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Parliamentary Papers at MU: Papers by Type

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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the official account of the proceedings of Parliament, including the records of motions passed, suspended, amended or withdrawn; the record of papers laid before each House; and lists of members appointed to committees, etc.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.

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. It is also important to not that the sessional papers were not comprehensively collected prior to the 19th Century and that many were lost int he 1834 House of Commons fire.  Pre-1800s, select papers appeared in the journals.

Sessional Papers include the following document types:

Public Bills: arranged by title and numbered as a separate series. Relate to matters of public policy and proposed by members of Parliament. 

Private Bills:  Only printed once they become acts.  Bills prompted by the interest of a particular group and are promoted to Parliament by the group members, similar to American Interest Groups.

Reports of Committees: arranged alphabetically by subject or name of committee. Originally 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 as they work on issues or topics.

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 from committees set up by Departments and the departments themselves.  The departments do not always include members of Parliament, can outlast a Parliament, and report directly to the affiliated minister.  After World War I, they were presented "on command" only.

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 1919-4956
5th Series Cmnd. 1-9227 1956-1986
6th Series Cm. 1- 1986-present



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.