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Official Publications: Parliamentary Papers

Online guidance on finding official publications

Parliamentary papers are those needed by Parliament to conduct its business and those papers produced through its proceedings.  There are three categories of parliamentary papers and you can find out more about these below.

  • Sessional papers

  • Debates

  • Legislation

Research using parliamentary papers  is much easier if you have a general understanding of the UK legislative and parliamentary processes.

The UK Parliament website is a hugely rich research resource on all aspects of parliamentary business and is worth exploring if you will be using parliamentary papers in your research.   The How Parliament Works section is a good starting point to find out more. 

The How Laws are Made: Easy Read Guide gives a nice basic introduction to parliamentary law making.

Databases recommended for parliamentary publication research

Sessional Papers are the working documents of each session of Parliament.

A session is a parliamentary year. These parliamentary years do not align with the calendar year. Sessions currently begin in the Spring with the State Opening of Parliament, and run for around 12 months. There are normally five sessions in each Parliament. So you will see sessions with dual dates, for example the 2009/10 parliamentary session.

Sometimes research is trickier as you may have an incomplete reference to a parliamentary paper with a single year, e.g. 2009.  In that case your paper might be in the 2008/09 or 2009/10 session.  Keep full references of all parliamentary papers as this will assist you to find the material in the most efficient manner and it will also help when it comes to citing and referencing the information at a later .

The sessional papers may be:

  • Bills
  • House Papers
  • Command Papers

Bills are draft legislation. They are proposals for new law, or amendments to existing law, that are presented to Parliament for debate. Bills can be introduced in the House of Commons or the House of Lords and once both Houses have agreed on the content of the proposed bill, they are passed to the monarch for approval - known as Royal Assent. Once Royal Assent is granted the bill becomes an Act of Parliament and is law.

Bills can be introduced by:

  • The Government

  • Individuals MPs or Lords

  • Private individuals and organisations


Understanding the different kinds of Bills

  • Public Bills

These are the most common form of bill. They are introduced by Government Ministers and  propose changes that will affect the general population.  

  • Private Members' Bills

These are similar to public bills in that they propose changes that will impact on the general population. However, they are introduced by MPs or Lords who are not Government Ministers. A minority of these bills become law as less parliamentary time is allocated to this process. 

  • Private Bills

These bills come from outside Parliament. They are proposed by bodies such as Local Authorities, Companies or other organisations who are seeking new or amended law as it applies the them, rather than the general population.

  • Hybrid Bills

As their name suggests, these are a mix of public and private bills. They proposed new/amended law would relate to the general population but have a significant impact on a particular group of people or organisation(s).  Examples include the various Channel Tunnel Bills and the High Speed Rail Bill


The UK Parliament Website is a great place to learn more about the different types of bills and to understand how they make their way through Parliament from introduction to Royal Assent.



Where can I find Bills?

You can view bills on the UK Parliament website.  Included are bills currently before Parliament and bills from recent previous Parliamentary sessions.  You can access earlier bills on Proquest's UK Parliamentary Papers database and via the Public Information Online database.

Bills are titled and numbered sequentially within each Parliamentary session, with an indication of the House in which they originate.

For example: Higher Education and Research Bill (HC Bill 4, 2016/17)

House Papers are documents produced by the House of Commons and the House of  Lords and their committees.  They include documents produced and report through Parliament's own committees, particularly the Select Committees,  as well as as accounts and annual reports from bodies set up by Parliament.

The papers are numbered sequentially throughout the Parliamentary session, with a notation to signify whether they are House of Commons or House of Lords Papers.

For example:

House of Commons Justice Committee. Prison Safety Sixth Report of Session 2015-16 HC 625

You will find current and recent House Papers on the Publications and records section of the Parliament website.  You might also find it useful to browse the committee publications


Accessing House of Lords and House of Commons Papers

Content on the Parliament website extends back to the 2002-03 Parliamentary session.  For earlier HC or HL Papers, use Proquest's UK Parliamentary Papers database or  the Public Information Online database

Command Papers are Government publications presented to Parliament by Ministers to convey information or decisions.  They include:

  • State Papers; including treaties and international agreements.
  • White Papers;  government policy initiatives and proposals for legislation.
  • Green Papers; government consultation documents.
  • Some government responses to Select Committee reports.
  • Reports of Royal Commissions and some other Committees of Inquiry.
  • Statistics and annual reports of some government bodies.

The term 'Command' comes from the notation on the papers that they are "Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Command of Her Majesty".  In reality they are initiated and presented by the relevant Government Minister without any intervention on the part of the Monarch.


Numbering of command papers

Unlike other forms of Parliamentary Papers, the command papers are not numbered within a Parliamentary Session. They run across sessions and are identified by a series prefix (an abbreviation of 'command') and a running number.  A new series is introduced once numbering nears 10,000.  The first series began in 1833 (without a prefix) and we are currently in the sixth series, which uses the prefix Cm.



 Series  Date Range Abbreviation  Numbering
1st series 1833-1869    [1] - [4222]
2nd series 1870-1899 C.  [C.1] - [C.9550]
3rd series 1900-1918 Cd.  [Cd.1] - [Cd.9239]
4th series 1919-1956 Cmd.  [Cmd.1] - [Cmd.9899]
5th series 1956/7-1986 Cmnd.  [Cmnd.1] - [Cmnd.9927]
6th series 1986/87- Cm.  [Cm.1] -



Further information about Command Papers is available on the Parliament website. 



Accessing Command Papers

Command papers are government publications and you can find copies of current and recent command papers on the official documents section of the website.  you can browse through papers or use the searchbox to enter keywords and search for relevant papers.

Older command Papers are accessible via Proquest's UK Parliamentary Papers database and the Public Information Online database



Hansard is an edited verbatim record of what was said in Parliament - in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It also includes records of votes and written ministerial statements. Members' words are recorded by Hansard reporters and then edited to remove repetitions and obvious mistakes but without taking away from the meaning.

The series gets its name from  Thomas C. Hansard (1776-1833), an English printer whose company originally printed the records.

The debates are very rich research materials.  They can help you trace the passage of bills through Parliament and also get a feel for political issues of the day, or the views and concerns of particular MPs or Lords

A "rolling” version of Hansard is published online in instalments during sitting days, with the printed record (daily part) of a day's sitting becoming available the next morning, alongside an online version. Each House of Parliament has separate publications. 

  • Commons Hansard includes proceedings in the Commons Chamber and Westminster Hall, as well as written ministerial statements, petitions and ministerial corrections.
  • Lords Hansard details proceedings in the Lords Chamber and Grand Committee. 
  • Separate reports are produced of proceedings in Commons General and Public Bill Committees.

You will often see references to debates in the form:

House abbreviation - Deb - (Parliamentary Session) - Volume number-  col. - column number

For example:  

HC Deb (2001-02) 391 col. 982

HL Deb (2005-06) 685 col. 767

You can use Hansard Online from the Parliament website to access and link through to current and archive Hansard from both Houses.  You can search and browse for relevant information.


Hansard is also available on the UK Parliamentary Papers and Public Information Online databases.

The Parli-N-Gram tool is a free web based tool  This tool enables you to search and analyse content across Hansard.  You can identify the frequency of appearance of words and phrases in the record of parliamentary debates.

The data is refreshed weekly, usually on a Wednesday following Prime Minister’s Questions.

Find out more from the Accountability Hack 2014 slideshare.

Here is an comparison of the term ‘justice’ appearing in the parliamentary record of All MPs and of Tony Blair.


  Legislation refers to one of the primary sources of written law in the UK (the other primary source of law being case law).


There are different forms of legislation and the two main categories are:


  • Acts of Parliament, sometimes also referred to as Statutes.


  • Delegated legislation, usually Statutory Instruments.


An Act of Parliament creates a new law or introduces changes to an existing law.

Public General Acts are the most common as these result from Public Bills which have received the Royal Assent.  There are also Local and Personal Acts which follow from Private Bills and Church Measures.   Find out more about Bills and how to trace them via the Parliamentary Papers guidance. 

Church of England Measures are the instruments by which changes are made to legislation relating to the administration and organisation of the Church. The General Synod of the Church of England has the power to propose legislation to Parliament's Ecclesiastical Committee. This committee is made up of Members of both Houses. The committee examines the Measure and then makes a report as to whether it thinks the Measure should be made. A draft of the report is sent to the legislative committee of the Synod. If Synod agrees, the report and the Measure can then be laid before Parliament. Motions need to be passed by both Houses before the Measure can be presented for Royal Assent.


Numbering Acts

Each Act is given a chapter number within a year.  This is not the same number as when it was in Bill form so if you are tracing legislation from its initial bill stage through to enacted legislation you will have a number of different official publication document references to note for your research

Acts are referred to by their short title, year, chapter notation abbreviation and the chapter number.  

For example the Human Rights Act 1998 is referenced as follows, meaning that this was the 42nd Act passed in the year 1998

Human Rights Act 1998 c.42

The European Union Referendum Act is referenced as follows, being the 32nd Act passed in 2015

European Union Referendum Act 2015 c.36

Since 1963 chapter numbering has been within the calendar year, but before 1963 it was by parliamentary session, indicated by regnal year or years. For example: 

Films Act 1960, 8 & 9 Eliz. 2, Ch.57 (57th Act in the 8/9th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.)


JustCite provide a handy regnal year listing that you can use to identify the calendar year if you only have a regnal year citation.


Putting Acts into Force

An Act may come into force immediately, on a specific starting date, or in stages. The enactment provisions are detailed in the Act. 

For example, here are the enactment provisions for the Human Rights Act 1998 c.42



The practical implementation of an Act lies with the appropriate government department rather than Parliament.  However, Parliament can investigate how the Government implements an Act and it considers any future changes that are introduced to amend an Act.

Future changes are introduced through the passing of another Act or through delegated legislation.  Acts or specific provisions of Acts can also be repealed so that they are no longer law.

Secondary legislation is sometimes also referred to as delegated or subordinate legislation as it is  made under powers provided for in a primary Act of Parliament. It is is usually concerned with detailed changes to the law made under powers from an existing Act of Parliament. 

Secondary legislation allows the Government to make changes to a law without needing to push through a completely new Act of Parliament. The original Act (also known as primary legislation) would have provisions that allow for future delegated legislation to alter the law to differing degrees.

Statutory instruments form the majority of delegated legislation but it can also include Rules or Codes of Practice.

House of Commons Background Paper provides more detailed information on Statutory Instruments and other forms of secondary legislation.

In this example the Statutory Instrument is made under powers conferred from the primary legislation in the Football Spectators Act 1989.


The changes that may be introduced range from the technical, like altering the level of a fine, to fleshing out Acts with greater detail; often an Act contains only a broad framework of its purpose and more complex content is added through delegated legislation.

SIs are normally drafted by the legal office of the relevant government department. Consultations often take place with interested bodies and parties.

In the example above the Minister for Sport, Heritage and Tourism, Secretary of State: Department for Culture, Media and Sport made the order in consultation with the Sports Grounds Safety Authority.

Around two-thirds of SIs are not actively considered before Parliament and simply become law on a specified date in the future. Others will require approval from both Houses before they become law.
Around 3,000 SIs are issued every year and each contains an explanatory note explaining its scope and purpose.

 In our example the explanatory note records that this order relates to all seater requirements at the new home stadium for West Ham United


Numbering and referencing Statutory Instruments

Statutory Instruments are numbered sequentially by calendar year, e.g. SI 2016 No.629 The Football Spectators (Seating) Order



All legislation from 1988 – present day is available in its original form, plus a revised version showing amendments which have been made since the original version.  Most pre 1988 legislation is also available, however in some cases there will only be an originally published (as enacted) version and no revised version.  This guide explains more about the legislation on




 2. vLexJustis

vLex Justis is a fully-searchable legal database of case law and legislation. Full text legislative coverage extends from medieval times to the present day.

Comprehensive online help is available to support you when using this database. See the vLex resource centre for online guides, videos and webinars.

Acts of Parliament coverage includes:

  • Acts of Parliament (United Kingdom) 1707 to present
  • Acts of Parliament (Scotland) 1999 to present
  • Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly from 2000
  • Church Assembly and General Synod Measures 1920 to present
  • Acts of Parliament (England) 1235 to 1706


All Acts appear as enacted, with links to amended and amending legislation allowing the user to trace the development of the law.


Statutory Instruments

Secondary legislation covering England, Scotland and Wales from 17th century to the present day is available (1671 – present) and includes:


  • Statutory Instruments from 1949 to present
  • Scottish Statutory Instruments
  • Draft Statutory Instruments
  • The legislation published in Statutory Rules & Orders and Statutory Instruments Revised to December 31, 1948, which was published by HMSO in 1950 and includes regulations dating back as far as 1671
  • Statutory Rules and Orders issued prior to 1987


Statutory Instruments covering England, Wales and Scotland are included, incorporating tables, diagrams and maps where appropriate.


Local Acts 

A complete and fully searchable database of all as-enacted, full-text local legislation from 1797 to date is available.

3. HeinOnline: Statutes of the Realm (1235-1713) 

The Statutes of the Realm (1235-1713) are available online as part of HeinOnline’s English Reports collection in a facsimile of the edition published in 1800 



The Statutes of the Realm were originally published between 1810 and 1825, as an authoritative collection of the statutes from 1235 to 1713.  Hein Online presents the 11 volumes, of which volume 10 is an alphabetical index and volume 11 is a chronological index.  Chronological tables and alphabetical indexes are also available in each separate volume.  The Statutes of the Realm were compiled in pursuance of an Address of the House of Commons of Great Britain of 11 July 1800, respecting the public records.  Some of the earlier statutes are in Latin or Norman French.  

Volumes follow the date of the statutes:

1   1235-1377

2   1377-1504

3   1509-1545

4   1547-1624

5   1625-1680

6   1685-1694

7   1695-1701

8   1702-1707

9   1708-1713

10  Alphabetical index

11 Chronological index

Browsing and Searching

If you know the year or century of the Act you need, choose the relevant volume from the contents list in Hein, and look up the Act by name or topic in the alphabetical index to the volume, or by year in the chronological index.  If you are unsure of the date, try looking up the Act by name or topic in volume 10.  Using the work's own indexes works best.  If you use the Hein search engine to search by word or phrase, be aware that Hein presents the Statutes of the Realm in very close proximity to the English Reports, and the results of your search will contains hits from the English Reports as well!





4. Legislation on Lexis

The Lexis database includes current amended versions of UK Public General and Scottish Acts and Statutory Instruments that are currently in force.

Choose the Legislation option from the Lexis menu and then you can browse through the menus or search to find content.

 In addition to the amended text you can also use a range of different database features to explore related content and quickly see which sections are in force and which have been amended/repealed.  




5. Legislation on Westlaw

Westlaw provides full text access to in force Legislation and offers added value features. 

Select the Legislation option from the Westlaw menu bar to search or browse to find contentt and to choose whether to restrict your search to the full text of legislation as it stands today or broaden it to include other historical versions. 

Fully consolidated full text of Acts since 1267 and Statutory Instruments since 1948 and selected Westminster Parliamentary Bills from session 2015-16 onwards are available.

You can use the added value features to link seamlessly to other pieces of legislation, cases citing that legislation and access related secondary material such as journal articles.




6. Public Information Online

The Public Information Online database holds:

  • Acts of Parliament from 1901
  • Acts of Parliament Explanatory Notes from 1999
  • Draft Statutory Instruments and Statutory Instruments from 1988




The Lasok Law Library has a print Legislation section with copies of print Statutes (Acts of Parliament) and Statutory Instruments. 

However, it is recommended that you use online sources for your legislative research.  Often you will not only be interested in consulting legislation as it was originally enacted, but will also want to examine the revised versions which incorporate any amended or repealed sections that have come into force subsequently.  It is much easier to trace these legislative changes using online legislation resources.

Print series include:

  • Statutes at large covers the period 1225-1835,
  • Pickering's statutes cover 1836-1851 
  • Statutes of the UK covers 1852-1871.
  • Law reports Statutes, published by the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting since 1866, reproduce the text of all acts in chronological (chapter) sequence.
  • Current Law Statutes have been received by the Law Library since 1948; this series also contains Scottish statutes.
  • Halsbury's Statutes of England is an encyclopedia organised by subject containing the text of all statutes in force.  

Use the Guide to printed Materials below to find the bay numbers for the legislation series in the Law Library.

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