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Parliamentary

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    Papers of the House of Commons

This is a brief guide to researching British government records on Parliament.

There are various types of Parliamentary material available, both in digital and in print, and this guide describes some of the most important, giving you a general overview of our Parliamentary sources of information and where to find them.

This is followed by a brief summary on how to follow a bill through parliament which is intended to help those who visit Guildhall Library find details of the passage of legislation through Parliament.

Summary of holdings

Our extensive Parliamentary material dates mainly from 1801 onwards. It includes debates and journals of the House of Commons and House of Lords, House of Commons papers, public and local statutes and statutory instruments. We have a complete set of parliamentary​ debates (Hansard) from 1803.

Main indexes

The Sessional Indexes for Hansard Debates are on the open shelves in the Reading Room and readers can help themselves.

TheHMSO Publications List is published daily, and cumulated monthly and annually and copies can be obtained from the Enquiry Desk.

The Papers of the House of Commons Sessional Index and General Indexes are available from the Enquiry Desk.​

Parliamentary debates - also known as Hansard

Parliamentary Debates - These are the verbatim reports of discussions in the House of Commons and House of Lords, published as two separate sequences since 1909 and are commonly known as Hansard, after the publisher.

Standing Committee Reports - Since 1919 a further Hansard series, Standing Committee Reports, has reported verbatim the proceedings of the different standing committees which deliberate on and generally amend Bills as part of the process of law-making.

Guildhall Library holdings:

  • Both Houses combined: 1803 - 1908, both Houses separately 1909 onwards. Earlier years are covered by much briefer accounts such as Chandler's Debates (1660 - 1742).
  • Standing Committee Reports: some volumes for 1946/7 onwards, but only complete after 1970-71.
  • Hansard online: House of Commons Hansard from 1988-9 session onwards and House of Lords 1995-6 session onwards are available online on the UK Parliament website.
  • Full text of Standing Committees 1997-8 session onwards is available online

How to search and order:

  • The HMSO Annual Catalogue is the main source for Standing Committee Reports and you will need to know the session date and letter of the committee when ordering.
  • Sessional Indexes for Hansard Debates are on the open shelves in the Reading Room.

House of Commons Papers (Bills, Select Committees and Command Papers)

Bills are draft Government legislation embodying the legislative intention of the Government and are either Public or Private. Private Acts and Bills are sub-divided further into Local - affecting the interests of a particular person, place or institution, and Personal - affecting the estates, property or status of an individual. When a Bill has gone through all its stages and become law, it is printed as an Act.

Select Committees are small groups of MPs drawn from all political parties, which are set up to examine the work of Government departments. They are the main investigatory system by which the House of Commons scrutinises the exercise of Government responsibilities, the development of public policy and public expenditure.

Command Papers were originally Papers presented to Parliament by command of the Sovereign. Until 1833 they usually appeared as appendices to the House of Commons Journal, but the increasing number made this impractical. Most Command Papers are either treaties, White Papers (Government proposals for legislation, policy statements and Annual Reviews eg, for Defence), Reports of the Royal Commissions - but not their Minutes of Evidence, and State Papers such as communiqués.

Guildhall Library holdings:

  • House of Commons Papers and Command Papers: These are held up to the current date, minus one year, and are held mostly on microfiche. Bound volumes are kept in closed access for those years not yet acquired on microfiche.
  • Bills and Acts, both Public and Local: Older bills are available on microfiche as part of the Parliamentary Papers sequence. Public Acts and Local Acts are available in bound volumes in closed access.

How to search and order:

  • House of Commons Papers: indexes to House of Commons Papers can be obtained from the Enquiry Desk. You need the session date, paper number and (for bound volumes and fiches prior to 1979/80), the session number.
  • Public Acts: Index to the Statutes 1235 -1990, which has a subject index, and Chronological Table of the Statutes 1235 - 1990which lists Acts produced each year.
  • Private and Local Acts can be found in the relevant volume of the HMSO Publications List, and also in the Cumulative Index of Local and Personal Acts.
  • To order Acts, you need to know the regnal year (the year in which the Act was passed), whether it was public, private or local, and the chapter number.

Statutory Instruments (SIs)

Legislation is primarily carried through Parliament in the form of Acts and Bills. However, it is not possible for an Act to cover every detail of the subject with which it deals, so it will confer powers for the making of more detailed rules, orders or regulations in the form of Statutory Instruments (SIs). SIs have the force of law, and they are sometimes also referred to as secondary, delegated or subordinated legislation.

Guildhall Library holdings: 

  • Public Statutory Instrumentsts 1904 onwards
  • Local Statutory Instruments 1961 onwards.
  •  A full set of Statutory Instruments currently in force at time of publication canbe found in Halsbury's Statutory Instruments in the reference collection at R340.

How to search and order Statutory Instruments:

  • You need to know the year the SI appeared, whether it was public or local and its SI number. You can find these out from the HMSO Publications Catalogue or the List of Statutory Instruments​.

House of Commons/Lords Journals including the Weekly Information Bulletin and Sessional Information Digest

House of Commons/Lords Journals: these are separate publications to Hansard and list formally all decisions made by Parliament during the working day.

House of Commons Weekly Information Bulletin includes a list of all Bills currently before Parliament.

House of Commons Sessional Information Digest acts as a cumulation of the Bulletin and an index to it.

Guildhall Library holdings: 

  • The Commons is held from 1547 and the Lords from 1509 onwards to the present day and must be requested from the stacks.​
  • The Bulletin: Guildhall Library backfiles copies for two years only and can be obtained from the Enquiry Desk.
  • Sessional Information Digest: Guildhall Library keeps copies for two years only. The two year file is held at the Enquiry Desk: thereafter, the indexes are on microfiche as part of our collection of Parliamentary Papers.

Following a bill through parliament - public bills

1. Public bill introduced into the House of Commons

First reading in the Commons: this is usually a formality, consisting merely of the reading of the short title by the Clerk. Found inHansard.

The Printed Bill: the bill is printed after its first reading. Found in Parliamentary PapersBills 2002-3 session onwards are also available online 

Second reading in the Commons: the principle of the bill is discussed and agreed. Found inHansard.

Committee stage: the bill is gone through clause by clause and individual clauses may be discussed and where appropriate amended. Found in Committee proceedings (Standing Committees) or Hansard (Committees of the Whole House).

Report stage: referred to officially as the Consideration, the House considers the bill as reported back by the Committee. Found in Hansard.

Third reading: the bill is considered once more by the House. Found in Hansard.

Proceedings in the House of Lords: stages and sources are similar to those in the House of Commons, with the following exceptions:

  • Bills are occasionally opposed or debated at the first reading stage in the House of Lords. Found in Hansard
  • Committee proceedings in the House of Lords are usually taken in Committee of the Whole House, Found in Hansard.

Commons’ consideration of Lords' amendments: any substantial amendments made to the bill by the House of Lords needs to be considered by the House of Commons. Found in Parliamentary papers (text of the amendments); Hansard (consideration in the Commons).

Royal Assent: the Sovereign's assent to the bill is declared to Parliament. Found in Hansard.

2. Public bills introduced in the House of Lords

These are distinguished by [H.L.] after the short title, and formerly by a long title beginning "A bill intituled an act to..." Stages and sources are similar to those for bills introduced into the House of Commons, but with the Lords stages taken first.

Note: Guildhall Library will not have the text of the bill until it has been printed for the House of Commons.

Following a bill through parliament - private bills

Private bills go through similar stages to those for public bills, but there are some distinctive features of the procedure: 

  • Before a private bill is introduced, notice of intent to introduce it must be advertised in the London gazette and other newspapers. Found in London gazette.
  • Copies of the bill are deposited with the Lords and Commons in November of the year in which it is introduced. The copies are printed by the promoters and not held by Guildhall Library. Copies of bills promoted by the Corporation of London are kept at London Metropolitan Archives, or for current bills, the Remembrancer's Office.
  • From the late 18th century promoters of bills for constructing works such as canals and railways were required to deposit plans and sections of the intended works, together with books of reference showing properties to be compulsorily acquired, with the Clerk of the Parliaments and the authorities of the counties and parishes affected. The can be viewed at the House of Lords Record Office or in the county or other local record office for the area concerned.

 

 


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