This post aims to expand on the information provided on our Resources page about accessing parliamentary debates online using Hansard. In 1812 the printer and publisher Thomas Curson Hansard (1776-1833) took over the publication of parliamentary debates from the radical journalist William Cobbett, who had been producing them since 1803. Like Cobbett, Hansard compiled his accounts of parliamentary proceedings from newspaper reports, particularly those in The Times. They were not verbatim reports, and it was not until the early twentieth century, when Parliament assumed responsibility for its publication, that Hansard became the official record. However, from 1877 Thomas Curson Hansard junior (1813-91), who had taken over from his father, did receive an annual subsidy from Parliament, on condition that he included reports of debates on private bills and in committee, as well as those after midnight, which tended to be neglected by the newspapers.
There are several options for accessing Hansard online.
1 Former Hansard Millbank site
https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/index.html covers debates from 1803 to 2005, and replicates the data previously provided by the Hansard Millbank site, although not all of the search functions work in the way that they used to. The quick access to all the speeches by a specific MP makes this particularly useful for us in researching our biographies of MPs, although there is an issue with not all speeches being tagged. We also find it the quickest site when we want to access a certain day’s debate, as it is very easy to click through using the bars at the top.
2 UK Parliament site
https://hansard.parliament.uk/ provides coverage of Hansard from 1803 to the present through the UK Parliament’s site. Debates can be accessed by date, but unfortunately we have not found that the option to search by Member name works very well for our 19th century MPs.
For the technically minded, the UK Parliament site also offers the option to download the full text of each day’s debates in xml format: http://www.hansard-archive.parliament.uk/
3 Hansard at Huddersfield site
It is also possible to access the text of debates through the Hansard at Huddersfield site, https://hansard.hud.ac.uk/site/index.php, but where this is most useful is through its search functions and visualisations, which enable the tracking of the use of particular words and concepts in Parliament.
Having examined the frequency of a particular term – such as ‘corn laws’, a topic on which debate unsurprisingly reached a peak in 1846 when Sir Robert Peel proposed their repeal – it is then possible to look in more detail at these results in various ways, such as displaying the key word in context (KWIC). There is also the option to compare the frequency of different terms – further information on the various features can be found on their site.
4 ProQuest UKPP site (subscription)
The three previous sites are all free to access, but it is also possible to read Hansard debates through ProQuest’s UK Parliamentary Papers subscription site, to which many university libraries give access. Like the earlier Hansard sites, it has some minor failings with regard to the tagging of MPs. As well as Hansard, this site offers access to parliamentary papers with reports of commissions and select committees, to public petitions and to the Commons Journal (the formal record of proceedings) for 1833 and 1834. The Commons Journal from 1835 onwards can be accessed free of charge in pdf format via the UK Parliament website: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmjournal.htm.
The images below show how a report of the same debate – on the choice of a Speaker for the opening session of the 1833 Parliament – is displayed on the different sites.
The ProQuest site includes several volumes which are missing from the other three online web applications. For the 1832-68 period which we are researching, there are four volumes of Hansard missing from the other sites – vols. 43 (May-July 1838), 74 (Apr.-May 1844), 106 (June-July 1849) and 112 (June-July 1850) – but these can be accessed either in the printed volumes or via Google Books.
Other options for accessing reports of debates not included in Hansard are its rival publication the Mirror of Parliament, which ran from 1828 until 1841, and newspaper reports, which sometimes offer more extensive accounts than the material compiled in Hansard.
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