HC Deb 24 March 1836 vol 32 cc579-83
Mr. Tooke

rose to call the attention of the House to the subject of the delivery of Printed Papers to Members of the House. He had a short time back applied for two copies of a Report which he thought it desirable that his constituents should have, and which he intended to present to two public libraries with that view. The Speaker, however, at the suggestion of the Committee, declared that he did not feel himself authorised to order those Reports to be given to him, but that he might purchase them. Now it was very well for his hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex, to send any of his constituents to the shops where these documents were sold, but when the request for them came from the country, seldom accompanied by remittances, few hon. Members would have nerve enough to make their constituents the same reply, and he thought it hard that hon. Members should be put to the expense of purchasing papers which were necessary to give information to their constituents. Another objection was, that no place of sale was provided for them within the walls of the House, and that Members had no Parliamentary privilege, not even the right of pre-emption, but were obliged to go to a common shop, and take their chance like any ordinary customer. Some place within the walls of the House ought to be set apart for their sale.

The Speaker

inquired whether the hon. member intended to make any motion.

Mr. Tooke

said, that if he made any motion, it would be that it was not within the province of the Select Committee of Printed Papers to interfere with the discretion of the Speaker in the distribution of the printed papers of that House.

The Speaker

The hon. Member says, that he does not make a charge against me, because he now alleges that the refusal of the papers for which he applied is owing to an opinion expressed by the Committee on printed papers; and then he contends that in giving this opinion the Committee have exceeded their powers. Now, before I state how the facts are, I must at once say, that whatever the blame be, it belongs to me, and not to the Committee. The House came to a resolution that the printed papers should be sold, and a Committee was appointed to assist the Speaker in regulating the printing and sale of the papers. The distribution of papers remained as before with the Speaker. But as I found that if papers were distributed as liberally to Members as they had been before the resolution of the House was passed, it would have defeated the spirit and intention of that resolution, I thought it desirable to consult with the Committee on particular cases for the regulation of my own conduct. I have received the most cordial and useful assistance from the Committee, but the responsibility of distribution rests with me as before. The duty imposed on me, is not an easy one, because, as I must limit the former practice, the task is ungracious. I am bound to exercise my discretion on the applications made, and I endeavour, as far as I can, to lay down general rules, and to afford all the accommodation to Members that I can, consistently with the resolution of the House. When the hon. Member applied for two copies of the Report on Accidents in Mines, for the use of two libraries in that part of the country with which he is connected, I felt that, in refusing or complying with his request, I was establishing a rule of extensive application. If the Reports were to be given to libraries in Cornwall, they must equally be given to libraries in all parts of the country. I consulted the Committee, and they confirmed my opinion that libraries and public bodies are most likely to become extensive purchasers, and that they were also the parties who ought to purchase. For these reasons, the application of the hon. Member was refused. Then the hon. Member says, that in some cases a note was made in the book in which applications arc entered, stating whether the application had been granted or refused, and that that practice had been discontinued. The statement of the hon. Member is quite correct, and the reason why the practice was discontinued was this. In various instances I applied to Members to know the reason why they wished to be supplied with particular papers, no reason having been entered on the Book. In some cases a sufficient reason was stated, and the application was granted. In other cases no sufficient reason was stated, and the application was refused. I found, therefore, that it would be necessary either to make a special entry in each case, or if the papers were granted, no reason appearing on the entry of the Book, such cases would be urged, as they were in fact urged, to show that applications had been granted without any reason. To avoid a considerable increase of trouble, which must have resulted from making a special entry in each case, the practice was discontinued. I am bound to give effect to the resolution of the House; I wish to afford all the accommodation I can to Members, consistently with an adherence to the object and spirit of that resolution, and I regret, though I believe it to be inevitable, that dissatisfaction should exist in the minds of those to whom papers are refused.

Mr. Hume

said, that the Committee which had come to the decision of selling the papers to the public did so on the ground that there were two millions of copies by them, and that there were great numbers who would be glad to avail themselves of the privilege of purchasing these papers at a cheap rate; and that Committee was moved for at the suggestion of his hon. Friend himself. That Committee had, for two days together, taken into consideration the question whether copies should be given to public libraries and institutions, and had at last come to the decision that it would be so utterly impossible to draw a fair line of distinction between those institutions to which it might be desirable to extend such a privilege and those to which it would not be so desirable, that they negatived the proposition altogether. These papers were sold for a halfpenny a sheet, infinitely less than they cost, and he thought, therefore, his hon. Friend had nothing to complain of upon that score. It might perhaps be a matter of complaint that he was compelled to go any distance from the House to obtain them.

Sir Thomas Freemantle

approved of the course pursued by the Committee, from which he thought the public would eventually receive great benefit. He thought also that thanks were due to the Speaker for the zealous and cordial manner in which he had co-operated in the views of the House upon this subject. He must say, that the privilege, now discontinued, of permitting hon. Members to obtain numerous copies of public papers, was one that was very much abused, and it only existed in consequence of the impossibility of purchasing them. As for the hon. Member being put to the expense of purchasing these Reports at the cost of but a few shillings, he thought that many hon. Members would be glad to oblige their constituents at so cheap a rate. With regard to Bills in progress through the House, the greatest facility should be given for Members to receive them and send them to their constituents.

Lord George Lennox

did not complain of being asked to pay for the papers of the House, but of not being able to procure those which he wanted by payment, on applying for them. It happened to himself the other day, that being anxious to obtain the Report of the Commissioners on Military Flogging, he made application at the usual office, but was told that it was printed elsewhere, and that, consequently, it was not to be had there. He then walked down Parliament-street, and went into a bookseller's shop, and obtained the Report in [question, for which he paid nine shillings.

Mr. Vernon Smith

was surprised at the attack made on the Committee, and recommended that the whole system should be reviewed.

Mr. Robinson

thought it more convenient that the Speaker should not be troubled to decide in any case, but that an inflexible rule should be laid down.

Colonel Sibthorp

thought it shameful for the House to entertain this trumpery proposition of a three-halfpenny saving to Members in procuring documents for the use of their constituents.

Mr. Tooke

denied that he was actuated by any paltry feeling of parsimony. He only wished that Members should have greater facility in procuring documents. He had expended much money in contributions to public institutions. He would withdraw the motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Forward to