Cost of 'Hansard' behind sales fall

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Indy Politics
THE MOTHER of Parliaments charges the mother of all prices for Hansard. MPs, academics and journalists complained yesterday that its rising price has led to falling sales and a diminution of democracy.

Baroness Thatcher was blamed yesterday by the Hansard Society for an unannounced decision in 1983 to withdraw progressively the pounds 6m subsidy for printing the daily proceedings of the Commons and Lords and make Hansard self-financing. As a result its price has risen twelvefold, from pounds 1 for both houses' proceedings in 1982 to pounds 12 today.

Sales have fallen from 10,500 in 1979 to 5,890 in 1993, 85 per cent of which are paid for by the taxpayer as they are provided for Whitehall, MPs and peers, a report by the Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government said.

From this year, Hansard will make a profit. 'It is now absurdly priced and beyond the reach of citizens and institutions who would otherwise buy it on a regular basis,' the report by Lord Lester QC, the Liberal Democrat peer, Lindsay Mackie, the journalist, and Michael Renshall, a senior accountant, said.

Many libraries and academic institutions, and even parts of Whitehall, have cancelled their subscriptions. Libraries which have kept up their subscriptions say Hansard is well used. 'MPs and peers increasingly speak only to one another and to the civil service in their debating chambers, as if they were discussing public issues in their private clubs,' the report says.

A cross-party grouping of MPs is to table an Early Day Motion and lobby Tony Newton, Leader of the House, to cut Hansard's cost. The report proposes that after its basic cost is met by its supply to Whitehall and MPs, the Commons Hansard should be sold at its marginal cost of pounds 1.07, a price which would return it to its 1970 level in real terms.