HL Deb 08 November 1950 vol 169 cc203-42

2.50 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to call attention to the serious position of newsprint supply; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion standing in my name, I should like to remind your Lordships that it is now three and a half years since we debated the newsprint question in your Lordships' House, and that the position to-day is more critical than it was when that debate took place. Whatever may be the causes of the shortage of newsprint—and of those causes I propose to say something a little later— there are certain facts to which I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships. First, our newspapers are to-day limited to 50 per cent. of the prewar consumption of newsprint, and that allows them six pages, with an occasional issue of only four pages, for the penny papers, and nine pages for the twopenny papers.

While we have six pages in the United Kingdom, it is worth while looking at newspaper sizes in the rest of the Commonwealth. South Africa averages ten pages for its daily issues, and I thought your Lordships might like to see a typical issue of the Sunday Times for Johannesburg; it has twenty-eight pages, not counting what are known as the comics. In New Zealand, the average is from eight to ten pages, and in Australia (all these, of course, are Commonwealth sterling area countries) the average is sixteen pages. May I now draw your Lordships' attention to Europe? In Belgium the average is ten to twelve pages; Denmark enjoys twelve to fourteen pages; Switzerland sixteen pages; Austria, which so far as I know was a country conquered in the war, six to eight pages. And it does seem strange to me that in Germany one should be able to buy a daily German paper of eight pages. The people of Germany, a country which we conquered in the war, seem, in fact, to enjoy better dissemination of news than your Lordships and the other citizens of this country. Before the war, Britain led the world in the consumption of newsprint per head of the population. To-day, according to U.N.E.S.C.O. figures, we have fallen from the first to the tenth place. In support of my argument that six pages are totally inadequate for the peacetime task of journals, I should like to pray in aid the conclusions of the U.N.E.S.C.O. Conference of 1948 which said: The Commission considers that to cover satisfactorily both national and international, as well as local, news, in addition to providing a proportion of lighter matter and advertisements, a newspaper needs to have at least eight standard pages. It is, I submit, impossible, within their present size, for our newspapers to deal properly with home and foreign affairs.

I should like to put before your Lordships for a moment or two some considerations of the effect of this newsprint shortage. The march of world events, the speeding up of personal communications by aircraft, compress great distances into a few hours of travel, while modern scientific advances in radio and telegraph mean that news can be transmitted and received within only a few moments. At the same time, as we know, there is an awakening of democratic interest in world affairs all round. That interest brings about a steadily increasing demand, at home and abroad, for opportunities for daily information and daily news, as is proved by the fact that the demand for newspapers is 75 per cent. above the prewar level. I think that no one to-day would deny that in interest in art. drama, travel and sport, the circle widens. Of course, local papers arc severely handicapped in what we term the valuable community news which interests all the people living in the locality. Local provincial newspapers, particularly, are unable to report local government affairs. We on this side of the House feel that with the centralisation of power more and more in Whitehall it is ever more important that local government affairs should be adequately reported and publicised throughout the country.

I cannot pass by this question of the effects of the shortage of newsprint without mentioning one ever serious effect. Before the war Britain had a worldfamous and respected corps of foreign correspondents in all the capitals of the world. The British public were kept in touch with various shades and classes of opinion on world events in the foreign capitals. This corps of correspondents consisted of men of great influence; millions of people read their dispatches, and they influenced events not only in the countries in which they were located but also in this country. This corps of skilled correspondents cannot be content with half an inch of news on what is happening, as reported by them, in the capital to which they are accredited. They lose their position or importance in those capitals; they lose their influence; and in the long run they must also lose interest in their job. Professional journalists' organisations are on record as being gravely worried at the present and future effect of newsprint shortages on the profession of journalism.

Not very long ago there was a Royal Commission on the Press, which the Party of noble Lords opposite were responsible for initiating. The evidence before that Royal Commission said this: The British public is becoming definitely uninformed on many major issues of the day. When dealing with the effects of shortages of newsprint, it would be wrong to turn away from the criticism which I have heard levelled: that it is all very well to say there is not enough newsprint, but newspapers do not use in the best way what they have. Those critics maintain that newspapers should use their space differently—less for sport, less for crime, less for fiction, football pools and racing. I should like to ask any noble Lord who has that criticism in mind to ask himself this question: Is he really not saying that there must be some form of control of newsprint issue, based on the presentation of news by each particular paper? Anyone who supports the critical view to the point of desiring action is, in effect, advocating a censorship by ration. That is a course against which, quite rightly, both the Government and those concerned in the newspaper industry have roundly set their faces.

The fact is that there is to-day an immense demand for racy news, gay news and news of the misdoings of our fellow citizens. That is proved by the very large circulations enjoyed by those papers which do rather specialise in that type of news. In a fourpage paper one sheet is mortgaged to sport, a certain amount to police news and a certain amount for City news. It will be seen that with a small paper a high proportion of the total space available in that issue is mortgaged to those particular items of news; but with an eight or ten or twelve-page paper the amount of that sort of news would fall into its right proportion. For that reason I do not think there is anything very useful in that criticism. And. though no one can say that in the opinion of all citizens the presentation of news is perfect, I do not think anything can be done. Indeed, I think we should maintain the attitude that we turn away from any idea of censoring the presentation of news by rationing the issue of newsprint according to what news is printed.

I should like to turn now to the question of how this position has arisen. The basic fact of the problem is that there is a world shortage of newsprint, due largely to the consumption of the United States of America, which has risen from 3,500,000 tons in 1939 to 5,900,000 tons in 1950. America, in fact, consumes 65 per cent. of the world's supply of newsprint. Now I come to our domestic position. I feel that certain decisions taken by His Majesty's Government have prevented Britain getting an adequate share of what has been and is available. Responsibility for those decisions has been debated inside and outside Parliament. People in the industry here and in Canada—the country from which the bulk of our newsprint supplies are expected to come—are firm in their view that responsibility for the wrong decision lies with the Government. The President of the Board of Trade has tried to defend the Government's position and the Government's actions. I have read that complicated story time and time again in various publications, including a number of issues of Hansard. It is not my purpose to-day to reargue that case, though anyone reading the evidence must feel that the action of the Government on several occasions savours of: "Too late, and too little."

I should like to recapitulate briefly how, with the Government's approval, the Newsprint Supply Company entered into contracts with Canadian mills for the supply of paper under which we should now be receiving 300,000 tons of newsprint a year. In 1947, following a dollar crisis, the Government suddenly ordered the supply to be cut to 100,000 tons. It was at that time—to be exact on July 29, 1947-that Lord Layton raised the question in this House. The noble Viscount, Lord Hall, speaking for the Government, then cited cuts which had been made in tobacco, petrol and films. May I remind your Lordships that since then the petrol cut has been restored, petrol is off the ration, and we seem to have overcome the tobacco shortage fairly well? But the newsprint cut has not been restored. Indeed, in January of this year supplies from Canada were entirely cut off, because the Government declined to supply any more dollars; and they were cut off with no expression of regret from the President of the Board of Trade that the trade here were forced to break their agreements with Canada. I cannot pass over that incident without expressing the regret which many of us feel, that there was not even the courtesy of an explanation to the Canadian authorities by the President of the Board of Trade. It was a blow to a fellow Dominion of the British Comonwealth. Apart from the necessity of the blow— which, I think, is doubtful—it was delivered harshly, and with no attempt at any form of courtesy. To my mind there is a curious contrast between this and the tenderness which His Majesty's Government display towards agreements entered into with Russia and other countries behind the Iron Curtain for the supply of such things as machine tools and jet fighters. They show great tenderness towards the countries concerned in relation to those matters. On no account must we offend those countries, even though those particular supplies might be useful for munitions. On the other hand, when it came to a fellow Dominion of the Commonwealth, they were thrown over without any form of apology at all. That is the only contentious point which I am going to put forward.

By the end of May, 1950, under great pressure, the Government agreed to provide dollars for 25,000 tons of newsprint for the second half of 1950. Again, the industry pointed out to the President of the Board of Trade that that was not enough, that Canada required to know by June, 1950, the whole of the requirements for 1951. The Government were pressed a bit more, and they later agreed to provide dollars for 75,000 tons for 1951. Meanwhile, just what the noble Lord, Lord Layton, had warned the Government in 1947 might happen—and I myself did the same in the debate at that time— in fact took place. The cancellation of contracts, and the uncertainty of the whole situation, made Canada turn to the United States buyers. As a result, we have to face the fact that all the dollars in the world would not get us any more news-print immediately from Canada. That is the position at the present time. We are actually to get about 12,000 tons in 1950, and an unknown amount in 1951. While this policy of cancellation, hestitation, argument and delay went on as to imports, the Government pursued a policy of expanding our exports of newsprint from this country. The Government policy was to stop any hope of relief of our urgent needs in this country from home-produced supplies from British mills, because they ordered a step-up of exports while cutting imports.

I do not want to weary your Lordships with figures, but I should like to tell you in passing that British mills are to-day producing only 560,000 tons of newsprint a year, compared with a prewar annual output of 800,000 tons. Before the war we exported 60,000 tons: and to-day the industry is made to export 100,000 tons. So the position is that British newsprint users get a lower supply from this country on a reduced output, yet the export proportion is higher. There are certain foods for the body, and the Government have said that supplies of those foods must not be cut off; that they must be kept in this country and not exported. We are all for supporting the export drive, of course, but I submit that the requirements of our people in the matter of food for the mind should not be forgotten when we are looking at our export policy, and when the Government are considering that aspect of forcing the exports. The result of this policy of what I call "cracking down" on imports and boosting up exports, against a background of an increasing demand for paper, is that for several months past consumption has been exceeding the supply. On the present basis of distribution, our newsprint stocks in this country have now fallen below the danger point. Hence, from October those responsible for organising the industry have had to put the newspapers back on what is known as the wartime tonnage ration basis.

My contention is that the newsprint position has not been handled skilfully or sympathetically by the Government. I put it no higher. It is not my contention that the Government have in any way followed cut a deliberate policy of cutting newsprint in order to suppress a Press which is critical of them. That is not my contention to-day. The Government have strongly denied doing any such thing, and one accepts their denials. On the other hand, one cannot entirely ignore the attitude of some Cabinet Ministers towards the Press. Of course, as we all know, these are Cabinet decisions. I can imagine the Cabinet sitting round the table and the Prime Minister saying: "Does any Minister here feel that the Press are not being fairly treated as regards newsprint supplies?" I find it difficult to imagine the Minister of Health, Mr. Aneurin Bevan, saying in reply to the Prime Minister: "I think the Press are not really being fairly treated," because Mr. Bevan's views on the Press do not, as it were, tend towards the likelihood of his being very sympathetic. One reads that he has said: The Tory Press of this country is one of the filthiest in the world. I wonder whether, when sitting at the Cabinet table, the Prime Minister would be influenced by a plea for the Press from Mr. Bevan, when he knows that Mr. Bevan has said that the Government were facing the most reactionary Press in the world, and the provincial Press was even worse than the national Press. Again, Mr. Bevan said: The national and provincial newspapers are pumping a deadly poison into the public minds week by week. There are, of course, some members of the Socialist Party who would like to shut down the Press altogether. The Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool said: I have come to the conclusion it would not be a bad idea if the papers were stopped for a couple of months. If the Government policy is allowed to go on as at present then it may well be true that that will happen. Whilst the Government have not been positive in any attempt to check criticism by throttling a free Press, I maintain that they have been negative in respect of any enthusiastic and ready response to realise the danger of a quite inadequate presentation of news; nor have they given energetic and quick help to the industry to prevent such a state of affairs.

What is the future position likely to be? The immediate outlook is very grim. There will inevitably be a seasonal drop in our imports of newsprint from North America. The stocks, as I have told your Lordships, are down below danger point. Therefore, there are not adequate stocks to draw on to compensate for the lower imports over the next few months. If Canadian deliveries cannot be advanced, and I have not heard that they can, there is a real danger of a cut in the present size of newspapers early in the new year. On a longer view, there are no prospects of this country being able to improve on the six-page paper for a long time. There is no reserve in hand if "government by ambulance" comes to an end, and there is a General Election in February. There is no reserve for newspapers to have extra newsprint to report adequately speeches made by the noble Lords opposite and others, on this side as well as on that, engaged in public controversy. The Festival of Britain will also, presumably, call for extra publicity and at the present moment there is no prospect of the newspapers being able to do justice to any demand for publicity for the Festival of Britain.

Your Lordships have been kind enough to listen to me explaining the position. In conclusion, I should like to make certain suggestions about what can be done at the present time. I divide these into three: immediate shortterm proposals, what I call medium-term proposals, and long-term proposals. The first of the immediate short-term proposals is for the Government to see that a continuity of dollars is allocated sufficient to ensure that on a permanent basis we can obtain one-third of our newsprint supplies from Canada. As I have said, Canada has turned to the United States because she has twice been let down through contracts being broken, and she feels, quite naturally, that while we may go to her now, while the shortage exists, once the position eased Canada might find herself seeking a market. Therefore, any allocation of dollars should not be on a short-term but on a long-term basis, in order to reestablish confidence in Canada. The second short-term suggestion is to postpone at once some percentage of the exports of British news-print, say, from now until the end of the first four months of 1951. in order to give our newspapers the maximum home-produced output during these critical months when seasonal imports have dropped.

I have two medium-term proposals. As about 75,000 tons out of our exports of 100,000 tons go to Australia, a Commonwealth conference should at once be called to see whether there could not be a shareout of Commonwealth production and Commonwealth purchases of newsprint. Australia has never been unsympathetic to any need that we have ever put to her, in peace and in war, and there is no reason to think there would not be a sympathetic approach by Australia towards such a Commonwealth conference if His Majesty's Government were to call it. Secondly, I should like to see His Majesty's Government urge the setting in train of a United Nations study of news-print needs, available supplies and allocations, with a view to recommending a distribution of world's supplies of newsprint which would satisfy U.N.E.S.C.O. requirements, which, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, are eight pages as a minimum for the presentation of world and domestic affairs.

Finally, on the long-term proposals. I should like to remind your Lordships of a letter which appeared in The Times of November 6 from the President of the Newspaper Society, in which he suggested that a world shortage of newsprint is with us and is likely to increase in the future, and that the only long-term solution is to harness the scientific knowledge and scientific resources within the Commonwealth to investigate the possibility of developing new sources of raw material different from those upon which we depend at present. I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply to this debate will give the House an assurance that the Government will act on immediate short-term, medium-term and long-term policies on the lines I have been bold enough to put forward, and I beg now to move for Papers.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend upon the excellent speech which he has made on behalf of news-print users. At the end of his speech he mentioned a letter which appeared in The Times from the President of the Newspaper Society and which suggested that the position was extremely critical because of a famine in world supplies of newsprint. I do not share that view. I do not think there is a permanent famine in world supplies of newsprint. Nor do I think there has been a famine, and I believe the scarcity at the moment will be discovered to be only temporary. When the President of the Newspaper Society wrote that letter he was looking at the world scene from Great Britain, and anybody who has been producing newspapers in Great Britain for the last five years might well think a world famine in newsprint existed. The real facts of the case, however, are very different.

The newspapers in this country get their supplies of newsprint from three different sources. The major part they obtain from the home mills. It must be remembered, however, that the home mills themselves have to import from abroad every ton of raw material; therefore they themselves are dependent on foreign sources of supply. In the second place, the newspapers obtain supplies of manufactured newsprint from the mills of Scandinavia. We have contracts with these mills, and they have carried out their contracts with this country and are continuing to do so. Our third source of supply is the Canadian mills. That question has been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and it is the one with which I want particularly to deal this afternoon.

The Canadian mills produce to-day the largest amount of newsprint in the world. It is true that a large part of their tonnage, practically 85 per cent., goes to the United States of America, but before the war a substantial part always came to this country, and the Canadian mills have been perfectly willing to continue those contracts since the war. Had we those contracts existing to-day, there would be no trouble about newsprint in this country. But they no longer exist. After the war the Government permitted us to make contracts with the Canadian producers for the importation of newsprint, but for one reason or another those contracts were from time to time whittled down by the Government. The principal reason, as your Lordships know, was the increasing dollar crisis. The Government felt that they could not supply sufficient dollars for the purchase of such a large tonnage of Canadian newsprint. We accepted the decision of the Government and approached the Canadian producers, and they agreed to cut down the order.

We owe a great deal to the Canadian newsprint producers. In 1940 this country was completely cut off from the supply of newsprint that it used to receive from Scandinavia. Owing to the foresight of individual publishers, in December, 1940, we had in this country a stockpile of 213,000 tons of newsprint. That was much larger than usual, as there were so many farseeing publishers at that time. At present, as your Lordships know, our stockpile is less than 70,000 tons. With the large stockpile we had in 1940, and with the Canadians coming to our rescue, we were enabled to keep going, and it was owing entirely to those factors that the British Press was able to be published throughout the war without a single day of non-publication. The Canadians sent on visits to this country some of their leading newsprint producers, to see that our requirements were all met, and did everything in their power to assist us, as we should expect them to do. After the war they offered to supply us as usual. I am not suggesting for a moment that sentiment was the only reason that enterered into their desire to supply us at the end of the war, because at that time there was no famine in newsprint. As a matter of fact, in 1945 the Canadian mills were working at only about 65 per cent. of capacity. The American consumption in 1945 was only 3,481,000 tons, and the Canadian mills could quite easily have produced 4,600,000 tons.

Of course, that situation has been radically altered since, for the reason which my noble friend gave to your Lordships —namely, the enormous extra consumption of the United States of America, who to-day are consuming an amount of news-print which would have seemed quite impossible before the war. The Canadian producers have done their best to keep up with the extra demand and have increased their production; but so fast has consumption grown that it is not possible for the mills to increase production at the same rate. They have, in fact, increased production by a considerable amount: in 1949 they produced 5,150,000 tons, and I believe they are producing this year about 5,300,000 tons. They are putting in new machines, quickening up the old machines and doing everything in their power to meet the situation. Nor, so far as newsprint is concerned, are we at the end of the spruce forests of Canada: there are still areas which are undeveloped. At the present moment, however, it is quite impossible to find any mill or company rich enough to start a new industry. The amount of money that would be required to-day to start a new mill, producing, say, 250,000 short tons of newsprint—and it would take about three years—would be in the neighbourhood of 75,000,000 dollars, and there would be no certainty that at the end the price of newsprint then ruling would give any return upon that vast sum of money.

The consequence of all this is that temporarily the consumption of the world may outstrip the production. As I said at the beginning, however, I have no fear that that will last. It is perfectly true, of course, that one of these days, when the backward nations of the world learn to read and desire their own newspapers, the situation will be different. But who is to say that in fifteen or twenty years' time, when that situation starts to show itself, the United States of America will still be consuming this vast amount of newsprint? Who is to say that the prosperity which causes this vast consumption of newsprint will still be with them? It was said some years ago that on visiting a country one could judge of its prosperity by the size of its newspapers. That is very true, because from the volume of trade showing itself in the advertising columns of a newspaper a good idea of the prosperity of any country can be obtained. In America, as your Lordships know, the newspapers are colossal; and I suppose they are a reflection of the greatest prosperity ever seen on this earth.

The matter to which I particularly want to draw the attention of the Government this afternoon is that of the Canadian contracts. When we merely whittled those contracts down, the Canadians did not raise any objection; they sympathetically understood why we did so, and the contracts were kept alive by token importations. It was not until we received the letter of the President of the Board of Trade in January of this year that the position become critical. Then a decision was taken that no more newsprint was to be imported. Actually the letter said that no more newsprint from Canada was to be imported in the first six months of this year, and that it was extremely improbable that the situation would allow of newsprint importation in the last six months. That is where the trouble began. I feel that the decision of the Government was hasty and too drastic. It would have been better if they had said: "You can have a token importation of 5,000 tons. Will you tell the Canadians that we are in an extremely difficult position owing to the dollar crisis, and that we wish to keep these contracts alive as a token that the moment the situation is better we shall once again trade with them as formerly?" When the Canadians were told that no token importation of their newsprint was to be allowed, they said that the contracts were at an end, as of course, they had a perfect right to do. It put them at that particular time in a very embarrassing position, because in December and January last there were signs of a slight depression in American trade. The consumption of newsprint had shown slight signs of falling off, and the mills were forced to reduce their working capacity to 80 per cent. owing to the refusal of this country to take any more newsprint.

Within three months the situation had changed. The slight signs of depression in America had disappeared, and the Canadian mills were able to sell to the American publishers all the newsprint which we had given up, but on the American publishers' terms. The American publishers' terms were that they wanted five-year contracts. As a result, the position now is that the Canadian mills have sold to the American publishers what used to be put aside for Great Britain, and we are dependent upon what the Canadian mills can find— extra small parcels of newsprint from time to time which they will let us have. Consequently, when in May the Government had second thoughts and said that we could import 25,000 tons this year, we had tremendous difficulty in obtaining it. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has mentioned, our most optimistic calculation is that we shall have 12,000 tons by the end of the year, but I am told that it is more likely to be even 10,000 tons. In June and July two further importations of newsprint were permitted of 37,000 tons each, so that we were able to give an order to the Canadians for 1951. But whether we shall get that newsprint in 1951 is still doubtful, as the Canadians are sold out, and unless they can be made to retract their contention that the previous contracts are null and void we are unlikely to receive more than a small portion of the amount.

I hope the Government will take seriously this point about the contracts, because in Canada there is the strongest possible feeling about it. I know that the spokesman for the Government said that it was not the Government who had, to use a figure of speech, torn up the contracts, but the Newsprint Supply Company. The Canadians know perfectly well that the Newsprint Supply Company entered into those contracts with the permission of the Government, and had to stop paying for the newsprint by order of the Government. That excuse may be understood by members of your Lordships' House, but it is not understood in Canada. They do not mind who has torn up the contract—it is a British contract which they say has been torn up.

In consequence of that, we find it quite impossible to negotiate another contract because they say: "What is the good of signing contracts? A British contract means nothing. If you sign a contract and, at a moment's notice, you can tear it up, it is no good to anybody." I would urge the Government, in helping us to negotiate new contracts—and I know that His Majesty's Government have a feeling to-day that there is not enough newsprint in this country and they would like to see more—to make every representation they can to put the situation right with Canada, so that the Canadians will know that the new contracts will not in any circumstances be treated as the old contracts were, and the suspicions that they have that the British Government want to cut them out of this market will be laid aside.

They cannot be cut entirely out of this market. It is not possible to get all the newsprint we want from Scandinavia, even if it is wise to get it all from one place. We have negotiated for every ton of newsprint we can get out of Scandinavia for this year, and we must remember that should an emergency arise again as it did in 1940-and that is not impossible—we should be cut off from Scandinavia in the same way as we were then. We should have nothing but the newsprint which we have in stockpile in this country, and that is less than 70,000 tons. That means that within three months no newspapers would be produced anywhere in Great Britain. In the last war it was considered that newsprint was a munition of war; that newspapers were essential, and that the morale of a country without newspapers suffered almost immediately. Nevertheless, if an emergency broke out in this country, within the next six months, or perhaps twelve months, there would be no newspapers throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain, and until the Canadians came once again to our rescue the situation would be extremely precarious. On strategic grounds alone it is essential that Canada should deliver to us over the next three or four years a large tonnage of newsprint. It is essential that we should have a stockpile in this country which could keep the newspapers going for at least twelve months in case of hostilities breaking out.

I suggest to your Lordships, and to the Government, that this matter, especially on the strategical side, is above Party considerations. It is a matter of urgency, and I press upon the Government that there should be representations from the highest quarter to the Canadian Government and. through them, to the Canadian newsprint industry, to restore once again the splendid relationship which we enjoyed both throughout and before the war.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords. I should like to associate myself with Lord Rothermere's references to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for the clear and excellent way in which he has stated the case. His speech has made it unnecessary for us who are interested parties to go fully into the details, but at the risk of wearying your Lordships I should like to make some general reflection upon the whole problem presented here in respect of newsprint. In particular, I should like to say a word about the absolutely imperative necessity for long-term planning in this particular case.

In any industry which is entirely dependent upon overseas supplies, it would be very remarkable f it were not necessary to make long-term plans and, as has already been said, the British Press is dependent either upon imports of newsprint or upon imports oi pulp for making it. There is nothing indigenous here that helps us to produce newsprint. But planning is more important even than in an ordinary industry which is dependent upon imports, for there is a threefold interest here. There is the interest of the industry as an industry, and there is the interest—and this is a very important consideration—of the journalistic profession. A long-term plan is most important to the journalistic profession which, after all, has a great responsibility: it is concerned with producing every day something which is read by the whole people. The journalistic profession is very seriously prejudiced by the shortage of newsprint and by the production of papers which are so very small. There is the frustration of correspondents overseas, who are constantly sending in material which does not get into the paper, and which is merely read, perhaps, by the editor or treated as a background letter for the office. Thirdly, newspaper publication is a public service. It is an industrial undertaking, but it has also the problem of seeing that information reaches the public.

Here is a case where the industry itself has endeavoured to do long-term planning. We as an industry really tried to teach a planning Government some of the tricks of the trade. There is no special merit on our part, because, even in peacetime before the last war, all of us who had been concerned with the manufacture of newspapers knew that it was necessary to safeguard the supply of raw materials. The newspaper is something that has to be produced with the same regularity that milk is delivered in the morning. Sometimes by purchasing mills overseas, by purchasing interests in the home mills, or in whatever way it may be, it is necessary for the industry to safeguard the steady and regular supply of the material. Therefore, it is not surprising that before the last war ended the Press was thinking of how to safeguard the material that would be necessary for the embarking upon more normal conditions in time of peace. In 1944, a year before the war ended, we obtained permission from the Government to order 100,000 extra tons of newsprint, to be brought over here and put in stock in order to enable the Press to come out of its war-time straitjacket.

In war time, in spite of the great pressure on shipping, the Government actually found space to bring over a certain amount of additional newsprint. In September, 1945, one month after the war with Japan ended, came the cutting off of Lease-Lend. The reaction of His Majesty's Treasury to that was to cut off our purchases of newsprint from Canada. During the period of negotiation of the American Loan, there followed some talk with the Government, as a result of which, during the summer of 1946, the Government accepted the concept of the necessity of long-term planning. But the terms were qualified, as compared with the days before the war. It was not just a question of returning to pre-war conditions. In the first place, it was agreed that it was not possible within any period in sight to get back to pre-war consumption of newsprint or to pre-war sizes of papers. Our utmost target at that time was a ten-page paper, compared with a twenty-page paper before the war, because, on the rising and increasing circulations that we have experienced, to get back to the twenty-page paper basis would require no less than 2,000,000 tons of newsprint.

The programme that was devised and discussed with the Government at that time was a target which could have risen to a consumption of 1,000,000 tons—a figure materially less than pre-war years. But the target, though reduced, must come partly from American sources, as well as from Europe. It was agreed that, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said, it should be on the basis of one-third from America to two-thirds from Europe. There are three reasons for this—first, on military grounds, because our experience had shown that the moment war broke out it was probable that all supplies would disappear from Europe. Secondly, this consideration was reinforced by political considerations. Russia has not attempted to stop Finland, second in our sources of supply, sending supplies, but she might do so. Thirdly, there were financial and general considerations. It is obviously a dangerous situation to have only one seller, and while it is true that there are three countries involved in our Scandinavian purchases, post-war experience, as well as pre-war experience, shows that they tend to act as one in relation to price and so on. The Government therefore agreed that we should have this insurance and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, has said, when I negotiated those contracts in September, 1946, I was able to take to Canada a letter conveying the undertaking by His Majesty's Government that the necessary permission to import would be given for those five-year contracts of 200,000 tons, rising to 250,000 tons and 300,000 tons thereafter. His Majesty's Government also subsequently confirmed the underwriting contracts which individual firms have made for a period not merely of five years but until the end of 1958, which would have put the Press back to something like the position in which it was before the war.

Your Lordships know what has happened. The noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, has referred to the military situation. In 1939, we had 300,000 tons a year coming in from Canada. This year we have 12,000 tons. Next year we shall be purchasing 75,000 tons, a figure which was less than the News Chronicle and Star alone consumed before the war—a quite derisory figure, when considered in relation to the British Press as a whole. The stock, instead of being nearly 250,000 tons, is something under 70,000 tons. What has happened about insurance? The British Press has been scrounging around the world, trying to pick up little parcels here and there. We heard the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, say a moment ago, that he was not quite sure, in view of the serious condition of the British Press, whether our Canadian shipments this winter will give us 12,000 tons or 10,000 tons. To such a marginal point has the Press been reduced. And, through this cutting off of these sources of supply, the price is rising. It has just been fixed at £41, as against about £30 during the war and £10 before the war. And it is still rising. It is £41 now, and we know that we shall have a further increase early next year. The whole experience of the last five years has confirmed the soundness of the diagnosis calling for this long-term planning.

Take, for example, what happened in 1947-drought in Scandinavia. It coincided with a particular dollar problem, and down came our supply. We could not replace the newsprint which we lost. In connection with Scandinavia, I would only add that in saying that we have had difficulty there, I do not want in any way to cast aspersions on our Scandinavian friends, who have in fact behaved extremely well towards us. But I wish His Majesty's Government would take this to heart. There is one reason, and one reason only, why we are a favoured customer in competing against people from all over the world who are knocking at the door in Scandinavia—that is their hope that we shall be a long-term customer.

It is really a strategic plan for the raw material of a most important industry and, still more, an important element of the national life—the British Press—that we are discussing. We are now in a position which is very precarious indeed. Whose fault is it? I do not wish to approach this question in a critical spirit. Of course, the dollar problem has had a great dual to do with it. The dates when we have had to rebuff our Canadian suppliers have, naturally, corresponded with the most acute periods of the dollar problem. The Press has been a dollar casualty. I am perhaps not quite so definite in my view about whether there is to be a long-term shortage of newsprint, because as literacy increases throughout the world demand will rise perhaps quite quickly. These are underlying problems in looking ahead over a term of years.

What could His Majesty's Government have done which they have not done? With all respect, I should like to say on that question two things which are really very important from the whole long-range planning point of view. First, I believe very strongly that throughout they have taken too low a view of the priority that should have been conceded to the British Press. Secondly, because of the acutensss of the problems with which they have had to deal in respect of industries which are users of imported raw material, I think they have taken too short a view of, and not appreciated sufficiently the vulnerability of, those industries. I think that has in fact been brought home very forcibly to His Majesty's Government, in particular in two other cases which are exactly analogous—I refer to timber supplies and pulp, where there arises the problem of alternative supplies, balancing and long-term arrangements as against the world generally.

I have said that I do not think the Government gave sufficent priority to the Press, and I believe that was in part because there has grown up the habit of reading small papers. People have become accustomed to thinking that the four-page paper is a comfortable size to read on the train up to town. But the Royal Commission on the Press, U.N.E.S.C.O. and all those who have really studied the Press problem, are unanimous that the four-page paper is too small, that the six-page paper is too small, and that the minimum for a country such as Great Britain is an eight-page paper.

I know that that is met with the argument that the space in such a paper is misused. Well, the final arbiter of that is the public. Those of us who would wish to see a rising standard in the British Press, who think that that is enormously important in the life of the country, are gravely handicapped precisely because of this shortage of newsprint. If you are going to print a certain type of article or comment or approach, except in a very minute degree you cannot get people into the habit of reading, let us say, Parliamentary reports in a very small paper in which all readers expect to read practically everything from beginning to end. But if you have space to spare, then you can begin to alter and develop. It is common experience that during the war all the papers looked alike. They had to be alike; there was no possibility of variation. But when papers were increased from four to six pages, a much higher proportion of the extra two pages was used for reporting Parliamentary and international affairs. There was no room in the four-page paper. The result is similar in an increase from six to eight pages. And if we ever return to ten or twelve pages, we can afford to print a page which will be read by 10 or 15 per cent. of readers—and that matters when one thinks of a paper with a circulation of, say, 2,000,000. One can do something. There is a possibility for journalistic enterprise and for vocational work in the Press if you can afford to spare pages which are going to be read by only two or three hundred thousand people. Three hundred thousand readers of certain types of article may make a great impact. A development from a four to a six, an eight or a ten page paper really makes an immense difference to the variety and the impact of the Press on those with whom it is concerned. I do not believe that His Majesty's Government have given anything like sufficient weight to considerations of that sort.

I will spend only a few moments on what we are to do in this situation. Recently the Government have shown us that they realise the strength of this case. As my noble friend Viscount Rothermere has said, we have made it difficult for the Canadian mills to make a new contract. How can we convince the Canadians that we mean business? How can we satisfy the Canadian mills that the history of the last few years will not be repeated? But I agree with Lord Balfour of Inchrye that there is something else in question besides the Canadian position. He referred to the need for an international allocation— a suggestion which in fact has been made in various quarters and discussed in various international conferences. Unless the United States are prepared for some degree of restraint, there will be no material change in the situation for a number of years to come. At this moment the United States are consuming 6,000,000 tons out of the 9,000,000 tons produced throughout the world, and that consumption is rising. If that rise continues there is no prospect within the next two or three years that we shall be able to get out of our present very tight situation.

It is not beyond possibility that the United States Government may be interested in this, as they were in 1947. Your Lordships may remember that when Marshall Aid began, United States officials, on their own initiative, inserted newsprint as one of the commodities in regard to which assistance was to be given under that scheme. It was His Majesty's Government who threw it out of the list, on the ground that food was more important than newsprint. But the fact that it was put in by the United States is significant. They understand the political importance of newsprint. Therefore, while it might seem rather optimistic and Utopian to believe that anything will be done by the United States, I think what has already happened is an indication that the position is not so hopeless as it may appear. I hope His Majesty's Government will take the initiative in the kind of action that has been indicated.

Reference has been made to longer-term proposals—for instance, the possibility of developing newsprint production in New Zealand, and so on, and research into other materials. This is the last point I wish to make. But I should like to add that in view of what has happened a problem is posed for those in private enterprise who would go ahead and develop newsprint production. It is within your Lordships' knowledge that the Newfoundland industry was developed from Britain with British capital. The New-foundland mills, developed by the Daily Mail group and the Cornerbrook group, were developed to safeguard the strategic reserve, as it were, of the British Press; but Newfoundland supplies were included in the Canadian ban. That farsighted action was useless when the crisis came. Supposing we were, either individually or as a Press, to go forward and put money into development here or there abroad; would that be a guarantee? In a partially planned economy, such as we have now, the rôle of private enterprise in developing the strategic background of an industry has to be reconsidered.

We have a short-period problem, and on that there is the possibility of approach to Canada and the United States on political grounds. But behind it, there is the problem of development, which cannot just be left to the industry, after this experience, to tackle on its own responsibility. Somehow and in some way His Majesty's Government must give, both to the Canadian people, who are asked to make long-term contracts, and to anyone else who is taking a hand in this development, the conviction that in principle it really backs the general supply policy which is proposed. We ask that His Majesty's Government should give concrete evidence that they wish to have a programme for developing eight-page standard newspapers in the British Press; that they desire to have an American source (for the reasons given) as a part of the supplies scheme; that the contracts overseas for this essential material shall be firmly based on a long term, and that, in order to get over the difficulty in the meantime, they will endeavour to enter into relations with the Governments mostly concerned—that is, those of Canada and of the United States.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, although the hour is early I shall keep the House for only a few moments. The noble Lord, Lord Layton, has said in the early part of his speech that this is a problem with three aspects which affects the industry, the journalistic profession and the general public. I felt that this afternoon someone might say a word or two, not as an expert but as a man in the street, on the third point of view. Lord Balfour of Inchrye suggested that those who criticised the Press for the use which they made of the additional space, when they had it, were guilty of seeking to censor by controlling the issue of news-print. I venture to suggest that that is an unnecessarily harsh view to take. I think one is entitled to look at the Press to criticise it and to criticise the use which is made of extra paper, when it is available, without being accused of wishing to impose any form of censorship or to control them by rationing newsprint.


May I make myself clear? Perhaps I was misunderstood. I said that those who criticise in that way, and wish to interpret their criticism by positive action, find themselves drawn along the line of censorship.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. I have no wish to misrepresent him, and I am not one of those who wish to follow up my criticism by seeking to impose a smallersized paper than the necessities of the newsprint position dictate. Noble Lords will, I am sure, agree that it is not only a question of the freedom of the Press, of proprietors, editors and writers, to write and to publish freely. Even more fundamentally important is the freedom of the reader to obtain, freely and without undue bias, the information and views of the Press. Equally, I feel that the size of the Press, and the use which is made of its size, is just as much the concern of the general public as it is of the industry or of the journalistic profession.

Earlier in the year the newspapers of this country were somewhat bigger than they are at the present time. I ask your Lordships to think back, apart from the General Election period, to the use which was made of the extra space by most of the national popular dailies. There are honourable exceptions. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, was asking the Government when looking at the import programme to remember the claims of the food of the mind. What sort of food for the mind did the extra page in fact provide? Was it in the main more Parliamentary news, more local government news, more industrial news, more news of foreign affairs, more scientific and cultural news? By and large, in the popular Press the extra space was devoted to what one might properly, I chink, term items of entertainment value: more sport, more gossip items, more theatrical and society gossip. The case for extra paper and for larger newspapers, based on the need for a betterinformed democracy, for a citizenry who understand what is happening in their own country and abroad, is unanswerable. But if the extra space is to be used to report news about some Sicilian or Corsican bandit, or some Greek abduction, in place of foreign news, if it is to report rows on city councils instead of matters of serious import, if it is to tell the gossip of what was happening in society circles in London last night, then I think the case really falls to the ground.


When I said that a more than proportionate use had been made of the extra space for Parliamentary reports, I was basing my statement on exact assessment and measurement of the space. When the papers went up from four to six pages, the space devoted to Parliamentary reports, etc., showed a big increase; and when they went up from six to eight pages the amount of space given to Parliamentary reports, and to home and foreign political news, increased more than in proportion to the rest of the reading matter contained in those extra pages.


I naturally accept that, if the analysis has been made on the basis of weighting it according to the circulations involved. If it has not been so made, then the analysis leaves something to be desired. In what I was saying, I was referring particularly to the mass circulation popular papers. I suggest that anyone reading those during the period when they were larger could not fail to get the impression that the greater proportion of their additional space was devoted to entirely frivolous purposes.


My Lords, may I say that the analysis of which I have spoken was made for each paper separately? You will find some account of the increase from four to six pages in the Report of the Royal Commission on the Press. It was also made for each paper separately as regards the increase from six pages to eight. The trend was the same in each instance.


My Lords, I had reached my concluding sentences. I hope that the Government will find it possible to meet the requirements of the newspaper industry for more newsprint, so that we may have at as early a date as possible at least an eight-page paper. But I make the plea, particularly since there are in the House noble Lords representing the newspaper industry, that when these extra pages are made available they shall be put to better purposes than those to which many of the pages are put, even at the present time in the very attentuated newspapers which we have.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to make one or two very brief remarks to you as one who has been a director of a newspaper for many years. I am not going to enter into the controversy which has arisen between the noble Lord who has just sat down and Lord Layton, because one easily gets into deep water as between the man who buys the newspaper he likes and the man who prints what he thinks the consumer likes. No doubt the people who produce newspapers ought to be as highminded as possible. But they want to sell their newspapers, and it is rather difficult for the river to rise above its source. The public decides. I should, however, like to support very strongly the view of my noble friend Lord Layton, that the Government have not given the proper priority in the matter of newsprint for the Press, I took out this morning figures, which I believe to be correct, showing that the imports of tobacco into this country in the year 1949–50 cost £31,000,000, while the imports of news-print in the same period—that is the year 1949–50. up to September 30-cost £1,289.0000. In addition, of course, there were large imports of mechanical pulp which I think were of the value of about £9,000.000. But these were not all for the newspapers; they were partly for export, and partly for periodicals. I am not going to give your Lordships a breakdown of these latter figures, but it is clear that the Government do pay much more attention to the imports of tobacco, and I think even of films, than they do to the needs of the newspapers for news-print.

I consider it a matter of absolutely vital importance that the British electorate should be educated in what is going on in the world, and should have the opportunity of reading about foreign affairs to the same extent as the people of the United States. It is possible to have much too small newspapers—as, indeed, we have now. I think it is equally possible to have newspapers that are too large, as are certainly the Sunday editions of American newspapers. These last are really fantastic productions, and their weight is amazing. One of them (I think it is the Sunday edition of the New York Times) often weighs, if I am correct, something like 10 1b. The size of such papers is quite absurd. But the fact remains that the American public now have an immensely better opportunity of understanding what is going on in the world than the British public have. The British public stand in a position of enormous responsibility in the world. It should be borne in mind, moreover, that in this country we have the system of "one man one vote," and it is absolutely vital that the electorate should be educated, so that they may vote for the right people, whether their votes go to the Right or to the Left. With papers going down in the scale from eight pages to six, and from six pages to four; and when we recognise the necessity of advertising and advertising revenue, when we know that it is essential to devote columns to sport and other forms of entertainment, we realise that it is almost impossible for the ordinary big circulation daily to give anything like the news about the world which the British public ought to have. Therefore, I regard newsprint as one of the Al priorities on any dollars or other exchange which we have in the world.

I myself have been a director of The Times for many years. We are now, unfortunately, driven actually to reducing the number of our readers. We do not think that we can produce The Times in the proper form of a national record under an average of eleven pages, and, in order to produce such a paper, and not exceed our newsprint tonnage, we have had in the last week to cut our circulation by 25,000. We have done that because we are determined not to diminish the quality of the paper as regards the news it gives, the reports it presents of Parliament, and so on. We regard this as vital, and the result has been that we have had to reduce our circulation in the manner which I have described. And it is, of course, a very painful thing for any paper to have to do. It means that we—and this applies equally to any other papers—can fulfil our duty properly only if we are allowed larger amounts of newsprint, and if we feel satisfied that the supply of newsprint is going to continue, so that we can make plans for the future.

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, I am indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for raising this Question in the Motion which he has put forward. I am also grateful to him for his constructive speech, for his courtesy and for the delightful manner in which he has put his points. There was only one blot on his speech, and, so that I may get over the nasty part straight away, I am going to take him to task for it now. The noble Lord made a shocking statement, and one which I hope he will withdraw; for I repudiate, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, his statement that, after they had been made, our contracts with Canada were broken with a harshness and a lack of courtesy which compared unfavourably with the treatment accorded by His Majesty's Government to Russia. With his great knowledge and vast experience of industry, the noble Lord should not have made such a statement. It was refuted by the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, who said that, when these contracts were broken, the Canadians accepted our reasons for doing so with sympathy and understanding. These two viewpoints do not seem to marry up.


My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive my interrupting. I said that I was referring to the paring down of the contracts.


My Lords, I was quoting exactly what the Canadians themselves have said, both in Press comment and in the words of the leaders of that particular industry. I confirm entirely what the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, has said. He was referring to the paring down from 300,000 to 100,000 tons in 1947. It was the abrupt stop in January, 1950, which the Canadians claim has been harsh treatment, and which I compared with the sensitiveness of His Majesty's Government to interfere with any of the contracts with countries behind the Iron Curtain for machine tools and jet fighters.


My Lords, I understood that the noble Lord was referring to those holding authoritative positions in Canada, and I think that impression was convoyed to other noble Lords. But they were not; they were interested parties. No Canadian statesman has made the statement attributed to him by the noble Lord. That that should go out from your Lordships' House, at a time when every noble Lord who has spoken has pleaded that the Government should make an approach to the Canadian Government, is a disgrace. I have said that, and now the rest of my speech is going to be all smiles; because I agree with nearly everything I have heard from your Lordships this afternoon. I must, however, disagree with the emphasis which several noble Lords have placed upon their interpretation of the facts, though, by and large, the facts themselves were correct.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, for providing us with an opportunity, which we have all too rarely, of listening to the brilliant analysis given by the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere. His excellent speech lost nothing by its moderation. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said he was not going to trot out the old bogey that this wicked Government want to suppress the Press. It was about the only thing he did not trot out, and I am getting rather tired of hearing my right honourable friend the Minister of Health quoted on some of the things he has said about the Press. That is just a one-string fiddle, and I should imagine that noble Lords opposite are as tired of it as I am. I am going to give them a chance of altering their tune.

I would ask them whether they would be interested in my opinion of the British Press. I know that to compare myself with the Minister of Health is perhaps presumptuous. I have not the sex appeal; I have no appeal to the cartoonist. But this afternoon I happen to be speaking on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and I claim that the British Press is the best in the world. I claim that it is the freest Press in the world. I do not always agree with all that it prints, and I expect that the noble Lord opposite also does not agree with some of it. I am not going to have it said that a freely-expressed opinion by one individual represents the opinion of His Majesty's Government. Although the bulk of the British Press happens to hold a political opinion contrary to that held by His Majesty's Government, there is no reason for me to say anything other than truth. When I come to the provincial Press, I would say that it has an even higher standard than that of some of the national papers. Having said that, I hope that the next time the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, quotes a member of the Government as having an authoritative opinion on the British Press, he will quote me. I shall now go down into history—


As the man who put Bevan right.


—as the man who put the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, right.

At the outset of his speech, the noble Lord said, rightly, that the story has been told with varying degrees of emphasis, and in various versions. He said bluntly that he held His Majesty's Government to blame for the present position. The noble Lord, Lord Layton, said exactly the same thing. I am going to say bluntly that I refute categorically the suggestion that the position arising to-day is any fault of His Majesty's Government. I say that without any equivocation whatever. And in saying that, I do not dispute any of the facts which noble Lords have stated this afternoon. It is true that in 1946 there was a contemplated agreement with Canada. It is true that the noble Lord, Lord Layton, went to Canada to negotiate that agreement, armed with a letter the terms of which I have in front of me —I do not think it necessary for me to quote them, as they have already been published. It is true that those contracts were frustrated by the Government. But why? Because of the convertibility crisis and the dire necessity which faced us.

The noble Lord, Lord Layton, said that of course the dollar problem had something to do with it—a masterly understatement! It has everything to do with it. The noble Lord can shake his head as much as he likes: he knows that it has. I appreciate the noble Lord's viewpoint on this matter. He will forgive me for saying that his opinion on the priority of newsprint is not very good. He is a special pleader. I have heard exactly the same story from every industry in this country which has suffered cuts owing to the dollar shortage. Of course the Government never give the industry concerned a high enough priority. The Government never do. All the arguments pro and con were made very clear by my right honourable friend Sir Stafford Cripps in another place on July 17, 1947, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said, by my noble friend, Viscount Hall, in this House in the same month. That policy was exactly the same as the policy laid down by the Caretaker Government— namely, that, while it was necessary to have as large newspapers as possible, the overriding consideration must be the exchange position.

Under the revised agreements made after the agreement which the noble Lord, Lord Layton, made in Canada had been frustrated, imports were limited to 100,000 tons in the years 1948 and 1949. There was an escalator clause which permitted an increase of 50,000 tons per annum until the original figures were reached. But no undertaking was given by His Majesty's Government in respect of these revised agreements or contracts: they were made with our knowledge, but we never said that the currency would be there. What happened? On July 6, 1949, we had the dollar standstill. The noble Lord, Lord Layton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, would, I expect, argue that that is all right, but that any consequential cut should apply to everybody else except them. That has been the burden of the noble Lord's speech, as I interpret it—and I do not blame him.


I gave reasons for suggesting that the allocation was not the right one. That, of course, is a matter of opinion. I simply brought forward arguments to show why newsprint was given a lower allocation of dollars than it should have had in relation to the general allocation.


I do not complain that the noble Lord did not give his reasons for saying that, but they remain his opinions when he has stated them.


Very convincingly.


The noble Lord has made so many speeches on this (and I have heard them) that he has really convinced himself he is right. But the noble Lord will be the first to admit that there might, by some chance, be another opinion. It was the opinion of His Majesty's Government, both on convertibility and on the dollar standstill, that newsprint would have to suffer. That was and still remains the opinion of the Government, and they take full responsibility for it.

At the end of July, 1949, the President of the Board of Trade told the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, who, as noble Lords know, is the chairman of the Newsprint Supply Company—Lord Layton is his deputy—that, pending reassessment of the 1949–50 dollar programme, the question of Canadian imports of newsprint, both in 1950 as a whole and in the first half of 1950, in particular, must be left open. My right honourable friend told the Newsprint Supply Company, quite frankly, that no dollars could be made available. But the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, will agree—I think he mentioned it—that in spite of that warning, 100,000 tons was allowed to be imported for the year 1949. On January 16 of this year the Newsprint Supply Company were told that no imports could be authorised for the first half of 1950, or for the second half, unless our dollar position improved. I have here chapter and verse, if any noble Lord does agree with these statements I am making.

I am going to prove to your Lordships, I hope courteously, that the Newsprint Supply Company are not entirely free from blame. In about November or December of last year, the Newsprint Supply Company came to see my right honourable friend and asked whether they could have a larger newspaper for the period of Christmas, to enable them to carry the advertising for the Christmas shopping. We were not very enthusiastic. But the Company then asked, "Well, if there is a General Election, can we have a larger newspaper to carry the General Election news, if and when it comes?" Some intelligent guesswork was going on at about that time, and it was anticipated that there might be a General Election in the early months of the year. We agreed, provided that the following conditions were fulfilled: that the newsprint stocks did not fall below 100,000 tons; that there would be no dollars for more news-print, and no interference with the 100.000 tons which would have to be set aside for exports of United Kingdom newsprint. That is why during the Election period the newspapers of this country published a seven-page news-paper; and, because of the freedom which we gave to the Newsprint Supply Company, they carried on with a seven-page newspaper.

To continue with the history of this matter, in April of this year the Newsprint; Supply Company apparently realised that their programme of a seven-page newspaper, which they had budgeted to carry on until midsummer, was rather getting them into a jam and would result in a fall in their stock of newsprint, which would perhaps mean a six-page or even less than a six-page newspaper after July. But, in spite of that knowledge, they still carried on with a seven-page newspaper. On April 12 they came to my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade and asked for a minimum import of dollar newsprint from Canada in order to keep contracts alive. The pressure to release dollars started from then on. On May 5 we were informed for the first time that Canadian imports would be necessary to maintain even six pages in the second half of 1950 and, unless these dollars were forthcoming, it would mean a drop to less than six pages in the second half of 1950. The pressure was increasing. On May 9, within four days of that request, we authorised the import of 25,000 tons of newsprint from Canada in the second half of 1950. On May 15 the first suggestion reached us that an authorisation for the first half of 1951 would be necessary in order to secure our 1950 supplies from Canada. The pressure to release dollars was still going up.


Of course it was.


But during this time the newspapers were still printing a seven-page newspaper, knowing that stocks were getting lower and lower all the time. I hope I am not bringing any acrimony into this discussion.


The noble Lord said "up to the middle of April," did he not?


No, production continued at this rate until the beginning of July. In June, a definite request was made that we should release these dollars for 1951 so as to secure the 1950 supplies. All this is laid down in correspondence which passed between my right honourable friend and the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, the Chairman of the Newsprint Supply Company, and Mr. Bishop, the General Manager of the Newsprint Supply Company. So we went on trying to improve the position as much as ever we could, and on June 29 we authorised the import of 37,500 tons for the first half of 1951.

On July 1, the newspapers reverted from seven pages to six. All this time —and they must share the responsibility— they were putting pressure upon His Majesty's Government to spend dollars or give them dollars so that they could import from Canada. I am not saying that they acted in bad faith. They were first of all urging that they could not maintain even a six-page newspaper unless they had the dollars, and they then said: "Unless you give us these dollars for 1950, we shall not be able to place orders for 1951." They were clearly not acting like the wise virgins. They were running their stocks below a minimum figure which they set, the deadline being in the region of 100,000 tons. Yet one of the reasons why they wanted us to allow them to have a seven-page paper after the Election period was that the heaviness of their stocks was proving an embarrassment to them. When they finished printing their seven-page paper on July 1, the stock was under that figure of 100,000 tons. On June 20, we authorised importation of another 37,500 tons for the second half of 1951, making a total of 100,000 tons for the eighteen months from July, 1950, to December, 1951.

Now can anybody who looks at those figures dispassionately come to the conclusion that His Majesty's Government are to blame? Take, first of all, the convertibility crisis which I have mentioned previously. Take again the dollar crisis. I forgive the noble Lord, Lord Layton, for being a special pleader, and I use that language with no offence because, of course, if I sat in his place I should say the same. Perhaps he will allow me to finish my argument and I will give way to him in a moment. His Majesty's Government have a responsibility. I am not going into the question of: "Which would you rather have, newspapers or food?"—although the noble Lord. Lord Balfour of Inchrye, did mention petrol. I am sorry he did, because he knows very well that the circumstances of the release of petrol from the ration bore no parallel to this. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, is aware of the deal which was done over that matter, and he knows it was a very good one. We did everything we could. We accepted the estimates and we gave the Newsprint Supply Company freedom of action. If the Newsprint Supply Company had been prudent, they would not have been in the precarious position in which they found themselves. On October 22, they had to revert to a tonnage rationing system, with the results which have been so well exampled by the noble Lord, Lord Brand.


May I ask the noble Lord to complete the story by indicating the reasons why we continued on the seven-page basis, and by explaining why the home production of the mills, which is to a very large extent under the control of His Majesty's Government, fell below the estimated requirements? The periodicals were allowed a rising share of the available supply of newsprint, and after we had planned our seven-page paper the export figures were increased. Why, in view of the shortage, were the export figures allowed to grow?


The noble Lord knew all this. The Newsprint Rationing Committee exist for this purpose. They were asked: "If you want a seven-page newspaper after the Election period, will your Scandinavian deliveries come up to scratch?" The noble Lord brought up the question of the pettifogging, paltry tonnage which the periodicals have. The noble Lord may laugh, but he knew all that. All the information was in the hands of the News-print Supply Company and. in spite of this, the noble Lord's colleagues went on printing a seven-page paper and running down their stocks. That is the story of the past, and I think it is due to His Majesty's Government that that story should be told in plain facts. They are the facts. Both the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, and, I suppose, the deputy Chairman, Lord Layton, must know that. Here is the correspondence, and I have told your Lordships the facts.

Now let us come to the future. The noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, did not take such a gloomy view as the noble Lords, Lord Balfour and Lord Layton, who said that this was a long-term crisis. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Brand, expressed that view, but three of our greatest Press magnates should surely know whether it is a short-term crisis or a long-term crisis. There is obviously a crisis now, and the question is: How are we going to get over it? Now there are one or two ways. If the shortage is caused by stockpiling, if the shortage is caused by a world shortage, perhaps there is some commercial sense in the suggestion put forward by the President of the Newspaper Society in his letter—I thought it an excellent letter—to The Times of September 3. But if it is only a short-term problem, I do not know whether it will be worth while for private enterprise to do the things which the President of the Newspaper Society said could be done. I also read in a newspaper today of a suggestion that in Algeria newsprint can be made from the eucalyptus tree. That rather attracted me, because if I bought Lord Rothermere's newspaper, and did not want to use it as a newspaper, I might use it as a handkerchief if I had a cold. But all these suggestions do not alter the main fact that there is a world shortage, and they do not alter the fact that, according to the evidence placed before your Lordships this afternoon— with which I do not disagree—all the dollars made available will not at the present moment get newsprint from Canada.

The noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, supported by the noble Lords, Lord Layton and Lord Balfour, wanted to know about the possibility of obtaining long-term contracts on a sound basis with the Canadian suppliers. I cannot commit His Majesty's Government on that matter here and now, but I will undertake to convey what the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, has said—and, if I may say so again, with respect, I thought he put his case with such moderation as to be most convincing—to my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade. I shall have to leave it to him. As my noble friend the Leader of the House has been sitting here, I should not think the pleas that were made by the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, will pass unheeded. I will see that full consideration is given to everything he has said.

In the case of Scandinavia, as in the case of every other country in Europe, if you scraped the barrel right to the bottom you would not get much news-print, because Europe is dollar hungry. This is the crux of the whole position. Every country with any newsprint, France or any other, will sell it to America for dollars. Whether or not America is buying too much newsprint is not a question upon which I should be expected to express an opinion here and now. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, also made comment about the 100,000 tons of newsprint that is going out to the Commonwealth. He is quite right. His figures are perfectly accurate: 75,000 tons go to the Commonwealth of Australia. Here again, there is a balance of payments problem which I know the noble Lord will appreciate. These contracts with Australia and the rest of the Commonwealth are long-term contracts with some of our oldestablished mills. I can tell your Lordships that my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade has already tentatively discussed the position with representatives of the Commonwealth countries as to whether or not we can get some release from our immediate commitments.

The President of he Board of Trade is prepared to go on with those consultations to see whether we can reach agreement. I should not like to say anything to prejudice the outcome, but in a world of shortage those who have, like to hold. With regard to the question of increased production from our own mills, they are producing at capacity at the present time; even if we were able to give them the raw material they could not produce any more. Noble Lords who are knowledgeable on this matter know that these mills suffered badly during the war, and in quite a number of cases are in the process of rebuilding. We at the Board of Trade are backing their rebuilding as hard as we can, but here again it is a long-term project, and it is difficult to see how they can contribute anything immediately.

But, through all this, I should not like the impression created by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that we are a newsstarved country, to go unchallenged. We are not. With reference to the U.N.E.S.C.O. figures which the noble Lord read out, we have in this country 570 daily newspapers to every thousand of the population, which places us the first on the list in that respect. America may have big papers in bulk, but there are there only 357 papers per thousand of the population. If those of your Lordships who are statistically minded like to work this out in kilograms, it would be seen that we are only twelfth on the list, and there are about sixty countries below us.


We were first.


We were first in a lot of things, but unfortunately, we are not now.


Hear! hear!


What the noble Lord is wanting to do is to make us go down the list still further, because he wants us to spend precious dollars, and cut exports. After all, included in those who are below us are France and Belgium. I fully agree with everything the noble Lord has said about the desirability of making more supplies available. The noble Lord asked me: "What are we to do when an Election comes?" From recent happenings in another place over these last two days, that appears to be a remote, rather than a near, possibility. I do not think we need pay much attention to that at the present time.

Then there is the question of the Festival of Britain. I do not know whether the Festival of Britain will place an undue burden upon the newspapers or whether, if there is a shortage of newspapers, it will have an adverse effect upon those who come to the Festival of Britain. I quite agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, in what he said, but dire necessity is a hard taskmaster. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government are not special pleaders for anyone: they have to be impartial. They have to weigh up to the best of their ability the needs of the nation. They have to weigh up very many other considerations and I say now, as I have said before —and I want noble Lords to understand this—that in 1945, immediately the fighting war was over, the Caretaker Government came to the conclusion that, while larger newspapers were desirable, considerations of dollars should be predominant. This Government came to the same conclusion in the convertibility crisis and in the dollar crisis. I want noble Lords in all parts of this House to accept this assurance: that if we can find a way of getting over those difficulties in the future, we shall, as soon as we can, increase the supplies of newsprint so that the people of this country can have bigger and better newspapers.


My Lords, one aspect should be brought forward that the noble Lord has not mentioned— the suggestion that this matter of shortage of newsprint throughout the world should be brought to the notice of the United Nations Organisation. Is there any possibility of their being able to find a solution?


I am grateful for that point. I will convey that suggestion to my right honourable friend.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the trouble he has taken, and for the arguments that he has put forward in his reply. I want to add just a word or two. I am afraid the noble Lord seems to have given us not a great deal of comfort. We have had a general assurance that it is the Government's wish that, as soon as possible, the number of pages in newspapers should be increased. We have had an undertaking that the noble Lord will refer to the appropriate Governmental quarters the plea that dollars should be provided for long-term contracts, and we have had a statement that relief for home mills from their export requirements is under discussion. I do not think that unfairly summarises what we have obtained out of the debate. I am afraid that it does not carry us very much further.


I think we have got something more than that. We have had, as I said before, a very concise statement of the case from the noble Viscount. Lord Rothermere, which I think the noble Lord will agree has been most useful.


Yes; and, of course, we have had, in Lord Lucas's account of the history of this matter, a powerful speech for the defence. Let me say only that I am quite unabashed by his strictures on me as regards quoting the widely held view in Canada. The noble Lord gave me the impression of being somewhat confused in retelling that history. Sometimes it was the industry that was at fault—contracts were broken by the industry and the Government stood aside—and next we heard that the Government stood firm. There seemed to me to be that confusion in the theme running through his argument. But, my Lords, of course I agree that the overriding consideration is the dollar position. We do not argue about that. But I would remind the noble Lord that the dollar position is not an act of God. The dollar crisis is the responsibility of His Majesty's Government, who have had complete power for four years.

What I said with regard to 1947 was that petrol, tobacco and newsprint were all cut, Petrol has been restored; the tobacco situation is not bad; but the newsprint position is worse than in 1947. That is the point I made. However, my Lords, I gather that there is not much between us, because I read, in the necessarily abbreviated reports of proceedings in another place, that the Home Secretary, Mr. Chuter Ede, has said that virtually all our dollar problems are at an end. He is reported in a daily paper to-day as having said that, and also that there is no need for Marshall Aid. I gather there was some elaboration of that in Hansard, but of course the trouble is that we do get these abbreviated reports. That is one of the things we are suffering from by reason of this newsprint shortage.


That is why the noble Lord ought not to quote them.


The Leader of the House will realise that I am citing just one of the grave disadvantage from which the public suffer owing to this shortage of newsprint. But, my Lords, the position is not satisfactory. I only trust that the assurances and hopes of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will be converted into executive action by the Government. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.