HC Deb 16 July 1979 vol 970 cc1017-8
17. Mr. Douglas-Mann

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps he is taking to restrict the availability to members of the public of specifications for nerve gases and other toxic substances in patent libraries under his control.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In previous years the libraries which hold patent collections have withdrawn certain specifications from their open shelves. The hon. Member has written to me asking for further action and I am considering the matter with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Home Department, Defence and Trade.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

While acknowledging that the right hon. Gentleman has not had long to deal with this matter, may I remind him that I have provided his Department with disturbing information about accessibility to these patents some months ago? May we have an assurance that anyone who goes to the libraries seeking such information will attract the kind of attention from the security services that is likely to be a deterrent to so doing?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I would be the last person to encourage security services to pounce on people who may be making innocent inquiries in the cause of research. The difficulty here is one of censorship. Another point is the disadvantage to science and industry which may result from any interference with the free flow of information on these matters.

Mr. Faulds

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an absolute assurance that, contrary to suggestions that have been made by the joint consultative council, there will be no charges for loans from public libraries? Also, will he assure us that there will be no postponement of the public lending right? Will he not funk the question?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) is his usual vigorous self, but he is being frightened by bogies. I have no plans to introduce library charges, and I trust that we shall make better progress with the introduction of PLR than the Labour Government did.