Skip to main content

Official Publications : British Official Publications

British Official Publications at the University of Southampton, a brief introduction

The Library at the University of Southampton has a particularly strong collection of British Official Publications, known as the Ford Collection*.  For example, we have a complete holding of House of Commons Papers from 1801 to the present.

The majority of new items are also published on the web, whilst some items are not produced in print at all.  

Because of the volume of documents and the different types of documents, it can be difficult to trace Official Publications.  We hope this guide will help you to find items in the Hartley Library and/or online, but do please ask for help when you need to.

* The Collection is named after the late Professor Percy Ford, who, with his wife Dr Grace Ford, brought the collection to Southampton and conducted research based on the collection.  The Fords compiled 'breviates' or 'select lists' which form the basis of our WebCat records for those received before October 2007.  Since that date all new items have been fully catalogued, but WebCat records for the earlier publications are selective. 

What are British Official Publications and why might you use them?

'Official Publications' are documents, irrespective of subject matter or format, which are produced by any organisation deemed to be an 'official body' and which are made available to the public.  In the Hartley Library, our Collection includes the following:

  • House of Commons Papers and Bills
  • Command Papers
  • House of Lords Papers and Bills
  • Hansard - Parliamentary Debates, both Commons and Lords
  • Standing and Public Bill Committee Debates
  • White and Green Papers (including government policy documents and consultations)
  • 'Non-Parliamentary' publications related to the work or policies of government, e.g. codes of practice and Home Office research publications.
  • Acts and Statutory Instruments (these are shelved in the Law section)
  • Statistical sources (most of which shelved in the statistics section, HA/ )

In addition to our printed collections, many such documents are also available online. 

Where do I start?

This depends on what you know!  Are you looking for a specific item for which you know the title, or do you just want to see what there is on a topic?

The date of publication will also have some bearing, as we have only been routinely cataloguing all of our British Official Publications since October 2007.  However, some earlier records are also available via WebCat, but these are selective. 

We therefore suggest that you begin your search with WebCat, but if you don't find what you need, please don't give up.  If you do find records on WebCat, you will need to check the Full Catalogue Details to see the necessary information to find the documents themselves.  Many of the WebCat records also include links to full-text.

There is a limit to how much we can cover in an online guide of this type.  We have two handouts which may help you.  One is a short guide to 'Interpreting WebCat references'.  The other is a more detailed explanation of the types of documents and the tools available to help you find sources to support your needs.

The sub-tabs above provide more detail on specific time-periods and the different types of materials.

Do you need more help?

If you wish to know more about the way British Official Publications can support your research, please get in touch by emailing


A short list of the key online sources

The services listed below are those found to be most reliable and comprehensive.  Many are freely available to all, but some are restricted to current members of the University. 

Print Still Matters

Despite the wealth of online access, there will still be times when you simply have to, or wish to, use print.  This may be for reasons of access, or because digitised versions lack colour or clarity, or because you wish to be sure that the digital version is a true replica.

Print Still Matters was a project by SCOOP: the Standing Committee on Official Publications, which considered the value of print holdings.  The project's web page shows locations of printed holdings in United Kingdom libraries, along with a selection of guides and related materials.  For librarians, it also includes relegation guides.

Follow @UniSotonLibrary