Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question,
That this House doth agree with the Committee in the Resolution, 'That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £48,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for Stationery, Printing, Paper, Binding, and Printed Books for the Public Service; for the Salaries and Expenses of the Stationery Office; and for sundry Miscellaneous Services, including Reports of Parliamentary Debates.'
We are now asked to turn our attention again to the Vote for Stationery and Printing which includes the provision of typewriters for Government offices. When this Vote was passing through Committee, a number of questions were put to the Financial Secretary regarding the origin of the typewriters used in Government offices, and as to whether these were of British origin or were brought from foreign countries. The right hon. Gentleman explained on that occasion, and in various replies to questions since, that most of the typewriters actually in use, have been the property of the Government for a number of years, and owing to the contraction of the work it was desirable to use up the old machines and not to buy any new machines at all for the present. Therefore, he said, there were very few British machines in use at the present time. I quite accept that explanation, and I only wish to say that when the time comes for buying new machines, I hope the testing of the British machines will be complete, and if British machines are found to be as good as foreign machines and if they can be had at a reasonable price, that the Government will see their way to give some orders to the British houses.
But in his speech on the Committee stage of this Resolution the right hon. Gentleman used words of disparagement with regard to the British typewriting machines that I feel quite sure went further than he intended to go, and which, as a matter of fact, if unqualified, are likely to do considerable harm to British trade in these articles. One of these firms has recently executed an order of several hundred machines for the Swedish Government, and as that Government had the whole world from which to buy, I think it reasonable to suppose that British machines were able to hold their own in that case. I think if the right hon. Gentleman reads the verbatim report of his speech he will agree with me that it went beyond what he meant to say on this question, and I hope, in reply to me, he will be able to qualify his statement on that occasion.
I am obliged to the hon. Member for calling my attention to this matter, but the strongest expression of opinion that I used in that speech, as he will see if he looks at it, does not and was not intended to apply to typewriters. It is quite true that I said in regard to the nationality of certain labour-saving devices:
I am afraid it is a fact that British workmanship has not produced as yet a very good article."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1926; col. 1602, Vol. 191.]
That was not intended to apply to typewriters at all but to quite a different class of labour-saving machines, to which I think I referred in another part of the speech. Notwithstanding that, I agree, after looking at the whole of the comments which I used, that I did go rather further than I intended and certainly further than I ought to have gone in regard to this matter. I really was dealing throughout the Debate upon this Vote with a state of things which is not quite up to date. As the hon. Member will recollect I told the House that the real reason why we have not a large number of British made machines at present, is because we had a very large stock at the end of the War and we have not yet worked off that stock. Of course at that time, it was impossible to get
British machinery of any sort because everything was turned on to a War basis, and we have been working off that old stock. I do not think I am entitled to say at the present moment that there is any very marked superiority—perhaps there is no superiority—of foreign machines over British. I said—and it has been rather challenged—that the requirements of the Government were rather peculiar. What I meant was this. One reason why at an earlier date, at all events, apart from the relative merits, foreign machines were bought in very large numbers was that it is very important for the Government, who have to buy large numbers of these machines, to send them to all parts of the world, very often to out of the way places and stations, and it is very important, if possible, to have machines whose makers send spare parts, standardised spare parts, to the different parts of the world so that it may be as easy as possible to do repairs.
A different state of affairs obtains in the City of London, where you may have a very good machine, and when it breaks down you can get it repaired by merely crossing the street, but it may be a very different thing in some of our African dependencies. But I am very glad to give the assurance that the hon. Member asks for with regard to the future—in fact, I think I have given it already. I have every reason to believe that an excellent British-made typewriter is now to be had on the market, a most excellent machine. I do not think it is necessary for me to attempt to say at this moment whether they are fully equal in all respects to foreign ones, or superior to foreign ones, because the Government as such is not in a position to buy a large number of machines and will not be for some time to come, but the Stationery Department have bought, as I said in answer to a question the other day, a certain number of British machines. We are testing them, and we shall continue to test them, and unless, which I do not anticipate, there were a really marked superiority in foreign-made articles, the House may rest perfectly assured that the British-made article will receive every preference to which it is entitled. I should like to say in this connection that, apart from these particular articles, the whole policy of the Stationery Office for years past has been to purchase almost entirely in the British market, and it is only these labour-saving machines, I think, which can be pointed at with the reproach of foreign origin.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of an excellent British made machine that may in future receive favourable consideration from the Government, but when he speaks of a British made machine, is British capital concerned in it, or is it owned by some foreign firm? After all, if these typewriters are simply manufactured here, and the profits of the industry are taken abroad, we might just as well go on as we are at present.