The official record of parliament
ary proceedings in Britain
, and several other Commonwealth
countries that have stuck with the Westminster model
It got its name from Messrs. Hansard & Co., who were the British Parliament's printers in the early 19th century. The official record started out, well, unofficially, as a private service to MPs (and lords, too, but mostly MPs) who wanted good records of debates but had more important things to do than keep those records themselves. The project was begun by William Cobbett in 1809, but sold to the Hansard Co. in 1812, under whose care it flourished.
The record became a function of the parliament itself because of a tricky point of parliamentary privilege. MPs can't be sued for things they say in in the House of Commons, a measure that encourages free and open debate. But the Hansard company, a private organization, could be -- and was, in 1836, by John Stockdale, a prison inspector against whom certain allegations were made during a parliamentary debate, and repeated in the Hansard record.
Stockdale's lawsuit precipitated a constitutional crisis. Parliament liked the Hansard record, and acted to defend what MPs saw as an extension of their parliamentary privilege by passing resolutions in support of the Hansard company, even as judges were ruling in Stockdale's favour. The upshot was that certain unfortunate judicial bailiffs were under simultaneous orders from their judge bosses to collect damages from Hansard and threats from Parliament that they'd be arrested if they tried.
Parliament solved the problem by passing the Parliamentary Papers Act in 1840, which definitively placed Hansard under parliamentary privilege ... by making the Hansard Co. an agent of Parliament.
Possession of the Hansard marque was sold to a consortium of printers in 1889, but the consortium turned out to be a ramshackle group of nobodies led by a con man, Horatio Bottomley, whose company failed shortly thereafter.
After several years of ad-hoc reporting, Parliament re-established its own official record in 1907. The Hansard name was re-instated in 1943.