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Understanding government publications

Parliamentary Papers

Parliamentary Papers may be further divided into three sub-categories:

  • Sessional Papers
  • Debates
  • Legislation

Sessional Papers

There are 5 types of sessional papers:

  1. House of Commons Bills
    A Bill will pass through various stages before it becomes an Act of Parliament. For instance, a Bill will be discussed in the House of Commons before being passed to the House of Lords.
  2. House of Commons Papers
    These are usually reports which result from the deliberations of the House or which are needed by the House. They include, for example, reports of the various House of Commons Committees.
  3. Command Papers
    As suggested by the name, these papers are presented to Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, or by Command of one of her Ministers. 'White papers' (initial statements of government policy on a particular topic) and 'Green papers' (consultative documents) are often issued as Command Papers.
  4. House of Lords Bills
    Bills are discussed within the House of Lords before becoming Acts of Parliament.
  5. House of Lords Papers
    These include reports of the House of Lords Select Committees.

Sessional papers are assigned an individual paper number. Command Papers have one running number sequence which continues across several session years. The other 4 types of sessional papers have a new numerical sequence which commences at the start of each new session year. Consequently it is easy to find sessional papers, provided you have the full reference. The full reference will give you the title of the document, and (i) the 'type' of sessional paper; (ii) the specific paper number; and (iii) the session year in which the paper was produced.

For example, the full reference for the document Aspects of the economics of an ageing population would be HL Paper 179 [2002-03].
This indicates that the document is a House of Lords Paper, number 179, from the session 2002-03.

Debates

There are 2 different types of debates:

  1. Hansard
    These are essentially verbatim records of what was said in Parliament.
  2. Standing Committee debates
    A record of what was said at the various Standing Committees of Parliament.

Legislation

There are two different types of Acts, which are usually shelved in two separate sequences in libraries:

  1. Public General Acts
  2. Local and Personal Acts (these are concerned with localities or individuals)
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