House of Commons Commission - Twenty-Third Annual Report

Department of the Official ReportAnnual Report 2000-01

1. Introduction


The Department's primary aim is to support the work of the House of Commons and its Members. Its objective is the timely production of edited verbatim reports of the proceedings of the House and its Standing Committees and the processing and printing of written answers. The reports must be printed overnight to the highest standards of editorial and typographical accuracy. When the Standing Committee work load exceeds production capacity, publication may be delayed. The Department is responsible for the operation of the annunciator service.

The principal users of the Department's services are Members of Parliament and departments of the House, but its publications are used extensively by Government departments, national organisations and the public, both in paper form and on the internet.

The Department's goals for the year were based on its overall aims of remaining cost-effective and efficient, delivering levels and types of service which the House requires and is entitled to expect.

Through a continuing programme of the exploitation of technology, the Department has continued to improve the standard of service it has delivered to the House.


The Editor, as head of the Department, is a member of the Board of Management. It is a role which therefore carries both Departmental and corporate responsibilities.

The Department is organised into four divisions.

  • The House reporting division, headed by the Deputy Editor (House), is responsible for producing the Hansard daily part and the bound volume, which contain the proceedings in the Chamber, reports of the proceedings in Westminster Hall and written answers, which are processed by the Department's written answers unit.

  • The Committee reporting division, working under the direction of the Deputy Editor (Committees), is responsible for producing reports of proceedings in Standing Committees and has primary responsibility for reporting debates in Westminster Hall. The division responds to the fluctuating numbers of Standing Committees, with the aim of overnight production of the reports according to prescribed criteria.

  • The Administration division, under the control of the Deputy Editor (Personnel, Finance and Administration), is charged with ensuring the smooth running of the Department's internal affairs and implementing House policies on financial and human resource issues. It has assumed an increasing work load as the Department, in common with others, assumes greater responsibility for matters relating to finance, staff costs and manpower planning.

  • The Information Technology division provides the technical expertise and support behind the electronic processing of the text of the Department's reports. It is required to keep the Department abreast of the latest developments.

2. Plans and Achievements

The new financial year began as the old one had finished, with the work load maintaining levels that were rarely seen in the preceding 15 years. Notwithstanding the pressure on all staff, the introduction of new electronic systems to enable the Department to reduce its production costs and to offer higher standards of performance was successfully undertaken, IiP accreditation was achieved, and work in preparation of the relocation of Committee operations to 7 Millbank was put in hand.

At a corporate level, the Department's representatives were active in contributing to the development and implementation of House strategies and policies on a wide range of topics including data protection, freedom of information, diversity and equal opportunities, information systems and information technology, training and development, and health and safety. They played a leading role in the project to create a critical services network.


The Department's system of performance measurement is based upon production targets and error rates. Those rates are based upon what are termed "significant errors" which include the mis-spelling of a name, a factual reporting mistake, misattribution of words spoken, and so on. It met its targets in all but a few instances.

The Official Report has one overarching performance target: the daily part of the proceedings in the Chamber must be produced overnight to a schedule that enables it to be delivered to the Vote Office at 7.30 am the following morning. That target was achieved on all occasions.

The level of activity in the year showed a small decline over 1999-2000, with the total of electronic and set pages, totalling 29,053, falling by 6% over the previous year's figure of 30,920. The largest reduction was in Standing Committee pages which dropped by 11.7% to 8,135, which nevertheless remained one of the higher figures in recent years. The total of pages for the daily part, which includes written answers, fell by 3.6 % to 20,918, which figure masks a steeper decline. The figure for 1999-2000 contained only four months of debates in Westminster Hall, whereas the 2000-01 result included a full year's proceedings.

The activities and performance of the Department's individual divisions were as follows:


The division's output is entirely in electronic format which has a substantial impact in reducing production costs. A team of sub-editors oversees the work of reporters. Their task is to maintain the flow of copy to The Stationery Office's Parliamentary Press so that the daily part can be printed and distributed to the required schedule, ensuring that it is available in the Vote Office the next morning at 7.30 am and electronically on the PDVN at 9 am.

The Department's ability to fulfil its commitment to the House in respect of the timely production of the daily part depends on the efficiency of its staff and the reliability of its computer systems. The section has a performance target of processing and transmitting to The Stationery Office's Parliamentary Press the text of Members' speeches three hours after they have been delivered in the Chamber. This rolling deadline, which reduces to 1½ hours after the rise of the House, is necessary to guarantee overnight production to the required standard. The computer systems operated reliably under the control of the Department's information technology division, and, with their electronic output, they continued to enable the Department to make a significant contribution to reduced printing costs.

In terms of the volume of business, the reporting year began with a high level of work which eased with the start of the new session and a legislative programme that was lighter than would normally be expected. With 159 sitting days, the business generated a total of 66,102 printed pages for all categories of the Department's publications, including the daily part, the weekly Hansard and the bound volume.

Performance measurement:

    Target: Not more than one significant error per 13 columns of debate and oral answers.

    Achievement: Average of one significant error per 16 columns of debate and oral answers. The figure is an improvement of 33% over the past two years.

    Target: Dispatch of copy to the print contractor within three hours of the Member having finished speaking.

    Achievement: Target met on all occasions.

    Target: Average of one significant error per 13 columns of written answers.

    Achievement: Average of one significant error in 16.1 columns, a 40% improvement on last year's achievement.

    Target: Daily parts corrected for bound volume within a new rolling deadline of 10 working days, which is a reduction of 33% on last year's deadline.

    Achievement: On average, daily parts corrected in 7.5 working days.

Members who attend the Hansard office to check the transcript before it is printed are asked to complete a survey giving their assessment of the standard of service they have received. They are asked to tick boxes on a card ranging from "very satisfied" to "very dissatisfied".

The results for 2000-01 showed that 100% were "very satisfied" with the reception that they received; 80% were "very satisfied" with the availability of their speech while 20% were "fairly satisfied"; 90% were "very satisfied" with the timely handling of their queries or requests while 10% were "fairly satisfied"; 100% were "very satisfied" with the standard of the reporting.


The Committee reporting division guarantees overnight production of the reports of proceedings in Westminster Hall and aims to achieve the same time scale for Standing Committees. The reports are produced by teams of reporters who transcribe from tape. Their work is overseen by sub-editors who are responsible for the electronic transmission of the completed work to The Stationery Office for printing.

Fluctuations in the Committee Workload (excluding Westminster Hall)

During the reporting year there were 262 sittings of Bill Committees and 148 sittings of Delegated Legislation Committees. The division produced reports of debates on 37 Bills, 148 Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation, 17 meetings of European Standing Committees, 22 sittings of Grand Committees and one Second Reading Committee, as well as most of the 99 reports of Westminster Hall debates. The total number of Standing Committee pages printed was 8,135.

Cooperation between the Committee reporting and Information Technology divisions and the assistance provided by The Stationery Office ensured that the Department successfully met its targets of producing all Westminster Hall debates in electronic format from Easter 2000 and electronic production of Standing Committee reports from State Opening 2000. The changes have enabled a saving of 37% in page production costs to be made. In spite of a heavy work load, staff shortages and the need to adapt to and develop the new technology, the division continued to meet its accuracy targets. A significant benefit of the new production system was the virtual elimination of typographical errors from the reports.

Performance measurement:

    Target: To deliver to the print contractor the text of reports of debates in Westminster Hall in time for them to be published overnight and appear in the Hansard daily part.

    Achievement: Target achieved.

    Target: To deliver to the print contractor the equivalent of seven two-and-a-half hours morning sittings of Standing Committees on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and four two-and-a-half hour morning sittings on Wednesdays in time for them to be published the following morning.

    Achievement: Target achieved on all but five occasions.

    Target: Proof reading of the reports of the proceedings in Westminster Hall to be completed within 10 working days of the sitting, reports of Standing Committees within four weeks of the Committees having reported, and reports of Delegated Legislation Committees and European Standing Committees within two weeks.

    Achievement: All Westminster Hall reports and all but five of all other reports were proof read on time.

    Target: Not more than one significant error per 12 columns of debate.

    Achievement: Target achieved.


The control and administration of staff costs and the organisation and implementation of the key areas of staff training and health and safety were salient aspects of the division's work during the reporting year.

The specialised skills that the Department requires of its staff cannot be obtained from the job market and must be developed in-house. Meeting that demand requires of the training manager an effective and progressive in-house training programme which is closely linked to the annual reporting exercise. The programme is planned on a medium term basis and is designed to anticipate staff wastage, maintain and improve staff skills in line with advances in IT, and, through refresher courses, enhance the level of performance of all staff. Training provision is sourced from the Civil Service College and the Industrial Society and other commercial providers.

Experience elsewhere has shown that the increased use by staff of information technology equipment carries with it a commensurate increase in the need for vigilance in health and safety to prevent the occurrence of health problems or to respond quickly to them if they arise. Under the guidance of its health and safety manager, the Department has fully supported and begun to implement the new Parliament-wide risk management strategy and has continued to maintain a high standard of care for its staff.

The Department has continued its policy of providing high-quality ergonomics advice and training to its intensive keyboard users, and of monitoring them closely. Its programme of physiotherapy treatment and advice ensures that staff who develop problems can continue to work productively and safely instead of having to resort to sick leave.


The division's mission in the year under review continued to reflect three principal areas of responsibility within the operations of the Department. First, the division demonstrates a strong capability in systems development. On the basis of a detailed knowledge of the Department's systems and its operations and requirements, it uses that expertise to apply new technologies to enhance the Department's production processes in the pursuit of reduced operating costs and increased levels of service and efficiency. In the reporting year it was responsible for the successful design, construction and implementation of the new reporting and production system for the Committee division and the supervision of the installation of a new annunciator system. Secondly, it maintains and supports the Department's computer systems, work force and networks in order to guarantee the highest levels of availability for the mission-critical tasks that they perform. Finally, it contributes to the development of Departmental policy through its initiatives and support in respect of the development programme.

At a corporate level, the division has championed the development of inter-departmental data standards using new technologies and techniques, particularly the extended mark-up language (XML) and has played a leading role in the development of the proposed critical service network.

The Department's business plan envisages the continued and extended application of technology to a wide range of the Department's activities. The division will play a key role in assisting in the realisation of this aim.

Ian Church

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© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 17 July 2001