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


Letter from the Editor of the Official Report (Hansard) to the Clerk of the Committee


  I understand that a recent meeting of the Modernisation Committee considered my paper on providing Members with transcripts of their speeces ahead of publication in the Official Report. The question was raised of the possibility of such transcripts being e-mailed to Members on demand.

  The department could offer such a service but circumstances prevent us doing so in the immediate future. During the summer recess we shall completely replace our computerised production system and at the same time integrate into the new set-up a networked digital audio recording facility to cover the House, Westminster Hall and all Standing Committees.

  The replacement equipment, which has been the subject of extensive planning and development, was not designed to include in a secure environment the combination of functions needed both to produce text and to e-mail the output. Such functionality could be provided, but we would need to confirm that out new system worked reliably before attempting modification to incorporate the new requirement. If all goes well, it should be possible to introduce the new service next year, but, given that Hansard production operates within a highly secure framework, the technical complexities that would need to be overcome should not be underestimated.

  If the proposal were approved I would need to obtain the necessary finance. My aim would be to seek a solution that had minimal staffing implications, but at this stage I cannot make a reliable estimate about that. An important factor would be whether interventions in a Member's speech would be included in or excised from the transcript. The House would have to overturn the rule that denies a Member access to another Member's words ahead of publication for them to be incorporated.

  My paper to the Committee stated that we would provide a transcript only after the copy had been sent to the printer. In that way we could guarantee that the version supplied to the Member was precisely that which would appear in Hansard the next morning. Any corrections that Members made to that version would be considered for incorporation in the Bound Volume.

  There is one area in which I would strongly advise the Committee not to contemplate change. Notwithstanding the possible increased use by Members of electronic methods in other categories of parliamentary papers, I am very anxious that the correction of the Hansard transcript should continue to be made by Members in person in the Hansard office.

  When Members have corrections or amendments to suggest, it is essential that they are able to discuss them with the principal assistant editors who can advise on the best approach and can confirm that the changes are acceptable and that they conform with the 1907 terms of reference. To attempt to do that by e-mail would be ineffective, time consuming and, when there was no guarantee that the Member, no doubt with pressing demands on his or her time, would still be by the computer and able promptly to deal with an e-mail response, impossible. The pressure of our continuous rolling deadline, which is essential to enable us to ahieve overnight production, means that we simply could not accept undue delay while a point of difference was ironed out.

Ian Church

18 July 2002

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