HC Deb 21 March 2000 vol 346 cc845-6
31. Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

What steps the Lord Chancellor is taking to improve the performance of the Public Record Office. [114039]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. David Lock)

The Public Record Office is already providing an excellent service to the public and to the Government. To improve matters further, I am establishing goals for it in three areas: first, extending access to the public records by electronic means; secondly, helping the Government to make the transition to electronic records management; and thirdly, developing the PRO's educational services for schools and lifelong learners.

Mr. Thomas

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he continue to ensure that his ministerial spotlight is kept firmly and squarely on the performance of the PRO in terms of its work with schools? Will he ensure, in particular, that a proper, proactive education policy is developed to bring schoolchildren, especially those from London, into contact with many of the great historical documents that the PRO has in its collection?

Mr. Lock

Schoolchildren are already making more than 200,000 visits a year to the PRO's online educational service, the learning curve, from their classrooms and homes. They will be able to visit the PRO's new education and visitor centre at Kew, which will be open on 11 April by the Lord Chancellor. Schoolchildren will be able to see there a wide range of historical documents, including the Domesday Book. If my hon. Friend's constituents look at folio 127, they will find out that 900 years before Harrow had the privilege of being represented by him, it had one archbishop, a total population of 120 and 2,000 pigs.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Despite the somewhat querulous tone in which the previous question was put, will the Minister join me in congratulating the staff of the PRO? I spent many years working there in the 1970s and early 1980s and I have recently started using it again. Will he accept that the service has tremendously improved, both online and in the actual services displayed on the premises? Will he also accept that the standard of courtesy shown to me and other researchers over 20 years has been outstanding?

Mr. Lock

It gives me pleasure to agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says. The PRO is one of the Government's success stories. Its staff are unfailingly courteous and I am sure that it provides an excellent service to the public.

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