Orders of the Day — Book Publishing Trade

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1947.

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Photo of Mr John Belcher Mr John Belcher , Sowerby 12:00 am, 9th May 1947

I have very little time, and I hope my hon. Friend will allow me to continue. We have recently had a fuel crisis which affected the production of paper and caused it to fall short of estimated requirements in every paper using industry. I suppose it is particularly true of the book publishing trade where it is necessary to plan ahead the production which it is intended to undertake We have recently discussed this matter with the publishers' association and it was agreed that they would reduce their basis quota of 80 per cent. to 70 per cent. of prewar consumption, retaining the special allocation of 10 per cent. for export encouragement. We undertook that in so far as any publisher was unable to obtain his 70 per cent. figure in any one period we would licence the shortfall in a subsequent period, and we estimate that the shortfall will be of the order of 10 per cent.

It may be useful here to consider the level of paper production in March, when the basic coal allocation stood at 33⅓ per cent., which was a very low allocation and probably one of the lowest. Owing partly to fuel reserves, which were largely used up during the March-April period, partly to economies which were found possible, and partly to supplementary allocations from the regional fuel committees, the types of paper which are of interest to book publishers have been fairly well maintained. The total production of printings and writings in February amounted to 71 per cent. of the November rate, and in March the figure had increased to 75 per cent. It is unlikely that there will have been any further decrease in production in April since the basis of the coal allocation from mid-April onwards was increased from 33⅓ per cent. to 50 per cent. It is not true to say, as has been said in this House, that paper production receives the lowest priority of all.

So far as the publishers are concerned, the type of paper in which they are particularly interested is esparto paper which in February was 83 per cent. of November, and in March 86 per cent.; mechanical printings were 93 per cent. and 84 per cent., respectively, and wood free papers 90 per cent. and 99 per cent. From June onwards, in place of 50 per cent. of the basic quantity of coal, plus such supplementaries as were obtained from the regional fuel allocation committees, the mills, in common with other industries, will receive an allocation equal to their full consumption in the summer of 1946.

I agree that they will probably find that this is not sufficient, but it is very much above what they have been receiving. Paper supplies should, therefore, shortly reach the level which we anticipated prior to the time when the full effects of the coal shortage were known. In these circumstances, we hope that the overall level of production of books will be well maintained, especially in view of the economy in book production which has been effected. We appreciate those economies. We are very anxious, despite what the hon. Member said about the falling off in the waste paper collection campaign, to step up the collection of waste paper. It may not make a great contribution to the supply of paper for book production, as that type of paper cannot be made from waste paper, but in so far as the collection of waste paper and its conversion into cheaper kinds of paper will assist, its collection is most important, and I hope that any hon. Member who can assist in that direction will do so. It should not be assumed that the necessity for collecting waste paper is any less today than it has been at any time since the beginning of the war. Today it is probably more important.

Whatever we do about paper and pulp, there is a limit to the number of books which can be produced, and that is the limit imposed by the labour and plant available. Therefore, we have to take steps to deal with an inevitable shortage of paper and try to distribute that paper in the most economical fashion, and in the way best suited to the interests of the country. We have been in consultation with the Minister of Education and the publishers to decide how best to deploy our existing resources. We have now made arrangements under which book publishers will receive a basic allocation of 60 per cent. of prewar. In addition to which they will be allowed 20 per cent., provided they devote the same proportion as before of their 60 per cent. quota to educational or export books, and give an undertaking that they will use the additional 20 per cent, either for the purpose of increased production of educational books for use in schools, colleges and universities and for home study, or for increasing their export targets. Bibles, prayer books and hymn books will be included as educational books for this purpose.

If in the future the amount of paper available for book publishing is increased we hope to maintain these arrangements with proportionate increases in the 60 per cent. and 20 per cent. figures. The arrangements already made for publishers to receive from the special reserve of paper extra allocations for the production of essential books which they are unable to print from their own quota will continue. There is a reserve at the moment of 1,500 tons and we have now decided to divert from that reserve 1,000 tons for the production of educational textbooks. I would not like to hold out hope of any radical improvement in the situation, but I hope that hon. Members will recognise that we are doing our best in consultation with publishers and the Minister of Education. I recognise, as much as anyone, the need for educational textbooks.