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Do you know what Hansard is?

Published date: 12 May 2017

12 May 2017

It is an unassuming yet vital part of our democracy and in July it’ll have existed in New Zealand for 150 years. Over the next three months, we’ll be publishing pieces on various aspects of New Zealand’s official record of parliamentary debates, commonly known as Hansard, from its history to its uses and the work that goes into producing it.

Words on a page Enlarge image

Source: Office of the Clerk

Why do we have Hansard?

It is important in a democracy for you to be able to see what your elected representatives are saying. After all, the job of a Member of Parliament is to represent you.  Hansard gives you a chance to read exactly what your politicians are saying about a bill as it is considered by Parliament.As well as providing accountability to the public, Hansard is often used in court cases to help clarify what Parliament intended when it passed a particular piece of legislation. If the reason for, or meaning of, words used in an Act are unclear, the debates in Hansard often provide the answer. These days, the Hansard page of the Parliament website also displays on-demand video from Parliament TV as well as the transcript of speeches.

Who produces Hansard?

Hansard is produced by a team of reporters, editors, and publishers. What’s said in the House is typed out following Hansard’s own style guide, and published on this website, usually within 2 hours of being spoken. Hansard has a “near-verbatim” policy, where a member’s words are largely kept as said, but small changes may be made so a speech can be more easily read.  A Hansard editor’s job is to translate the spoken word to the page. The staff who produce Hansard work for the politically-neutral Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, and this independence helps Hansard to preserve its editorial integrity.

Where does the name “Hansard” come from?

Portrait of a man Enlarge image

Portrait of Thomas Curson Hansard

Source: UK Parliament

Hansard is named after Thomas Curson Hansard, who published parliamentary proceedings in the UK in the early 1800s. Although he had competition from other publishers, Hansard’s publication outlasted those of his rivals. When the UK Parliament began publishing its own official debates, it continued to use the Hansard name for its debates. In addition to New Zealand, many other Commonwealth (and now formerly Commonwealth) countries followed suit in using the Hansard name, including Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and many Pacific Island countries.

 The word “Hansard” can be used in a number of ways:

  •  to refer to the historical record of debates.

…it is a bit of a privilege to speak in the general debate and just to get to put it on the record, actually, in Hansard.

Paula Bennett, 22 March 2017
  •  to refer to the actual publication.

I find it unbelievable, because I now have a copy of Hansard from 1992 and I would like members to listen to this.

Maurice Williamson, 6 November 2007
  •  as a reference to the words spoken by a member previously.

I have checked my Hansard and I am very happy with the answer yesterday, which applies today.

Steven Joyce, 1 April 2017
  •  to refer to the staff who produce the record of debates.

I want to acknowledge the people who make Parliament work: Parliamentary Service, the Office of the Clerk, the Parliamentary Library, Hansard, committee clerks, cleaners, and many others.

Barry Coates, 14 December 2016

Hansard can currently be found online in two forms: PDF versions of most volumes between 1854 and 2003, and website pages for volumes from 2003 onwards.