In Issue 1/2024

Introduction: The Challenges of Reporting Select Committees

Select Committees have been a feature of Parliament for centuries. Each has a particular remit, which, in many cases, is to scrutinise the performance of the Government; for example, their use of taxpayers’ money or the work of one of their departments. These departmental Select Committees were set up relatively recently, in 1979, and 20 were operating at the beginning of the 2019 Parliament.

Public sessions of Select Committees present particular reporting challenges. The evidence given can be highly specialised. Witnesses’ experience of speaking in public can vary widely, as can accents and use of colloquialisms. Evidence is sometimes provided via video link where audio quality may be sub-optimal. The exchanges between witnesses and MPs can be highly confrontational and the subject of huge media interest: for example, when newspaper tycoon Rupert Murdoch was questioned about phone-hacking during a Culture, Media and Sport Committee meeting; or, more recently, when former Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared before the Privileges Committee examining whether he misled Parliament over Covid lockdown parties at No. 10 Downing Street. Hansard’s transcripts of Select Committee sessions must be delivered to the committee secretariat within set times—these can vary from a few days to under 12 hours—and must provide a clear and full account of each session to inform the points and recommendations in MPs’ final report on their inquiry.


The reporting of Select Committees forms part of the postgraduate diploma in parliamentary reporting, which Hansard runs for new recruits in association with City, University of London. Split into two modules, the course also covers the reporting of legislative and general committees and debates in Westminster Hall, where MPs raise with Ministers matters of local, national and international importance.

Module 1: Foundations for Learning

Hansard’s terms of reference are the overarching theme of the training: Hansard is “substantially the verbatim report, with repetitions and redundancies omitted.

Students are first introduced to the purpose of Select Committees: the type of reports they produce and the ways they hold the Government, organisations and public figures to account and shine a light on important issues.  As the course takes place on the parliamentary estate, students attend committee sittings in person to cement that knowledge.

The students produce “turns”—reports of five-minute chunks of committee proceedings—which are discussed as a group with other students and tutors so they can share their experience of doing the work and explain the decisions they made. Later, each student will go through their turns line by line with a tutor, which facilitates closer monitoring of progress. When doing turns, rather than working in an isolated fashion, students are encouraged to consult each other on editorial decisions, comments that are difficult to hear, or background information that may be useful in following a speaker’s argument.

Students also receive guidance on how to consistently meet the 75-minute deadline to produce a five-minute turn. To that end, touch-typing is an important skill, allowing students to concentrate on what was said rather than the mechanics of recording it; if necessary, they are trained to touch-type and tested on their typing speed. Emphasis is also placed on ergonomics—stand-up desks and adjustable chairs are provided as standard—to help to maintain production speed, but also to minimise health issues.

Rather than being just passive recipients of information, students share their learning with their peers. They present the findings of their research on individual MPs: for example, the MP’s responsibilities as a Minister, the causes they championed as a Back-Bench MP, and their experience before coming to Parliament. They prepare quizzes on news stories and events that may feature in their work. At the end of the module, they do a formal, assessed 30-minute presentation on an aspect of Parliament—for example, the annual Financial Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or the Ministerial Code—and produce a handout on the subject for Hansard colleagues. In time, students develop a body of knowledge to support their reporting work and become a source of advice to their peers on areas of particular interest.

Module 2: “Live” Work and Assessment

In module 2, which lasts for 12 weeks, the students consolidate the learning in module 1. Instead of practice turns, they undertake “live” work from Select Committees, as well as other committees in the House and Westminster Hall. These turns are proof-read by a sub-editor before forming part of the full transcript. Rather than being published on the Hansard website, Select Committee transcripts are sent to the team of clerks responsible for the committee inquiry, who publish them on the committee website with other evidence provided to the inquiry.

Each week, four of these turns are randomly selected by sub-editors and, against set criteria, including reporting accuracy, adherence to the style guide and correct use of formatting, are awarded a pass or fail.  The course lead tutor then has one-to-one meetings with each student to discuss those four turns, continuing the close student-tutor relationship struck up in module 1 and offering further feedback opportunities. For the component to be completed successfully, 44 of the 48 turns must be assessed as passes.

The commentaries component of module 2 allows students to reflect further on their practice. Students select six turns they have produced as live work and write detailed commentaries on them to note the challenges that they faced and how they met them. These may include how they dealt with a poor-quality audio recording, or how they accessed the information necessary, such as the spelling of a constituent’s name, to produce a full and accurate report. These commentary portfolios are marked by the tutors against set criteria, including knowledge of current political issues.

Finally, the students must do four turns from various committees, including Select Committees, under exam conditions, as they did at the end of module 1. These are marked against the criteria set out in the student handbook and each must be awarded a pass mark for the module to be completed successfully.


Hansard’s full and accurate reports of the meetings of Select Committees provide an accessible and authoritative record of their oral evidence sessions. The reports are important for departmental Select Committees in their work to hold Ministers and public officials to account on government performance and policy. As such, the reporting of Select Committees remains an integral part of the postgraduate diploma in parliamentary reporting, together with the reporting of general and legislative committees in the House of Commons. Hansard reports of oral evidence sessions are freely available on Select Committee websites and published alongside the findings and recommendations of their inquiries.

Tony Minichiello is a managing editor at Hansard, House of Commons, and programme director for the Hansard postgraduate diploma in parliamentary reporting, run in association with City, University of London.

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