Erskine May

Mr Stables made this Freedom of Information request to House of Commons

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was refused by House of Commons.

Dear House of Commons,

I would like to request that a digital copy of Erskine May be made available by the House of Commons. I am aware that a request of this nature has been made before and noted that the response was that it was a commercial publication and exclusively the responsibility of the publisher. While this is obviously the case for the latest edition, I wonder if the previous edition or an even earlier edition could be made available by the House. Even if the publisher still has exclusive rights to publish all the editions that it has ever published then perhaps the most recent edition that was not commercially published could be made available by the House, especially given that it is a product of the clerks of the House. Also, it is dubious to say (as it has in previous requests) that this material is readily available: buying the book from LexisNexis costs £408 making that option inaccessible to most and in my city, there is just one copy - that's one copy for roughly 250,000 people to share - and it is only available by special request and cannot be seen on display on any shelf. So is it more reasonable to ask people to pay £408 to buy it; to ask people to go to their local library and specially request it every time they need or want to look at it, potentially competing with hundreds of thousands of other people; to ask people in towns or cities with no copies of the books to spend likely upward of £100 on travel to and from a place that does; or to do the most open and democratic thing and spend next to no money on simply attaching an electronic copy of an earlier edition to the response to this request (if that is within the power of the House as discussed above)?

Yours faithfully,

Mr Stables

FOI Commons, House of Commons

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Stables,


Freedom of Information request F17-363


Thank you for your request for information dated 6 September 2017,
received by us on the same date, which is copied below.


We will endeavour to respond to your request promptly but in any case
within 20 working days i.e. on or before 4 October 2017.


If you have any queries about your request, please use the request number
quoted above and in the subject line of this email.


Yours sincerely,


Sarah Price

IRIS Support Officer
Information Rights and Information Security (IRIS) Service | House of



Click [2]here for details about Freedom of Information

in the House of Commons and to see what we publish.





FOI Commons, House of Commons

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Stables,  



Freedom of Information request F17-363


Thank you for your request for information. You asked for a digital copy
of Erskine May to be made available by the House of Commons. You have also
asked whether a copy of an earlier edition can be provided, if this is
within the power of the House.


Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice is held by the House of Commons.  This
is already publicly available to you from a number of sources; for
example, the book is available to purchase from booksellers such as
[1], or can be read by loan arrangement from a public
library.  This also applies to any earlier editions of the book.


As the information you request is reasonably accessible to you otherwise
than under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), your request is
refused. In refusing your request the House is applying the exemption set
out in section 21 (1) and (2)(a) of the Act.  Please note the FOIA states
that this exemption applies to information that is “reasonably
accessible”, even though the information may be accessible only on
payment.  This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does
not apply.


In addition, this book is a commercial product and the current edition is
published by Butterworths Law.  It is subject to a commercial publishing
agreement between the May Memorial Fund and LexisNexis (Butterworths) and
those commercial arrangements do not allow the House of Commons to make
the book freely available for disclosure. We accept that the cost of the
publication and its availability in libraries does create issues for some
requesters.  However, the master document is not held by Parliament and is
not considered the property of Parliament. This applies to all previous
editions of the book. 


Therefore the release of the information requested would prejudice the
commercial interests of the book’s authors, publishers, and the House of
Commons therefore it is also exempt under section 43(2) of the FOIA.  This
is a qualified exemption and the public interest test applies.


We have considered the public interest the disclosure of this
information.  The disclosure of this information would further the
understanding of parliamentary procedures and facilitate the
accountability and transparency of these procedures for the public.  It
would also allow individuals to understand how decisions are made by
Parliament which may affect their lives and, in some cases, assist
individuals in challenging those decisions.

We have also considered the public interest in withholding this
information.  This information is already reasonably accessible by means
other than disclosure by the House of Commons, which we believe
significantly weakens the argument to disclose.  Release of the content of
this book would be a breach of copyright, would jeopardise the House of
Commons’ current commercial relationship with LexisNexis, and could expose
the House of Commons to legal proceedings.  Disclosure would result in a
significant drop in the book’s sales which would directly prejudice the
financial interests of the book’s authors and publisher.  Wide release of
the information and the author and publisher’s subsequent loss of income
is likely to result in this publication ceasing altogether, which would
also not be in the wider public interest.  

For these reasons we consider that the public interest in withholding the
information outweighs the public interest in disclosure.


Finally, it may help you to read an ICO Decision Notice relating to
Erskine May, where the Commissioner upheld our decision to withhold this
information.  This is available on the ICO’s website here: 



You may, if dissatisfied with the handling of your request, complain to
the House of Commons. Alternatively, if you are dissatisfied with the
outcome of your request you may ask the House of Commons to conduct an
internal review of any decision regarding your request. Complaints or
requests for internal review should be addressed to: Information Rights
and Information Security Service, Research and Information Team, House of
Commons, London SW1A 0AA or [3][House of Commons request email]. Please ensure
that you specify the full reasons for your complaint or internal review
along with any arguments or points that you wish to make.


If you remain dissatisfied, you may appeal to the Information Commissioner
at Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF,


Yours sincerely,





Lauren Puckey | IRIS Officer
Information Rights and Information Security (IRIS) Service | House of

Tel: 0207 219 4025 | Text Relay: 18001 219 4025 | Fifth Floor, 14 Tothill
St, London SW1H 9NB



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