Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Editor of the Official Report [Hansard]


  1.  A Member having raised the matter in your Committee, I have been asked to offer guidance on the question of Members being permitted to receive from the Official Report transcripts of their speeches in advance of final publication.

  2.  A few simple rules apply to the treatment of Hansard copy. Members are permitted to read the transcripts of their own contributions, but must, within a stipulated time, attend the Hansard office to do so. While individual pages may be sent to Members in the Chamber to enable specific passages to be checked, transcripts may not be sent or taken from the Hansard office for any other purpose. Requests from the Chair are exempt from this rule. Members are not allowed to see the report of what other Members have said until it appears in print the following morning. So strictly is this rule enforced that a Member who has asked a question in the Chamber may read the transcript of the question, but may not ask to see the Minister's reply.

  3.  There have been a number of attempts over the years to allow Members to have transcripts of their speeches before they are printed in Hansard. It is a service that the department has the technology to provide, but it is one that successive Speakers have refused, on procedural grounds, to agree to. I have discussed a draft of this paper with both Mr Speaker and with the Clerk of the House, Sir William McKay. Both have expressed strong reservations about the proposal. Sir William's concern is for the legal implications for Members arising from the absence of the protection of parliamentary privilege.

  4.  There are two linked aspects of the question. The first is providing Members with transcripts of their own speeches. The second is providing them with copies of what other Members say. The former, so far as I can determine, has never been the subject of a Speaker's ruling and a prohibition has only ever been applied as a matter of practice and custom. The reasoning behind the ban has been primarily based on the question of privilege.

  5.  In 1981 the first attempt to allow Members to have copies of their speeches was successfully opposed on the Floor of the House and, in spite of being resurrected on three subsequent occasions, the latest in 1994, the proposal has never managed to overcome objections associated with parliamentary privilege. The Official Report enjoys the unqualified protection of parliamentary privilege; extracts from it have no such protection. Thus, any material that is reproduced in such a form exposes the publisher—in this case, the Member—to the risk of court proceedings should any part of it be perceived as defamatory or actionable.

  6.  Members would doubtless be keen to use such a service. It is possible that this would include Ministers, who could obtain the copy and then reissue it through their press offices to the media.

  7.  Access to the transcripts of other Members' speeches before they are published in Hansard was raised on the Floor of the House in July 1946 with Speaker Clifton Brown. He said that neither he nor his predecessors had ever ruled on the matter, but that "it has been the custom undoubtedly" to deny access [Official Report, 4 July 1946; Vol 424, cc. 2334-36]. A ruling giving effect to the ban was finally made by Speaker Selwyn Lloyd in 1972 [Official Report, 25 April 1972; Vol 835, cc. 1276-77] and reinforced by Speaker Thomas in 1979 [Official Report, 20 July 1979; Vol 970, c. 2182]. The principal reason for the prohibition seems to have been to prevent Members from quoting from the proceedings of a current debate, which is out of order. Erskine May states at page 222:

"It is not in order for a Member to obtain or quote during a current sitting the record made for the Official Report of the remarks of any other Member; the Speaker, however, is not bound by this rule"

  8.  The matter has a bearing on the pre-publication release to Members of copies of their own speeches because any intervention during the speech would constitute another Member's remarks. The House might have to choose between retaining the ban on "a Member [obtaining] . . . the remarks of another Member" or rescinding it. If it were retained, interventions would presumably have to be excised from the transcript.

  9.  Those circumstances would pose a particular problem in the case of a question at Question Time or a supplementary question on a ministerial statement. Without the reply, a transcript of the question would usually be pointless, so there would be pressure that the answer should also be provided, which, if conceded, would run counter to the rule denying access to other Members' remarks.

  10.  Two further considerations arise. The first concerns timing. The department would not release a copy of a speech until it had sent the final text to the printer. Only in that way could it be guaranteed that the copy given to the Member was precisely the copy that would appear in Hansard the next morning. Members would therefore have to wait to receive their transcripts. The target is to transmit the text to the printer three hours after the Member has finished speaking during the routine of the day, reducing to one and a half hours late at night. Thus, if a Member spoke on the Adjournment from 10 to 10.15pm, the speech would be available at 15 minutes to midnight. In no circumstances could speeches be processed out of order to avoid the Member having to wait so long, but a reasonably accurate delivery time could be given.

  11.  The second reservation concerns the resources needed to provide the service. It may be possible to run it without additional staff, but if the level of demand exceeded the department's capacity, an additional post would probably be sought.

  12.  If Members were permitted to have copies of the speeches of others, I would envisage a major demand being placed upon the department which might require additional posts.

Ian Church


June 2002

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