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"Breach of privilege"

The origins of Hansard, Parliament's Official Report, go back to the early 17th century when unofficial accounts of parliamentary debates began circulation. In the late 1620s, news merchants began selling accounts of parliamentary proceedings, and in 1628, the Commons made its first recorded attempt at stopping such publications.

Parliament, however, had been keeping its own records since the middle ages. The House of Lords Journal - minutes of proceedings - had been kept since 1510, and the Commons' since 1547. In 1680 the Commons decided to print 'Votes and Proceedings' of the House, which included texts of Royal Speeches, Addresses to the Sovereign and Answers, the Orders and Resolutions of the House, and brief entries of Petitions and Papers presented to it.

The pioneer of more comprehensive parliamentary coverage was a French author and pamphleteer called Abel Boyer. In January 1711, Boyer began publishing the Political State of Britain, which included parliamentary debates. Other journals followed, including the Gentleman's Magazine and the London Magazine. London Magazine printed speeches during recess in an attempt to get round Commons rules which prohibited contemporary reporting.


In 1738 the Commons fought back, declaring that it was a "high indignity and a notorious breach of privilege" to report what was said in the Chamber, even when it was in recess.

This 1738 resolution was enforced for the following 33 years, although there were ways round the ban. Dr Samuel Johnson, for example, specialised in producing parodies of parliamentary proceedings - which sometimes reflected actual events - for the Gentleman's Magazine.

Related information

Hansard (the Official Report) is the edited verbatim report of proceedings in both Houses

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