Hansard is the name of the printed transcripts of parliamentary debates in the Westminster system of government. It is named after Thomas Curson Hansard, an early printer and publisher of these transcripts.
Before 1771, the British Parliament had long been a highly secretive body. The official record of the actions of the House was publicly available, but there was no such record of debates. The publication of remarks made in the House became a breach of Parliamentary privilege, punishable by the two Houses. As more people became interested in parliamentary debates, more individuals published unofficial accounts of parliamentary debates. Editors were at worst subjected to fines. Several editors used the device of veiling parliamentary debates as debates of fictitious societies or bodies. The names under which parliamentary debates were published include Proceedings of the Lower Room of the Robin Hood Society and Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia.
In 1771 Brass Crosby, who was Lord Mayor of the City of London, had brought before him a printer called Miller who dared publish reports of Parliamentary proceedings. He released the man, but was subsequently ordered to appear before the House to explain his actions. Crosby was committed to the Tower of London, but when he was brought to trial, several judges refused to hear the case and after protests from the public, Crosby was released. Parliament ceased to punish the publishing of its debates, partly due to the campaigns of John Wilkes on behalf of free speech. There then began several attempts to publish reports of debates. Among the early successes, the Parliamentary Register published by John Almon and John Debrett began in 1775 and ran until 1813.
William Cobbett, a noted radical and publisher, began publishing Parliamentary Debates as a supplement to his Political Register in 1802, eventually extending his reach back with the Parliamentary History. Cobbett's reports were printed by Thomas Curson Hansard from 1809; in 1812, with his business suffering, Cobbett sold the Debates to Hansard. From 1829 the name "Hansard" appeared on the title page of each issue. Neither Cobbett nor Hansard ever employed anyone to take down notes of the debates, which were taken from a multiplicity of sources in the morning newspapers. For this reason, early editions of Hansard are not to be absolutely relied upon as a guide to everything discussed in Parliament.
Hansard was remarkably successful in seeing off competition such as Almon and Debrett, and the later Mirror of Parliament published by J.H. Barrow from 1828 to 1843; Barrow's work was more comprehensive but he checked each speech with the Member and allowed them to 'correct' anything they wished they had not said. The last attempt at a commercial rival was The Times which published debates in the 1880s. In 1889, the House decided to subsidise Hansard's publication so that a permanent record was available and it included more speeches and a near-verbatim record of front-bench speeches.