When people think of Hansard reporters, they often think of the main Chamber. But there’s a whole team of Parliamentary Reporters and Committee Sub-Editors responsible for reporting the proceedings of Westminster Hall and the Committees of the House – some of Hansard’s most-read content. Naturally, these people have eyes and ears all over the Commons. PR007 Joe Briggs takes you undercover for a day in his world.
I flash my security credentials to the waiting guard and head inside the Palace, taking the back routes to the office. Every Hansard reporter knows that it’s best to go unheard and, if possible, unseen. My mission, should I choose to accept it – I don’t really have a choice – is to report on the morning’s proceedings from Westminster Hall. I read a briefing note from my most trusted source, the House of Commons Library, noting my marks and what they are likely to talk about.
I arrive early to stake out the room, although it’s hard to go incognito when I’m sitting next to the Chair. The debate proceeds without a hitch until an MP mentions the name of a constituent. I get the Doorkeeper’s attention with a discreet nod and give her a message to pass to the MP, asking them to clarify the spelling of the constituent’s name, but I am shaken when the MP leaves the room before it can be delivered and I fill with existential dread at the thought of a potential inaccuracy in my report. I later discover that the name is easy to find on Google.
My colleague gives me the secret signal – a double-tap of their pen – to indicate the beginning of their 10-minute “turn”, and I slip away to type out mine. On arriving back at the office I help my colleagues to decipher an unclear transmission before loading the audio recording of my section of the debate and beginning my report. It is not exactly easy, requiring lots of checking and fact-finding, and it is vital that I get everything correct. Accuracy is paramount. Good enough isn’t perfect; perfect is good enough.
After finishing the report and sending it to Control (a sub-editor), I stop to catch my breath. There’s a lot more work to do this morning, but most of it can be done from the office. Some of our most experienced agents are stationed in each Committee room, taking notes that we then use to decipher the recordings of the Committee sittings, and which are scanned on to our internal communications system for easy access. They are on the front line of parliamentary reporting, and we thank them for their service.
There is a mixed bag of Committees to report this morning. Some are Select Committees, which hear evidence from experts, members of the public, voluntary organisations and Ministers of the Crown, among others, which means they have a different character from Delegated Legislation Committees and Bill Committees.
I stop for a coffee. This afternoon will bring more of the same, as will tomorrow and the day after. Parliamentary reporting manages to be both repetitive and intriguing; while the mission remains the same, no two debates are, and every day is unique.