Orders of the Day — House of Commons (Administration) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th April 1978.

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Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Southwark Bermondsey 12:00 am, 12th April 1978

That is why my point is more valid than ever. I want to clear up this anomaly before it goes too far. I want to get it on record today and that is why I am using the democratic process of this Second Reading debate to state my case about Hansard. I ask that it be regarded as a separate Department and that it has the same access to the Commission that will be appointed as is available to any other Department. That will save the Commission, if I may say so, having to do the job later on. We should do it for the Commission.

I do not believe that there is anyone in the Clerk's Department who wants anything whatever to do with the Hansard Department. I do not think there is anyone in the Serjeant at Arms' Department who wants anything to do with the Hansard Department. They know nothing about it anyway, and they have enough problems of their own. The weakness of the Bottomley Committee, if it had a weakness—it is hardly a weakness, I suppose—was that there was not a single journalist present as a member of that Committee. It so happens that Hansard really does accord with all the great principles to which we have always adhered, with regard to freedom of the Press, and the right of editorial function, and the rest. Hansard is personal to the House. Had I been a Member of the Bottomley Committee, I would have stressed strongly the special peculiarities of the Hansard Department. That is the only reason why I intervene.

The Bottomley Committee said that it did not think it appropriate, at this stage, for the Official Report to be made a fully independent Department of the House. But it went on: On the other hand, we recognise both the importance of maintaining the independent authority of the Editor and the need to bring him into much closer contact with the general problems of House administration. The report went on to recommend that Hansard should come under the general administrative control of the Clerk… but then added that it should not be an integral part of the Clerk's Department. What rubbish is that? What does "come under the control of the Clerk" mean, when I have already said that it has got nothing to do with the Clerk anyway? We are not talking about a handful of people just doing a tiny little job upstairs. I have figures here of the position up there. There are 30 on the editorial staff—Editor, Deputy Editor, Assistant Editors, Deputy Assistant Editors, Senior Reporters and Reporters—26 transcribers, who are responsible for transcribing in type form tape-recorded debates, and six office clerks and assistants, in that Department. The Annunciator staff are also under Hansard. Surely there is a case here for Hansard being a quite separate Department in its own right.

Do not let us have any ritual about this—either it is a Department, or it is not. The staff are personal to us and personal to Mr. Speaker, or they are not. One of the anomalies that has occurred over the years is that, although the Hansard staff have been allied under Mr. Speaker—of course, he has always treated the staff with great courtesy, fairness and firmness—they have not really had personal access in staff matters as other Departments have had. They have always felt rather the Cinderella of the House—ignored, tucked away upstairs, nobody caring anything about them at all as long as they did their job right and reported everything we said and made our English a little better than it might otherwise have been, and so on.

Suddenly it comes home at a time like this, and from speaking to the staff as I have done I know not only how important the members of Hansard are, but how hurt they are.