Publication of oral and written evidence
38.40Evidence taken by a committee, save where issues of secrecy or confidentiality are involved (see below), is published on the committee's website as soon as practicable, once it has been reported to the House.1
Oral evidence taken in public is reported to the House immediately after the relevant sitting, every select committee having leave under Standing Order No 133 to report the evidence taken before it. Sub-committees do not have power to report evidence to the House on their own behalf, unless that power is given to them explicitly either in the standing order under which they are constituted or their order of appointment. The parent committee is generally given power to report the evidence taken before any sub-committee.2
Once the oral evidence is reported, the House will normally order it to be published, a process recorded in the Votes and Proceedings and the Journal of the House.3 A transcript of the evidence is prepared under the direction of the Editor of the Official Report and is published on the website. Witnesses (and committee members) may submit proposed alterations confined to the correction of inaccuracies in the reporting of the evidence, or to the correction of matters of fact which do not materially alter the sense of the answer. Witnesses seeking to add further information or correct errors in their evidence may be permitted to do so either by means of a footnote to the relevant answer or in a supplementary memorandum which may be published by the committee with the evidence to which it relates.
Written evidence, whether received in connection with a specific inquiry or with other committee work,4 including correspondence with the Chair, is routinely reported to the House, for publication, shortly after it is received. The decision to report for publication in this way is recorded in the formal minutes of the committee and the publication order is recorded in the Votes and Proceedings and the Journal.
Where a witness considers that the publication of oral evidence (or part of it) given in private or written evidence (or part of it) submitted in confidence would be prejudicial to the public interest (for example, on grounds of national security), or cause unwarranted distress to an individual, or would disclose matters of commercial confidentiality, or would be undesirable on similar grounds, a request may be made that the evidence in question should not be published. The committee may then at its discretion refrain from reporting that evidence to the House or may report such summary of the evidence as appears necessary in order to present the grounds of its conclusions to the House.5 If for these reasons only part of the evidence given to a committee is reported to the House, the committee will indicate in the evidence as published the places in the text where the unreported material has been omitted.6 Once evidence has been reported and published,7 it cannot subsequently be altered or any content removed.8
Occasionally, the House has ordered unreported evidence to be laid before it, usually ordering such evidence to be published.
- 1. Previously, the majority of evidence, written and oral, was printed in hard copy, either as a free-standing publication or as part of the relevant committee report. For practice in relation to such printing, see Erskine May (24th edn, 2011), p 825. Occasionally, copies of transcripts of evidence have been placed in the Vote Office in circumstances where a debate in the House is imminent upon a matter to which that evidence relates.
- 2. For instances of leave given (on a date subsequent to the appointment of the committee) to report oral evidence taken before a sub-committee, see CJ (1945–46) 303, 340, 405.
- 3. For the practice when evidence is taken during a period when the House is adjourned for more than two days, see SO No 137 and para 38.50.
- 4. A committee has, exceptionally, agreed to report to the House certain internal working papers, of a sort not normally published, for the purpose of making them available to an inquiry investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of a person who had appeared as a witness before the committee: Foreign Affairs Committee, Minutes of Proceedings of Session 2002–03, 29 July 2003; CJ (2002–03) 582.
- 5. Parl Deb (1837) 38, c 191; HC Deb (1948–49) 466, cc 456–58. The practice by which witnesses indicate their request that certain evidence should not be published is known as ‘side-lining’.
- 6. For example, Sixth Report of the Defence Committee of Session 2001–02, HC 518-II, pp 86–99; First Report of the House of Commons Privileges Committee of Session 2003–04, HC 1021, pp 3–16.
- 7. Evidence taken before a committee in the preceding session has similarly been ordered to be reported to the House, see eg CJ (1837–38) 703, 707; ibid (1962–63) 13, 15. The House has also discharged an order made in the previous session for printing evidence, eg CJ (1985–86) 87.
- 8. A very limited amendment has exceptionally been allowed to the version available on the website where for example it emerges that data is published in a way which interferes with or damages a witness's reasonable expectations of privacy or peace of mind.