Legal Dictionary


Definition of Hansard


    About 1859. After London printer Luke Hansard (1752-1828), whose company printed and later published the British debates of parliament. The printed debates were titled Hansard from 1829.


Hansard (plural Hansards)

  1. The official report of discussions in the British and some Commonwealth parliaments.
  2. (historical) A merchant of one of the Hanse towns.

Further reading

Hansard is the name of the printed transcripts of parliamentary debates in the Westminster system of government. It is named after Thomas Curson Hansard, an early printer and publisher of these transcripts.

In the United Kingdom

Hansard is not a word-for-word transcript of debates in Parliament. Its terms of reference are those set by a House of Commons Select Committee in 1893, as being a report "...which, though not strictly verbatim, is substantially the verbatim report with repetitions and redundancies omitted and with obvious mistakes (including grammatical mistakes) corrected, but which, on the other hand, leaves out nothing that adds to the meaning of the speech or illustrates the argument. One instance of such an eliminated redundancy involves the calling of members in the House of Commons. In that House, the Speaker must call on a member by name before that member may speak, but Hansard makes no mention of the recognition accorded by the Speaker. Also, Hansard sometimes adds extraneous material to make the remarks less ambiguous. For example, though members refer to each other as "the hon. Member for Constituency Name" rather than by name, Hansard adds, in parentheses, the name of the member being referred to, the first time that Member is referred to in a speech or debate. When a Member simply points at another whose constituency he cannot remember, Hansard identifies them.

Any interruption to debate will be marked with the word "(Interruption)". This understated phrase covers a variety of situations, ranging from members laughing uproariously to the physical invasion of the chamber. Interjections from seated members, such as heckling during Prime Minister's Questions, are generally only included if the member who is speaking responds to the interjection.

Hansard also publishes written answers made by Government ministers in response to questions formally posed by members. In 1839, Hansard, by order of the House of Commons, printed and published a report stating that an indecent book published by a Mr. Stockdale was circulating in Newgate Prison. Stockdale sued for defamation but Hansard's defence, that the statement was true, succeeded. On publication of a reprint, Stockdale sued again but Hansard was ordered by the House to plead that he had acted under order of the Commons and was protected by parliamentary privilege. In the resulting case of Stockdale v. Hansard the court found that the House held no privilege to order publication of defamatory material. In consequence, Parliament passed the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 to establish privilege for publications under the House's authority.

Since 1909 - and for important votes before then - Hansard has listed how members have voted in divisions. Furthermore, the proceedings and debates in committee are also published in separate volumes. For many years the House of Commons Hansard did not formally acknowledge the existence of parties in the House, except obliquely, with Members' references to other Members of the same party as "hon. Friends", but in 2003 this changed and members' party affiliations are now identified. The Hansard of the House of Lords operates entirely independently of its Commons counterpart, but with similar terms of reference. It covers parliamentary business in the House of Lords Chamber itself, as well as the debates in the Moses Room, known as Grand Committee. Parliamentary Written Answers and Statements are also printed. The reporting staff have been described as "a hive of revolution and anti-establishment attitudes". The Internet, with the help of volunteers, has made the UK Hansard more accessible. The UK Hansard is currently being digitised to a high-level format for on-line publication. It is possible to review and search the UK Hansard from June 2001, with the exception of Standing Committees.

Because Hansard is treated as accurate, there is a parliamentary convention whereby if a member of parliament makes a false statement in parliament, he/she must write a correction in the copy of Hansard kept in the House of Commons library.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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