Memorandum from the Editor of the Official
PROVISION TO MEMBERS OF HANSARD TRANSCRIPTS
IN ADVANCE OF PUBLICATION
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
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 publisherin
this case, the Memberto 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'
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
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.