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Official report

Preventing publication of unofficial parliamentary reports finally ended in 1771 following a legal battle by the radical MP and journalist John Wilkes against attempts to arrest several printers. Thereafter Parliament did not attempt to enforce a 1738 resolution preventing reporting of what was said in the chamber.

By the middle of the 1770s there were several newspapers being published in London, all of which covered the proceedings of Parliament.

By the late 18th century parliamentary reporting flourished, even though reporters were supposed to reconstruct debates from memory and not take notes. A ban on taking notes was lifted in the Commons in 1783 and later in the Lords.

Early parliamentary reporters included the writers Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Dickens.

Cobbett's publications

In 1800 William Cobbett started publishing Cobbett's Weekly Political Register. Two years later he printed debate reports as supplements to the Register, and in 1803 these reports appeared separately under the title Cobbett's Parliamentary Debates. These selectively covered proceedings in both Houses of Parliament and relied mainly on newspaper reports, although speeches were checked with a Member.

Mr Hansard

Due to insolvency, Cobbett sold the contract for Debates in 1812 to Thomas Curson Hansard, printer to the House of Commons, and they became known colloquially by that surname from 1889. MPs were allowed considerable licence in correcting their speeches before publication. Many, complained one newspaper in 1853, sent in "a composition which is no more the speech uttered by them in the House of Commons than it is a Welsh ballad".

As the parliamentary workload got heavier, MPs began to worry that certain aspects of Parliament's work - such as private legislation and committees - were not being covered. In 1877 the Chancellor paid Hansard a grant in order to remedy this, and by 1889 the work had gone out to tender. In January 1909 the Commons itself took responsibility for producing Hansard, now called the 'Official report', and recruited 11 shorthand writers.

The House of Lords, which had been covered along with the Commons by Cobbett's Debates since 1803, also began publishing an Official report of its own. Despite attempts to drop the name 'Hansard', its use continued and it returned to the front cover of the Commons and Lords reports in 1943. Since 1997, Hansard for both Chambers has been available online on the Parliament website.

Did you know?

The name Hansard was adopted by the official reports of a number of legislatures throughout the world

Related information

House of Commons Information Office factsheet on the Official Report of Parliament

Historic Hansard

The first speech formally covered by Hansard was the King's Speech in 1909


You can access biographies of

John Wilkes
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Charles Dickens
William Cobbett
Thomas Curson Hansard

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.