asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the progress so far made by the study group set up by the Lord Chancellor, as announced on 8 December 1980, to investigate, inter alia, the possibility of making microfilms of 100-year-old records of births, marriages and deaths, at present held by the General Register Office, available for general research by members of the public.
The study group proposed to transfer all Public Records Office facilities to Kew, including those records. As the hon. Gentleman will know from his interest in these matters, on 30 April I informed the House that while the full scheme is in abeyance separate consideration would be given to the future of the General Register Office records. The Public Records Office is exploring ways of providing the additional microfilm readers and storage space needed to meet the expected demand.
Has the microfilming of the 100-year-old records been completed? If it has, surely it is a waste that these should not be made available to researchers at the earliest possible moment. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman give us any idea of the time scale before researchers can have access to those most valuable records? Will they be at Kew or in London?
If the filming is not complete, it is nearly complete. The main difficulty is the provision of accommodation. It is thought that it would he for the convenience of those concerned if the documents or films were made available either in central London or at Kew. Accommodation that would meet the requirements has not yet been found in central London, and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not available at Kew. Therefore, the answer to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question is that the records will be made available as soon as solutions have been found to those practical problems. I assure the hon. Gentleman that those concerned are not dragging their feet in trying to find an answer.
No, I cannot, as it would be misleading to do so. However, I have not tried to fob off the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens). I know of the concern shared by the hon. Gentleman and by my hon. Friend. However, there are practical difficulties. We must find somewhere that is convenient to those who want to use the new service, that is within the right price range, and so on. That place simply has not yet been found.