what I should like the House to observe:The calculation of the amount of paper available will continue to be made as at present by the Newsprint Division of the Paper Control, who will work on the assumption that no dollars will be available for the purchase of newsprint. Exports of newsprint will have priority over increases in home consumption, though not over the amount necessary to ensure the six-page paper. Arrangements will be made for the Newsprint Division to notify to the Newsprint Rationing Committee from time to time what balance is estimated to be available for home newspapers.775 Not, we thought, a very friendly letter after 10 years of co-operation between our Company and Committee and the Government Department concerned.
Really, it is a little hard to receive a letter of that kind saying it is the function solely of the Government Department to make the calculations, and that we shall be informed from time to time of how much newsprint is to be available for us. It is a little hard to have the responsible Minister coming to tell the House, when things have gone wrong, that we were to blame, and that it was the over-optimistic estimates of the newspapers that led him astray through his accepting those estimates.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harold Wilson)
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? Will he give the reference in HANSARD to show that I said that the newspapers were to blame?
§ Mr. Bishop
The word "blame" is what the right hon. Gentleman objects to. What he said was that the newspapers'… estimates of newsprint available proved far too optimistic, and the increase to seven pages … could not be maintained."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 1537.]If the right hon. Gentleman objects to my saying that he meant the newspapers were to blame, I shall certainly withdraw with pleasure, but I let the facts speak for themselves.
That letter which I have just quoted also indicates that the freedom—the so-called freedom—that was given to the newspapers to fix the number of their pages within broad limits, as the right hon. Gentleman said, was quite illusory. What we were told was that we could have seven-page papers when newsprint was available; and then we were told that newsprint would not be available because the Government were going to give priority to exports for everything above what was needed to maintain the six-page basis.
I do not want to press the matter too far and I pass now to the future. The Company is deeply concerned about the future, and the future does depend upon the recognition that the Government have the power and authority to determine these things, and we want the Gov- 776 ernment to continue the same friendly co-operation with this industry that has prevailed through most of the 10 years since the Company was founded.
I should like to give the House just one or two figures in the form of a sort of profit and loss account for newsprint, comparing the year 1950 with the year 1949. On the credit side, at the beginning of this year we could look forward to an increase in production by the home mills, due to the greater availability of raw materials, of 93,000 tons, while imports arranged by the Newsprint Supply Company were increased in 1950 by 38,000 tons as compared with 1949, giving a total increase from those two sources of newsprint of 131,000 tons. I do say that on the basis of such an increase in the available supply, it was reasonable for the newspapers to look forward to some modest increase in their consumption.
The reason that it has not proved posible, or that it proved possible only for a very brief time, and then at the expense of our stocks, is to be found in the definite decisions and actions taken by the Government. First, as my right hon. Friend has told the House, the Government cut off the whole of our Canadian imports, and though they have partially reversed that decision in recent weeks, and allowed us to buy 25,000 tons—if we can get it—this year from Canada, that still compares with the total of 100,000 tons that we had last year. We do not expect to be able to get more than about 10,000 tons because the decision was taken too late. Therefore, we expect a loss on that account of 90,000 tons. But then, having cut off our Canadian supplies, the Government decided to increase the exports from the home mills, and exports from the home mills have been stepped up this year from 60,000 tons last year to 100,000 tons this year—a loss of a further 40,000 tons to the home consumers.
Finally, by releasing the periodicals from control—and I make no complaint of this: we do not grudge other people their freedom because we still have to wear our chains—but still, by releasing the periodicals from control in March this year, and allowing their consumption to increase, we have a further loss from the common pool which we estimate at about 27,000 tons. While the prospects were 777 of an increased supply under the improved conditions, so that we might have had altogether in the pool. 131,000 tons extra this year, the decisions taken by the Government, set off against that, have in fact, meant a loss amounting to a total of 157,000 tons. That 157,000 tons would have been more than enough to enable the newspapers to be on an eight-page basis this year. Not that we asked for that. We were more modest. We should have been very satisfied with a little progress this year, and the prospect of a little more progress next year. The action of the Government in the matters to which I have referred, has deprived us of progress this year, and of the prospect of progress in the next year as well.
I must say a few words about our Canadian contracts. I do not propose to say more, because the subject is very familiar to the House and has already been referred to this evening. We are grateful to the Government for having permitted the import of 37,500 tons under our Canadian contracts in the second half of next year as well as in the first half. That puts us right under our contracts for at least the next 18 months.
The whole story is a sorry one, and the view of the Canadians about it was expressed in a letter in "The Times" the other day by Mr. Goyder, who represents the biggest group of our Canadian suppliers. In any case, we are to get only 75,000 tons from Canada next year; that is the maximum quantity we can ask for in view of the cut in the contracts made this year. The contracts have what we call an escalator clause, which limits the increase in any one year to 50,000 tons above what was ordered in the year before. However, we are thankful for what has been done, and we hope that this points the way to a return to continuity and permanence under these long-term contracts with Canada.
Our arrangements with Scandinavia are more satisfactory. We have been able to step up our imports since imports were freed to about the same total as pre-war, and there is little prospect of our being able to make any rapid or big increase in supplies from that quarter. But the arrangements are very friendly and satisfactory, and I hope they will continue so.
778 It is really to the home mills that we must look if there is to be any substantial improvement in supplies in the immediate future. I know that the Government have taken a different view, but in a reply the other day the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade put it back on to us, and said that future prospects depended on the success of the Newsprint Supply Company in their efforts to secure further imports. Well, we shall do all we can, although I have indicated the limitations.
One of the difficulties at present is that our friends the Australians—and we do not blame them for it—are not only taking 75,000 tons from us this year, but are also competing—and very keen competitors they are—in every market where we are trying to buy, and are snapping up any small surplus there-may be at prices far beyond anything we find ourselves able to pay. While the present acute world shortage of newsprint continues—and we have to recognise that that is caused primarily by the increased consumption in America—nearly the whole world is suffering from a newsprint famine, and we must be able to defend ourselves and to provide for ourselves.
Within the last 48 hours we have heard from the Board of Trade that there is a revised estimate of production from the home mills which will give us a few thousand more tons in the second half of this year, and for that we are very grateful. It may perhaps just make the difference in these next few months, though it is too early to say that yet. I will say nothing further about exports, except that we think they are too high. We quite understand the view of the Australians about that; we quite understand the attitude of the Prime Minister of Australia in pressing this matter with the British Government; and I think the British newspapers rather envy the Australian newspapers having a Government which presses the case for their own consumers so strenuously.
The issue at the moment is this. In spite of the improved prospects of supplies that have emerged during the last week or two, we still do not see any prospect for 1951 of any increase above the six-page basis. There is no reserve that we can see for any kind of emergency or disappointment in supply that 779 may occur. There is no reserve for any special consumption such as a General Election, or any increased consumption for the Festival of Britain—or, I might add, in connection with the demands that may be made on newspapers by world affairs in the coming months. I think the House should know that, should a General Election come this autumn, or in the spring, the newspapers will be less able to deal with it than they were able to deal with the election in February of this year.
The six-page basis is quite inadequate for the peace-time needs of newspapers. That has already been said over and over again, both in this House and outside it, and I will not press the point any further. Today, our newspapers are the smallest in the free world. So far from being able to look forward to a gradual expansion and increase on the present six-page basis to at least an eight-page basis, we are at the moment faced with an immediate crisis, and the immediate question whether we can even maintain the six-page basis to the end of this year. The Government have gone some way to meet us by the decisions they have made in the last week or two, but the issue is still open, and the House should realise how serious it is.
Many newspapers have told us that they are simply not prepared to cut their pages any further; they cannot do so if they are to do their duty to their readers and keep themselves on a reasonable economic basis. A further cut will mean a return to the war-time basis of rationing by tonnage, each newspaper being given a quota of tons of newsprint and being left to decide for itself whether to keep within that quota by cutting its pages or by cutting the number of copies it prints. As many newspapers would undoubtedly decide to cut the copies rather than the pages, it means that if this further cut has to be made we shall be back in the miserable condition of newspaper shortage once again, with members of the public being denied the elementary democratic right of buying the newspaper of their own choice.
That is the situation we are trying to avoid. We do not know whether or not we shall succeed. We shall do our best. But I do say that a great deal depends upon the Government, who alone have the 780 power, and who alone can take the decisions to protect the interests of the newspapers and, through them, of the public. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have something to tell us which will encourage us a little in the effort to carry on, and enable the managements of newspapers, small and large all over the country, to go for their holidays without this very heavy cloud hanging over their heads.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Hargreaves (Carlisle)
I should like to pay my tribute to the fair and eminently reasonable way in which the case was presented by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler). However, I think we all recognise that the national dailies—the morning papers at least—have not fallen short in their presentation of a statement upon the shortage of newsprint to their readers. We have all been made aware of that in recent days.
I want, if I may, to reinforce the plea that has been made on behalf of the provincial and local papers. I am sure all hon. Members will echo my thoughts. I dislike intensely the politics of the papers printed in Carlisle. One of them, the more important of the two, is owned by the Conservative Association, and a weekly by the Liberal Association. They are the only two papers printed in Carlisle and circulated in Cumberland. I dislike intensely their viewpoint, but the news is essential. It is vital that they should continue to stimulate and to help in every way the local associations of that city and that county. I believe that unless they are able to do that, we are losing a very great deal.
I suggest that from the facts which have been made known to us in recent years the Board of Trade have been enormously helpful. In fact we have had that admission from the Newsprint Supply Company. On the other hand, we cannot afford at this time to limit the value of our exports of newsprint. Competition for the Canadian supplies in terms of price comes from America and Australia, and we are the third member in the field competing for the supplies of newsprint. So it seems to me that the only way in which this endeavour on the part of all of us to meet the needs of the local and provincial papers can be satisfied, is to ask my right hon. Friend 781 to look again at the possibility of supplying or obtaining additional dollars in order that we may purchase more newsprint for 1951. I believe that every other means of expanding that newsprint has been examined, and I believe that that is the only way in which it can be done.
May I put this to the House and to my right hon. Friend? We are now entering a crisis period in which it is essential that the local papers for which I am pleading should make their readers—the families who depend on those papers for their news—fully aware of the lead that is coming from this House during the next few weeks and months. We must take the ordinary families of this country with us in the action which we are taking. We can only do that if we are fully informed in the way which Members on both sides of the House have described this afternoon.
I believe that in reinforcing the plea for the provincial and local papers, I am doing the right thing. As I indicated earlier, I think that the enormously powerful national dailies can make a very strong representation of their own case day by day, and that it is necessary for those of us who can bring the force of our opinions to bear to urge that dollars should be made available so that the supply of newsprint may be expanded.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Storey (Stretford)
Like the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves), I think that the House is indebted to my right hon. Friend who opened this Debate for the very clear manner in which he placed the issues before us. I want to say one or two things about some of the matters which he touched upon, and to reinforce the point which he made that the time has come when some latitude should be given at any rate to the larger weekly papers and perhaps to the "The Times" to decide themselves whether they would rather have it in space or in circulation. After all, we have all had a period in which our sales have been able to adjust themselves to public demand, and I think that the time has come, that adjustment having taken place, when we might be allowed some latitude as to whether we prefer extra sales or extra size.
I do not want to pursue the question of who is to blame for the present posi- 782 tion. I am much more concerned with the present position which, while it is serious for the newspapers—and may I say that I am interested in newspapers—is much more serious for those whom the newspapers serve—their readers and advertisers. If democracy is to function properly, it must be an informed democracy, but public understanding of affairs and freedom for expression of opinion cannot exist on the basis of six-page papers, to which we appear to be condemned not only for this year but for next year. It must be the aim of all of us to get back to the seven-page basis as soon as possible and soon after that to the eight-page paper which, in my opinion, is the smallest paper which can render that service to the public which it is its duty to render.
The problem of how we are to achieve that aim is, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, not a problem for Great Britain alone. It is a Commonwealth problem. A well-informed Great Britain is essential to the Commonwealth, if the Commonwealth expects Great Britain to remain the corner stone of the Commonwealth. A well-informed Commonwealth is essential to Great Britain if Great Britain wishes to see the unity of the Commonwealth maintained. It is the problem of a world shortage of newsprint and a Commonwealth shortage of dollars, and I think that it should be tackled on a Commonwealth basis, instead of being allowed to degenerate into a dog fight between the Dominions and this country as to who can get the greater shares of the dollars available or of the newsprint which is produced in this country.
The minimum needs of the Commonwealth should be the first charge on the newsprint production in the sterling area of the Commonwealth and on whatever newsprint can be bought from Scandinavia. If this is insufficient, the Government should provide sufficient dollars to cover the minimum requirements, and not until these minimum requirements have been met should individual countries and individual newspaper companies be allowed to compete in the open market. This may sound Utopian, but I think that if it were put to the Commonwealth countries in the right way, all would agree to co-operate.
I am encouraged in that belief by the resolution passed at the recent Imperial 783 Press Conference at Ottawa. That resolution declared that Government restrictions on newsprint supplies were prejudicial to the public understanding of world affairs and limited the freedom of expression of opinion. And it urged upon the Governments of the Commonwealth that free and full publication of information should not be limited by economic restrictions. If those are the views of all the papers of the Commonwealth, surely we can expect them to co-operate to achieve our purpose, and I urge upon the President of The Board of Trade that at least he should make the attempt to get Commonwealth co-operation on this matter.
The shortage of dollars is likely to continue for a long period and there is no prospect of immediate relief unless we can increase our home production or our imports from Sandinavia. In the O.E.E.C. Report this year the Government stated that the great improvement expected in Scandinavian supplies of paper-making woodpulp permits a substantial drop in the projected imports of this raw material from dollar sources. And this afternoon the President of the Board of Trade told us that there was no shortage of raw materials. That has been contradicted from this side of the House.
My right hon. Friend mentioned that he had been told by the paper makers that there was a shortage of raw materials, and we are entitled to ask the President of the Board of Trade, is the failure of the home mills to attain their target due to a lack of raw materials or due to lack of machine capacity? If it is the latter, then it is yet another instance of our troubles being due entirely to the Government failure to bring home to the management and workers of this country the fact that our shortages can be reduced by working a little longer, and of their failure to give an incentive to the management and workers to give that extra work which would enable us to produce the additional newsprint.
With regard to raw materials, it has always seemed to me that to use good timber for the manufacture of newsprint is extravagant and that something should be done to find new raw materials. Now that our only sources of raw materials are either dollar ones or Scandinavia or Finland—areas peculiarly subject to 784 Russian pressure—it is even more desirable to find alternative raw material within the sterling area of the Commonwealth.
Australia has tackled this problem with great enterprise and their efforts to use the eucalyptus tree have met with a large measure of success. When, during the war, I visited their newsprint mill in Tasmania, I was greatly impressed with the initiative shown in the handling of difficult material and in the quality of the finished product. We should try to do something of the same sort, and particularly we should examine the possibility of using the residual fibre of sugar cane—I hope I may have the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this point, which I will repeat. I feel we should examine the possibility of using the residual fibre of sugar cane, which is technically known as bagasse.
I understand that extensive research has been undertaken in the United States where a newspaper is already printed on newsprint made from 100 per cent bagasse. The Argentine also have carried out extensive research in this matter, and in Brazil the papers use 80 per cent. of it in their newsprint. Has any research been undertaken in this country and have any steps been taken to encourage British paper mills to exploit this kind of raw material which is now largely wasted? Not only would it save dollars, not only would it give us an alternative source of supply to Scandinavia, but it would help to develop our West Indian Colonies.
In conclusion, I want to stress again the urgency of finding the means to increase our supplies of newsprint. If newspapers are to render the service which it is their duty to render, if they are to cover world affairs, if they are to cover national affairs, if they are to cover our local affairs, they cannot do so on the six pages which we are promised until the end of next year. It just will not do. During that period we shall not only have our present crisis in international affairs, we expect to have the Festival of Britain, we may have a General Election.
In such events it is quite impossible within the space of six pages to give adequate news service and to ensure a well-informed public opinion. It is quite impossible to give adequate space to ensure that British goods are fully made known to the thousands of visitors we 785 expect in this country. Therefore, I join with other hon. Members in urging the President of the Board of Trade to make the utmost efforts to find additional supplies of newsprint so that the size of our papers can be increased at an early date.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harold Wilson)
Having listened to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey) with that rapt attention which his speeches always command, I still cannot feel that he has helped us to find any solution to the problem with which we are faced. Although he made an eloquent appeal for the development of alternative sources of material supplies—which is a long-term proposition in which I certainly join—he will realise that since the limitation of production at present is not largely raw materials but machine capacity, his proposals are of little short-term value.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
If the hon. Gentleman wants to make any additional suggestions to those he made in his speech about the length of the working week, I shall be glad to give way to him, and I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. P. Wells), who represents one of the principal areas involved, will be able to deal with his suggestions.
I join with the hon. Member in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) for the restrained way in which he opened this Debate this evening. Although I could not follow the right hon. Gentleman in all the facts to which he treated us, I felt that the greater part of his speech was very restrained and reasonable. Of course, as is usual in the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, sometimes his perorations work up to a state of synthetic enthusiasm and he commits himself, no doubt with a feeling that it is the duty of the Opposition to speak in this way, to phrases and charges which the whole burden of his earlier speech has been quite unable to support. Ignoring his peroration, which, I suppose, he felt he had to make, I welcomed the restrained and reasonable manner in which he put the case tonight.
The right hon. Member treated us to an interesting historical survey. A good deal of what he said covering the past four or five years was, I agree, highly 786 relevant to the situation we are facing. He jumped a little from 1947 to the present day without a very full survey of the intervening period, and I hope to make good that gap in the account which he gave. I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman, although I express my agreement with a lot of what he said, in his account of all the difficulties with which newspapers are faced when supplies of newsprint are restricted. His account of their difficulties was quite a fair one and would be agreed in all parts of the House.
I made a fairly full statement on the newsprint situation in the House nine days ago. Since then, as the right hon. Gentleman commented, I have supplemented that statement with the announcement that dollars would be made available for the purchase of some 37,500 tons in the second half of 1951, making up a total of 100,000 tons in all in the 18 months from July, 1950, to December, 1951. I fear that I shall have little new to add tonight to my statement of nine days ago, but I will try to deal with the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) who followed him, and by other hon. Members.
Perhaps I should first repeat, in case it may not be clear to some of those who have read the rather perverted accounts of the situation which we have been reading in the past few days, that the Government do not buy newsprint. The hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop), tonight made clear this particular division of responsibility. Newsprint is bought by the Newsprint Supply Company, which acts on behalf of the newspaper companies. The hon. Member, of course, explained his position with that important agency.
The Government come into the picture at three main points. First, in relation to the allocation of dollars. Second, in fixing a limit to the amount which the newspaper mills export and, of course, influencing the markets to which it is sent. I emphasise the need for fixing a limit, because if we did not have export licences the amount of newsprint now being exported would be greater. Third, it is the duty of the Government to control the proportions of home newsprint going to newspapers, on the one hand, 787 and to other users, including periodicals, and so on, on the other hand, and to control to some extent the manufacture of newsprint as compared with other things which can be manufactured with the same capacity. It is true, of course, that the Government are responsible also for import licensing of newsprint from soft currency sources, but, as I am sure the hon. Member for Harrow, Central, would agree, that such import licensing is purely a formality and is in general automatic.
So far as the allocation of dollars is concerned—and I want to deal with that in more detail later—it is true that if we had been able to afford more dollars for Canadian newsprint we would not have had the present situation. I think that is undoubtedly true, but what most newspaper accounts have failed to emphasise, or indeed have indignantly denied, is that, even given that decision, the newspapers themselves did take the view earlier this year that the newsprint position was easier and would justify the taking of risks on the size of newspapers in the first half of this year. I do not think anyone will contest that statement.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden referred to the size of stocks and I think he was concerned, and perhaps rightly concerned, about the size of those stocks if certain contingencies took place which resulted in the cutting off of our present sources of supply. But I am bound to remind the House that only three or four months ago the representatives of the newspapers came to see me and said that in their view stocks were too high at present and involved difficulties of financing and that they could not finance that large volume. They wanted the agreement of the Government to have a larger newspaper or to continue the then size of the newspaper for some time to work off some of those stocks.
As I explained in the House on 18th July, I made no criticism, and I make no criticism now, of the newspapers for taking this optimistic view. That is why I interrupted the hon. Member for Harrow, Central, when I thought I detected him using the word "blame." What I said was:I imply no criticism of their over-optimism; indeed, as the House knows, the Government accepted the estimates that were made by the Newsprint Supply Company788 I went on to say:Neither they—the Newsprint Supply Company—nor we—the Government—could be blamed for failing to foresee the very remarkable change in world supplies as a result of what is quite a small percentage change in consumption by the United States newspapers, and, in fact, as the House well knows, the total consumption of newsprint by the American Press is on such a huge scale that quite a small percentage change in it is bound to lead to quite serious effects in the supply of newsprint, particularly in the soft currency countries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2229.]That was the statement I made and I am sure the whole House would agree that in that lies the reason for the change in the situation. Certainly, my statement was correct that too optimistic a view was taken. I make it quite clear that I blame no one for that optimistic view, because we agreed with it and accepted it.
§ Mr. Bishop
I do not want the House to assume that I am accepting at all this charge of over-optimism. I say there never was any over-optimism on the part of the newspapers. We sent a circular to every newspaper, warning them of the dangers ahead and saying that the outlook was affected by several factors:(a) the total cessation of imports from Canada;(b) a large increase in exports from the home mills (under Government order);(c) increased world demand on other non-dollar sources of supply.
§ Mr. Wilson
I do not for a moment deny what the hon. Member has said. I have a copy of the same letter, but I did not know whether he wanted to bandy about the correspondence in our Debate this evening. I would not have chosen to read out sections from his letters because we have had the happiest relations with him, as he said tonight, over a period of over 10 years. Naturally, one does not want to use letters which pass in the ordinary way of negotiation for the purposes of a controversial Debate. But, if the hon. Member chooses to read an extract from his letter of 4th April to his various constituents—I am referring not to Parliamentary constituents but newspaper constituents—he should go on to read the concluding portion and tell the House that, having said that these factors made the outlook 789 for the second half of 1950 rather uncertain, he went on to say:It must not be assumed that the seven-page basis would continue after 2nd July. Indeed, it seems most probable we shall have to revert to the six-page paper, at least for the second half of this year.The impression—and I am not in any sense criticising the estimate made by the hon. Member, because I cannot see that anyone could make a different estimate—was that he was expecting a seven-page paper for part of the second half of this year and a six-page paper for part. In fact the situation has become so much more serious, as he better than anyone else knows, that we have been fighting very hard and are still fighting very hard even to maintain the six-page newspaper for the second half of the year.
Therefore, I think I am justified in saying, on the basis of that estimate which was made—I did not mean to quote that letter tonight—that events have turned out to be rather more disappointing than the forecast. So I cannot accept any of these accusations that have been made in the Press recently of bad stewardship or bad estimating on the part of the Government. I accept the fact that all of us concerned in these estimates have found that they have not been realised because of the factors I have mentioned and to which the hon. Member quite correctly referred this evening.
The second general point I wish to make is that the recent reduction in the size of newspapers is not a cut in the sense that it is a fall below the level which we expected earlier in the year. As the House knows, newspapers, which had an average size of about four pages some two years ago, which climbed to five and six pages last year, were at the beginning of this year six-page papers.
Before the election it was agreed that the size of the newspapers should be increased to seven pages for the election period, that is for a period of a very few weeks. But before the election the Newsprint Supply Company came to see me and said that they thought that the position was sufficiently easy to justify the continuance of the election increase right up to July. I was more cautious, as I had to be, because the prospective supply position was by no means clear at that time. However, like the Newsprint Supply Company, I hoped that it would be possible to maintain the seven-page newspaper 790 throughout the first half of the year and not have to revert to six pages immediately after the election. In any event, I thought it wrong that the newspapers should have to come down to six pages and then, immediately after the election, if the supply position permitted, provide that they could increase in size again. The right hon. Gentleman has given us an interesting account of newspaper printing economics. There is nothing more disturbing than sudden changes in the size of a newspaper, which makes planning impossible.
The Newsprint Supply Company was informed that we would agree to the election increase being continued until Easter, and that between the election and Easter we would have a discussion with them to see if it would be possible to continue that increase in the second quarter, that is until July. When we met for this purpose in March the newspaper representatives drew attention to the high level of stocks—I agreed with their remarks—and suggested that instead of the Government coming in periodically to fix the size of the newspapers the trade body should themselves have freedom within limits to fix the size of the papers, provided that stocks did not fall below 100,000 tons. Immediately that request was made I informed them that if that was agreed to they must understand that plans must be made without any assumption of dollar newsprint and without any assumption of any interference with the figure which had been set aside for exports to the Commonwealth. That was clearly understood before the meeting broke up.
This letter, which was afterwards sent confirming the freedom to fix the size of newspapers—and the hon. Gentleman has called attention, perhaps a little ungraciously, to the tone in which it was expressed—merely confirmed what I had said at that meeting. In the light of estimates—I agree with the hon. Member that they were agreed estimates; we had to rely to a considerable extent on the Newsprint Supply Company for estimates—the newspapers, in the light of what they thought they could buy in soft currency countries and from home production, settled within the freedom to fix their own size, that the seven-page paper should continue until July. As they told me at the time, they hoped to have seven pages for a considerable part of the second half of 791 the year. Surely in the face of that if it is seriously maintained that the Government and the Government alone are responsible for miscalculating the situation over the past few months, and if—some newspapers are maintaining this line—the newspapers are going to say that any reasonable man in the early spring could have foreseen the present situation, then the newspapers are convicting themselves of bad faith.
If in March any reasonable man would have said that we were going to be faced with such a serious supply situation, I do not see how the newspapers themselves in March or April could have fixed the papers at seven pages if they were going to endanger the six-page paper in the second part of the year. To argue, as some editorials have been arguing, that the present supply position should have been foreseen at that time must mean that the newspapers were taking a chance on the higher page newspapers in the hope that if their estimates did go wrong they would be able to organise some campaign for a release of dollars. That was the impression that anyone would form from reading some editorials in recent weeks.
For my part I do not in the slightest charge the industry with bad faith. I believe they fixed the seven-page paper in good faith. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) is shaking his head, but I accept that they thought there would be enough supplies from soft currency areas to make possible, at least, the maintenance of six-page newspapers in the second half of the year. They did it in all good faith, but as it turned out their estimates proved over-optimistic. I do not criticise the trade for that any more than I criticise myself for accepting their estimates.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
Was it not on 11th March that Mr. Goyda wrote a letter to "The Times" foreseeing the deficiency in existing supplies?
§ Mr. Wilson
I believe it was. I well remember 11th March; it happened to be my birthday, and I remember being greeted on my birthday morn with this gloomy forecast. If it is to be said now that I should have been moved by that forecast from Mr. Goyda, who was not entirely a disinterested party, and should have started to turn dollar programmes 792 upside down, cut expenditure on timber in order to make certain that the newspapers would get the supplies, and so on, then equally, on reading that letter on that Saturday morning, the Newsprint Supply Company should have immediately decided that it was far too dangerous to introduce or maintain seven-page newspapers for more than another two or three weeks.
The two main points which have been brought out so far in this Debate are that the present difficulties are due to the Government, which I think I have done something to answer, though I hope in an uncontroversial manner, because I am not trying to throw blame on the trade, but trying to show that the situation has engulfed both the trade and the Government, because they were not able to forecast the movement of world supplies that has actually taken place. The second thing that has inspired this Debate is some sort of feeling on the part of the Opposition and certainly on the part of certain newspapers that the Government could, if they so wished, change the present position overnight by a wave of some kind of magic wand. I want to rebut both those suggestions.
I do not intend tonight to go over the long Debates that there have been in this House about the Canadian contracts, but I must remind the House that with an acute dollar shortage, particularly in 1947 and 1949, we were continuously faced with the problem whether we were going to cut newsprint or something else, which hon. Gentlemen opposite would have considered as being equally vital. If we had maintained newsprint supplies it could only have been done by further reduction in the supply of timber.
The hon. Member for Newbury has been on his feet a dozen times, to my knowledge, on the question of dollars for Canadian timber. The House knows very well—and he knows very well—how serious has been the timber situation in the past few weeks, for one reason, and one only, and that is the shortage of dollars for Canadian timber last year. Had we cut the Canadian dollar programme for timber still further, in order to maintain these newsprint supplies, we should have greatly endangered the housing programme, and this at a time when the party opposite were disfiguring the posters with stories about letting the builders build you a house now.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
Was timber the only other commodity of which we could have gone short? There must have been other ways of arranging our dollar purchases.
§ Mr. Wilson
The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have been through this subject in the House. I have never heard him, or any other right hon. Gentleman, suggest on what forms of dollar expenditure with Canada we could have reduced our purchases. Indeed, I can think of many occasions when we have been criticised for not buying more. Canned salmon is only one example. There have been many others. Certainly, if the right hon. Gentleman had then, or has now, any suggestion to make about the items which could be further cut we should, of course, always be very glad to hear what he has to say.
§ Mr. Fort (Clitheroe)
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would have been possible to sell more steel and heavy machinery to Canada instead of shipping it to the Iron Curtain countries?
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman should not come forward with these remarks about Anglo-Canadian trade until, at least, he has spent a little time reading the account of the Debate on Anglo-Canadian trade which we had in this House a few weeks ago. Then he would see that that view which has been put forward, and which still keeps coming up regularly, was completely demolished, and that no hon. Gentleman opposite attempted to reply to the argument then. The hon. Gentleman knows, or he should know, that the amount of steel which has been shipped beyond the Iron Curtain would have made practically no difference at all to the supply of timber which we could have got from Canada. He knows also that it has not in any way affected the supply of machinery to Canada. Really, the hon. Gentleman should not try to bring that into the Debate.
§ Mr. Fort
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have in my hand a letter forwarded to me from the agent of a supplier of paper accessories to Canada? This letter is from the Canadian agent of this company reporting to England. It says that they have been unable to get orders in the last year, because the Canadian paper manufacturers will not place orders in this country when we will not buy paper from them.
§ Mr. Wilson
Now the bon. Gentleman is making an entirely different argument. A few moments ago he was saying that we would have bought the timber if we had not supplied machinery and steel elsewhere. Having been pushed off that argument, he comes to an entirely different point and says that paper manufacturers will not buy our machinery because we have not been buying their paper. I should be sorry to believe that the hon. Gentleman's account of the attitude of the Canadian paper manufacturers is correct. I am sure that they realise, as those whom I met last year in Canada realised, that our inability to buy more from them is the result of our dollar situation, and that the more we can do to increase our exports to Canada, the more we shall be able to buy from them. That has already been seen in the results of our increased purchases of certain Canadian products in the past few weeks. Really, I do not think that suggestions of that kind will help us forward at all.
§ Mr. Wilson
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be successful in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I cannot continue to give way while he brings up one red herring after another, only to fail to carry us forward in this Debate.
It has been suggested, though not very much this evening, that the newspapers were misled by the Government, in certain questions affecting the supplies of newsprint which would be available to them. First, there was the question of imports from soft currency sources. I think that I have dealt with that. But the suggestion has also been made on a number of occasions in the document circulated recently in the Press, that the Government misled the Newsprint Supply Company on the question of exports. Of course, they knew on 16th January, long before the decision to maintain the seven-page newspaper, that exports would be at least 95,000 tons. In fact, when they took their decision on 4th April there was no ceiling on exports, and they had been told, as one hon. Gentleman said in his quotation from the letter he had received, that exports would have priority. In fact, on 25th April, in order to help to maintain supplies, we did agree to limit exports to this figure of 100,000 tons this year.
795 It has also been suggested that we misled them on supplies from the home mills. There was definitely here, I agree, an over-estimate—
§ Mr. Butler
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves exports, will he give some answers to the questions about remedies which I put to him?
§ Sir I. Fraser
May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? How much of the exports are subject to contracts, both last year and in the forthcoming year?
§ Mr. Wilson
I have informed the hon. Gentleman that, so far as this year is concerned, something between 98,000 and 99,000 tons out of 100,000 tons are subject to contract. So far as next year is concerned, 71,000 tons are subject to contract covering the same period. That is what I have been informed after consultation with the mills, and I give the hon. Gentleman that information.
With regard to production from the home mills, there was an over-estimate of production of between 5,000 and 6,000 tons on a total production of 560,000 tons. That is an error of about 1 per cent., but in so far as this over-estimate is concerned, it was corrected within a day or two before there was time for it to have affected the position about the maintenance of the seven-page newspapers. The plain fact is that, although pulp was available, the machines, in fact, were not. I do not think the newspapers would claim that they were surprised by the sudden reversion of periodicals to freedom, because, of course, that was announced some time before Christmas.
With regard to the immediate situation, and what the Government can do to help. In the first place, we are always prepared to license any quantity of imports for soft currency. Indeed, we have authorised dollars for the maximum amount of imports which the Newsprint Supply Company think could be made available to them, including any under existing contracts and three times this year we have advanced the position in regard to dollars in response to surveys of the situation by the Newsprint Supply Company of their prospective requirements and prospective 796 supplies. First, we agreed to 25,000 tons for the second half of this year; then, when they said it was quite impossible to get this without something being done for the first half of next year, we agreed to that; and, when they found, somewhat to their disappointment, although they had forecast it, that they could not get supplies unless something was done for the second half of next year, that announcement was made last week.
§ Mr. Bishop
I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to allow me to correct that. It is quite untrue that this series of applications, step by step, was made. We have never ceased to press for our contracts to be honoured, and, when I came back from Canada at the beginning of June, the application was made in writing to the Board of Trade on 15th June, pressing strongly to import the whole of the amount we asked for in 1951.
§ Mr. Wilson
I have never sought to deny that, and I have had a further look at these letters only today. [Interruption.] I am glad to see that the expert on machinery supplies and steel supplies is also an expert on the negotiations between the Newsprint Supply Company and the Government.
I was going on to say that the hon. Gentleman is quite right, and that on a number of occasions they pressed the desirability and indeed the importance of maintaining the continuity of these contracts for as long ahead as possible, and certainly up to the end of 1951. I certainly agree with that statement, altough the maintenance of six-page newspapers was a topic of further discussion about the supply of dollars. The first time it was put to me I agreed that the maintenance of six-page newspapers was dependent on supplies of dollars for the second half of 1950, and, though that meeting took place on 10th July, it was on the 20th July that I announced that these dollars had been made available.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what was the position about home production and the development programmes in the newsprint mills. As a result of what has been going on there, we expect to see another 100,000 tons of production beginning in 1952. We are certainly prepared to consider further increases if the mills concerned put forward proposals. The right hon. Gentleman knows the difficulty 797 there has been about financial expansions in capital investment. In fact, his own party has joined with the leaders of mine in stressing the need for a reduction in capital investment at various times. However, there should be this increased capacity in 1952, though I agree that is not much value to us in our immediate situation, in 1950. The right hon. Gentleman also asked about materials.
A good deal has been said in the past few weeks about dollar newsprint. Perhaps I should say a word about what the Government have done in the last few months to ensure that home production of newsprint shall be maintained at full capacity. We have released dollars for the importation of 20,000 tons of mechanical pulp and 35,000 fathoms of pulp-wood for just this purpose, as well as authorising dollars for 50,000 tons of sulphite pulp, all of it for newsprint. I hope that will reassure the right hon. Gentleman because the dollars authorised are sufficient to maintain the mills in this country in absolutely full production.
The other remaining point, I think, is the question of the level of exports. As the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have said, it is very easy to suggest that there should be a reduction in the present level of exports, but, of course, I think hon. Members opposite realise what the results would be. Practically the whole of the exports are going to Commonwealth countries, and. in the ordinary way, this would be dollar saving to the Commonwealth and sterling area as a whole.
The hon. Member for Harrow, Central stressed the additional difficulties which our own newsprint importers would have to face if the Australians cut down their supplies from this country and attempted to buy greater quantities from Scandinavia at the prices to which he referred. Of course, we have to think particularly of the Colonial requirements of newsprint as well as of the requirements of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, because we have a very special responsibility—I put it to the House in all seriousness—for ensuring that the newspapers in the Colonies are fully maintained. I do not need to stress, because I have mentioned it before, the importance of maintaining the position of our newsprint mills whose long-term interests are very much bound up with certain export 798 markets, particularly supplies to the Australian market. Nor can we forget the contribution which these exports are making to our balance of trade, especially with Australia.
We have been considering very carefully the position of exports for next year. We are under strong pressure from Australia, South Africa, and from a number of other countries, and we have received representations on the very highest level from those countries that we should increase the level of exports above the present figure. The suggestion has been made by South Africa that if we send a further 16,000 tons they will provide the dollars with which to buy the pulp, and so on. But we have decided to put the ceiling for next year at the same figure as for 1950, and exports will not be licensed for a higher figure in 1951 than they have been in 1950.
To sum up, the present position is that the newspapers on present estimates will have received enough during 1950 to have a permitted allocation of six pages throughout the year, plus the General Election addition. If they are now able to obtain all the imports, including Canadian imports now authorised by the Government, together with those which we and they hope they will get from Europe, they should be able to avoid any further cut and to maintain six pages until the end of 1951. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery asked us to look further ahead. I entirely agree with him, and with the point put by a number of hon. Members that in the matter of newsprint supplies one cannot go on the basis of buying job lots. It would be impossible—and I think the House would recognise the impossibility—for me to make any commitments on behalf of the Government to provide dollars for two or three years ahead so far as that is concerned, because we have to think of the dollar situation. But I can say to the House that the Government do regard the continued importation of newsprint from Canada as one of the most important of our imports and one we are most keen to maintain.
We want that, in the interest of Anglo-Canadian trade just as much as in the interest of maintaining supplies to the newspapers. While I cannot give an absolute guarantee—in the event of a further sharp deterioration in our dollar 799 position that hope could not be maintained—it will be the intention of the Government to maintain these purchases for as long a period ahead as possible. I agree that a six page newspaper is not a very bright prospect, and I should like to see eight pages; but if the trade can get the quantities authorised from Canada there should be no need for any further cut.
The hon. Member for Harrow, Central, taking perhaps a realistic view of the situation, referred to the possibility of tonnage rationing. I agree with him that it would be a very serious thing if that were to happen. He asked us not to interfere with the newsprint rationing committee, and I hope that if tonnage rationing does have to be introduced special consideration will be given to the position of the weekly provincial papers.
The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden stressed their importance. I think they are important, not only for the reasons given, but also because they are an essential part of the economic life, as well as the social life of those areas, because, without their advertisement columns, a good deal of the necessary rural trade could not be continued. It will certainly be the case that, on newsprint grounds, there will be no need to impose a tonnage rationing cut on provincial weeklies. If a 10 per cent. cut were applied, that would save only 3,000 tons in the next five months, and on newsprint grounds I do not think anyone would say that that was necessary. If it were done it would only be to satisfy the canons of equality of misery. It is agreed that we should all like to see larger newspapers, but I must contradict the extravagant line taken by some commentators that we are the worst informed newspaper reading public in the world.
I have already told the House that, although many countries have larger newspapers, we have more newspapers per head than any other country in the world. We have 570 whereas the United States, the fifth in the list, has only 357. In terms of what is the real test, if statistics of newsprint can be any gauge of the extent of information given to the public, as I have already informed the House—and the figures were 800 borne out by statistics published by U.N.E.S.C.O. the morning after our last Debate—we stand very high in the list, although, of course, we are a considerable way below the United States. The United States have a consumption, in kilograms per head per annum, of about 35. Canada has a consumption of just over 20; Sweden, another country producing newsprint, 16.
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman should not carry that point too far.
Sweden, producing newsprint for all its requirements and all its exports as well, consumed 16, Australia 16, New Zealand 13, Hawaii—which always amuses the House—13, Switzerland 13, the United Kingdom 12, and some 50 or 60 other countries had lower figures. It would be wrong to give the impression that we are the worst supplied country in the world as far as newsprint is concerned. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter), who has worked so long for the "Express" newspapers that he can present the facts as he likes, says that we are one of the worst, when, in fact, we are among the 12 highest of some 70 or 80 countries.
§ Mr. Wilson
We would still be first if it were not for the dollar situation arising out of the war. Hon. Members opposite must take account of that. When I hear remarks of the kind with which we are treated from hon. Members opposite, I must tell them to face up to the responsibility of our dollar situation. It is no good saying that we ought to grant more dollars for newsprint unless they or some of them are willing to say what dollar imports should be cut, or at least make some suggestion, which we have never had from them, of how our dollar earnings can be increased.
I have attempted to explain the situation as the Government understand it, and I have given the House a full review of the prospects as far as we can see them in the period ahead. I have answered fully all that was put to me with respect to dollar allocations for this year and next year. I should like to close by saying that we regard the supply of newsprint to the papers as a very high priority indeed in the imports to this country, and our dollar 801 purchasing programme as far as we are able to control it will reflect the very high priority which we give to it.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Scott (Penrith and The Border)
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not immediately follow him in some of the arguments which he has been putting forward. I am very glad that I have had the opportunity of speaking in this Debate if for no other reason than that it will enable me to answer a rather extraordinary statement made by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves). I am glad to see that he is still in his place. He paid a tribute to the local newspapers published in Carlisle—both the Liberal and the Conservative papers—but if I understood him aright—I hope I did; I will give way to him if I did misunderstand him—he went on to say that the Conservative paper was owned by the Conservative Association. That statement is entirely incorrect, and I can only say that the hon. Member for Carlisle has been entirely misinformed.
§ Mr. Hargreaves
If the hon. Member will look at the imprimatur on the last page of the "Cumberland Evening News" he will notice that the statement I made was correct.
§ Mr. Hargreaves
Would the hon. Gentleman mind giving way again? I have made a statement, and I have repeated it. The newspaper to which I have referred bears the words which I have said it bears. The owner and printer is the Association to which I have referred. That does not permit of any argument.
§ Mr. Scott
The hon. Member and I must get together, and we must look at this. If he is right and I am wrong, I shall be only to pleased to apologise to him publicly.
We heard a great deal at the beginning of this Debate about the importance of the weekly provincial newspaper and the great part that it has to fulfil in our national life. I do not apologise for coming back to that subject, particularly as the President of the Board of Trade 802 spent only two or three moments in dealing with this most important subject. I do not know how many newspapers of that type there may be in the British Isles, but I do know that wherever one goes within these islands one finds a local newspaper. It may have a big or a small circulation. It may or it may not be politically minded. It may be an excellent paper or it may be an indifferent paper.
But all these papers have one thing in common, if they are any good at all—they are very deeply beloved by their readers. As more than one hon. Gentleman has said tonight, their readers look forward every week to the delivery of that paper. The paper is beloved by its readers for one reason—because that type of paper gives news which cannot be read anywhere else. These papers give a picture of the flow and the way of English life—births, deaths, marriages, social activities, sporting activities; indeed, everything, one might say, from a Girl Guides' rally to the proceedings of the local council and the local council rows.
The point has been dealt with already, but I do not think sufficient emphasis has been placed on the commercial importance of these papers. Not only do they carry the agricultural advertisements but, at the same time, they give the agricultural intelligence which the fanner must have. They tell the farmer what happened at the local sheep sale last week, at the local store cattle sale or at the local pig sale. They tell him the state of the local corn market. Gone are the days when the farmer had time to go to one market on one day and another market on the next day—to go all round the countryside. Today, he has to stick to his job at home and the local paper is the only way in which he can keep in touch with his market intelligence. The local paper is the medium through which the farm worker finds a vacancy and through which the farmer is able to fill a vacancy which occurs on his staff. There again, gone are the days of the hiring fairs at which employer and employee met.
If those two functions, the social and the commercial functions, are to continue, I suggest, as many hon. Members have suggested tonight, that preference must be given to a solution of this problem of the 3d. provincial weekly paper. If I had 803 a little more time—and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak tonight—I should have developed the argument that these papers not only fulfil those two great functions and duties but act as a wonderful link between a district and those who have left it for one cause and another, particularly those who have gone to live abroad. They keep alive the local patriotism which is very valuable.
Finally, I do not think enough has been said about the fact that it is the provincial weekly Press which is the nursery, or the preparatory school if hon. Members prefer it, of that journalism which has made the British Press famous, envied, and I think beloved throughout the world.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I shall not be expected to follow the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Scott) in relating his own knowledge of his own newspaper in his own district, but I am certain that if he is correctly reported in his local newspaper, he will find he has made some mistakes. In the first place, it is not the "Cumberland Times" but the "Cumberland News"—
§ Mr. Jones
I was interested in trying to keep the hon. Gentleman absolutely correct in his effort to keep himself right with his local newspaper, in which he has a particular interest.
I should like to congratulate the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) who opened the Debate. I thought his was a well-reasoned, well-thought-out, non-partisan speech of the type which we should hear more often. We heard very little of that type of speech earlier today. I think, too, we should congratulate my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade for the reasoned reply, full of information, which he has given to the House.
I want to declare my interest in this matter. I am interested because I want the people of this country to have the opportunity to be as fully and correctly informed as possible. I could make a 804 long speech about what I think of the use made of newsprint. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), Leader of the Liberal Party, complained bitterly that brilliant articles written by budding journalists and writers never appeared in the Press. While there are thousands of square yards of space wasted every week in headlines in the daily newspapers which are directed against the Government, room will not be found for the type of article to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred. The hon. Member for South-gate (Mr. Baxter) shakes his head. If he will look at the newspapers tomorrow morning and apply the rule—not the slide rule, but the ordinary rule used at school—and measure out the amount of space given to headlines, and multiply it by the millions of newspapers published each morning, and then find the aggregate amount of space so used, he will find I am completely correct.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
I shook my head because the hon. Gentleman said that the headlines attacking the Government were a waste of space, and I do not think they are, because they give hope.
§ Mr. Jones
I am completely satisfied that they are a waste, judged by the votes cast by the people who look at the headlines. One can judge only from results.
The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort), in one of his rather naive suggestions, said that more machinery should have been sent to Canada instead of being sent behind the Iron Curtain. He suggested that we should use steel in that way—steel, of which I know a little: just a little—sending it to Canada to enable further imports to be obtained. I would remind the hon. Member that unless we sent machinery of the type we have sent behind the Iron Curtain, and to Russia in particular, such things as grain and wheat, out of which our bread is made, would not be forthcoming from there. Further, timber to build houses has to be obtained by the usual arrangements—business arrangements—made between the nation which can supply and the nation which can pay in goods for such commodities.
Personally, I want to see additional newsprint made available. I believe the Government have made every effort to 805 obtain it. The evidence is in being. We have had proof positive on three distinct occasions this year that the President has made it possible to have more dollars available for more newsprint. I am a little worried about the type of speeches we hear from the Opposition benches. I am ready to admit that we have heard speeches tonight full of the real desire to help constituents, but we have also heard other speeches about which I feel dubious. There were speeches which seemed to be more concerned that newsprint should be available out of which profits could be made, rather than that there should be newsprint available—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not agree. I am glad they refute that suggestion. I shall be happy to look into it and satisfy myself that on this occasion they are right, because I believe there is a genuine desire, generally speaking, throughout the country for our people to be more fully informed.
I want to reinforce the plea made on behalf of the provincial newspapers. The editor of my particular weekly newspaper happens to be one of the four Independent members—the rest being Labour members—of the town council, and it will not, therefore, be supposed that he is a great political friend of mine. I am satisfied with this, that the more space is made available for the opponents of Socialism to state their case, the better we Socialists will like it. It sounds a bit Irish, but there it is. The more opportunity and space given to the people who do not like our particular philosophy and policy to expound their ideas, the better it suits us, who, all too often, have our views distorted.
If there is an additional allocation of newsprint in this country the provincial newspapers ought to get it. I, like other hon. Members on either side of the House, agree that the local newspapers—what I would call "the family chronicle"—is the one from which we learn of the local weddings, deaths, the pensioners' celebration, the cricket match, the bazaar, the allotments society show, the council's debates and who has grown the biggest marrow. It is the local newspapers that carry on our heritage and express our interest in the things of our daily lives.
806 I ask the Minister to make certain, through his good offices, that when additional newsprint is made available it is not directed to where it can be used for scare headlines, such as I have indicated, but is so directed that we can get a reasonable account of local and national events which interest local inhabitants. A well-informed highly enlightened public will respond better, and will thereby create a spirit throughout the country which will enable us in our workshops to earn extra dollars, and thus to make even more newsprint available.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
Because so many other hon. Members want to speak, I shall be very brief indeed. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Jack Jones), to whose opinions we always listen with great interest, more for his experience than his deductions, made one or two errors. I understood him to say that some newspapers were looking forward to using extra newsprint for making extra profit.
§ Mr. Jack Jones
No. What I said was that those people interested in extra newsprint were concerned about the sale of such newsprint, not newspapers.
§ Mr. Baxter
I will not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman on that, but I would just say that no newspaper group has fought harder for extra newsprint than the "Daily Express" group; they have given a great deal of space to it, and fought very hard. But if they were cut down to two pages—and I say this as a shareholder—their profits would be increased by £1 million a year. They are really more anxious to have space for news than for making money. Newspapers have long passed from being purely money-making concerns, and it would be very unwise for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say anything against that point of view, because I am right in what I say.
We listened tonight with great sympathy to the President of the Board of Trade, because he intended to do well but could not do well because the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not find the dollars. I sincerely believe that the President of the Board of Trade is anxious to maintain as much Anglo-Canadian trade as possible. I shall not repeat the joke I made last time we 807 discussed this. I believe he is anxious. But after all, what can Canada think when the responsible Minister writes to the Newsprint Supply Company and puts a letter into Lord Layton's pocket to go to Canada authorised by His Majesty's Government to contract for 300,000 tons each year for 1949, 1950 and 1951?
They must assume that the responsible Ministers, the President of the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, must have foreseen, within reason, their difficulties, and the Canadians thereupon enter into a contract which they would honour, no matter at what cost. I say this with some knowledge of the Canadian industry. If they had been offered a much bigger price they would have said, "We are contracted to Britain." But what have His Majesty's Government said? "Because of the difficulties that have come upon us we cannot carry it through," and Lord Layton is unable to carry on with the three-year contract.
The other night in an Adjournment Debate I said something about wondering why we were continuing to export to Australia at such a level, and the President of the Board of Trade at once paid me the compliment, and the rebuke, of saying that I was a great champion of Empire trade. I do not think that is a bad thing; but I would point out that while exports to Australia are important to Empire trade, so are imports from Canada, and Canada has been bedevilled over and over again by the policy of this Government.
I know the difficulties, but let us make no mistake about it. The Government urged the Canadians to grow apples, and eventually they had to tear up tens of thousands of apple trees which they grew in response to the Lord President's appeal. That was a terrible moment, when men had sown the seed and seen the fruit grow, and then had to tear it up. Believe me, it is no laughing matter. It is a very serious thing.
I should like to pass on to one or two other points. It is very difficult to believe that the attitude of this Government towards the Press is not to some extent malignant. It is very difficult, being as fair as possible, not to believe that. I can understand that, although I have never held office—because one must 808 have some imagination in politics—when a Government has to wake up every morning and read that the majority of newspapers are hostile to it. I can understand that in comparison with the theatre. People put on a play and the critics on the first night say that the play is very bad and Mrs. Smith is terrible. After that the critics disappear. If every night the critics said, with the accuracy which one attributes entirely to critics, "This show is worse than we first thought," I can understand the annoyance to the actors. They would wish the critics would disappear from this earth.
I can, therefore, readily understand these persecuted men, this Socialist Government, as they talk at some seaside resort—because they always go to the sea to blow the cobwebs out of their brains—saying, "This is terrible"; and certainly the way in which the Lord President inspired his stooges to work their way up for a Royal Commission on the Press was a contemptible thing, and it is very hard, when we put all these things together, not to feel that the Government has a malignant approach to the problems of the Press.
§ Mr. Wilson
I would not like that to go out from this House without being answered. I have said on a number of occasions—and I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept this—that the question of how newspapers use the newsprint which we are able to make available is entirely a matter for them. We may have our views about it—I have very strong views about it—but that does not in the least affect the newsprint programme or the whole question of our doing everything in our power to get enough newsprint, not only to report the hon. Gentleman's point of view, but our point of view as well. I like to see that done.
§ Mr. Baxter
If the President of the Board of Trade feels that way, perhaps he would say whether he was or was not in favour of the Royal Commission inquiry into the sins of the Press, because that is what it was about.
It is all very well for him now to show this amiability, which we must appreciate, but it seems that this amiability developed after the Commission had completely thrown down the charges and "insinuendoes" that had been made. 809 That is a well-known Americanism and is like the Chancellor of the Exchequer's method of speech which so often telescopes two words into one.
May I speak to the President of the Board of Trade very seriously for one moment on this very important point? When newspapers are cut down in size, it not only produces unemployment, which is understandable, but it creates non-employment which is more subtle and in some ways more sinister. Unemployment means that they cannot carry the staff which they would like to employ. That is understandable. They do their best and often keep men on although they cannot employ them usefully, but they have to dismiss a certain number. Non-employment means that there is no space for talented young men or young women who have some right to look forward to a journalistic career. That is why the newspapers adhere to the older established writers, because they have not the room to manœuvre and to experiment. I say to the President of the Board of Trade that is a serious thing, the non-employment of talent which the smaller papers force upon the journalistic world.
The President has said that the Government are not critical of how the newspapers use their supplies, but an hon. Gentleman opposite was critical. He objected to the headlines which said that this is a terrible Government.
§ Mr. Baxter
I cannot give way because my time is limited. I agree that many newspapers do not use their supplies to the best effect. I think that much appears in the newspapers which is trivial and some which is pornographic, but the newspapers themselves must be the judges of that.
§ Mr. Baxter
The public create the demand which some newspaper meets. I sometimes wonder if politicians realise what a newspaper is in the life of the people. It is a companion which searches out the lonely home and often is the companion of many hours. It is a companion on the train. To politicians, who complain, and who believe that newspapers should consist almost entirely of reports of the Debates in the House of 810 Commons, I say that would be a cruelty. There never was a politician yet who saw his speech properly reported in the newspapers, and sometimes I think those celestial angels in the gallery above us, the newspaper reporters are kind in not reporting hon. Members exactly as they speak.
But the newspaper is not only intended to carry the news of the outside world, the news of the day. It also has an entertainment value in the life of the people. That is why the crossword puzzle has its place. There are also not only the results of sporting events, but the element of conjecture before, for example, a fight like that between Bruce Woodcock and the American, and the interesting statement by Bruce Woodcock that he would kill the American. There are book reviews, there are fashions. There are, in more enlightened newspapers, dramatic criticisms.
Therefore I would ask the President before he takes a harsh view, to realise that while newspapers should be criticised by each other, while critics should be criticised, while book reviewers should be criticised by authors—I believe newspapers are all too friendly to each other and that they should bicker much more than they do—the popular newspaper is the only thing in this country which is the same price as it was before the war. It is one penny. That is an astonishing thing. And it renders a great service.
So I say to the House with perfect sincerity—oddly enough that point reinforces the point of the President of the Board of Trade—that despite all the cutting down of newsprint and despite all the smallness of the newspapers, this is the best-informed public in the world. Whether that is because they had more space before, I do not know. I say to the House and especially to the party opposite: Drop your feud against the newspapers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It has been a feud. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Whatever is said, it has been a feud. The newspapers are the Fourth Estate, not traditionally, but established eventually as the Fourth Estate, and it is a mean and sinister thing for this honourable House to set up a commission to inquiry into something which, by its very nature, must be free and untrammeled to express views and to guide the public.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
I do not wish to detain the House very long, but I should like to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) in one of his suggestions which has not been taken up by the President of the Board of Trade. A few days ago someone questioned the President as to whether he had had conversations with Mr. Menzies on the subject of the export of newsprint from this country. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had and, I thought somewhat gloatingly, if I may use that adjective without offence, that not only had be had conversations but that Mr. Menzies had pressed him to increase the exports front this country.
I have every admiration for Mr. Menzies for wishing to give the Australian people the biggest newspapers they can have. I equally think that it is the duty of our Cabinet Ministers, and particularly the President of the Board of Trade, to see that we have the largest newspapers that we can have, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman has failed in that duty.
Today, Australia has newspapers which are back to the pre-war size of 18–20 pages, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, whereas we have a six-page paper only. The thing which has really terrified me during the whole Session, and particularly during this Debate, has been the apparent complacency of the Front Bench opposite that a six-page paper is quite adequate for the British people. It is not adequate, particularly in the situation in which we find ourselves today.
I urge the President of the Board of Trade to reconsider the export of newsprint from this country to the Empire countries. No question of dollar saving is involved. It is the same dollar expenditure whether Australia has more newsprint or whether we have a wealth of it, and I understand that next year the intention is to export even more newsprint from this country. I urge the President of the Board of Trade—
§ Mr. Wilson
I made it clear—perhaps the hon. Member did not catch it—that we are putting a ceiling on exports next year at the same figure as the exports for this year. It might save the hon. Gentleman time if I said—I am sorry I forgot to reply to the point which was raised by the right 812 hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler)—that I have already suggested to some of our friends in the Commonwealth that we should get together to review the whole question of newsprint supplies and how we can help one another on that.
§ Mr. Rodgers
I am delighted with that declaration. I do not wish to detain the House any more, because that is exactly what I hoped the right hon. Gentleman would promise us.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)
The hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) dropped the usual pretence of the apologists of the newspapers that we should spend more dollars and give them more newsprint so that they may proceed wtih their work of enlightening the public. There is a certain charming candour about the hon. Member. He said in effect, "Let us spend more dollars so that the newspapers may amuse their readers with prognostications of big fights and with crossword puzzles." That is a little more straightforward, and I like it. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Southgate cannot forget that Royal Commission. He knows that we on this side quote on the platform from that Royal Commission's report describing how certain Sunday papers, especially the "Sunday Express," wilfully and deliberately misrepresented, among other things, the Coal Board. That, of course, gave us valuable stuff, which we do not fail to use.
I wish the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey) were in his place, because I took down certain phrases he used—massive, ponderous words, very dangerous to anybody in this House who has not had a really sound course of semantics. He said, for example, that newspapers, among other things, were responsible for creating a public understanding in world affairs. That has been answered by the hon. Member for Southgate, with his admirable piece about the crossword puzzles and the Bruce Woodcock prognostications.
The hon. Member for Stretford then went on to refer to what he described as the service to the public which the Press has a duty to render. That reminded me of what happened once in my early career as a journalist. I worked on a Sunday paper, and on one of the office walls was 813 a very large photograph which showed an ordinary London suburban woman who might have been 60 years of age. The background was a semi-detached suburban house of the three-bedroom type, the sort which constitutes so much of the constituencies of the hon. Members for Croydon, North (Mr. Frederic Harris) and Chislehurst (Miss Hornsby-Smith), whom I am glad to see in their places. That woman was ill-dressed, she had no sartorial taste at all, and her face disclosed that she was an irresolute, ineffective kind of person who was quite incapable of making up her own mind about anything.
§ Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, North)
Is the hon. Member saying that my constituents are ineffective people?
§ Mr. Smith
If the hon. Member will permit me to go on he will gather that this lady, whose picture took up nearly the whole of one side of the sub-editors' room of this Sunday paper, was ineffectual, characterless, had no taste in dress or in doing her hair or anything else, and was obviously quite incapable of making up her mind. But, underneath, in very large letters, for our benefit when we were producing the following day's paper, were the words:Remember, sub-editors, you are writing for her.
§ Mr. Harris
The hon. Member will forgive me for reminding him that that very capable woman voted Tory last time.
§ Mr. Smith
That brings me back to what the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) said. Of course, the millionaire newspaper owners are not concerned with profits; it is power they want, power to put the representative of Croydon, North (Mr. Frederick Harris) in the party opposite. It was my job to have before me masses of reports from police courts and select the tastiest and most suggestive cases on the principle that our readers were more interested in sex and crime than anything else. The editor once came to me and said, "Smith, I like your work. You have a fine style, because you use very few long words. Perhaps you don't know that most of our million and a half readers can read, but that is all." That is the attitude of important newspapers towards their readers. I contrast that with the remarks 814 of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey) about the service to the public which it is the newspapers duty to render.
There have been some very curious assumptions behind some of the arguments in this Debate, the most curious of which ran through the argument of the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop), who seems to think that every publication is good for the country and that the bigger it is the better. I once worked for a New York evening paper, the Saturday edition of which then had no fewer than 150 pages. I wonder whether the hon. Member would say that as the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle," was that much bigger than the London "Evening News," therefore the American public were that much more enlightened than the London public. If that was not his argument, then his argument had no meaning at all.
I rejoiced in the prominence given by hon. Members to the importance of the local newspapers—county newspapers and weekly newspapers and, I would add, some of the provincial dailies. The advantage of those papers is that their proprietors, their editors and members of their staffs are known personally to the folk among whom they move and with whose activities they deal. I was disappointed with my right hon. Friend's speech in that one respect, as I was hoping he would say that the Government were to change their newsprint policy to something more selective at the expense of big national dailies and Sunday newspapers.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
This Debate is concerned, not with newspapers, but with newsprint. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey), in an extremely admirable speech, called attention to the likelihood of a continuing shortage of raw materials and appealed to the Government and the House to consider alternative raw materials, particularly bagasse, which has been used to a great extent in the United States and could be procured from the West Indies.
I was disappointed to hear the President of the Board of Trade begin with a rather sneering reference to my hon. Friend on the ground that he was putting forward a long-term proposal and what we were concerned with was the immediate need and machine capacity rather than a shortage of raw materials. But, 815 later in his speech, the right hon. Gentleman patted himself on the back by promising us that there would be increased machine capacity in 1952. I cannot see, if the right hon. Gentleman is allowed to look forward to 1952, why my hon. Friend should not be allowed to look forward to 1952.
The right hon. Gentleman demonstrated in his speech that this is a problem which cannot be cured by wave of the wand. It is a problem which is likely to be with us for a long time—a general shortage of raw materials. Therefore, there are few things more urgent than that attention should be paid to the development of alternative sources of raw materials for paper. Accordingly, my hon. Friend made a valuable and constructive suggestion, and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not pay more attention to it.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
It was not my intention to intervene in this Debate, but I have heard so many speeches dealing with local newspapers that I felt it my duty to refer to at least some of these. I am glad to find that there is always a unanimous opinion in the House in favour of supporting the local newspapers as far as we possibly can. I do not think that the very powerful daily papers are likely to suffer in any way as they have control over a great amount of capital and control a great amount of income which they derive from advertisements, etc. The local newspaper is in an entirely different category. As everyone who has spoken tonight has pointed out, the local newspaper enters in a very special way into the life of the communities which it serves.
I happen to live quite near the border between England and Wales, and I can see how the newspapers are attempting, in many cases very successfully, to serve both communities—the English community on the one side of the border and the Welsh community on the other. They are doing a great deal to keep alive Welsh traditions by their interest in the Welsh point of view. It would be a great disaster if some of these papers ceased to function. From that point of view I am particularly interested in the future development of these local papers.
816 I should like also to make a plea for the vernacular Welsh papers. Many of them are very small and very poor, but they have one feature which is quite distinctive, namely, that they always attempt to give an opportunity for literary people to write in Welsh in their columns. They are very small papers, and I often wonder how they manage to carry on. It would be a disaster—I say that deliberately—to Welsh life if those papers were to cease functioning. I hope that when he comes to make his allocation, the President of the Board of Trade will not forget the claims that can be made on behalf of those Welsh papers that are struggling hard in the modern world to present a distinctive point of view.
My concern is for those two types of papers, the weekly papers on the border, most of them English, naturally enough, in their point of view but often associated with the Welsh point of view; and, in the heart of Wales, in many localities, Welsh papers which publish only Welsh news and Welsh articles, and which are a vital part of the life of the Principality. I hope that from that point of view, the President will not forget his duty of attempting to give those people the newsprint they require in order to carry on their work.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.