HC Deb 25 June 1953 vol 516 cc2104-6

Following my telephone conversation with you this morning, I asked Messrs. Lees & Co., the agents for the Dudley Extension Bill, whether they could let me have copies of the Minutes of Evidence for you to use. As you know, these minutes are printed for the use of the parties, at their expense, and they are costly to produce, so that as few as possible are printed. Messrs. Lees & Co. tell me that every copy of the minutes which has been printed is at present in use, and they much regret that they have none to spare until the Bill is through Committee. When Counsel return their copies after the Committee has reported, they will be pleased to lend"—

I emphasise the word "lend"— you a set, but at the moment they are sorry to say that they are quite unable to be of assistance.

This is signed by Mr. Drennan.

The meaning of that is this. Here is a matter vitally affecting my constituency upon which my local authority is at the moment, upstairs, spending the better part of a 3d. rate. The shorthand reports are available and are printed. I desire to consult my colleagues about them, having done certain work on the evidence. I cannot by any means obtain those minutes, even though they are available.

It is perfectly true that the costs involved are heavy for the first print. Anyone with any knowledge of printing knows that the shorthand costs are heavy and that the setting up of the printing plates is a very considerable cost, but that thereafter the cost can be counted in terms of pennies. I submit that I really am entitled to ask you, Sir, whether in these matters Members of Parliament do have any rights at all to verbatim accounts of proceedings that they know are available, and that affect not only their divisions but in this case the whole county for one of whose constituencies they may sit.

Having asked your guidance, Mr. Speaker, may I make this very brief submission? If it is, as possibly it is, the case that this is all in order, and that Members of Parliament have no rights whatsoever in these matters, even though Members of Parliament must answer the political consequences following any decisions made upstairs, could I ask whether you would be prepared to look at the situation and consider whether, in view of this heavy expense of prolonged deliberations upstairs, a Member of Parliament is entitled to know what is happening in his own constituency when his own constituency or part of it has to spend a considerable amount of money upon such proceedings?

Mr. Speaker

When the minutes of evidence taken before a Committee dealing with a Private Bill are printed, which is not obligatory in every case, there is an Order which says that two copies of the minutes must be deposited in the Private Bill Office where they can be inspected by hon. Members, but I gather from what the hon. Member says that that does not meet his case. He wants a copy which he can take away and perhaps cut up and so on.

The House will be aware that the cost of printing the evidence is borne by the parties and, of course, I am unwilling to do anything which would add to the already heavy costs of Private Bill legislation. The hon. Member referred to the incidence of cost, namely falling heaviest on taking the shorthand report —which, by the way, I ought to mention, is not taken by our HANSARD reporters but by another firm—and setting up the type.

I will consider whether I can so arrange it that if an hon. Member notifies in advance to the Clerk of the Committee before a Bill is committed that he desires a copy of the minutes of evidence, it will be possible for me so to order. It may involve an alteration in the Standing Orders at present. I shall have to inquire into that, but I see the drift of the hon. Member's question. All I would say in conclusion is that his request is so rare in the history of the Private Bill Office that it has not previously been considered. I will do what I can to help the hon. Member.

Mr. Nally

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.