Orders of the Day — Newsprint Rationing

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st October 1949.

Alert me about debates like this

3.14 p.m.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

I did not think it would be necessary to have an Adjournment Debate on the question of the local newspaper in my constituency, "The Congleton Chronicle," but I have written four letters to the President of the Board of Trade since March, I have asked a Parliamentary Question and I have made no progress on this matter. The fact is that the proprietors of "The Congleton Chronicle" publish papers in the Borough of Congleton, another issue at Sandbach and another at Biddulph. I may say that these papers are independent and give everyone a fair share. The Labour candidate in my division has got several columns of publicity this week from these particular papers.

The proprietors of this paper seek permission to print a size of paper which their new Cossar printing press is designed to produce. The machine was ordered at the beginning of the war. It was only delivered last March. When the machine was ordered there was no restriction on the size of newspapers. The proprietors had no idea as to what regulations would come into force or that it would take eight or nine years to effect delivery. The machine was installed last March and is designed to produce a small-sized sheet. Unfortunately, this wartime regulation, which still exists, lays down a maximum for tabloids slightly under the size of this particular sheet which is 250 square inches as against 305 square inches.

The present situation is that small weekly papers are allowed to print up to 16 pages each week, and large sheet papers can produce eight and ten pages on alternative weeks. This particular machine will not print a full-size sheet. It will only produce something which is just over the tabloid size or slightly less. The newspaper which they are having to produce at the moment is this particular size. What they want to produce is a paper slightly larger. It does not seem a very enormous request to make because, since March, as a result of this regulation, the local paper has been producing an unusual size of 250 square inches which, I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, is very ugly in appearance and extremely difficult to make up. The odd thing about it is that this paper is now allowed to print up to 15 pages weekly in the small size which covers an area of 1,875 square inches. It is not allowed to print ten pages at 1,525 square inches and, therefore, there is a waste of paper in order to make up this size newspaper.

These matters rest in the hands of the Paper Controller, and I submit that there must be flexibility in dealing with such matters. The Controller may say that other papers are bound by this particular regulation, but the fact is that all the other papers in the whole of the country, with exception of two, are capable of producing a full-size sheet. I believe that the only two which are not is the one at Congleton and another at Mansfield.

The Minister would not be creating a difficulty for himself if he advised the Paper Controller to make an exception in this case. This particular paper is unable to accommodate the local news, and personally I attach great value to these local newspapers which are still in the hands of their own proprietors and run independently, and which give local news as it should be given. It is important that they should get a fair deal. They are unable to accommodate their news together with their advertising which forms some part of their revenue in eight pages of just over tabloid size.

I ask the hon. Gentleman, who is one of the most reasonable on the Government Front Bench when he faces practical difficulties, to try to see his way clear to make an exception to the regulation. By doing so, it will involve less consumption of paper, which is important. Less electricity will be consumed because at the moment his newspaper has to do a double run which takes twice the amount of time and therefore consumes more power.

I submit that this is typical of a control which may be necessary in some respects, but which could be varied. I think it is a very reasonable request to ask the hon. Gentleman to advise the Paper Control to make an exception, and I hope he will see his way clear to do so, because there is no reason whatever why the proprietors of this newspaper should not print a paper of the size they want to print, for which this machine was designed, and which would save paper and power. I hope the hon. Gentleman will grant my request.

3.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Rochester Chatham

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that he has raised this matter several times but has made no progress. I agree with him in that remark, but I am quite sure that he did not mean to imply that the matter had not been very carefully considered. It has been carefully considered again on this occasion, but the position is that the detailed rationing of newsprint is largely in the hands of the newspaper proprietors themselves; they operate through the Newsprint Rationing Committee and submit their recommendations for general approval by the Board of Trade.

As the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, the present scheme is roughly to distinguish between smaller and larger papers on the basis that he outlined, so there is no need for me to repeat that. As I understand it, what the "Congleton Chronicle" wants is to be able to go beyond the 250 square inches per page up to 305 square inches per page. In order to do that, at the present moment they would have to reduce the total number of pages in their paper, and they do not want to do it. I am told that earlier this year, in an endeavour to meet the wishes of the "Congleton Chronicle," the Newsprint Rationing Committee suggested that they might have a little larger page than they had previously, on the understanding that they had one page less. I am advised that this was acceptable, but, as I understand it, nothing has been done about it up to the present. I imagine that nothing has been done in the hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman's raising the matter on the Adjournment this afternoon might be able to help.

I really cannot help, because it is still necessary to keep some system of rationing. The old method has been done away with; the rigid allocations have been discarded. The present method is one by which the size and number of pages is controlled—and we have adopted this new method because we feel that it is a simple variation which can be adjusted one way or the other according to the supplies available. The scheme at present in force roughly divides the newspapers into the smallest number of clearly defined classes, according to their type and price. It fixes the maximum number of pages appropriate to each class, and the advantages of that are simplicity of working, ease of adjustment, and that it enables every newspaper proprietor to see quite clearly the limits within which he and his competitors must necessarily work.

Whatever the definition adopted, I am quite sure that there will always be newspapers who say that their position is anomalous, and the two cases, cited this afternoon by the hon. and gallant Gentleman are not isolated. There are other cases, and it is because of the repercussions on others that it is thought that it would be unwise to upset this established arrangement, which has the approval of all the newspaper proprietors, whether they be medium or small as far as ownership or size of paper is concerned. The suggestion is one that we cannot accept because of the recommendations made to us.

In all the circumstances, much as I personally would like to help, especially in view of the very charming comments made about myself by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and which I am sure he would have made equally about any other Minister who had been sitting in my place at this moment—we feel that we cannot influence what is necessarily a sound condition established by those best able to judge, and as the Minister responsible I must on this occasion give continued support to the Newsprint Rationing Committee.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

Will the Secretary for Overseas Trade explain why he is adhering to this point in spite of the fact that more paper and more power are being used in this case?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Rochester Chatham

That might be so in this case, but if there were a departure from the general rationing system it might mean a general increase in the use of paper and other materials which would be far in excess of the present supplies. This is a way of controlling our present newsprint without incurring that danger.

Photo of Sir Arthur Baxter Sir Arthur Baxter , Wood Green

Surely if this small paper is using extra power and extra material those are the very things we want to save. It seems to me that this is a case when an exception could be made without in any way disturbing the present general agreement. If the newspaper proprietors and the committee through which they work with the Department recommend this, would the Department take any exception?

Photo of Mr Arthur Bottomley Mr Arthur Bottomley , Rochester Chatham

Changes have been made, which shows that the scheme is not rigid. This matter is within the power of the Newsprint Rationing Committee, and if they made any suggestion or came to any arrangement whereby the paper could be satisfied, then, as far as I am able to ascertain, there would be no objection by the Department.