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Official Publications : Commons Papers and Bills

What are Commons Papers?

These documents, along with Command Papers, provide an amazing documentary store covering hundreds of years and many subjects. 

House of Commons Papers cover a range of subjects and come from various sources.  This is not an exhaustive list, but among others they include:

  • Select Committee reports
  • annual reports of various regulatory bodies, e.g. OFWAT
  • annual reports and accounts of publicly funded or monitored bodies, e.g. the National Lottery Fund
  • reports from the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsmen
  • reports of independent reviews can also be published as Commons Papers, e.g. the Stephen Lawrence Independent Review (the Ellison report, HC 1094, 2013-14)
  • National Audit Office reports

What are Bills?

A Bill is a draft law, which needs to pass both the Commons and the Lords, then receive Royal Assent, in order to become an Act.  Not all Bills do become Acts.  A useful guide to the way a bill progresses through Parliament is available on their website.

To see how bills in the current parliament are progressing, see the Bills before Parliament page.

The research units of the Commons and the Lords produce very useful publications which discuss various topics, including government bills, see the Research Publications page.  


Finding Commons Papers and Bills

Members of the University can access an online full-text service, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers.

This has the widest collection of British Official Publications covering the greatest number of years.  There are other services which have a smaller remit, see the list below.

If you wish to consult printed Commons Papers and Bills, or printed Command Papers, please note that only those from the Parliamentary Session 1979/80 onwards are on the open shelves in the Ford Collection on level 3 of the Hartley Library.  We can retrieve older ones but need one to two working day's notice, please.  Contact us via stating clearly the paper or bill numbers and the parliamentary sessions.

If you don't have full details, including the parliamentary session and paper or bill numbers, you will first need to get that infomation.  The tools which will help you to do that vary depending on the time period. Many, but not all, are indexed by Library Search see 'Where do I start?' on the main British Official Publications page for more detail and a guide to interpreting retrieved references.


Printed indexes

Whilst online full-text sources are prevalent, there may be occasions when it's more appropriate to use a printed index to start your research and/or to confirm a reference.  Those most useful are shelved at P. P. Ref (Parliamentary Papers Reference) which is at the end of the Ford Collection on level 3 of the Hartley Library.   Highlights include:

  • The Ford Lists or Breviates.  Compring seven volumes, covering 1833 - 1983, these are annotated lists, arranged by subject, of a selection of the most important parliamentary and non-parliamentary publications.
  • Subject Catalogue of the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1801-1900, edited by Peter Cockton.  In five volumes, this indexes every Commons Paper, Commons Bill and Command Paper published in the 19th century.  Arranged by 19 broad headings, there is also a subject index at the end of volume 5.
  • General Index to the Bills, Reports, Papers... 1900-1949, a subject arrangement listing all Commons Bills, Commons Papers and Command Papers.
  • Sessional indexes, i.e. individual indexes to each parliamentary session, are provided as the last volume of each session's papers (publication of these ended after the parliamentary session 1999/2000)

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