Commentary: Hansard, the Abridged Edition?12 October 2009
Lord Solely’s recent Lords of the Blog post on potential reforms included a suggestion of creating a specially edited version of Hansard that might have a broader public appeal: ‘With good editing and with pictures it might sell in the shops and provide people with an alternative to the gossipy and trivial news coverage of Parliament in some of the newspapers.‘
Without reproducing my own comment verbatim, I can safely say that even though I’m about as close to a target demographic as any publisher might wish for this sort of edited version of Hansard, I doubt that I would buy it. Much as I love Hansard as an institution (and would gladly work as a Hansard reporter or editor, if given the chance), I can’t see much of a market for this kind of publication.
What I would love to see, however, is a series of professionally edited Hansard debates on key pieces of historic legislation. The editions would contain the texts of the debates in both the Commons and the Lords, with an editor’s introduction and conclusion, appropriate scholarly footnotes and references for further reading, a dramatis personae of the key figures in the debate, and perhaps the odd photograph or illustration (such as topical political cartoons). Pick six fairly well-known or noteworthy acts to start with — say, the 1911 and 1949 Parliament Acts (a two-part set), the 1944 Education Act, the 1958 Life Peerages Act, the 1967 Abortion Act, and the 1967 Sexual Offences Act — and have that be the first series. All of these acts fall well within the 30-Year Rule, so most of the relevant papers would be available at Kew and in various other archives for consultation. Ideally, the volumes would be edited and written to be well suited for A Level and undergraduate study, or just for the general reading public interested in contemporary history.
I haven’t seen anything of this nature available for sale, but I would absolutely be interested in buying it (or contributing to it, for that matter!) if some enterprising publisher wanted to take a chance on it.