House of Commons Information Office
The House of Commons Information Office (HCIO) is a section within the House of Commons Department of Information Services. The chief role of the office is to provide the public with information on the work, history and membership of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.
The Office was set up in 1978 following a recommendation by the Services Committee in their report Services for the Public (July 1977). The Committee recommended there was "a need for the House to ensure that the public is well informed about its work" and that a "small information office be created within the library...dealing with enquiries from the public."
The office was thus established on 1 June 1978 and was originally known as The Public Information Office. It quickly evolved into a much bigger section in order to cope with the volume of calls it received. By 1982 the Office was responding to more than 50,000 enquiries annually and this figure rose to 69,000 in 1985 and was up to 95,000 in 1990. It was also one of the first sections to pioneer the use of computers and electronic publication in the House of Commons with the use of Viewdata.
Role of the office
The HCIO's original aims have changed little in its 30 year history and is still charged with "Promoting public knowledge and understanding of the work and role of Parliament." The current HCIO office is a quick reference service for the public dealing with all aspects of the work, history and membership of the House of Commons. Its means of disseminating information have changed somewhat overtime and now puts a greater emphasis on online resources such as the Parliament website than even five years ago. The HCIO is now part of the Department for Information Services and consists of 13 full-time equivalent staff. The head of the office is Dr Stephen McGinness.
The office deals with approximately 35,766 phone calls and 4,818 email enquiries per year. A substantial amount of information is provided by the HCIO factsheet collection, which is available via the Parliament website. The factsheet collection (65 in total) deals with subjects ranging from Parliamentary Questions to the Gunpowder plot.
Typical enquiries received by the office include:
- Who's my MP?
- Which Department deals with...?
- How do I follow the progress of a bill through Parliament?
- How do I tour/visit Parliament?
- How do I find the Report on...?
The Office is also responsible for the production of the Weekly Information Bulletin, a publication providing detailed information on current and future business in Parliament. It is compiled by the editor (currently Kevin Williams) and two deputy editors. It is available in hardcopy from the The Stationery Office and in both pdf and html format from the Parliament website. A Sessional Information Digest is also published after each session. This is also available in electronic formats.
The HCIO holds a collection of Parliamentary images which are available for the public to use for non-commercial purposes. The Office houses a collection of photographs on the history, buildings and people within Parliament and there are also slides which can be borrowed on request.
The HCIO also plays a key coordination role for Freedom of Information requests to the House of Commons as a public body.
Recent developments within the HCIO have included the recording of podcasts on various Parliamentary topics and working with the Parliamentary Outreach team to provide talks to the public.
In May 2008 an information desk was established in Westminster Hall to coincide with the opening of the new Cromwell Green visitors entrance. The desk is manned by staff from the HCIO who are there to answer questions from the public on all aspects of the work and history of Parliament. Westminster Hall provides a good focal point for visitors who have just finished a tour of the Palace of Westminster and for individuals arriving for meetings within Parliament.
The section celebrated its 30th anniversary in June 2008, and resumed its old title of Public Information Office in 2012.
The enquiry service can be contacted via the following:
House of Commons Information Office
House of Commons
Tel: 020 7219 4272
Fax: 020 7219 5839
- Parliament website
- HCIO factsheets
- Weekly Information Bulletin
- Sessional Information Digest
- The Stationery Office (TSO)
- House of Commons Information Office
- House of Lords Information Office
“Eighth Report from the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) – Services for the Public” HMSO, 20 July 1977
“The House of Commons Library: A History”, by David Menhennet, 2nd Edition 2000
“Thirty-first report of the House of Commons Commission, Financial Year 2008/09” HC 912, The Stationery Office