British Official Publications


Government publications are primary sources of information for many subject areas and are comprised of documents and information produced by government departments and central government organisations. They include parliamentary publications, legislation, policy documents, statistics and reports. These documents are published either by The Stationery Office (TSO) or by the department or organisation itself.

Parliamentary and Non-Parliamentary Papers

It is usual to consider British Government Publications as falling into two main groups. These are described as Parliamentary Publications and Non-Parliamentary Publications. The first type, also referred to as Parliamentary Papers, are those required by Parliament in the daily conduct of its business. They include such items as Bills, reports of debates, Acts of Parliament and reports of Royal Commissions or Select Committees. Non-Parliamentary publications are produced by government departments for use outside the parliamentary context as well as within it, and include, statistical compilations, guides to aspects of life in Britain, and reports on research in particular fields of study.

For searchable indexes of both Parliamentary and Non-Parliamentary publications, see the section below Finding Parliamentary papers.

Parliamentary Papers

These cover the main aspects of the work of both Houses of Parliament (House of Commons and House of Lords). Traditionally the major division within Parliamentary Papers is between Command Papers and House of Commons (or Lords Papers). It is these two categories which will concern us here.

Command Papers

Command Papers include major government reports, reports of Royal Commissions, statements of government policy ('White papers'), the U.K. Treaty Series and reports of tribunals of enquiry. Command Papers are each given an individual number prefaced by an abbreviation for the word 'command'. The numbers used run on from one session of Parliament to another. The abbreviations used for 'command' up to this point are:

Years covered Abbreviation
1833-1869 1-4222
1870-1899 C.1-C.9550
1900-1918 Cd.1-Cd.9239
1919-1956 Cmd.1-Cmd.9889
1956-1986 Cmnd.1-Cmnd.9927
1986- Cm.1-

Each number is therefore unique (e.g. CM 6785 is the Report into the London terrorist attacks on 7 July 2005, but Cmd. 6785 is the World Food Shortage 1945/1946), and is needed to identify and find each paper in the Library.

House of Commons and House of Lords Sessional Papers

Sessional papers include reports of some select committees, accounts, statistics and some annual reports. These papers are numbered consecutively within a parliamentary session. Hence, both number and session are needed to identify a certain paper, e.g. House of Commons Paper 285, Session 1967/68.

N.B. Sometimes it is sufficient to know the House of Commons number e.g. HC 444, 2006/07 or Command Paper number e.g. CM 7865, to locate a paper. This is the case from the House of Commons number e. However, for other sessions (i.e. sessions from 1801 to 1978/79) it is essential to have the sessional volume and page number to hand. This information can be found in the database House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, see the section below.

The Library Full Text Electronic Holdings

From the 2006/2007 session parliamentary papers are only available in the Library in electronic format on the database Public Information Online.

House of Commons, House of Lords and Command Papers:
2006/7 onwards Public Information Online
2002/3 onwards Official Documents Website
1688-2002/3 House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (18th, 19th & 20th century)

All the above can be found on The Library Database Menu at

The Library Print Holdings

The library print holdings are kept in store, you will need to request them using the form below, quoting the parliamentary paper year and sequential number, to do this see the section below How to Find Parliamentary Papers.

Command Papers [click for details] Request from Store
House of Commons papers [click for details] Request from Store
House of Lords papers [click for details] Request from Store

How to find Parliamentary Papers: Electronic Indexes

The majority of parliamentary papers are not catalogued individually, therefore, the reader wishing to trace relevant material must rely instead on various indexes explained below.

Parliamentary papers are usually organised by year and sequential number and to find the full text of a document in the print or microfiche collections you will need this number, you will also need to cite this number in a bibliography.

The indexes below allow you to search for specific parliamentary papers or to perform a keyword search to find parliamentary papers on a particular topic, all of these indexes will also provide you with the bibliographic information for each paper, including the year and number. These indexes can also provide you with the full text in some circumstances see the section above The Library Full Text Electronic Holdings.

House of Commons Parliamentary Papers

Full text database covering 1688-2002/3

Public Information Online

Full text database 2006/07 onwards.

All the above can be found on The Library Database Menu at

How to find Parliamentary Papers: Printed Indexes

HMSO annual catalogues

The HMSO (or 'Stationery Office') catalogues have had various titles over the years but cover the period 1922-2004 and are located on Floor 5 at classmark Z 2009

Subject catalogue of the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1801-1900. Compiled by Peter Lockton. 6v. 1988. Z 2009

This work accompanies the Chadwyck-Healey microfiche collection of Parliamentary Papers (which the Library holds), and is valuable in that it not only gives full references to each paper, including session, paper number, volume and page number, but also the microfiche filing number.
For example, Account of quantity of tea annually consumed in the U.K., 1801-71 1872 (204) LIV.575 mf 78.480-481 Means: 1872 [year] (204) [House of Commons paper no.] LIV.575 [volume and page number] mf 78.480-481 [microfiche numbers]

Debates and Proceedings

Parliamentary Debates (Hansard)

The Library has some volumes of the joint Commons/Lords series of 1803-1908 in Store A at J 301.H2 and virtually complete holdings of the twentieth-century Lords and Commons series at J 301.J2 and J 301.K2 respectively. The older volumes are kept in Store A.

Parliamentary Debates are also available online from 1998/89 onwards

You can use Google to search Hansard on the Parliament Website

Commons Hansard

Add the following query into the main search field:


And add the key word or phrases to the end of the query. For example:

inurl:cmhansrd housing

Or for a phrase, inurl:cmhansrd "Olympic and Paralympic legacy"

Lords Hansard

Add the following query into the main search field:


And add the key word or phrases to the end of the query. For example:

inurl:ldhansrd housing

Or for a phrase, inurl:ldhansrd "Olympic and Paralympic legacy"

Parliamentary Debates. House of Commons. Standing Committees. Official Report

The Library's holdings are complete for sessions 1960/61 to 2002/03. Bound volumes, which appear two years after the end of the session, are in Store A at J 301.K4. Standing Committee Debates are also available online from 1997/98 onwards.

Parliamentary Register 1774-1805; The History and Proceedings of the House of Commons 1660-1743; The History and Proceedings of the House of Lords 1660-1742

Can all be found (full text) on the database 18th & 19th Century House of Commons Papers. (see above)

Useful Websites

Parliament's Web Site

The U.K. Parliament web site contains information about the House of Commons and the House of Lords and their procedures and members. It also includes the full text of: selected Parliamentary Papers; Parliamentary Debates (Hansard); Standing Committee Debates; Bills; the weekly information bulletin; judgements of the House of Lords, and much more.

Official Documents Web Site

The Official Documents web site from The Stationery Office (TSO) provides access to House of Commons Papers and Command Papers. It has selected documents from 1994 to 10 May 2005 and all documents from the 2005/06 Parliamentary session onwards.

Contains full text legislation, selected Command papers from 2001 onwards and the Information Assets Register, which lists information resources held by the UK Government, concentrating on unpublished resources, enabling users to identify, from one single source, the information held in a wide variety of government departments, agencies and other organisations.

Directgov brings together a wide range of public service information and online services. You can browse by topics or by audience group, or you can use our search engine to find content directly. It also contains a very useful A-Z directory of Central Government.

SCOOP - Print Still Matters

Use this site to discover which libraries in the United Kingdom have PRINT collections of publications issued by the UK Parliament, UK Government, and the Devolved Assemblies, Parliaments, and Administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The information upon which this site is built was collected through the Print Still Matters Project in 2012/2013. This Project was initiated by SCOOP - the Standing Committee on Official Publications - with funding provided by the Information Services Group of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).


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