Guide: British Parliamentary Papers

British Parliamentary papers consist of debates, journals, and sessional papers.

For additional information email GIMMS Staff at libet2@indiana.edu.

Electronic Access Highlights

Open Access

Subscription Databases


Contents of this Guide


Introductory Sources

British Governmental Websites

The website of the United Kingdom Parliament explains Parliament's workings and provides links to documents such as recent debates, reports, the Commons' Weekly Information Bulletin, and some current bills.


Indexes to British Parliamentary Papers

A variety of stand-alone indexes are and listed below, in General Indexes. Additionally, indexing for each individual publication is described in its section below.

Types of Parliamentary Papers

Debates

Often termed Hansard, debates are an official record of what is said in Parliament. Prior to 1909, the debates were typically derived from secondary reports (in both the third and first person), and are not as accurate as present-day debates, which are largely verbatim and in the first person. Since 1803, the debates have been printed in several series, as outlined below:

Series Dates
First 1803-1820
Second 1820-1830
Third 1830-1891
Fourth 1892-1908
Fifth (Lords) 1909-present
Fifth (Commons) 1909-March 13, 1981
Sixth (Commons only) March 16, 1981-present

Commons and Lords debates were published together until 1909, when they were separated. For early time periods, the library holds various texts that were compiled by individuals. Some publications include debates of both Houses; others focus on only one House. Beginning in 1909, the debates began to be published by the government, and were give the term "Official Report".

House of Commons Debates

Series Volumes Dates Format Shelving Location
Cobbett Cobbett v.1-41

1066-1803

1803-1820

Print Volumes

For Holdings, See IUCAT Link [vol. 1-12 -- 1066-1743]
For Holdings, See IUCAT Link [vol. 13-36 -- 1743-1803]
For Holdings, See IUCAT Link [vol. 1-22 -- 1803-1812]
Torbuck v.1-21

1668-1742

Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link

Almon

v. 1-5, 7, 9-11 1743-1774 Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
For Holdings, See IUCAT Link [electronic resource]
Almon, Debrett v. 1-72? 1774-1799
1774-1803
1775-1804
Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
For Holdings, See IUCAT Link [electronic resource]

Chandler

v. 1-11, 13, 14 1660-1743 Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
For Holdings, See IUCAT Link [electronic resource]
Grey v.1-10 1667-1694 Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
For Holdings, See IUCAT Link [electronic resource]
First (Hansard) v.23-41 1812-1820 Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
Second
(Hansard)
v.1 1820 Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
v.2-20 1820-1829 For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
Third (Hansard) v.1-30,335,336 1830-1835;
1889
Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
v.31-334;
337-356
1836-1891 For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
Fourth (Hansard) v.1-199 1892-1908 Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link

Fifth (Hansard)

v.1-318 1909-1936 Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
v.395-1000 1943-1981 For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
Sixth
(Hansard)
v.1-85 1981-1985 Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
v.86-present 1985/86-present Microfiche For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
v.142-present [earlier records being added] Nov. 1988-present [earlier records being added] Internet Hansard

House of Lords Debates

Note: House of Lords debates prior to 1909 were published with the House of Commons debates. They can be found in the following series, listed above: Cobbett, Torbuck, Almon and Debrett, and the first through fourth Hansard series. The publications below include only House of Lords debates.

Series Volumes Dates Format Location
Timberland v. 1-8 1660-1742 Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
Fifth
(Hansard)
v.1-129
v. 130-467
1909-1942
1943-1984/85
Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
v.468-705 1985-present

Microfiche

For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
v.559-present Nov. 1994-present
[earlier records continually added]
Internet Hansard

Indexes of Debates

For print volumes, both Houses' Debates have speaker and subject indexes for each session. Typically, the Commons Debates contain an index within each volume, as well as a separate index for each session. The Lords Debates tend to cumulate sessional indexes as a session progresses. These indexes are not separate volumes. In microfiche format, an index may be found at the end of each session.

The UK Parliament Publications Database contains Commons debates from 1988 to the present, and Lords debates from 1994 to the preset. Note that older debates are continually added to the database, so the coverage is expanding.


Journals

Journals are the official record of what is done in Parliament. They outline proceedings (not the words spoken in session) and are related in content to the Commons' Votes and Proceedings and the Lords' Minutes of Proceedings. Written in a formal style that reflects parliamentary tradition, the Journals are used as references about procedure and precedence. Since the House of Lords does not follow the Commons' practice of referring bills to standing committee, the Lords Journals tend to give more information regarding amendments and results of debates than do the Commons.

Journals of the House of Commons

Volumes Dates Format Location
v.1-v.22,v.25-v.74,
v.104,v.106,v.108-v.110,
v.112-v.134,[actual holdings]
1547-1607, 1640-1737,
1745-1819, 1821-1847,
1849-1855, 1857-1885,
Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
v.1-v.22, v.25, v. 26,
v.28-v.104,v.106,
v. 108-134, 137-140
1547/1628-1772/1774,
1776/1778-1854/1855,
1857-1884/1885
[Elizabethan Parliaments] 1558-1603 Microfilm For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
v.241-v.256
v.241-242,244-252

1984/85-present
[1984/85-1999/2000]
 

Microfiche For Holdings, See IUCAT Link

Journals of the House of Lords

Volumes Dates Format Location
v.1-16, 22, 24-45, Calendar, Index 1509-1614, 1620-1646, 1660-1680,
1685-1701, 1718-1726, 1731-1804,
Calendar, [1508-1808] and Index (1883-1863) [actual holdings]

1509-1614, 1620-1648, 1660-1680,
1685-1701, 1705-1709, 1718-1806,
Calendar for 1509-1808,
Index for 1833-1863

1509-1614, 1620-1648, 1660-1681?,
1685-1701, 1705-179?, 1796-1806,
Calendar for 1509-1808,
Index for 1833-1863[PI]
Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link

Journals Indexes

Most printed Commons Journals have indexes. Periodic cumulative indexes are shelved after the last session covered. For microfiche, an index is included at the end of each session. The Lords' Journals have periodic cumulative indexes.


Sessional Papers

Beginning in 1801, the papers for each House of Commons (HC) session have been bound into volumes known as the sessional papers. These papers include the various document types outlined in the chart below. The documents are included in the library's indexes to British Parliamentary papers.

Document Group Document Type Series Name
Bills Public Bills HC Bills
Reports from Committees Reports from parliamentary committees HC Papers
Reports from Commissioners Reports from non-parliamentary committees, commissions, etc. Command Papers; HC Papers if
presented by Act
Accounts and Papers Accounts, Estimates, 'White Papers', State papers, Treaties, Returns HC Papers and Command Papers

More information about Command Papers, Bills, and Reports from Committees may be found below, as well as in the General Alphabetical Index to the Bills, Reports and Papers printed by Order of the House of Commons and to the Reports and Papers presented by Command, 1959-60 to 1968-69.

After 1801, the sessional papers and indexes were arranged such that references were given to sessional volume and page number. Beginning in 1979/80, however, the publication format was altered and overall pagination was eliminated. Consequently, you need only the session and document number to locate a given paper. (For more information about this change, see the forward to the Sessional Index for 1979-80)

In 1922, many reports and papers began to be printed as non-parliamentary publications of the government printing office, HMSO, due to financial constraints. If you are searching for papers about a particular subject from 1922 to the present, do not limit your search to parliamentary papers alone.

Sessional Papers -- House of Commons

Prior to 1801, the Commons Journal included not only the House proceedings, but also various reports. During the early 1800s, these reports were printed as appendices. In 1835, they began to be printed as separate publications. Therefore, items that are presently found in the sessional papers may be located in the Journals for earlier dates.

Before the 20th century, many House of Lords papers were 'communicated' to the House of Commons, and subsequently printed with the Commons papers. Therefore, some older Lords documents can be found in Commons publications.

A note on the microfiche sets: The HC Parliamentary Papers set contains documents that are similar to the later HC Sessional Papers set. The fiche in the two series are produced by separate vendors who organized the papers differently. In the HC Parliamentary Papers set (1801-1975), the bills, command papers, and sessional papers for each session are grouped together. In the Sessional Papers microfiche set (1979- present), bills, command papers, and HC papers are separated into different groups, each with its own call number.

Item Dates Format Location
HC Journals pre-1801 (Format and Location varies: see Journals section of this guide.)
HC Parliamentary Papers
(i.e., Sessional Papers)
1801-1975/76, 1979/1980 Microfiche For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
HC Sessional Papers
-HC Bills
1979/80-present
1994/1995-present
1972-1976[PI]
Microfiche For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
HC Sessional Papers- Command Papers 1979/80-present
1993/1994, pt.3--present
Microfiche For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
HC Sessional Papers
-HC Papers
1979/80-present
1992/1993-present
Microfiche For Holdings, See IUCAT Link

Sessional Papers -- House of Lords

Item Dates Format Location
HL Sessional Papers 1685-1857, 1985/86-1997/98
1986/87-2001/2002
Microfiche For Holdings, See IUCAT Link
1928-1948; 1964/65-1968/69,
Select Committee Reports, 1978-1983/84
Print Volumes For Holdings, See IUCAT Link

Sessional Papers -- Indexes

Bound volumes usually have sessional and cumulative indexes. For the recent House of Commons microfiche set (1979/80-1993/94), check the HC Sessional Index, ET2 LC Microfiche J301 .K76. In general, you may refer to the print and CD-ROM indexes (see General Indexes, below).

Sessional Papers -- Command Papers

Command papers are a special group of papers that originated as a distinct group during the 19th century. They do not originate from Parliament itself, but are presented to Parliament by governmental ministers. Including State papers such as treaties, they address issues on which the executive branch of government intends to act.

The numbering of Command papers is in several series:

Series Papers Dates
First series [1]-[4222] 1833-1869
Second series [C. 1]-[C. 9550] 1870-1899
Third series [Cd. 1]-[Cd. 9239] 1900-1918
Fourth series [Cmd.1]-Cmd. 9889 1919-1956
Fifth series Cmnd. 1- 1956-

During the late 1800s, the House of Lords began eliminating the Command papers from its sessional papers. Beginning in 1900, the Command papers are found only in the House of Commons volumes. (Lords sessional indexes reference the Command papers until 1920.) To locate a Command paper number within the sessional volumes, use the following finding aids:

These books provide the session, volume, and starting page for each Command paper number within the given time period. For other time periods, use the electronic or print indexes listed in General Indexes below.

Sessional Papers -- Bills

Bills are pieces of proposed legislation that Parliament considers for passage. A summary of how bills pass through Parliament can be found at the House of Lords web site.

Bills may be located within the sessional papers, where they typically fall first in the arrangement of papers for each session. (See Sessional Papers, above.)

Some official Internet resources that cover the past few sessions of Parliament include:

Item Coverage
Public Bills now before Parliament Current
Weekly Information Bulletin (includes information about bills) Current session
Acts (Bills that have passed through Parliament, received Royal Assent, and become law) 1988-present (Public Acts)
1991-present (Local Acts)

Sessional Papers -- Reports from Committees

Parliament has a number of committees (small numbers of MOP's that are appointed to deal with particular areas or issues). Below is a brief outline of the parliamentary committees.

  • Standing committees are appointed by the Commons to consider and debate certain bills. Membership changes with each piece of legislation.
  • Select committees have a more investigative function. Typically, they are appointed for an entire session, inquire into a given subject, and report their findings.

Select committees that are re-appointed each session are called Sessional Committees
Commons and Lords Select Committees may join to form a Joint Committee.

Reports from Committees may be found in the sessional papers (see above). Some recent Select Committee and Joint Committee reports (dating from 1996 onward) may be found on the Web:

House of Commons- Select Committee publications
House of Lords- Select Committee publications

The library also holds a set of papers, Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, 1715-1801, printed but not inserted in the Journals of the House, 1803.(ET2 Secure Area a5551982). An index to these volumes is located in the ET2 Foreign section; see General Indexes. Additionally, the Lilly Library has some 19th and early 20th century reports of various committees, commissioners, and commissions. Check with staff for details.)


Resources for Further Study



General Indexes

Before 1800s:


1800s:


1900-present:



Additional Guides

The background material is this guide is drawn from the following books, which address Parliament and its publications in greater detail.


If you have comments or questions about this guide, please contact the reference staff at the service desk in Wells Library East Tower 2 (ET2). Extensive collections of parliamentary papers from Ireland, France, and Germany are also available.

LH 11/11/11


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