Hansard `should be on Net'

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Technology Correspondent

The daily proceedings and laws made by Parliament should be distributed freely over the Internet, replacing the present system which sells it commercially for at least pounds 2,500 a year, the Campaign for Freedom of Information says. Its views were backed by the Labour Party, which said it was "ludicrous" that the proceedings were not more widely available.

The Campaign also warns that the growing availability of machines which can scan the contents of documents on to computers means that the copyright of Her Majesty's Stationery Office on parliamentary proceedings will be broken anyway "sooner rather than later".

Maurice Frankel, the Campaign's director, says that HMSO practices "unacceptable commercial exploitation" by selling the contents of Hansard to interested parties. A single day's copy costs pounds 11.70. The Campaign points out that in the US, "there is no copyright in official information" and that the American equivalent of Hansard is easily available on the public computer network. Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham North, said that the party wanted everybody to be able to access the Internet, but he did not promise free access.

Compiling Hansard costs millions of pounds each year, but HMSO, like other government agencies, has come under increasing pressure in the past decade to charge for commercial use of its information. Agencies such as HMSO and the Ordnance Survey generate revenues of about pounds 150m annually from sales of data collected by public funds.