House of Commons Commission - Twenty-fourth Annual Report

Twenty-fourth Annual Report 2001-02

Department of the Official Report Annual Report 2001-02

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 workload exceeds production capacity, publication may be delayed. The Department is also 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 workload 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.

Hansard reporters in the Gallery

2. Plans and achievements

Business both in the House and in Standing Committees was running at manageable levels as the new financial year began, but it faltered as predictions of a general election began to assume some substance. The election had its inevitable effect in depressing the work level, a situation that was extended with the imminent arrival of the summer recess only weeks after the opening of the new Parliament.

During that recess, extensive infrastructure work was carried out by the Department's IT staff in preparation for the move of the Committee reporting division to 7 Millbank. An advance party of staff moved into the newly converted accommodation during the summer break, and work continued on preparations for the rest of the Committee staff to join them the following year.

The workload arising from Standing Committees took off slowly in October, but then reached a high level in the run up to and after the Christmas recess.

In business terms, the outstanding feature of the year was the substantial growth in the number of written answers. The available statistics were already showing a steady growth in the number of questions tabled, but the sudden marked rise that developed in the pre-Christmas period and continued until the end of the year could not have been foreseen. That workload was never envisaged when the Department's written answers unit ­ the section of staff responsible for processing the answers and sending them in electronic format to the print contractor ­ was established. Consequently, the unit found itself heavily overstretched.

As a result, by the year end, the policy of transmitting the written answers text to the printers exclusively in electronic format had to be abandoned, and the contractor was asked to engage in the more expensive and now discontinued practice of typesetting some of the material in order for it to be printed within a timescale that met the requirements of Members and the House. The performance target of printing overnight not fewer than 90% of answers received by the due time has been reduced to 70%.

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, internal communications, freedom of information, diversity and equal opportunities, training and development, health and safety, and information systems and information technology, including a review of electronic publishing and developments on the PDVN. They continued to play a leading role in the project to create a critical services network.

The Department measures its performance in terms of 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.

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 day. That target was achieved on all occasions.

The figure showing the level of activity in the year was distorted by the unusual increase in the number of written answers. It was an election year, which should have resulted in fewer pages in the daily part. However, at 20,058 pages, the number was little changed from 2000-01 when it stood at 20,918. Written answers are included in that figure. At 8,375 pages, they were 23% higher than for the previous year and are likely to have been an all-time record. It was certainly the highest number for the seven years for which statistics are readily available. The pages devoted to business in the Chamber and Westminster Hall totalled 11,683, compared to 14,130 the previous year, a 17% drop.

Page production totals

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


The division's targets are related to timeliness of production and accuracy of reporting. The overarching target is to transmit the daily part electronically to The Stationery Office's Parliamentary Press in time to ensure that it is available the following morning in printed form in the Vote Office by 7.30 am and on the internet by 8 am. The operational production target is the regular flow of copy to tSO, with the text of Members' speeches being sent electronically no later than three hours after they have finished speaking or one and a half hours after the rise of the House.

The division's ability to fulfil its commitment to the House to produce accurate and timely reports is dependent on the efficiency, knowledge and skills of its staff and the reliable operation of the Department's information technology and information systems.

The ability to transmit copy electronically to tSO enabled the Department to continue to make a significant contribution to the reduced printing costs that have been realised across the House generally, but that ability was severely challenged by the 70% increase in the number of questions tabled for written answer in 2001-02. The inevitable later arrival of answers from Government Departments, coupled with the lack of resources internally to deal with this unforeseen increase, forced the Department to send some answers for typesetting by tSO, with a consequent increase in printing costs.

Average daily print run

The average print order for the daily part showed another small decline, to 2,387 copies a day. However, the trend in demand for the printed version must be seen in the context of the electronic availability of the Official Report on the Parliamentary web site. Use of the site continued its remarkable increase. For the first time since it was established in 1996 the number of user sessions exceeded 400,000 per month, on three occasions, and the total of such sessions was up 21% on the previous year. Access to Hansard accounts for a substantial proportion of the interest in the site and it is reasonable to conclude that the reports of the proceedings of the House and its Standing Committees are reaching a wider audience than at any time in the past. Access to them is certainly greater than would ever have been possible with print alone.

The annunciator service continued to operate at the highest levels of reliability and gave another trouble-free year. It is a high profile element of the Department's service to the House, and its immediacy imposes stringent demands in terms of both the reliability of the system and the speed of response of the operation to changing events within the Chamber and Westminster Hall. At the year end, arrangements were well in hand to install a remote terminal to provide security personnel with direct access to the system in the event of an emergency.

With 143 sitting days, the business generated a total of 62,196 printed pages for all categories of the Department's non-Standing Committee publications ­ the daily part, the weekly Hansard and the bound volume. In the previous year, with 159 sitting days, the figure was 66,102.

Performance measurements


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

An average of one significant error per 13.8 columns.

The dispatch of copy to tSO within three hours of a Member having finished speaking.

The target was met on all occasions.

The correction of daily parts for the bound volume within a rolling deadline of 10 days.

Daily parts corrected, on average, in six working days.


Average of one significant error per 25 columns of written answers.

Average of one significant error in 49 columns.

Next day printing of, on average, 90% of written answers received by the Department by the stipulated time.

Under pressure of an unprecedented increase in the workload, not achieved in the second half of the year.

Members who attend the Hansard office to check the transcript before it is printed are invited to assess the standard of service they receive. The results for 2001-02 show that 95% were "very satisfied" and 5% were "satisfied" with the reception they received and with the timely handling of their queries or requests; and 85% were "very satisfied" and 15% "satisfied" with both the availability of their speech and the standard of 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 four teams of reporters who transcribe from tape. Sub-editors oversee their work and are responsible for the electronic transmission of the completed work to the House's print contractor.

During the reporting year the division produced reports of debates on 225 sittings of Bill Standing Committees, 106 Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation, 18 meetings of European Standing Committees, 11 sittings of Grand Committees and one Second Reading Committee, as well as most of the 81 reports of Westminster Hall debates. The total number of Standing Committee pages printed was 6,501, compared to 8,135 the previous year, the decline being principally attributable to the calling of the general election.

In the first full year of electronic production of Standing Committee reports, the division achieved the Department's aim of substantially reducing printing costs. Other major developments during the year were the successful move by some Committee staff in October 2001 to new accommodation at 7 Millbank and planning of consequential moves, both resulting from considerable co-operation between the Official Report and the Department of the Serjeant at Arms, and the piloting of a digital audio system which will provide the Department with greater operational flexibility.

The division's busiest period began earlier than usual, in mid-November 2001, and continued until the beginning of February 2002. With the assistance of the House reporting division, which reported four sittings of proceedings in Westminster Hall, the Committee division was often able to send to the print contractor more than its target number of transcripts, enabling all reports of Tuesday Bill Committees to be available for the Thursday sittings.

Performance measurement:

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.

The target was met on all occasions.

To deliver to the print contractor the equivalent of seven two-and-a-half hour 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.

The target was met on all occasions.

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 Statutory Instruments Committees and European Standing Committees within two weeks of publication.

All Westminster Hall reports and all but six of all other reports were proof read on time.
Target: Not more than one significant error per 12 columns of debate.
Achievement: An average of one significant error in 14 columns for Westminster Hall and one in 50 columns for Standing Committees. (The Standing Committee figure is calculated differently to take account of the different production methods employed.)


The division continued its policy of obtaining best value for money in the procurement of the services and resources required by the Department. In particular, the Department's Head of Administration was part of the tendering team for the provision of a new House-wide contract for late night transport, and serves on the user group formed to renew the House stationery contract.

As part of its manpower planning responsibilities the division has been active in sourcing cost effective and flexible temporary staff to meet the Department's heavy workload, particularly in the Committee and written answers sections.

The division's system of performance measurement is based upon the fair and efficient disposition of reporting staff and takes account of the Working Time Directive when allocating duties in the weekly and daily rotas. The division aims to produce these duty rotas to deadline in 95% of cases. This target was achieved on all occasions.

The specialised skills that the Department requires of its reporting, sub-editing and managerial 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 performance of all staff.

While training provision is sourced from the Civil Service College and the Industrial Society and other commercial providers, and from training courses organised by the House, the most important course, that at entry level, is run and managed by experienced Hansard staff. Their task is to shepherd new recruits through a four-month training programme that has consistently provided for the Department staff who have the skills that enable it to meet its obligations to the House.

The Department also provides training to reporting staff from other parliaments, both in the formal setting of the Departmental training scheme and during secondments.

During the year, the Department continued to attach the highest importance to all aspects of staff health, safety and welfare. Staff training continued, in accordance with the Department's safety action plan, to help ensure that health and safety are integral to all Departmental functions. The health and safety arrangements document has been revised, so that it more closely follows the House-wide policy and arrangements and emphasises the importance of risk assessment as the foundation of good health and safety practice. A copy has been issued to all staff.

Continuing the efforts to avoid work-related injuries, high standards of ergonomics have been applied to new Committee offices in Millbank, which have been occupied by the first of the Committee staff to move there, and work is in hand for phase II to secure the same standard.


The division continued to play a key role in the operations of the Department, with its objectives linked to three principal areas of responsibility. 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 built upon the previous year's successful systems deployments with the development of a new reporting application based upon SQL, Word and Windows 2000. The new system is on schedule to be deployed in summer 2002. The division was responsible for the successful design, construction and implementation of new networking and communication arrangements, moving the Department's production systems to a gigabit platform. 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 continues to play a leading role in the development of the proposed critical services network whilst developing its own convergence strategy to support these initiatives.

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 that aim.

Ian Church


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