HC Deb 02 March 1896 vol 37 cc1487-8
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

I beg to ask the Secretary to the Treasury whether it is the case that subscribers to the Parliamentary Debates for 1895 have been charged by the contractors an extra guinea (in addition to the regulation price of five guineas) under the pretext that, owing to the occurrence of the Dissolution, there were two Sessions during that year, notwithstanding the fact that Parliament sat fewer days, and consequently there was less outlay involved upon the part of the contractors than has been the case in average years; and, whether such extra charge was justifiable under the actual terms of the contract; and, if so, whether steps will be taken when framing future arangements to protect Members and other subscribers from such exactions?


From early times the subscription for Parliamentary Debates has been by the Session, and this principle was maintained in the Form of Contract drawn up by direction of the Joint Select Committee of 1888 on the Publication of the Debates and Proceedings of Parliament, and printed in the Appendix to their Report. The contract as first granted, when the old "Hansard's Reports" ceased to exist, empowered the contractors to charge five guineas for a complete copy of the Report of each Session, however long or short it might be. Subsequently the further stipulation was introduced that, "in the event of the Reports of any Session not reaching five volumes, the maximum price to be charged by the contractors shall not exceed one guinea per volume, and proportionately for parts of volumes," and the contractors were therefore justified in charging one guinea for the volume covering the second Session of last year. Under this arrangement it is true that the contractors may gain if there are two Sessions in one year; but, on the other hand, the subscribers gain if there is one long Session in the year. For instance, in 1893–4 they only paid five guineas for a Report extending to 14 volumes. When next the conditions of the contract are under review, I shall be quite prepared to consider whether it would be more for the convenience of the public to make the rate of subscription proportionate to the bulk of the Reports, provided that this can be done without entailing extra expense to the Exchequer.