Before 1771, the British Parliament had long been a highly secretive body. The official record of the actions of the House was publicly available, but there was no such record of debates. The publication of remarks made in the House became a breach of Parliamentary privilege, punishable by the two Houses. As more people became interested in parliamentary debates, more individuals published unofficial accounts of parliamentary debates. Editors were at worst subjected to fines. Several editors used the device of veiling parliamentary debates as debates of fictitious societies or bodies. The names under which parliamentary debates were published include Proceedings of the Lower Room of the Robin Hood Society and Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia.
In 1771 Brass Crosby, who was Lord Mayor of the City of London, had brought before him a printer called Miller who dared publish reports of Parliamentary proceedings. He released the man, but was subsequently ordered to appear before the House to explain his actions. Crosby was committed to the Tower of London, but when he was brought to trial, several judges refused to hear the case and after protests from the public, Crosby was released. Parliament ceased to punish the publishing of its debates, partly due to the campaigns of John Wilkes on behalf of free speech. There then began several attempts to publish reports of debates. Among the early successes, the Parliamentary Register published by John Almon and John Debrett began in 1775 and ran until 1813.
William Cobbett, a noted radical and publisher, began publishing Parliamentary Debates as a supplement to his Political Register in 1802, eventually extending his reach back with the Parliamentary History. Cobbett's reports were printed by Thomas Curson Hansard from 1809; in 1812, with his business suffering, Cobbett sold the Debates to Hansard. From 1829 the name "Hansard" appeared on the title page of each issue. Neither Cobbett nor Hansard ever employed anyone to take down notes of the debates, which were taken from a multiplicity of sources in the morning newspapers. For this reason, early editions of Hansard are not to be absolutely relied upon as a guide to everything discussed in Parliament.
Hansard was remarkably successful in seeing off competition such as Almon and Debrett, and the later Mirror of Parliament published by J.H. Barrow from 1828 to 1843; Barrow's work was more comprehensive but he checked each speech with the Member and allowed them to 'correct' anything they wished they had not said. The last attempt at a commercial rival was The Times which published debates in the 1880s. In 1889, the House decided to subsidise Hansard's publication so that a permanent record was available and it included more speeches and a near-verbatim record of front-bench speeches.
The Hansard of today, a fully comprehensive account of every speech, began in 1909 when Parliament took over the publication. At the same time the decision was made to publish debates of the two houses in separate volumes, and to change the front cover from orange-red to light blue. A larger page format was introduced with new technology in 1980.
In the United Kingdom
Hansard is not a word-for-word transcript of debates in Parliament. Its terms of reference are those set by a House of Commons Select Committee in 1893, as being a report "...which, though not strictly verbatim, is substantially the verbatim report with repetitions and redundancies omitted and with obvious mistakes (including grammatical mistakes) corrected, but which, on the other hand, leaves out nothing that adds to the meaning of the speech or illustrates the argument. One instance of such an eliminated redundancy involves the calling of members in the House of Commons. In that House, the Speaker must call on a member by name before that member may speak, but Hansard makes no mention of the recognition accorded by the Speaker. Also, Hansard sometimes adds extraneous material to make the remarks less ambiguous. For example, though members refer to each other as "the hon. Member for Constituency Name" rather than by name, Hansard adds, in parentheses, the name of the member being referred to, the first time that Member is referred to in a speech or debate. When a Member simply points at another whose constituency he cannot remember, Hansard identifies them.
Any interruption to debate will be marked with the word "(Interruption)". This understated phrase covers a variety of situations, ranging from members laughing uproariously to the physical invasion of the chamber. Interjections from seated members, such as heckling during Prime Minister's Questions, are generally only included if the member who is speaking responds to the interjection.
Hansard also publishes written answers made by Government ministers in response to questions formally posed by members. In 1839, Hansard, by order of the House of Commons, printed and published a report stating that an indecent book published by a Mr. Stockdale was circulating in Newgate Prison. Stockdale sued for defamation but Hansard’s defence, that the statement was true, succeeded. On publication of a reprint, Stockdale sued again but Hansard was ordered by the House to plead that he had acted under order of the Commons and was protected by parliamentary privilege. In the resulting case of Stockdale v. Hansard the court found that the House held no privilege to order publication of defamatory material. In consequence, Parliament passed the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 to establish privilege for publications under the House's authority.
Since 1909 — and for important votes before then — Hansard has listed how members have voted in divisions. Furthermore, the proceedings and debates in committee are also published in separate volumes. For many years the House of Commons Hansard did not formally acknowledge the existence of parties in the House, except obliquely, with Members' references to other Members of the same party as "hon. Friends", but in 2003 this changed and members' party affiliations are now identified. The Hansard of the House of Lords operates entirely independently of its Commons counterpart, but with similar terms of reference. It covers parliamentary business in the House of Lords Chamber itself, as well as the debates in the Moses Room, known as Grand Committee. Parliamentary Written Answers and Statements are also printed. The reporting staff have been described as "a hive of revolution and anti-establishment attitudes". The Internet, with the help of volunteers, has made the UK Hansard more accessible. The UK Hansard is currently being digitised to a high-level format for on-line publication. It is possible to review and search the UK Hansard from June 2001, with the exception of Standing Committees.
Because Hansard is treated as accurate, there is a parliamentary convention whereby if a member of parliament makes a false statement in parliament, he/she must write a correction in the copy of Hansard kept in the House of Commons library.
House of Commons
As with the Westminster Hansard, the Canadian version is not strictly verbatim, and is guided by the principle of avoiding "repetitions, redundancies and obvious errors." Unlike the UK House of Commons, members are referred to in the House only by the parliamentary ridings they represent ("The member for Halifax West," etc.) or by their cabinet post. Hansard supplies an affiliation the first time each member speaks in the House on a particular day — "Mr. Mathieu Ravignat (Pontiac, NDP)" or "Hon. Lynne Yelich (Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, CPC.)" — and by name only when they rise later to speak.
If interjections give rise to a call for order by the Speaker, they are reported as "Some hon. members: Oh, oh!" The details of the approval or negativing of motions and bills are reported in rather baroque detail:
Given the bilingual nature of the Canadian federal government, two equivalent Canadian Hansards are maintained, one in French and one in English. This makes it a natural parallel text, and it is often used to train French-English machine translation programs. In addition to being already translated and aligned, the size of the Hansards and the fact that new material is always being added makes it an attractive corpus. However, its usefulness is hindered by the fact that the translations, although accurate in meaning, are not always literally exact.
The Canadian Hansard records makes note of the language used by the members of parliament, so as not to misinterpret the words of the person who has the floor. If the member speaks in French, the English Hansard records would state that the member spoke in French and refer the reader to the French Hansard record.
In one instance, during a Liberal filibuster in the Canadian Senate, Senator Philippe Gigantès was accused of reading one of his books only so that he could get the translation for free through the Hansard.
No complete official record of the debates in the British Columbia Legislature was produced until 1972; a partial record was issued beginning in 1970. Unlike the Ottawa Hansard, each Member of the Legislative Assembly is identified only by initial and last name in the printed Hansard for an opposition member or a government backbencher: "J. Horgan." Current cabinet ministers have their names prefaced with "Honourable": "Hon. S. Hagen." Interjections giving rise to a call for order by the Speaker are reported only as "Interjection." Other interjections are reported as spoken if they are clearly audible and if they are responded to in some way by the member who has the floor. While the details of approval or negativing of motions and bills closely parallel the House of Commons, the reporting is simplified to a style line ("Motion approved" or "Motion negatived.")
The European Parliament has its verbatim report of proceedings of the plenary sessions, often referred to by its name in French compte rendu in extenso (CRE). It is eventually available in nearly all of the Union’s languages.
List of assemblies using the system
- Australian Hansard
- OpenAustralia.org (volunteer run by )
- Victoria, Australia Hansard
- Australia Capital Territory, Australia, Hansard
- Northern Territory, Australia Hansard
- South Australia, Australia Hansard
- Queensland, Australia Hansard
- Tasmania, Australia Hansard
- Western Australia, Australia
- New South Wales, Australia Hansard
- Canada's Hansard
- Alberta Hansard
- British Columbia Hansard
- Manitoba Hansard
- New Brunswick Hansard
- Newfoundland & Labrador Hansard
- Northwest Territories Hansard
- Nova Scotia Hansard
- Nunavut Hansard
- Ontario Hansard
- Prince Edward Island Hansard
- Quebec Hansard
- Saskatchewan Hansard
- Yukon Hansard
- United Kingdom Hansard Easy-to use web catalogue of debates dating back to 1988.
- House of Commons Information Office: Factsheet G17 -- The Official Report (Hansard) History of publication, current use, how to cite it, etc.
- TheyWorkForYou.com (volunteer run by mySociety)
- Westminster Hansard (House of Commons) website
- Westminster Hansard (House of Lords) website
- National Assembly for Wales Record of Proceedings (Wales Hansard)
- Northern Ireland Assembly Official Report (Northern Ireland Hansard)
- Scottish Parliament Official Report (Scotland Hansard)
- Isle of Man Hansard
- States of Jersey Official Report (Jersey Hansard)
- Historical Hansard Debates within the University of Florida's Digital Collections
- Hansard 1803-2005
- Australasian and Pacific Hansards
- Brunei Hansard
- Fiji Hansard
- Hong Kong Hansard
- Republic of Ireland parliamentary debates
- KildareStreet.com — accessible, searchable version of Oireachtas debates (volunteer run, inspired by UK's TheyWorkForYou.com)
- Kenya Hansard
- Malaysia Hansard
- New Zealand Hansard
- TheyWorkForYou.co.nz — accessible version of NZ Hansard (volunteer run, inspired by UK's TheyWorkForYou.com)
- Singapore Hansard search
- Uganda Hansard
- Zimbabwean Hansard
- Tanzania Hansard
- EALA Hansard
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