HL Deb 22 July 1947 vol 151 cc38-40

My Lords, in putting the question of which I have given Notice, may I say that I put it as a member of the general public? I have no sot t of interest in the Press in any shape or form. I beg to ask the question that stalks in my name on the Order Paper.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government, whether their attention has been drawn to the very serious restriction of the size of the national newspapers, due to the shortage of newsprint: whether they ace aware of the serious effect of this restriction both at home and overseas; whether they can indicate the reasons which have produced this situation, and what steps they propose to take 1:o remedy it; and whether a similar reduction is being forced upon Government publications.]


My Lords, I very much regret that my noble friend who is due to answer this question is not here. I am afraid I do not know the answer myself.


Speaking colloquially, "so what"?


My noble friend Lord Ammon has a copy of the reply.


My Lords, owing to the growing stringency of the balance of payments position, it has been necessary to review the import programme for the twelve months beginning July 1, 1947; and, among other reductions in the programme, a reduction in the expenditure for newsprint has been made. Following discussions with the newspaper pro- prietors, deliveries of newsprint due from North America during the coming six months are to be deferred to the extent of 48,400 tons, and the position will be reviewed at the beginning of next year. It has been necessary to reduce the consumption of newsprint accordingly. Every effort is made to reduce the amount of paper used by Government publications to a minimum and this will continue to be the case.


My Lords, may I ask His Majesty's Government how they expect that the electorate of this country can be lined up satisfactorily behind the Government in the appallingly difficult international situation with which we are faced to-day, if the Press is to be restricted in size and unable to report in detail? May I also ask how it is expected that the British public will be fully able to understand the position in such parts of the world as Greece, Palestine, India, Egypt, America, and various other places, and the position of U.N.O., unless we are able to get full information as to what is going on? Furthermore, may I ask the Government whether they are aware of the extent to which the great newspapers of this country are read overseas? I refer to such papers as the Daily Herald, The Times and the Daily Telegraph. I have been abroad lately and I have had the opportunity of a good deal of discussion with foreigners about opinion in this country. They ask many questions and are very anxious to study British newspapers. Does the noble Lord not think that it is a very mistaken decision to reduce the size of the newspapers as has been done? Moreover, if economies are necessary, surely there are other economies which could have been made in national expenditure which would have been much more fruitful, such as cuts in films and so on. I do not want to argue the point, but I cannot put it down as a Motion and therefore I have put it down as a question.


My Lords, I am sure the noble Earl will allow me to say, without in the least deprecating the importance of the matter which he has raised, that starred questions are not open to discussion, and I must ask him to observe the rules of the House. I will do my best to supply him with the answers he requires.


Possibly the noble Earl is influenced by the fact that it is impossible to ventilate his views in the Press.


I think the proceedings in this House receive very generous notice in the Press, and I have no doubt that this will be amongst them. I am solely moved to maintain the usual practice of this House.


My Lords, of course I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, and I am entirely on his side in this matter, but there is no opportunity of putting this down as a Motion. I do hope the noble Viscount will bear in mind the questions I have raised.


Could the noble Lord state what proportion of the cut of 48,000 tons affects supplies from Canada and what proportion affects supplies from the United States of America, and whether, in the case of Canada, it is to be understood that it involves the breaking of existing contracts?


I could not answer those questions without notice.