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Parliamentary Papers

Volume 264: debated on Monday 23 October 1995

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To ask the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission what plans he has to ensure sufficient financial provision to make parliamentary papers more readily available to the public. [36489]

Negotiations have been proceeding in recent months between the House authorities and Her Majesty's Stationery Office on a new agreement for the printing and publication of House documents. One of the objectives of the negotiations has been to achieve significant price reductions to the public. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the price of the weekly Hansard was reduced from £22 to £12 from 6 June this year at no additional cost to the House.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an effective democracy demands freedom of information about what happens in Parliament and that £12 a week is way beyond the means of most ordinary people? Does he agree that the cost of parliamentary documents, even if they are falling substantially in price, is way beyond what ordinary people can pay and that this simply increases the power and influence of mercenary commercial lobbyists? Will he seek to make information much more readily available to the public, perhaps by making documents free of charge to public libraries?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the dissemination of information is of the greatest importance in a democracy. Significant progress was made by the Commission and the scale of the reduction, especially when it was at no cost, was quite large. There is also a discount scheme which further reduces the cost to public libraries of having the information available. I hope that public libraries will continue to stock Hansard. Some are declining to do so on the ground of space rather than of cost. The Select Committee on Information is looking at many aspects of the matter, including the more electronic means of disseminating information, and the Commission will be ready to consider the advice that it receives.

The right hon. Gentleman has almost answered the question that I am about to put on the electronic dissemination of documents. Has he been able to establish what it would cost to allow Internet access to parliamentary electronic documents and does he intend to put forward a time scale for when this could come about?

The House of Commons Commission has not had any detailed discussions about the possibilities of using the Internet in that way. The Information Committee is, I understand, considering it, as is a working party of officials. I know that the matter is of great interest to many hon. Members. The Commission will certainly want to consider the advice it receives as soon as possible.