HL Deb 28 July 1857 vol 147 cc554-6

THE DUKE OF NEWCASTLE rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the propriety of supplying, under certain regulations, free libraries and other literary institutions of the United Kingdom with the Reports and Returns which are printed by the order of Parliament. A few years ago a Committee of the other House of Parliament was appointed to consider whether it would be desirable to distribute Parliamentary papers to those institutions, and that Committee reported very favourably upon the subject; but that Report had never been acted upon. He most certainly did not advocate such a measure so much for the benefit of any particular institution as for that of the public at large, for he believed that it would be a great national advantage that the mass of Parliamentary information, which was yearly increasing in value, should be placed within the reach of the public. All that was said in Parliament was daily communicated to the public, much to their advantage, through the instrumentality of the public press; while the Reports upon which a great portion of their legislation was founded were practically unknown to the general body of the people. It was true that those papers had been made saleable, but that step had not been attended with the result which had been anticipated, for the public generally did not know through what instrumentality they could obtain those papers; and, as booksellers received no profit upon them, they had no interest in giving any information upon the subject. In the United States there was a most liberal dispensation of such papers, for all the papers, not only of the Federal Legislature, but also all those of the Legislatures of the various States were sent to the different literary institutions. In this country the principle had been admitted to a limited extent, for the papers connected with the Committee of Council on Education and the Board of Health were circulated among the literary institutions throughout the country. He was aware that it would be necessary to exercise great discrimination as to the institutions to which those papers should be sent; but there was one class to which they might be certainly sent, and that was the class of institutions which had been established under what was called Mr. Ewart's Act, in such towns as Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Oxford, and other places. One advantage of distributing those papers would be, to extend information to those who had not the opportunity of seeing the papers themselves, because in county towns members of the press would have access to them, and would no doubt circulate the information which they might contain through the medium of their respective journals. The expense would not be very great; indeed, he believed that Mr. Hansard in his evidence before the Committee had estimated it at £1,500 a year—so that he did not think that any objection could be raised on that score. If the principle which he advocated were adopted it would then become necessary to consider under whose management the circulation of those papers should be placed, and there were two plans, either of which might be adopted. It might be placed under the management of one of the numerous departments of the Government connected with science and art, or it might be placed under the control of a Committee of the other House, to be appointed at the commencement of every Session. He said a Committee of the other House of Parliament because, while all the papers which were laid on their Lordships' table were presented to the House of Commons, many documents which were laid before that House were never presented to their Lordships. His object in calling attention to this subject at this period of the Session was, that the Government might consider the Report of the Committee which sat four or five years ago, and might, before the commencement of the next Session, be prepared with some method of carrying its recommendation into effect.


said, that his noble Friend to whose department this question more particularly belonged (Earl Granville) was unavoidably absent, having gone down to a distant part of the country; but as the noble Duke had come to the conclusion that the expense which would be involved by communicating these papers would not exceed £1,500 a year, he might, he thought, take upon himself to say that, on the ground of expense, there could be no great objection to the noble Duke's proposition. The difficulty he saw, however, was one to which his noble Friend had very slightly adverted, namely, the abridgment of the papers; he believed his noble Friend used the term "abridgment."


No; "selection."


Then the question was who should make the selection? And whether it should it be the Department of Science and Art or the Committee of Council on Education was, in his opinion, well worthy of consideration. He might, however, answer for his noble Friend (Earl Granville) that he would not fail to attend to the suggestions made by the noble Duke.


said, that whatever arrangements were ultimately determined upon, care should be taken that these papers were not sent to parties to whom they would be of little or no value. He would suggest, therefore, that with the view of testing the anxiety of public institutions to possess themselves of these papers, they should be required to pay a small annual subscription.


expressed a hope that when the Government took the matter into consideration, they would also consider the propriety of extending the privilege to the literary and mechanics' institutions of Ireland.


said, that the recommendations of the Committee were already partially acted upon in the case of the valuable Reports which were made from time to time to the Board of Trade, copies of which he had ordered to be furnished to the various Chambers of Commerce throughout the kingdom. If the noble Duke's suggestion were carried out care should be taken that the papers were sent only to those institutions which were well established, and might be said to have a permanent existence.