Hansard is the official report of all proceedings which take place inside the parliamentary or legislative Chamber. Its origins date back to the 18th century when transcripts of debates in the British parliament began to appear in print.
At first the publication of any transcripts of parliamentary proceedings was deemed to be illegal, and it was only in 1771, after a long and protracted court battle, that it was no longer a criminal offence for parliamentary debates to be transcribed and made public. Until then all parliamentary sittings were strictly held in private, and members of the public were not even allowed to enter the so-called “public gallery” while sittings were in progress.
The name “Hansard” was derived from the family name of Luke Hansard and his son Thomas Hansard who were the government printers in the service of the British parliament. During the 60 years of the Hansard family’s publication of parliamentary debates, the name “Hansard” became synonymous with the published debates. Some Commonwealth parliaments have deviated from this tradition and simply call transcripts of parliamentary debates the “Official Report”.
The history of Hansard in South Africa dates to 1910 when parliamentary debates of the then Union of South Africa were published in leather-bound volumes. In 2010 the South African Hansard celebrated its 100th anniversary.
The Hansard and Language Services (HLS) Unit in the KZN Legislature was established in October 2005 and currently consists of 12 staff members, with six existing vacancies waiting to be filled. Prior to the establishment of an in-house Hansard and Language Services Unit, transcribing of debates was outsourced to a private company. When the HLS Unit was established, the Legislature discontinued its analogue system and replaced it with a digital recording system.
How Hansard Functions
The primary function of the HLS Unit is to report the proceedings of the House. Every sitting of the House is recorded and Members’ speeches, interjections, points of order, as well as announcements or rulings by the Presiding Officer are transcribed, edited and proofread.
During sittings of the House, Members may be approached by service officers with a request to make available copies of their speech notes. These notes greatly assist transcribers who must ensure that speeches are captured correctly. Members are also encouraged to send electronic copies of their speeches or reports to the Hansard Managers and/or Control Editors (see details below). Any embargo on such material will be respected.
Apart from sittings in the Chamber, the HLS Unit records all off-site sittings of the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature, as well as the proceedings of the Youth Parliament, Workers’ Parliament, Women’s Parliament, Parliament for People with Disabilities, Senior Citizens’ Parliament, Learners’ Parliament, Interfaith Symposia, etc. The unit also records all public hearings on Bills.
Hansard has no editorial policy, except the pursuit of excellence and accuracy. The unit is not hampered by conceptions of news value, and has no bias towards either person or political party. Its objective is to provide an impartial, accurate and a largely verbatim report of the proceedings of the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature.
The Hansard and Language services: