Office of the Official Report (Hansard)
Although the official title of the Northern Ireland publication is Official Report, Members and staff alike refer to it as Hansard — and, indeed, the name Hansard is referred to in Standing Orders and appears on all the reports produced by the Office.
The Office of the Official Report reports plenary sittings of the Assembly and Committee meetings that are part of the legislative process and evidence sessions linked to the publication of a Committee report. In addition, Hansard will also cover other Committee business and indeed other events related to Assembly work as and when resources permit.
Similar to other reporting organisations, Hansard produces a full report and works to the same terms of reference followed at Westminster and set out in Erskine May, namely that the report is one:
“which, though not strictly verbatim, is substantially the verbatim report, with repetitions and redundancies omitted and with obvious mistakes corrected, but which on the other hand leaves out nothing that adds to the meaning of the speech or illustrates the argument”.
The report of each Assembly sitting is published electronically on the Assembly website on a rolling/phased basis throughout the day, generally about two hours after the relevant business has occurred. The full report of each day’s sitting is normally available in HTML and PDF formats two hours after the House rises. Hard copy bound volumes that include the debates, Committee Stages of Bills, Written Ministerial Statements, Written Answers, Revised Written Answers and the Minutes of Proceedings are published annually.
Members can speak in the language of their choice in the Assembly and are reported in the language they use (Irish is the most common language used other than English), but convention dictates that they should provide a verbal translation as part of their contribution, so that too is included in the reports. One of Hansard’s ancillary tasks is to provide the Speaker and Clerks at Table with an interpreting service for Irish during plenary sittings.
The Hansard office works under the direction of the Editor of Debates and has a structure that includes Deputy Editors, Assistant Editors, Parliamentary Reporters and a small administrative unit.
Whenever the Assembly is sitting, a Parliamentary Reporter sits in on the proceedings (which are recorded) for a period of five minutes (a “turn”) and writes a log of what goes on. That log identifies the Members who speak and contains brief details of what they say, including any difficult words and phrases, quotations and statistics. At the end of their turn, the Reporter then produces the first draft transcript of everything that happened in the turn, which is then sent to an Assistant Editor for checking. The turns are gradually pulled together during each sitting, given a final check and then published on a rolling/phased basis.
Hansard reports of Committee meetings are produced in a broadly similar fashion, although the production deadline is different in that reports of Committee business are to be published within three working days of the meeting. Hansard also produces reports for other Assembly related events, for example addresses by VIP visitors, the Youth Parliament, Pensioners’ Parliament, and offers its editorial services to other business areas as and when resources permit.
Editor of Debates
Northern Ireland Assembly