Now available online: full interviews with former MPs from our oral history project

Since 2011, in partnership with the British Library, we have been interviewing as many former MPs as we can about their lives and careers in parliament. 155 of our completed interviews have now been deposited at the British Library. Our growing archive contains a wide variety of experiences and views of parliament: from ‘big names’ (Denis Healey, Michael Heseltine, David Owen, David Steel, Jonathan Aitken, Ann Taylor) to those who sat for just a few years (Denis Coe); from old political families (Hilary Armstrong, Douglas Hurd, Olga Maitland) to those who felt themselves outsiders (Maria Fyfe and Mildred Gordon).

Most of our interviews are open, but until recently those who wanted to listen to them would have to make the trip to St Pancras to do so. Now, the wonderful team at the Sound Archive in the British Library are making our interviews available online, available for anyone to listen to wherever they are in the world.

So far 28 of our interviews are available here, in the British Library Sound Archive. Over the course of 2018 more will be made available, including a special release of some our interviews with former women MPs to mark the anniversary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act (for more on some of our interviews with female MPs now, see ‘Women in Democracy during the 1970s and 1980s‘)

Edward du Cann, portrait by Michael Waller-Bridge (C) Michael Waller-Bridge

As the British Library add our interviews online, we’re also adding new short biographies on our website of some of our interviewees, including short extracts from their interviews. These include reflections from Sir Edward du Cann (Taunton, 1956-87), longstanding Chair of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, on its involvement in Margaret Thatcher’s election to Conservative party leader in 1975:

The Labour MP Ronald Murray (Leith, 1970-79) described his opposition to Britain’s entrance into the Common Market during the 1970s, despite his opinions on Europe changing later:

[For more from our oral history project on the debates on entering the Common Market in the 1970s, see ‘The Parties and Europe 1: Labour and the 1975 Referendum’]

And Liberal/Liberal Democrat Eric Lubbock, 4th Baron Lubbock (Orpington, 1962-70) remembered his successful Private Members Bill, the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which mandated local authorities to find sites for gypsies and travellers:

You can see all of our current interviewee pages, and hear extracts from their interviews, here.

Stay tuned in the New Year for more from our oral history project: both on our website and in the British Library Sound Archive.


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‘Anxious for the welfare of his people’: the passage of the Royal Marriages Act (1772)

Last week we welcomed the news of the forthcoming marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. This is notable as the first royal engagement since changes were made to the rules governing royal marriages. Prior to 2013 and the passing of a new Royal Succession Act, descendants of George II (reigned 1727-1760) – with some exceptions – required the sovereign’s permission to marry under the rules of the Royal Marriages Act (1772). The new Act repealed the 1772 measure (it also ended the discrimination against Catholics). Now only the six people nearest in line to the throne require the monarch’s permission to marry. As fifth in line to the throne, this includes Prince Harry. Dr Robin Eagles considers the motivations behind the passage of the 1772 Act and some of the accompanying responses.


On 20 February 1772 a message from the king was conveyed to both Houses requesting Parliament to take into consideration the question of royal marriages:

His Majesty being desirous, from paternal Affection to His own Family, and anxious Concern for the future Welfare of His People, and the Honour and Dignity of His Crown, that the Right of approving all Marriages in the Royal Family (which ever has belonged to the Kings of this Realm as a Matter of public Concern) may be made effectual… and, by some new Provision, more effectually to guard the Descendants of His late Majesty King George the Second… from marrying without the Approbation of His Majesty, His Heirs, or Successors, first had and obtained G.R. [LJ xxxiii. 258]

The catalyst for this new initiative stemmed from the occasionally troubled inter-familial politics of the mid-eighteenth century royal family.

On 1 November 1771 George III had received a surprise visit from his younger brother, Henry, duke of Cumberland. A serial womanizer, Cumberland had cost his brother £13,000 the year before to satisfy costs and damages awarded against him in a case of ‘criminal conversation’ brought against him by Lord Grosvenor. Now, he had even more difficult news to impart. While they strolled together, Cumberland handed over a paper to the king explaining his recent marriage to Anne Horton, widowed daughter of the notorious libertine, Lord Irnham. The king was flabbergasted and informed his brother that it would be best for all if the new couple quit the country. On 3 November Cumberland and his new duchess duly left for France. The king subsequently let it be known that he would not receive at court anyone who waited on the Duke and Duchess after Cumberland refused a final offer of the king’s continued friendship if he would agree not to appear in public with ‘Mrs Horton’.

The king’s consternation was in part driven by the fact that the new duchess came from what was considered to be a remarkably unsuitable background. Irnham was satirized in popular prints as the ‘King of Hell’; Anne’s brother, Henry Lawes Luttrell, was the ambitious but extremely unpopular man the administration had backed against John Wilkes in the recent Middlesex election. Anne’s own reputation was hardly decorous. Yet the king’s ostensible objections were less about these and more about dynastic concerns:

In any country a prince marrying a subject is looked upon as dishonourable, nay in Germany the children of such a marriage cannot succeed to any territories; but here, where the Crown is but too little respected, it must be big with the greatest mischiefs. Civil Wars would by such measures be again coming in this country, those of the Yorks and Lancasters were greatly owing to intermarriages with the nobility… [John Brooke, King George III, 274]

Intent on ensuring that he would not be faced with such a dilemma again, George insisted on the introduction of a new Act, requiring members of the extended royal family to seek his permission before marrying. If they did not, their marriages would be void. George discussed this with his (favoured) brother, the duke of Gloucester, who found himself in the awkward position of having to confess to the king that he too had been married without the king’s knowledge some years earlier. Gloucester was presented with the same ultimatum as Cumberland: not to acknowledge his wife publicly, or face exile from court. Like Cumberland, Gloucester chose the latter.

Nothing daunted, the king pressed on with his plan. The experienced lawyer, Lord Mansfield, was called in to draft the measure, which was then presented to the cabinet. No one much cared for it, but the king was determined and reminded the Prime Minister, Lord North, that he would ‘remember defaulters’. One of those willing to risk the king’s displeasure was the young Charles James Fox, who chose to resign his office rather than back the measure (he even acted as one of the tellers for the minority in the final vote on 24 March). His father, Henry, Lord Holland, had married clandestinely a daughter of the duke of Richmond – and thus a cadet member of the royal family – and the passage of the act now ‘was taken by the Fox family as a personal slight’ [L.G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox, 20] As it happened, Fox seems to have been seeking an excuse to throw in the towel for some time, and may have been only too pleased by the opportunity to quit.

On 21 February 1772 the bill was presented to the Lords. It passed on 3 March in spite of spirited opposition regimented by the marquess of Rockingham, for whose grouping the cause had proved an unexpected bonus at a time when they were otherwise in the doldrums. The next day, the bill made its way to the Commons, who examined it in detail in a series of lengthy sessions – one lasting till 2.30 in the morning. Despite this, the administration’s grasp on the business remained secure and on 24 March the Commons voted to pass the bill by 168 votes to 115. It received the royal assent on 1 April (one of 65 acts passed on that day alone).

Popular response both to the Cumberlands’ match and the new Act was lively, and at times distasteful. Historical precedents were much quoted, with the example of the Wars of the Roses cited by several writers. One anecdote told how George II had considered such a measure when he was concerned that his heir, Prince Frederick, was demonstrating too much interest in a lady of the court but that he had been talked out of it by Walpole. Another suggested the matter was the other way around: that the king’s ministers had wished to bring in such a bill but George II had been against it. At least one commentator made abusive racist comments about Cumberland’s wife, who was described as ‘an African Slave’s Bastard by a Scotchman, with an Irish Cross upon the Breed’. Irnham’s wife, Judith Maria Lawes, was the daughter of Sir Nicholas Lawes, former governor of Jamaica, and his fifth wife, Elizabeth Lawley. It is possible, then, that the family did indeed have some black heritage. They were certainly slave owners, and continued to maintain plantations for several generations to come.

In the long term, though, as John Brooke has pointed out, for all his ‘what-what-ing’ the king was not fierce in enforcing his rule preventing courtiers from visiting his brothers and their wives and Cumberland’s marriage, which had been the catalyst for the brouhaha, proved remarkably successful. Duchess Anne proved ‘a good wife to the Duke of Cumberland. She kept him straight… and she did her best to prevent him making a fool of himself in politics…’ [Brooke, George III, 279]

The greatest irony of all this, was that George had been seeking above all to avoid problems in the future with his own children. The Royal Marriages Act did not, however, prevent his heir, George, Prince of Wales, from marrying Maria Fitzherbert illegally (with the support of the Cumberlands). It did, though, make it easy for the king to insist on the voiding of the marriage, thus enabling the Prince of Wales to be forced into a thoroughly disastrous dynastic match with Caroline of Brunswick.



Further reading:

P.D.G. Thomas, ‘Parliament and the Royal Marriages Act, 1772’, Parliamentary History xxvi: pt 2 (2007)

John Brooke, King George III (1974)

W.M. Elofson, The Rockingham Connection and the Second Founding of the Whig Party (1996)


Georgian lords 2

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Reformation to Referendum: a new history of Parliament

Our Director, Dr Paul Seaward, is leaving us for three years to become a British Academy/Wolfson Foundation Research Professor in January. Here he blogs about his new project: ‘Reformation to Referendum’

The History of Parliament: Director's Blog

I’m lucky enough to be one of the four new British Academy / Wolfson Foundation Research Professors chosen in 2017. The arrangement provides us with funding for three years’ worth of uninterrupted research, a huge luxury and enormous privilege. I’m very proud and very grateful to the Academy and the Foundation for the opportunity, and also very grateful to the History of Parliament’s Trustees and Editorial Board who have enabled it to happen, and surmounted the challenges it presents for a small organisation. On Monday at the Academy, each of the new professors provided a brief introduction to the projects on which we will be engaged over the next three years, in front of a sympathetic and enthusiastic (and possibly slightly jealous) audience. This is what I said:

The constantly postponed parliamentary ‘Restoration and Renewal’ project offers an irresistible metaphor for the battered state of the Westminster Parliament. For over…

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Parliaments, Politics & People Seminar: Paul Hunneyball, Privilege versus prerogative: tensions between the House of Lords and the Crown, c.1603-30

In today’s blogpostDr Paul Hunneyball, Senior Research Fellow on the Lords 1603-1660 section, reports back on his recent ‘Parliaments, Politics & People‘ seminar paper, Privilege versus prerogative: tensions between the House of Lords and the Crown, c.1603-30

In the early-seventeenth century, the royal prerogative became an increasingly contested issue. As relations between the first Stuart monarchs and their parliaments deteriorated, both James I and Charles I made greater use of their prerogative powers, particularly with regard to taxation. Episodes such as the notorious Forced Loan of 1626-7 in turn provoked backlashes in Parliament against arbitrary government, notably the 1628 Petition of Right, which sought explicitly to restrict the exercise of the prerogative. Although both Houses ultimately backed the Petition, the Lords have traditionally been seen as a moderating influence on the Commons’ attempts to limit the Crown’s powers during this period. However, that is not an entirely accurate picture. While the peers did generally side with the monarch over the kind of grievances raised by the Commons, such as arbitrary taxation and the measures used to enforce it, they were rather less cooperative when they believed that the prerogative was encroaching on their own privileges.

James I’s sale of peerages was implicitly challenged in 1621 when a group of mostly junior peers drafted a petition criticising the king’s practice of granting Scottish or Irish titles to Englishmen who had no real stake in either of those realms. An attempt to have this petition adopted by the Lords failed, and the protesters were faced down by James. Nevertheless, a number of the petitioners were appointed to the Lords’ new committee for privileges, which was from the outset given a brief to address peers’ concerns inside and outside Parliament. This was in marked contrast to the equivalent body in the Commons, which dealt only with parliamentary privilege. The committee promptly commissioned a detailed survey of peers’ privileges, a collection of precedents covering a spectrum of issues from the Lords’ powers of judicature in Parliament, to the right of individual peers to testify in court on their honour rather than under oath. James favoured a distinctly limited exercise of the latter privilege, and immediately sought reassurances from the committee. When Parliament went into recess during the summer, the king confiscated the collection of precedents, but the Lords, undeterred by this intimidation, simply commissioned a replacement once the session resumed that autumn. An uneasy truce ensued for the rest of the reign.

Under Charles I, the confrontations over peers’ privileges resumed and intensified. In 1626 the king arrested the earl of Arundel, a prominent opponent of the royal favourite, the duke of Buckingham, while Parliament was sitting. His refusal to justify this move prompted a three-month dispute with the Lords. After repeated petitions for Arundel’s release were ignored, the peers suspended business for a fortnight, whereupon Charles capitulated, preferring to free the earl rather than defend his own exercise of the prerogative. During the 1628 session the Lords reasserted their own position on testimony on honour, and challenged the king’s habit of tinkering with the peers’ collective order of precedence, which governed their seniority inside and outside Parliament. On the latter issue, Charles was again forced to back down. In 1629 the Lords returned to the question of Englishmen with Scottish or Irish peerages, and this time the House itself petitioned the king, though the matter was still unresolved when the session collapsed. The Lords’ resolutions on all four of these issues were formally entered in their standing orders, as a quasi-legal record for future use. Charles himself never conceded the point that Parliament could be used to guarantee peers’ privileges outside the legislature. Nevertheless, the peers’ repeated attempts to do precisely this demonstrate that, in the decades preceding the Civil War, it was not only the House of Commons which believed that the royal prerogative should be curbed, and that Parliament was the appropriate vehicle for reform.


Join us tonight for our last seminar of term: Naomi Lloyd-Jones (King’s College, London) will speak on ‘Quantifying the crisis: Home Rule, the caucus and popular politics in 1886’ Full details here.

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Parliament, the French church and ‘illegal’ worship

Following the recent publication of her edited volume ‘Huguenot Networks, Dr Vivienne Larminie, Senior Research Fellow in the Commons 1640-60 Section, discusses how the Huguenot French church in Westminster offered MPs and peers an opportunity to breach their own legislation during the civil wars and interregnum…

Following the Reformation, the government, discipline, doctrine and worship of the Church of England were defined by parliamentary legislation.  But when the Long Parliament opened in November 1640, there was a widespread perception among MPs and peers that the government of Charles I, the bishops, and in particular William Laud, archbishop of Canterbury, had ignored their jurisdiction and illegally introduced ‘innovations’ which asserted clerical power and introduced quasi-Catholic practices into the church.  As part of measures to address this, Parliament called a synod of clergy to advise them on reform in a more protestant direction – the Westminster Assembly of Divines, set up in 1643.  Among its results were the Westminster Confession, a statement of Calvinist belief which is still influential, and the Westminster catechisms.  Another was the Directory for Public Worship.

Approved in 1645 by both the English and the Scottish Parliaments, the Directory replaced the Book of Common Prayer as the liturgy for church services; the use of the Prayer Book was prohibited.  However, the political and religious landscape was changing rapidly.  After the ending of the first civil war in 1646, and the securing of the king by the New Model army in 1647, the English had less need to placate the Scots.  Some in the Westminster Parliament had learned to dislike Scottish-style Presbyterianism as much as they had the regime of Archbishop Laud; many preferred a church in which the laity and not ministers had the prevailing voice; a significant number hankered after traditional-style services or for toleration of a range of styles, or for both.  Even at the heart of Westminster there is evidence that the new legislation was dead in the water. [For later examples see J. F. Merritt, Westminster 1640–60: A Royal City in a Time of Revolution 23 and passim.]

One congregation which circumvented the law owed its very existence to the sympathy of high-placed parliamentarians.  This was the French-speaking church which met from 1643 at Durham House in the Strand, and from 1653 at Somerset House, where it shared space with the army and with MPs’ lodgings.  Its relations with Parliament, and its significance as a provider of traditional worship across the political spectrum, are examined in Vivienne Larminie’s chapter ‘The Herbert Connection, the French Church and Westminster Politics, 1643–1661’ in the recently-published Larminie ed., Huguenot Networks.

Installed at Durham House thanks to the patronage of Philip Herbert, 4th earl of Pembroke, steward of Westminster, and transferred to Somerset House with the assistance of Bulstrode Whitelocke, commissioner of the great seal, it drew diverse participants. As well as church members and royal physicians Sir Theodore Turquet de Mayerne and Jean Colladon, pastor Jean Despagne attracted to his sermons and catechisings Robert Boyle and John Evelyn the diarist.  Despagne’s widely-admired orthodox Calvinist preaching was enlisted to justify the engagement of Pembroke and his allies in negotiating the (ultimately abortive) treaty of Newport with Charles I in 1648.  It was in the church’s apparent use of a pre-war French translation of the Prayer Book, however, that it breached legislation.  It seemed to do so with the endorsement of no less a person than Speaker of the Commons William Lenthall.  When Despagne – dubbed by one hostile commentator ‘the pope of Somerset’ – died and a replacement was sought in 1659, it was reported that many of the nobility and several MPs were longing for his arrival.

Even after the Restoration the congregation led rather than followed the law.  Even as the Savoy conference of 1661 deliberated on whether to bring back the Prayer Book, the fashionable elite were flocking to the Prayer-Book-using French church, simultaneously meeting in another part of the building.


You can buy Huguenot Networks, 1560–1780 The Interactions and Impact of a Protestant Minority in Europe from Routledge here.

You can read more about the Huguenots and Parliament in Dr Larminie’s earlier blogpost, St Bartholomew and the Huguenots and also from Dr Charles Littleton, French observers of the early eighteenth-century British Parliament’.

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Naoroji: the life of the first Indian MP

Last month we were delighted to celebrate the life and work of Dr Dadabhai Naoroji at an event in Portcullis House, Westminster, in collaboration with the Zoroastrian All Party Parliamentary Group and the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (ZFTE). 2017 is the centenary of the death of Naoroji, who we remember as the first Indian to be elected to Parliament. But Naoroji’s achievements were much broader than this; for he was a towering figure in the development of the Indian National Congress, as well as in many aspects of Indian intellectual and religious life.

Born near Bombay in 1825, Naoroji initially moved to England to further his business career, before becoming a professor at UCL, founding the ZFTE and campaigning for Indian independence. In his most famous work, Poverty and Un-British Rule in India, Naoroji argued that British rule was a ‘drain’ on Indian resources. He entered British politics when he stood as a Liberal for Holborn in 1886. After his defeat, the Prime Minister Lord Salisbury infamously doubted that a ‘British constituency would elect a black man.’ The remark gained Naoroji public sympathy and support for his next campaign, in Finsbury in 1892. He won by just five votes, and stayed in Parliament for three years. He was one of the founding members of the Indian National Congress, and in 1907 returned to Bombay for good.

Emily Thornberry and our panel, photograph by Raj Bakrania

At our celebration  a range of highly qualified speakers reflected on his life and significance. After a welcome from Gordon Marsden MP (on behalf of the HPT) and Gareth Thomas (on behalf of the APPG), Malcolm Deboo read a statement from Lord Bilimoria, co-chairman of the APPG, who unfortunately was unable to attend. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary and current MP for Islington and Finsbury, spoke of her pride that Naoroji had been one of her predecessors. The High Commissioner of India, HE Mr Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha, talked about the importance of Naoroji in the movement for Indian independence and the development of the Indian National Congress.

Lord Parekh, photograph by Raj Bakrania

Our main speaker was the distinguished political scientist Lord Parekh, who gave us an overview of Naoroji’s life and importance. He remarked how much support Lord Salisbury had inadvertently given Naoroji, drawing many to his campaign who would not have otherwise joined him. He described how Naoroji had campaigned for women’s suffrage, old age pensions, Irish Home Rule and the abolition of the House of Lords. But his major interest was, of course, Indian independence. Naoroji had great sympathy for Britain and British culture – in particular a culture that valued justice and ‘fair play’. Naoroji argued, however, that the problem with British rule in India was that they were acting in a ‘un-British’ way: not following these principles of justice. Lord Parekh concluded by discussing the legacy of the ‘Grand Old Man of India’: secularism, the Indian National Congress, and as an inspiration for figures like Ghandi and Jinnah. His remarks were followed by Lord Bourne, Under Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government, and time for wider questions.

Photograph by Raj Bakrania

The occasion was an excellent opportunity to mark not only the life and work of a hugely important figure, whose influence spanned two continents; but also to reflect on the relationship between two countries and two Parliaments over more than a century. We were enormously pleased to welcome so many members of the Zoroastrian community, as well as historians and others interested in the impact of India on Britain and its politics. We would like to thank our speakers; our partners – the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, founded by Naoroji, and the APPG; and our generous sponsors, Cobra Beer, and Tata UK.


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Reporting Parliament: Hansard, Throwback Thursday

Today in our ‘Reporting Parliament’ series for Parliament Week, we have a guestblog from the team at Hansard. Here they have recorded the ‘day in the life’ of a Hansard reporter, now and thirty years ago…

2017: Thursday, 9 am

I’m on the bus to work, flicking between cat memes and the Hansard website on my iPhone to read last night’s work. I scan today’s online Order Paper to see what lies ahead. The main business is programmed, so at least I know what time I’ll finish tonight.

1987: Thursday, 9 am

Wednesday’s business finished at 1 o’clock this morning —  Labour and the Conservatives have really fallen out over the plans for the nationalised industries.

9.30 am

I arrive in the Hansard reporters room. Unlike most offices in London, it’s wood-panelled and lined with books. Oh, and it’s just a couple of strides from the Commons Chamber. It looks like an old film set, only marginally less atmospheric; PCs will never have the romance of typewriters.

Someone across the dormitory is snoring, the sun is beaming through thin curtains and Big Ben is chiming loudly overhead. I’m not working again till lunchtime, but I suppose I’ll get up.

I turn on my computer, check my emails and load up the programs I’ll need to produce my work for the day. But there are some things that just won’t do in digital.[1] And the list is one of them. Reporters work in a rota of 16 that we call “the List”. Each member of the team is responsible for reporting five minutes of debate at a time. We call each chunk of debate we report “a Turn”.  As soon as I arrive each day, I make sure I have a printed copy of the List, which tells me the time at which I need to be in the Chamber for my Turn.

I read the papers over a bacon sandwich in the Press caff. There’s an amusing sketch about ‘the Hansard writers’ scratching their heads in the Gallery as the new shadow Energy Secretary engages in robust debate about something they’re all starting to call ‘privatisation’. We’ve been coping with his speaking style for years now; must’ve been be a slow news day.

10 am to 10.10 am

© UK Parliament/(Mark Duffy)

I’m sat in the Press Gallery. Hansard reporters sit in the two seats directly above the Speaker’s Chair, and we call it “the Box”. For five minutes, I act as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the person before me in the List. Then it’s my Turn and the person who follows me in the List helps me out.

As I’ll be working till about 11 tonight, I try to ring my family. No reply. I spend a pleasant couple of hours instead in an almost deserted National Portrait gallery. I’ll ring home again tonight between Turns, if I get a chance.

I take longhand notes of what’s going on—who’s speaking, intervening or heckling. I scribble figures, acronyms and the names of organisations I’ll need to check when I leave the Chamber. If it’s a quiet debate, I google names on my phone to save time later. But, as I said, there are some things that just won’t do in digital.

For example, an MP names a constituent and head of a local health board (do they still exist?) I need to spell that name correctly. So when I leave the Chamber, I scrawl a note: “Please confirm your constituent’s name, Susan/Susanne/Suzanne/Suzan?” Names are never spelt as you’d imagine. I send the note down to the Chamber in a dumbwaiter that we call “the Chute”. Yes, really, a dumbwaiter. It’s the quickest way to contact MPs when they’re in a debate.

10.10 am

I return to my desk to type up my Turn. The sound in the Chamber is recorded and stored on an audio system called Sliq, which integrates with our specially adapted version of Word. To listen to my Turn as I type, I just put on my headphones and use a foot pedal to control playback.

When I input information such as debate headings and the names of MPs who have spoken, I instantly generate tags containing metadata. This informs how content appears on Hansard’s website and enables you to search, for example, for contributions by your MP.

I use Google to research anything in my turn that seems unclear, to find quotations and to confirm the spelling of companies’ names. Another reporter has checked the Chute and picked up a reply to the note I’d sent to the MP. It simply reads, “Soosan.” Glad I checked.

10.50 am

When I’ve finished typing, editing and checking, I click “send” and my Turn becomes “RFS”.  Ready for Subbing. My computer helpfully asks me whether I’m sure about this decision. Probably not, but we have deadlines.

Our report of what is said in the Chamber is published online in its final form within three hours. And each chunk of debate isn’t finished until it’s been through an extra layer of checking by a sub-editor. To meet these strict deadlines reporters aim to complete a Turn in 45 minutes.

After convincing my computer that I actually would like to send my turn, I pop down to the café to top up my caffeine levels. Then I head back to the Chamber for my next Turn. And then my next Turn.

1 pm

It’s lunchtime, but I have a Turn at 1.10 pm. I’ll grab something afterwards.

I join a group of Hansard reporters in the canteen. We exchange predictions about when the House might adjourn. Nobody knows. I decide I better eat while I have the chance.

4.45 pm

My second Turn comprises some very bad-tempered exchanges at the beginning of an Opposition day. As I scribble a quick note to send down the Chute — ‘Susan’ is a common enough name, but you never know — a lobby correspondent from The Times goes into his paper’s phone booth to ring the office.

My typist is waiting for me. I perch on the upright chair and unravel my Stenograph note. Disaster strikes. The typewriter ribbon snaps, and in the panic a rather full ashtray is knocked on to the floor. Eventually, I resume my dictation, but there goes any chance of a dinner break later.

5.30 pm, House adjourned

A doorkeeper in a tailcoat and a white bow tie shouts “Ho-o-o-m-me”, the bells ring, and with the day’s business over, I finish my Last Turn.

6.45 pm

Off to the theatre. Or the cinema. Or an exhibition. I mean, where else would you go on a Thursday night?

10.30 pm, House adjourned

A doorkeeper in a tailcoat and a white bow tie shouts “Ho-o-o-m-me”, the bells ring, and with the day’s business over, I finish my Last Turn.

11.15 pm

I say goodnight to the sub-editors still working as I hand in my last Turn. As I head back to the dorm I see the courier from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office drive through the carriage gates to pick up the day’s copy for overnight printing.

I never did get a reply to that note I sent. Good job I found the name in the Councils, Committees & Boards book. Soosan? Who would have thought.

[1] “In digital?”—I hear you shriek—“In digital what? I thought you were supposed to be a Hansard reporter! Digital is an adjective, not a noun. I shall read no further.” Well, things change. It’s 2017. Just sayin’.

Charlie Browne (Senior Reporter)/Vivien Wilson (Managing Editor – Hansard)

You can read all of our ‘Reporting Parliament’ series for this year’s Parliament Week here.

Charlie Browne also blogs about Hansard over on Parliament’s website.

Posted in 20th century history, Post-1945 history, Reporting Parliament | Tagged , | Leave a comment