Government Publications - Great Britain Selected Reference Materials


British Government Documents

Since Britain, or rather England, has a long history as a unified country, and therefore a complex variety of government publications. Columbia has treated these documents in various ways. Documents cataloged separately can be found in CLIO (and occasionally only in the card catalog) looking under Great Britain [department, eg. Admiralty, Parliament, etc.] as an author. For instance

Author: Great Britain. Admiralty.
Title: A handbook of Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and adjacent parts of Greece. Prepared by the Geographical section of the Naval Intelligence Division, Naval Staff, Admiralty.
Physical Description: 1 p. l., [5]-533 p. plates. 19 cm.
Publisher/Date: London, H.M. Stationery Off., 1920.
Location: Butler Stacks
Call Number: 949.6 G792
Status: No information available

This guide will focus on the various types of Parliamentary publications, which tend not to be listed separately in CLIO; the bibliography at the end lists sources with more detailed information about the many other types of publications. Here, in rough chronological order, are the different Parliamentary publications.

Rolls of Parliament

The earliest records of Parliament, with material up to the sixteenth century, are known as the Rolls of Parliament.  Columbia has them under

Great Britain. Parliament. Rotuli Parliamentorum; ut et Petitium, et Placita in Parliamento.  London, 1767-77.  v. 1-6 328.421 B2 F (in the oversized section)

This set is also available on microfilm (F a4254 reel 3467) and online as part of Eighteenth Century Collections Online.  (Although the material is pre-sixteenth century, it was compiled and published in the eighteenth century, so is included in that set.)

Journals

These are the official accounts of the proceedings of Parliament, including records of motions, lists of members appointed to committees, and, for some years, include the main arguments of Parliamentary speeches.  The Journals are especially useful for the period before the 19th century, when there were no official records of the debates.

Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons.
Journals of the House of Commons.

v. 1-v. 242  (1547-1986)
328.421 C F (in the oversized section)

Vol. 243-   (1986/87-    )
J301.K3

Great Britain. Parliament. House of Lords
Journals of the House of Lords.

v.1-v.218 (1509-1984/85)
328.421 B F (in the oversized section)

v. 219-   (1985/86-    )
J301.J3

v. 3-v. 59, v. 131-138 (1620-1827, 1899-1906)
Microfilm FN 2632

The Journals for the House of Commons up to 1700 and the House of Lords up to 1717 are online at British History Online.

Parliamentary Papers (often called the Sessional Papers)

Pre-1800

These are papers presented to Parliament, and include bills, reports of committees, and papers printed by Royal Commissions or by government departments, and the command papers.  Between 1541 and 1739, the Journals are often the only place to find reports of committees and government departments.  Other major compilations of pre-19th century Parliamentary publications include

Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons.
Reports from Committees of the House of Commons which have been printed by order of the House and not inserted in the Journal, 1715-1801.  15v. London, 1803-06.  (This is often referred to as the “First Series”.)

The Union Theological Library has the original.
 Burke LR71 PNR

Columbia has the complete set on microfilm (F 9746).

It is indexed by General Index to the Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, 1715-1801…. Chadwyck-Healey, 1973.
Butler Reference Oversized R328.424 AG79315
(pp. 35-44 includes an index of reports printed in the House of Commons Journals.)

The “First Series” was followed by a second collection authorized by the Speaker of the House, Charles Abbott, with 111 volumes of separately printed reports issued 1731-1800.  This collection duplicates much of the First Series and the reports printed in the Journals.  The New York Public Library has this set on microfiche, listed under the title Sessional Papers.

A newly edited edition of the 18th century papers has been published as

The House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century.  Edited by Sheila Lambeth.  Wilmington, Delaware, Scholarly Resources, Inc. 1975-76.  147 vol.

Columbia has the index to this set listed as

Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century: List.  2v. Scholarly Resources, 1975.
Butler Reference Oversized R328.424 AG79316.

Columbia has also made its own 61-volume compilation of Parliamentary papers from the mid 1700’s to 1801.  This collection is shelved off-site and is listed in CLIO under

Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons.
Parliamentary papers.  Before 1801.

This set is indexed by

The General Index to the Sessional Papers of the House of Commons Previous to 1801, compiled by Mary Leslie Irwin.

Butler Stacks.  328.424 F (in the oversized section) and
Butler Reference Oversized R328.424 AG7929

Prior to the 19th century, the records and collections cannot be regarded as complete, but many of the publications are also included in the Eighteenth Century Collections Online, and can be found under their individual titles.

After 1801

The publishing of the Parliamentary Papers became much more systematic, and were issued at the end of each session in four sections.

  1. Public bills.  All bills introduced into the House of Commons or brought from the House of Lords.
  2. Reports of committees, i.e of Standing and Select committees of the House of Commons.
  3. Reports of commissions, i.e. of Royal Commissions, department committees, etc.
  4. Accounts and Papers.  These include the Command Papers.  Command Papers mean the Crown has commanded its commissions to present a document to Parliament, and are among the most important of the Parliamentary publications.  These are numbered and these numbers run consecutively through many Parliamentary sessions, broken down as follows:

    1833-68/69.  1 to 4222.
    1870-99        c.1 to c.9550
    1900-18        cd.1 to cd.9239
    1919-55/56   cmd.1 to cmd.9089
    1956/57-       cmnd.1-

Indexes to 19th Century Parliamentary Papers

There are various indexes to these papers.  The index for 1801-1852 has been cumulated and issued in three volumes as:

General Index to the accounts, papers, reports of commissions, estimates, etc. 1801-1852.

General Index to the reports of select committees…1801-1852.

General Indexes to bills and reports, 1801-1852.

All are in Butler Reference Oversized R328.424 AG793

There are annual indexes for the period after that, and Butler Reference has these annual volumes for 1852/53-1949.

Butler Reference Oversized R328.424 AG79312

There is also a privately published index for the period 1801-1900:

Cockton, Peter.  Subject Catalogue of the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1801-1900. Chadwyck-Healey, 1988. 5v.
Butler Reference R328.424 C64

This very useful index uses 19 major subject groups (agriculture, industry, trade, etc.) and references both Chadwyck-Healy’s microform set and the official printed version.

BOPCRIS (The British Official Publications Collaborative Reader Information Service) is an online index of approximately 39,000 documents (selected from some 280,000 Parliamentary publications, and many more non-Parliamentary documents) issued from 1688-1995.  The records contain extensive abstracts, which can be very useful.

Official and Unofficial Compilations of the Parliamentary Papers

Columbia has shelved its print set of the Parliamentary Papers off-site, with the exception of the years 1801-1809, which are in the stacks under the call number 328.424 G1-G9.  The volumes that are off-site are listed in CLIO under the title Parliamentary Papers followed by the year, eg. Parliamentary Papers. 1847.

There have been two major unofficial compilations of the 19th century Parliamentary Papers, one in print, and one, based on the Cockton index, cited above, in digital format.

The Irish University Press has reprinted many of the important parliamentary papers in 32 subject areas, for instance, anthropology, colonies, crime, emigration, etc.  This set is indexed in the

Checklist of British Parliamentary Papers in the Irish University Press 1000-volumes series, 1801-1899, Shannon, Ireland [1972].
Butler Reference Oversized R328.424 Ag79314

and the

Catalogue of British Parliamentary Papers in the Irish University Press 1000-volume series and areas studies series, 1801-1900.  Dublin, Irish University Press, 1977.
Butler Reference Oversized R328.414 Ag793143

The volumes are listed in CLIO under the title Irish University Press Series of British Parliamentary Papers.  This set is in the stacks and can be useful substitute for the papers shelved off-site.

Chadwyck-Healey has digitized the House of Commons papers, and currently the index and the full text for 1801-2006 (it is continuously updated) is available as House of Commons parliamentary papers.  This important resource can be searched by keyword in the document, by title, and by number (eg. Command number), and the documents can be downloaded as a PDF file.  

House of Lords Papers

Since each house “communicated” its documents to the other house, most, though not all, of the House of Lords parliamentary papers can be found with the House of Commons papers.  The New York Public Library has the House of Lords papers from 1919 to the present on microfiche under the title House of Lords Sessional Papers.

There is a three-volume General Index of the Sessional Papers printed by order of the House of Lords or presented by Special Command for the years 1801-1859, 1859-1870, and 1871-1884/85.
Butler Reference R328.424 Ag7932

Parliamentary Debates (often called Hansard's)

Reporting early Parliamentary debates was punished by fines and imprisonment, and the clerks who took notes of them when compiling the Journals, were ordered to stop. There were various early compilations, and in 1803 William Cobbett collected the early records and published them under the title The Parliamentary History of England; that same year press reporters were finally granted space in the gallery of the House, and Hansard began his series of reports.  These continued to be published by the Hansards, father and son, first as a private enterprise and later under government contract.  In 1909 the publication of the debates was taken over by the government and was split into two sets, one for each house.  It was only then that the debates were an actual verbatim account; previously they had been based on newspaper or other reports.  The references to these publicatons at Columbia are

Cobbett, William.  The Parliamentary History of England from the earliest period to the year 1803.  36v.  London, Hansard, 1806-1820.
Butler Stacks 328.422 P21

There are several series of the debates proper, but Columbia has shelved them all under
Butler Stacks 328.422 P211

until 1981, when the Parliamentary debates, Lords for 1981 to the present is at
J301.K28

and the Parliamentary debates, Commons for 1981-2003 is at
J301.K22.

Each bound volume has its own index, and beginning with 1830, the last volume in each session also has a cumulative index for that session.  Indexing is by speaker and by subject.  There are several important points to note in using these indexes.  The text of the debates is printed two columns to a page, and the columns, rather than the pages, are numbered.  The subject references in the indexes of the House of Common debates to the written answers to the Questions (which are in a separate section at the end of each volume) are italicized, and are listed first, before the column numbers for the debates.

Hansard is available online from 1988 for the House of Commons and 1995 for the House of Lords to the present.

Additional Resources

Ford, Percy. A guide to Parliamentary Papers. 3d ed. New Jersey, Rowman & Littlefield. 1972.
R328.424 F75331 (Desk)

Pemberton, John. British Official Publications.  2d ed. Oxford, Pergamon. 1973.
R328.424 P3691

Rodgers, Frank. A Guide to British Government Publications.  New York, Wilson. 1980.
R328.424 R6193 (Desk)

Wilding, Norman. An Encyclopaedia of Parliament. 4th ed. New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1971
R328.42 W64611 (Desk)