New article on reporting the proceedings of the House of Commons, 1833-50

My article ‘“Whatever passed in Parliament ought to be communicated to the public”: reporting the proceedings of the Reformed Commons, 1833-50’ has been published in the most recent issue of Parliamentary History, 33:3 (2014), pp. 453-74. It looks at the ways in which parliamentary proceedings were opened up to greater public scrutiny in the two decades after the 1832 Reform Act. This was driven in particular by a growing sense of the importance of parliamentary accountability to public opinion. In the wake of parliamentary reform, MPs – particularly on the liberal side of the House – were increasingly conscious of the need to keep constituents informed of their parliamentary activities, whether these took place in the Commons chamber, the committee rooms or the division lobby.

The article examines how these three key aspects of the work of the Commons were communicated to the public, arguing that the 1830s were a key decade of change. It considers developments in the publication of parliamentary debates (Hansard), analysing why MPs rejected proposals for an official parliamentary record in the 1830s. It also discusses two less well-studied but equally important means of publicising the efforts of MPs: the publication of official division lists and the sale to the public of parliamentary papers. The Commons’ approach to publicising its activities was constrained by the fact that until 1971 it remained a breach of parliamentary privilege – although one which went unpunished – to publish reports of debates.

The 1834 fire viewed from the south bank of the Thames, T. Baynes.

The 1834 fire viewed from the south bank of the Thames, T. Baynes.

The physical space which the Commons occupied also exerted a significant influence. The destruction of much of the old Palace of Westminster by fire in October 1834 provided an important opportunity to remodel existing arrangements, notably with the construction of a reporters’ gallery and the addition of a second division lobby, which was first used in February 1836. By the 1840s the public had unprecedented levels of access to information on the activities of their representatives.

This article can be accessed through the Parliamentary History website.

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