Writing Down The House



Official reporting of parliamentary proceedings began two hundred years ago. In the first of two programmes, Nick Utechin charts the history of Hansard from 1803.


Two hundred years ago, the House of Commons passed a resolution which for the first time allowed members of the press to sit in the public gallery and take notes directly of what was said by MPs. Nick Utechin tells the story of the Official Report, whose second editor had a name that has entered the English language: Hansard. It was William Cobbett, later famous for his Rural Rides, who established the format, with a supplement covering Parliamentary debates to his newspaper, Cobbett's Weekly Political Register. In 1809, he gave the contract to print Political Debates to a young printer, Thomas Curson Hansard, and three years later sold the whole project to Hansard. Since then, Hansard' has become a by-word for the truthful and accurate reporting, very nearly verbatim, of Parliamentary proceedings; and it has become a global brand as well, with many Commonwealth countries using the name. Nick Utechin talks to the current editor, Bill Garland, and to his reporters about the pressures they face: shifts lasting no longer than 10 minutes at a time, a short-hand requirement of no less than 180 words per minute, and a commitment to accuracy that calls for the printed record of the previous day's proceedings to be available by 7.30am the next morning, and up on the Internet, half-an-hour later.