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House of Commons Parliamentary Papers

This guide provides an introduction to House of Commons Parliamentary Papers at the UCI Libraries.

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Records of what is said or done

The Journals present the official account of the proceedings of Parliament, including the records of motions passed, suspended, amended or withdrawn; the record of papers laid before each House; and lists of members appointed to committees, etc. For some years, main arguments of speeches given in Parliament are included. Journals are especially useful for the period prior to the 19th century when there were no official records of debates. The first Journal, known as the Seymour Journal, was written in 1547. 

Votes and Proceedings
These papers are the record of all that was, or was deemed to be done by the House on the previous day. It ignores everything that is said, unless specifically ordered to be entered. It also gives the minutes of proceedings of the Standing Committees, which include the results of divisions and the names of the Members voting in these committees.

Since 1909, the Debates have been the official records of things said in Parliament. They are substantially verbatim and in the first person. Debates are often referred to as Hansard after the name of the printing firm which compiled and published them for the greater part of the 19th century. From 1803-1909 some speeches were given in full, the rest being abbreviated accounts. HCPP now includes the full text from Hansard, the Official Report of debates in Parliament, from both the House of Commons and House of Lords, from 1803 to 2005. Hansard is an edited record of parliamentary debates and questions, including written ministerial statements and answers to parliamentary questions as well as the transcripts of debates. These are not strictly verbatim, but undergo some editing, for example to remove repetitions. The text of the digital Hansard was created by automatically converting scanned pages into text and although the quality produced is very high, some incorrectly converted words will still be found, particularly in older text.

Working Papers of Parliament

Sessional Papers / House of Commons Papers
Papers presented to Parliament (also known as the House and Command Papers). Before 1921 almost all important government documents were presented to Parliament for their consideration. Beginning in 1921, only documents considered directly relevant to impending legislation have been presented. Between 1541 and 1730, it is often necessary to rely on the Journals (described above) for reports of committees or government departments. 

Sessional Papers include the following document types:

Public Bills: arranged by title and numbered as a separate series. Usually relate to matters of public policy.
Reports of Committees: arranged alphabetically by subject or name of committee. Originially intended for an informal discussion. Today it is not used for inquiry, only deliberation. They include reports from the whole House, i.e. the whole House sitting as a committee.
Reports of Select Committees: created to deal with matters on a particular topic during the course of a Session. These committees (until mid-19th century) were the chief means by which Parliament conducted its investigations.
Return: a term used for those papers Parliament requires from the Departments in their work.
Act Papers: An Act of Parliament has required that certain papers be presented before the House. Examples are the annual reports of the British Transport Commission and the National Coal Board.

Papers Arising Outside the House

Reports and Papers of Royal Commissions, which are appointed by Royal Warrant. Reports from non-parliamentary committees, commissions, etc.
Departmental papers, reports of committees set up by Departments
Accounts and papers (all publications not in the first three categories. Included are treaties, international agreements, financial and statistical reports, papers on defense, etc.).

Command Papers
These papers are called Command Papers because they are presented to Parliament by "royal command" rather than as a result of an Act of Parliament. Each sessional paper bears a number, printed in the lower lefthand corner of the title page. All papers except Command Papers begin a new series of numbers each session. Command Papers include:

White Papers: Policy Papers
Green Papers: Consultative documents for general discussion
Some annual reports
State papers:  Such as Treaties, Committees of Inquiry

Command Papers numbering is continuous over several years with prefixes C., Cd., Cmd., Cmnd., or Cm. The numbering reflects the different time periods of the series.

Series: Numbering: Dates:
1st Series 1-4222 1833-1869
2nd Series C. 1-9550 1870-1899
3rd Series Cd. 1-9239 1900-1918
4th Series Cmd. 1-9889 1919-1956
5th Series Cmnd. 1-9227 1956-1986
6th Series Cm. 1- 1986 to current


When the Command Paper number is known, use A Numerical Finding List of British Command Papers Published 1833-1961/2 to locate the session, volume number and page number.