HC Deb 20 March 1962 vol 656 cc266-84

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.

6.3 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

This Vote leads us to the fascinating subject of paper, governmental paper, paper of all kinds—paper used in disseminating information, paper used in writing and paper used in feeding a peculiar kind of machine to which I shall refer shortly.

The facts are that taking the stationery and printing Vote as a whole there was an increase of about 15 per cent. If we confine ourselves, as I hope within reason to do, to the fascinating subject of paper, the increase was 34 per cent. and the amount of the increase was £1,891,000—quite a considerable sum.

The question of this Supplementary Estimate was investigated very thoroughly and carefully—and if I may say so respectfully, it was a useful investigation—by the Estimates Committee. I shall quote from the Third Report of the Estimates Committee. I look at some of the questions to get the character of the increase in perspective. In answer to Question 646 the Controller of the Stationery Office described the increase as exceptional in relation to past years. He added, in a very cautious spirit: It is difficult to say, of course, whether this degree of activity"— that is, paper activity— … will continue in the future. In answer to Question 665 he said that there had been no other year … in which the unforeseen demands have been so high. So really the Government have been running a sort of riot of paper for this year, a riot for the first time and a very unusual kind of riot. One wants to know what happened.

To try to get at it, we have first to see what is done with paper as between the Stationery Office and the Departments which use it. Apparently what happens is this. A document, which is referred to as an Estimates circular, is sent round by the Stationery Office about August. That attracts forecasts from the Government Departments of what they are likely to require, but for some rather mysterious reason, the forecasts are not in financial terms. That was made clear in answer to Question 660. I suppose that it is a sort of outline, sketch or picture of the paper requirements of the Department and is used as a corrective to the Stationery Office's own estimate, which it bases on the consumption for the preceding period for each of the Departments concerned. Therefore, the general picture is that the Stationery Office, at some time about August or a little previously, makes its provisional estimate, shall we call it, based on the previous requirements of the Department, and this is corrected in the light of the answers to its Estimates circular.

One must not underestimate the importance of paper. We cannot do without it in this House. The amount we leave about and throw into the waste paper baskets must in itself amount to quite a substantial figure. We must concede to the Government of the day the right to use quite a lot of paper. We must, I imagine, agree with the Controller of the Stationery Office who said in effect that policy was hardly ever altered because the result would be an abnormally large use of paper. He said "One cannot have the stationery tail wagging the dog." That was a very nice, happy phrase. But although the stationery tail does not wag the dog, he none the less claimed, in answer to Question 693, that there were occasions when the Controller of the Stationery Office had the last word and put his foot down. He said in effect, "The tail has shifted round a little and there are times when I have to draw the line. "But I think that the conclusion from what he said and from the probabilities of the case is fair enough, that one cannot blame the Stationery Office unless one requires it to use its tail to wag the dog, and this one cannot sensibly do. Accordingly, we must look to the Departments themselves to see what has happened.

Various suggestions were made. The most serious one was that it was all due to the use of what was described as rather sophisticated office machinery. That, I think, is a form of speech which the Greeks used to call meiosis—understatement, to put it in that way. It must have been incredibly complicated office machinery. It is automatic data processing machinery, and, following the initial fashion of the time, it is called in the evidence A.D.P. machinery. Apparently, one not merely buys a piece of machinery but, according to the Controller of the Stationery Office, one buys a whole system. I shall return to this in a few minutes. In the system one has machines which are very hungry brutes for paper. In order to economise—I imagine that it must be done on grounds of economy—one cuts out something or other and in return one uses one or more of these very-hungry brutes when it comes to paper. According to the evidence, these brutes have been so hungry that more paper was required.

Here, I agree entirely with the comments made in the Third Report of the Estimates Committee. In paragraph 20, the Committee says: Your Committee accept the fact that the use of Automatic Data Processing machinery may well lead to an increase in the amount of paper used, and assume that the Departments and the Treasury took account of this when deciding on its installation in the interests of economy". I should have assumed so too. They have difficulty in understanding how the use of this machinery can lead to unforeseen increases in the consumption of paper. If full use of these machines had been properly planned in the first place, there should not have been scope for applying them to new purposes which would consume unforeseen quantities of paper. Your Committee consider that the use of Automatic Data Processing machinery should not have been a contributing factor to the need for the Stationery Office's Supplementary Estimate". I revert for a moment to the wonderful picture of what happens when it is decided to use the hungry brutes and install the machines. In answer to Question No. 669, the Controller of the Stationery Office said: The method of control is this. When a department considers a demand for an A.D.P. system, the department itself"— that is one lot— usually its own O. & M. Department if it has one "— that is another lot— plus the Treasury O. & M. Division "— that is a third lot— plus the special Treasury unit which has been set up for this purpose "— that is a fourth lot— get together … What do they do? The Controller tells us that they consider the problem from all angles over a very long period before they decide first whether an A.D.P. system is desirable and whether it will give economies, and secondly, what particular type of A.D.P. system should be put in. Then he says that this is one matter for which the Stationery Office has to rely on expert evidence from outside.

Whatever else may be the result of these high level deliberations, I cannot think that the consequent use of paper can be said to be unforeseen after all that examination. I agree entirely with the comment of the Estimates Committee that, whatever the result, the Treasury might jolly well have known beforehand what was going to happen. There it is.

I look for some further explanation. The Estimates Committee was doing exactly the same, asking question after question, obviously puzzled about what the position was. It was extraordinarily hard to find out from the answers why this unprecedented increase had occurred. I am no nearer an answer after reading all the evidence than I was before. I respectfully agree with the recommendations of the Estimates Committee, to which I shall come later, but I still do not know why this happened. I have only one clue which leads me in a direction which one might, perhaps, have expected.

The worst sinners were the Service Departments. The Service Departments between them accounted for over half the increase. Going a stage further one finds that the old villain, the War Office, if I may call it that respectfully, is the worst sinner of all. Is this all a development of what one remembers of Army forms and Army papers, turned into a terrible nightmare, growing year after year, and for some reason having an enormous break-through this year and producing this extraordinary demand? I hope that the House will allow me to mention my own experience. During the First World War I once commanded a very small unit. I was the only officer in it. I used to return in quadruplicate a list of the officers under my command. It was always myself, never anybody else, but in that list went month after month, always in quadruplicate. We can all remember the sad history of returns about strawberry jam, plum and apple jam or whatever it was, and one begins to wonder whether half the trouble has been caused by the War Office really getting going this time.

One must not be rude to a Government Department, even from these benches, without referring to what it has to say. This matter was mentioned in the evidence, and the only suggestion was that the War Office wanted a bit more technical information and was spending quite a lot of money in distributing books containing technical information. I am all in favour of the highest possible standard of education and knowledge within the Army. One could not object to that, but is it such a new thing? One hopes that the War Office and other Government Departments have been continually progressing and that the education of the War Office and the soldiery generally has been proceeding steadily without sudden kangaroo-like jumps in the demand for information causing the paper bill to bound upward in a great leap after staying steady for years. I am still puzzled. What is the explanation?

The question which the Estimates Committee kept putting in one form or another and to which it suggested many answers, receiving little encouragement, was: Why this unprecedented increase this year in the demand for paper? Many instances were given but they were all small matters which between them would not have added up to anything like the total figure in this case. What is the explanation? Is it that the Treasury has not allowed sufficiently for the hungry brutes? Is it that the War Office has got the bit between its teeth and at long last has had its fill of Army forms to a quite unprecedented extent? What else is it?

Among other things, it was suggested that the increase may have had something to do with stocking after the printing dispute in 1959. I can only say that no figures were given. The only figure which was suggested was comparatively valueless because there was nothing to compare it with, and it does not sound to me as if that can be the explanation, although it may be a minor contributory factor.

For all those reasons, I am full of curiosity, as was the Estimates Committee, about this remarkable increase, and I hope that our curiosity today will be better satisfied than was the Estimates Committee's curiosity when it inquired into the matter.

The Committee's recommendations amount to what is really a very simple matter; that the Departments, when telling the Stationery Office of their requirements, should be a bit more careful about them and should produce a more realistic and correct estimate of what they require.

6.20 p.m.

Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) made the sort of amusing, learned and erudite speech we expect of him. However, he touched on only a part of the problem. The problem, as I see it, is that the Stationery Office is poor but honest and brings the inevitable shame on its relations by having to have Supplementary Estimates. The question facing the House is how this is to be prevented.

It has been suggested that the Stationery Office should not be just an agency department but that the various Departments should pay in their own estimates for the stationery they order. That is an attractive idea, but it was gone into by the Hutchison Committee which rejected the suggestion for a good reason, namely, that the Stationery Office exercises a restraining influence over the Departments. We have been told how, for example, the Departments order perhaps an extravagant sort of pamphlet or document and how the Stationery Office persuades them to have a more economical type, perhaps on not as good paper or with fewer colours and illustrations.

I do not believe that there is any salvation to be sought in that suggestion, for I am left with the impression that it is best that the Stationery Office should remain an agency department. It is clear that in the big estimates of the large spending Departments these relatively small sums for stationery and printing would tend to get less attention and escape supervision. The real answer is that debates like the one we are having now act as a restraining influence. Where there has been extravagance—and the hon. and learned Member for Kettering exaggerated a little, because although there has been a certain amount, not all of this Supplementary Estimate represents extravagance—it must be checked by the influence of the House of Commons, and for that reason I welcome this debate.

Some of the increase takes place unavoidably. For instance, when the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance changed the title of the National Assistance Board it meant the re-printing of I do not know how many millions of documents. Hon. Members may describe that as unnecessary, but it was a policy decision of the Government for which the Stationery Office cannot be specifically blamed. I rose to put in a good word for the Stationery Office, which I regard as an admirably conducted Department.

6.23 p.m.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I am sure that hon. Members will not disagree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson), for I am certain that the Stationery Office stands charged with the sins of other people. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) has already with great skill taken the guts out of the Estimates Committee's Report and evidence and I shall not attempt to follow him in detail, except to say that few hon. Members feel particularly friendly when the subject of Government paper comes up these days.

We all know that there is far too much of it, a good deal is ill-phrased and much of it is rude. Very often it is repeated time without number. I remember that just after the war a Government Department got intensely interested in the livestock at my house. It is called a farm although I do not have a farm or land. I received certain forms and I returned them religiously quarter after quarter saying that the premises contained one female dog and a torn cat. This did not deter the Department concerned from continuing its inquiries at regular intervals—until I said that if it was so interested I would take it upon myself to inform the Minister direct. After that the communications ceased.

I believe that there is a vast multiplication of forms which grossly irritate the public. One cannot get into hospital now without filling in a tremendous number of documents. I wish we could get Ministers personally interested in this subject to impose on their Departments some self-denying ordinance in the way they satisfy their almost unappeasable appetite for information which borders on inquisitiveness to an intolerable extent.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering properly described the machines about which he spoke as "hungry brutes", and I remind hon. Members of what was said in the Third Report from the Estimates Committee in reply to Question 667 by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). The answer was: Unfortunately, in the case of these A.D.P. systems there have been so many occasions when the resulting use of paper, also magnetic tape, has been quite unexpected, either by the department or by the Treasury O. and M. Division or the special unit which deals with these things. That seems somewhat surprising—that this could not be solved by the Organisation and Methods Division of the Treasury and the "special unit which deals with these things"—because if they have any justification in life this is the sort of thing one would reasonably anticipate from them.

We are told that the Post Office increase was £150,000 on a base of £700,000. This indicates a general sort of untidiness and messiness which hardly persuades one to believe that Government Departments run their affairs on very businesslike lines. The Committee called attention—and this was dealt with in evidence—to the increase in departmental forms and circulars and, in answer to Question 705, it stated: … the original estimate there was £845,000, and the revised estimate is £950,000. Then Defence: the original estimate was £910,000 for printing and the revised estimate is £1,125,000—which is a substantial increase. Then Revenue and Civil Departments: the original estimate was £2,476,000, and the revised estimate is £2,740,000. It is unfortunate that this should have become so much a matter of habit.

Then we have the large increase on Press advertisements—from £175,000 to more than £225,000. It is not unfair to remind the Government that they have properly asked the public to economise—to cut down on spending—and that they are constantly, with every justification, exhorting industry to be efficient. Is it not reasonable that, in this sphere, the Government should set a good example? The figures before us seem to constitute a very bad one indeed.

6.29 p.m.

Dr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)

There are several points I wish to raise, two of them immediately relevant to the working of the Stationery Office, the first being in connection with the additional sum for salaries. I hope that this additional Estimate of £137,000 will enable Government publications to be despatched promptly to the public when they write to ask for them.

My hon. Friend will recollect that I raised this matter with him in correspondence. I wrote before Christmas about a delay of a week or ten days and my hon. Friend assured me that this was due to the Christmas season and that the position would be all right after Christmas. I sent a further complaint to my right hon. Friend in the New Year from the same correspondent, and he then suggested that my correspondent should become a regular subscriber. My correspondent has done so, but I regret to say that I have given up in despair writing to my right hon. Friend, for all recent reports show that even in the case of a regular subscriber it may take a week to get a publication which is asked for. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to tighten up the procedure in this respect.

Another point which interests me very much and to which attention does not seem to have been paid is that the largest proportionate increase in the Supplementary Estimates is in regard to Press advertisements. This is an extraordinary increase for a Supplementary Estimate—from £535,000 to £800,000. This is a real bonanza of £265,000 to Mr. Thomson and Mr. King and the Press lords, I imagine. I wonder whether my hon. Friend can say something about that—whether it represents a change in policy, what the main cause of it is, and so forth—because it is a very substantial increase.

I wonder whether my hon. Friend can say something on the subject of Acts of Parliament going out of print. This is a matter which has engaged my interest over a number of years since it came to my notice that the Criminal Lunatic Act, 1884, which was then in vogue—it deprived citizens of their liberty—could not be obtained at the Stationery Office. One appreciates that it is probably for reasons of economy that this sort of thing happens, but in relation to the gigantic sums with which we are dealing in the Supplementary Estimates £4 million seems a very small sum indeed which might be devoted to keeping Acts of Parliament in print so that members of the public may obtain them and not have to be offered, as I understand they are at the moment, photostat copies which may cost them up to £1 each. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to deal with these points.

6.33 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Edward Boyle)

I should like to say two things to start with. First, we do not often discuss the Stationery Office in this House, and perhaps we sometimes take almost too much for granted the work that it does. Without the work of the Stationery Office the Government machine could not be carried on—I do not mean just the party aspects; I refer here to the whole machine of public administration—nor could our affairs in this House, as will be appreciated when we realise the pressure under which the Stationery Office often is, not least at the start of a Session when Ministers of whatever Government require successive prints of Bills, often at short notice. Also, at this time the burden is particularly heavy in respect of Standing Committee work. I have in mind the sets of Amendments that have to be reprinted, often two or three times during a week. I consider that the Government and the House are extremely well served by the Stationery Office.

Having been Financial Secretary for some time, I might add that I am always glad to realise the very good relations which exist between the Stationery Office and the printing industry. It is fair to say that the relations between the Stationery Office and the outside world are particularly good.

Mr. Mitchison

Perhaps I may be allowed to associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Sir E. Boyle

I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

As we have the pleasure of the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) and a number of other members of the Estimates Committee, I should like to say that I think they have done valuable work. I feel that they were right to choose this Supplementary Estimate for examination. I tell the House frankly that both the Treasury and the Stationery Office were very glad that the subject should be thoroughly examined by the Estimates Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham made a very fair speech. He gallantly came to the rescue of the Stationery Office in a letter which he sent to the Daily Mail recently, a gesture which is very much appreciated indeed.

As my hon. Friend has said, this Estimate is of an unusual kind. It is built up on the basis of records of past expenditure for each Department, modified by known variations in demand and price trends and any other factors which are relevant. There are always unforeseen demands from Departments. That is inevitable. Marginal variations up or down can usually' be accommodated within the framework of an Estimate catering for the needs of some sixty Departments, and it would be impossible to insist on rigid allocations. All demands coming to the Stationery Office are certified by responsible officers in the individual departments, and I think that administration should not be held up for lack of provision on the Stationery Office Vote.

As a rule the methods of estimating have proved satisfactory. The increase in demands on the Stationery Office which occurred in 1961–62, however, was exceptionally heavy and widespread, and its main weight was not felt until after the Estimate had been submitted. On the evidence available at the time—this has been rechecked very carefully—there would have been no justification for submitting a substantially higher Estimate at the time the original Estimate was submitted for 1961–62.

This upsurge in demand was spread very widely over defence, civil and repayment services, and it was impossible to contain the effect of this large degree of variation in the usual way. At the end of the financial year 1960–61 the rate of issue of paper stocks made necessary heavy additional purchases to meet what was a growing weight of demand. The replenishment of depleted departmental stocks, which was a long-term effect of the printing dispute in 1959, was also partly responsible for the Supplementary Estimate, but, what is more important for estimating purposes, it also masked for a time the growth in the general level of demand for paper. One cannot quantify this, but the complex aftermath of the stoppage caused delays in deliveries, particularly of envelopes, which were aggravated by the growing weight of demand.

The increases in departmental demands for paper, printing, binding and office supplies were due to a number of causes which I should like briefly to itemise. First of all, there was a general heightening of the level of departmental activity. This was in connection, first, with social legislation. Here I would instance—I think it is a very good example—the graduated pensions scheme introduced in April last year. This has given rise as it has developed to a good deal of unforeseen expenditure on paper, printing and office equipment.

Here I would say one thing to my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). I agree with him that it is important that the Government should not be wasteful in their use of paper and that unnecessary forms should not be sent. On the other hand, I am sure that he would be the first to agree that there are a good many occasions during the year when hon. Members on both sides of the House complain that Government policies are not being sufficiently publicised.

Mr. Peyton

I should like to get the nature of my complaint absolutely clear to my hon. Friend. It is not a question of their not being sufficiently publicised. It is that the Government, when they commit themselves to paper, do so in most intolerable jargon which is divorced from clarity.

Sir E. Boyle

That is another point. A great many people are critical of the drafting of both Government publications and Government speeches at the moment. For the purpose of this debate I am concerning myself simply with the quantity of paper issued. One has to remember the number of occasions on which hon. Members on both sides of the House say how important it is that some complicated piece of new legislation should be adequately explained to the public.

Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)

My hon. Friend said that the graduated pensions scheme brought a great demand for paper which was unforeseen. He then went on to talk about something quite different. It is still not clear from what he said why the demand was unforeseen.

Sir E. Boyle

I was just about to explain that. I have some information from the Ministry of Pensions which, I think, is precisely relevant to that point. Certain Ministry of Pensions standard forms, of which 240 million were ordered in 1960, increased in quantity to no less than 308 million in 1961. This was due in part to the graduated pensions scheme. Many existing forms had to be adapted and reprinted to take account of the new scale of contributions. I do not believe that the full extent of these changes could have been foreseen by the Department. But there is the further point that no fewer than 11 million explanatory leaflets were produced at short notice following Parliamentary discussion about lack of information. That was during the course of the financial year after the original Estimate had been submitted.

There have also been repercussions on other Departments. For example, 27,000 wallets were issued for the Inland Revenue in connection with the scheme. There has been a good deal of unforeseen expenditure on office machinery—for enveloping, numbering, micro-filming and so on—all of which has resulted from the introduction of the new graduated pensions scheme.

The point that I was making to my hon. Friend was that much of this arose during the course of the financial year after the original Estimate had been submitted, and, having looked at the evidence, I do not think it would have been possible for the Ministry of Pensions to have foreseen that all these demands were likely to arise out of the introduction of this very big and important new piece of legislation.

Sir S. Summers

Does what my hon. Friend has said mean that the Inland Revenue is the only Department which is issued with wallets?

Sir E. Boyle

I should require notice of that question. I have just cited that as an example.

Mr. Mitchison

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to remind him that in these very Estimates one of the causes for the Supply Estimates was a requirement for two attache cases for each inspector engaged in testing old cars? That had not been foreseen.

Sir E. Boyle

My answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman on that point must be "touché".

I come now to the next cause of the increases, and this is development in the Service Departments which led to heavily increased demands for technical manuals. In the War Office alone there has been a 50 per cent. increase since 1960 in the range of manuals relating to electrical and mechanical engineering services. The expansion of War Office works services has entailed extra demand. As technical developments advance there is bound to be a need for new technical manuals of this kind. That is inevitable. However, I can tell the House that, having seen the figures, I will discuss with my right hon. and hon. Friends concerned to ascertain whether we can improve our internal procedures for making sure that the Stationery Office has adequate advance notice of when demands are likely to be made on it in connection with the printing of new manuals. I think this is one part of our internal Government machinery to which we could properly attend.

The next cause of the increase I would put under the general heading of policy developments in Departments, for example the decision in the Inland Revenue, following criticisms by the Estimates Committee, to issue additional explanatory material to the public and to revise and improve the many forms and pamphlets already in use. I am sure that the House will recall the many discussions that we have had on Schedule A and the demand, supported on all sides of the House, for a new leaflet on the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) is not here, but I have said this to him often and I do not think he will resent it if I repeat it in his absence. I think that, as back-benchers go, my hon. Friend does his full share in adding to the total weight of Government expenditure taking one year with another when one thinks of the various causes which he espouses from time to time.

Again, there has been the extension of the Ministry of Transport vehicle testing scheme, and the traffic and road programme generally, which has almost doubled the Ministry of Transport's expenditure on paper, printing and binding in two years. There is also the development of the major automatic data processing projects—the A.D.P. projects—and office mechanisation generally, which has increased to an unforeseen extent the demand for forms and also for magnetic tapes. The rapidly growing use of office photo-copying devices, a field in which recently there has been much technical development, has heavily increased the demand for expensive photo printing papers and for machines and accessories, and there has been a general expansion of the use of office reproduction machines.

This is a difficult matter on which to pronounce, but we all know, when one has these good, high-grade, modern photo-copying devices, that while they save manpower it is tempting to make just that extra marginal use of them to duplicate letters or documents. If one considers the last year or two, the House of Commons has made its full share of the increased use of copying machines.

Paragraph 20 of the Report of the Estimates Committee criticised the unforeseen increase in the consumption of paper arising from the use of A.D.P. machinery on the ground that this showed a lack of planning by Departments and the Treasury. I wish to deal with this point specially, because the evidence given before the Committee mentioned the contribution of A.D.P. systems to the Supplementary Estimate and it was a point on which the Estimates Committee showed particular interest.

I do not think that it was intended to single out A.D.P. systems as the major factor for comment in the increased demands of Departments, nor are unforeseen demands arising from A.D.P. installations entirely for paper. Magnetic tapes and punched cards are also important and additional paper expenditure in this connection arises probably from improvement of related procedures as well as from A.D.P. processes themselves.

There have been considerable unforeseen demands for magnetic tape. The translation of the Army pay regulations into instructions for a computer has proved to be much more complicated than we expected. It is now believed to be the most complex system in operation on a computer anywhere. This complexity has led to the greater use of magnetic tapes by the Royal Army Pay Corps computer, although most of the increase arises from provision in the current financial year of tapes that were planned for supply during the next financial year. To some extent, therefore, this is merely anticipation of expenditure. There have also been increased demands for tape for the analysis on the same computer of the 1961 census of population by the Registrar-General.

The Estimates Committee also expressed the view that the planning of installations should have left no scope for expansion. I venture to doubt the conclusion of the Estimates Committee, because it would inevitably lead to greater expenditure, not only because Government activity continuously increases as a result of the decisions of Parliament, but also because experience of these A.D.P. installations commonly enables Departments to improve their methods by making greater use of them. Each installation is, I believe, justified on grounds of efficiency and economy. If it causes greater expenditure on paper and other supplies, it also saves staff and time.

I can give the following figures, which are the best I have been able to obtain. The computers already installed are expected to produce average net direct savings in money of the order of £450,000 a year.

Sir S. Summers

My hon. Friend has evidently misread the comment to which he has referred. The Committee was not at all averse to installing machinery with an element of expansion contemplated. What the Committee took exception to was the failure to provide in the Estimates for the paper that that expansion would require.

Sir E. Boyle

I am sorry if I have mistaken the point of the Committee's Report. My whole aim has been to give some of the reasons why the Supplementary Estimate was necessary. Certainly, I take the point that my hon. Friend has made.

Sir G. Nicholson

On computers—although I am sure that this will be out of order—may I remind my hon. Friend that it is a question of how many shifts are worked whether the computer pays? There is danger that not enough shifts are worked.

Sir E. Boyle

I know that my hon. Friend has strong views on the subject. If it is not out of order, I will refer to the reference to this subject in paragraph 20 of the Report. My hon. Friend is rather harking back to the Sixth Report of the Estimates Committee for the Session 1960–61, in which the same point was raised. My hon. Friend was a member of the Committee on both occasions.

I assure my hon. Friend that it is not necessary to run computers more than two shifts to make them pay. Computers in use in Government offices and running between 40 and 60 hours a week are bringing a good commercial return on the investment. Longer hours may bring a modest additional profit, but in these circumstances many of the costs rise and there is considerable doubt as to the real advantage of longer hours.

Unless there are operational or other special reasons, it is not Government policy to run computers in Government offices for more than two shifts a day. This will make it possible to install computers on a sound economic basis while paying due regard at the same time to the interest of the office staff and also leaving spare capacity as an insurance against breakdown or other emergencies. This is an important point. Spare capacity is as important in the realm of computers as when one considers the rate of general taxation in peacetime.

I believe that much of the departmental activity reflected generally in the demand for A.D.P. systems is, in the broadest sense, productive of economies and generally in the national interest. Additional expenditure falling on the Stationery Office Vote is often a comparatively minor facet of much larger economies or increases in efficiency elsewhere. Even so, it is desirable and important that the Stationery Office should receive adequate warning about the potential growth of demands on its services. The evidence suggests—and I am entirely in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury—that this has not always been provided, as emphasised, possibly, in the Comptroller's recent evidence before the Estimates Committee. Departments sometimes find genuine difficulty in estimating it themselves. Sometimes, increased expenditure of this kind is generally unforeseeable, but the importance of more accurate forecasting as far as is practicable without undue elaboration will certainly be stressed to Departments before the preparation of the next Estimates.

In general, therefore, I should like the Estimates Committee to feel that in the Treasury and in the Stationery Office we have taken full note of the points made by the Committee. A number of useful and valuable suggestions were made in the Report. There were certain special reasons for the size of the Supplementary Estimate. Perhaps the result of all this is to bring home to all of us exactly how important a part the Stationery Office is of our total Government machinery and how important it is that everybody should realise the demands that we make upon it and that we should strive to combine efficiency with reasonable economy in the use of its services.

Finally, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson), I know that there has been a difficulty about reprints of Bills. If my hon. Friend would like to discuss the question with me some time as well as the matters on which he has been corresponding, he knows, I am sure, that I would be pleased to have a talk with him.

Question put and agreed to.