Hansard’s 100th anniversary

12 March 2009

The first editions of Hansard as official publications of the two Houses of Parliament appeared in early 1909, with the first full volume of Commons debates completed on 9 March 1909 - 100 years ago this week. A special collection of speeches chosen by key politicians, political commentators and House of Commons staff, will be published on 2 April to mark this important anniversary.

Vivian Widgery, Commons Hansard Deputy Editor, explains the significance of this anniversary for the House of Commons:

"March 9 marked 100 years since the appearance of the first volume of Hansard as an official publication of the House of Commons. Although some form of report of parliamentary debates has been around since 1803, there have been many changes in how, when and by whom it has been published, and Parliament decided at the beginning of the 20th century that it should take over control of publishing its proceedings, with the result that 11 worthy men were appointed to take on the role of producing overnight the verbatim reports of proceedings in the House of Commons and its Committees. Since then, that role has expanded, as has the book, with the addition of the debates in Westminster Hall, written answers, petitions, written ministerial statements and ministerial corrections.

Ian Church, Editor of Hansard from 1989 to 2002, decided that this momentous occasion should not go unmarked, and he came up with the idea of asking the great and the good – mainly politicians, but also journalists and House of Commons staff – to nominate a speech that they had either read or heard which had had a profound impact on them. The collected speeches would then be published, together with a short profile of the nominator and their explanation of why they had chosen that speech. Being farsighted, Ian began his planning in 1999, a full 10 years before the date, to ensure a wide spread of contributors. He started the project with a small Hansard team helping him, but when he retired continued the project on his own. The final product, a weighty tome of 506 pages, will be published on 2 April by TSO, and has benefited from help from colleagues in the Department of Information Services. Copies will be on sale in the Parliamentary bookshop.

With one or two notable exceptions, Ian has been very successful in persuading people to take part and write something about their favoured speech, and there are 46 contributions, across a wide spread of subjects and debates. Some have chosen the same speech—Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech has proved popular, being nominated by three former Conservative Cabinet Ministers. Some go quite far back, to the second world war and beyond, and some are fairly recent, but all show politicians at the top of their prowess, using words to sway both the House and the country. They also show the prowess of Hansard reporters and editors, making sure that those words shine on the page as they shone in the Chamber, and we can be proud of them as we maintain their fine tradition into the next 100 years."

Simon Nicholls, Editor of the House of Lords Official Report - Lords Hansard - explains the significance of the anniversary for the House of Lords:

"It is the 100th anniversary of the Official Report in both Houses. The Hansard family had published reports of parliamentary debates in the 19th century as a private concern, but the name did not appear on the first in-house Official Reports produced in 1909. Only in 1943 was the popular nickname brought back into semi-official use. Even now, it only appears in brackets on the front cover.

A look back at the first page of the House of Lords Official Report, Volume 1, column 1, shows the King’s Speech from 16 February 1909. Commenting on his recent state visit to Germany, King Edward VII said, “I feel confident that the expression of cordial welcome which there greeted Us will tend to strengthen those amicable feelings between the two countries”.

Sadly, his confidence was ill founded, as we found out five years later. A more contemporary echo can be found a few lines further on: “The situation in Persia continues to cause anxiety. My Government have no desire to depart from the principle of non intervention in the internal affairs of that country. At the same time, they are of the opinion that the state of affairs in Persia imperatively demands the introduction of representative institutions in a practical form in order to assure the realisation of indispensible economic, financial, and administrative reforms, and to pacify the country.”

The early years of the Official Report were a momentous time for the House of Lords. The 1909 King’s Speech gives only a hint of what was to come later that year, when the House tried to block Lloyd-George’s “People’s Budget”, the decisive vote coming on 30 November 1909.

Over the next couple of years, the Official Report provided a vital, detailed and, above all, impartial record of the deliberations that led up to the passage of the Parliament Act 1911, which famously reduced the powers of the House for good as a result of the conflict over the 1909 Budget. That commitment to full and accurate reporting of what was said, without spin or interpretation, continues to give the Official Report its unique and enduring value."

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