British Parliamentary Papers

This guide describes the major collections of British Parliamentary Records available in Bobst Library, and the reference tools necessary to access them.

The three major categories of Parliamentary papers are as follows: 1) Sessional Papers; 2) Journals; and 3) Debates. Publications of each of these categories exist for both houses of Parliament -- the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Most of the Bobst collection consists of publications of the House of Commons; the library owns little in the way of sessional papers of the House of Lords.

1) Sessional or Parliamentary papers are the working documents of each session of Parliament and are divided into three types: Bills, Reports and Command Papers. There is an extremely high overlap between the Lords' and the Commons' papers, and it is only since the early 1920's that the Lords' sessional papers are indeed unique to the Lords.

2) Journals record the proceedings and decisions made in each house. Journals have been printed for each session of Parliament since 1509 for the Lords (preceded by the Rolls of Parliament) and since 1547 for the Commons (except for the period 1584-1601).

3) Debates are the record of the actual discussion on the floors of both houses. They are often called Hansard's after their early nineteenth-century publisher.

Librarian for British Parliamentary Papers

Andrew Lee
Librarian for European and World History
Bobst Library
New York University
70 Washington Square South, Mezzanine
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (212) 998-2633

Internet Links

Full text of bills, debates, and selected reports and command papers, dating from the mid-1990's, is available at the following sites:

House of Commons Papers and Indexes: 18th Century

The earliest collection of sessional papers is for the eighteenth century, but it is by no means complete. Three sets in Bobst reproduce papers from this period.

  1. House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1975. 145 volumes.
    Bobst 8th floor lounge J301.K625
    Probably the definitive edition, this is the most complete set of existing parliamentary papers for the period.
  2. British Sessional Papers. House of Commons: 1731-1800. (Abbot Collection)
    Bobst Microprint/MP10, MP14
    This collection was assembled through the initiative of Charles Abbot, Speaker of the House of Commons from 1802-1817. Published in 1807, it includes only papers found in the House and in the printer's warehouse at that time. The collection is very thin for the years before 1760 and even for the second half of the century many important items have been omitted. Still, the collection provides a great deal of useful information.
  3. First Series.
    Bobst Microfilm/Film 1078
    Known as the First Series, but fully titled Reports from Committees of the House of Commons, 1715-1801; Forming the Series of Fifteen Volumes of Reports. This set fills in some important gaps in the Abbot Collection; for example, it includes many important papers from the reigns of George I (1714-27) and George II (1727-60). However, the First Series is nowhere near being a complete set of the extant papers. In fact, only two volumes contain reports from before 1770.

An index to eighteenth-century sessional papers is as follows:

  • Lambert, Sheila (ed.) House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century: Introduction and List. 2 vols. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1975.
    Bobst J301.K625 1975 and REF1 J301.K625 1975
    This checklist to the Scholarly Resources edition is especially useful for two reasons. First, it is a comprehensive list of eighteenth-century parliamentary documents, both extant and otherwise, which offers a complete picture of parliamentary business for the period 1713-1800. Second, it provides locations for many documents which are not included in the Abbot Collection, the First Series, or the Scholarly Resources edition (#1 above).

House of Commons Papers and Indexes: 19th Century

If you are trying to locate a nineteenth-century Parliamentary paper in Bobst, the first step is to determine if it is available in the Irish University Press set described below. The IUP set is in bound volumes which allow easy access for reading and photocopying. If the desired paper is not in the IUP set, it will be necessary to use the annual bound sets of Parliamentary Papers in microprint.

Irish University Press Set

The most convenient format for use of the voluminous nineteenth-century Parliamentary Papers is the 1000-volume set published by Irish University Press. This set reprints many Parliamentary Papers in all fields and is arranged in numerous subsets by general topic, including Famine, Colonies, Poor Law, Slave Trade, Emigration, Health, etc. Although selective, this set represents a very substantial proportion of the influential papers of the nineteenth century. The entire set is shelved in the lounge on the north side of the eighth floor; subsets are arranged in alphabetical order.

Two guides published along with this series provide a checklist and indexes. These provide a reference to the subset, volume and page for individual papers and reports.

  • Checklist of British Parliamentary Papers in the Irish University Press 1000-Volume Series of British Parliamentary Papers 1801-1900. Shannon: Irish University Press, 1972.
    Bobst REF1 Z2019.I73
    This checklist to the IUP set includes an index by broad subject and an index of the names of committee chairmen.
  • Catalogue of British Parliamentary Papers in the Irish University Press 1000-Volume Series and Area Studies Series 1801-1900. Dublin: Irish University Press, 1977.
    Bobst 8th floor lounge Z2019.I72 1977 and REF1 Z2019.I729n

Annual Bound Sets

If an individual paper or report is not included in the IUP series, it will still be included in the annual "bound sets." After 1801 sessional papers for the House of Commons were issued annually in sets of bound volumes, beginning with v. 1 for each session of Parliament. These annual bound sets are available in their entirety in microform:

  • 1801-1900 Bobst Microprint/MP 10 (annual indexes filed at beginning of set)

For comprehensive indexes, consult one of the titles below, or see Breviates for selective indexes to nineteenth-century papers.

  • Cockton, Peter, comp. Subject Catalogue of the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1801-1900. Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 1988. 5 volumes.
    Bobst REF1 Z2019.C63
    This work is unique in constituting the only subject classification for the entire set of 19th-century Parliamentary Papers. The papers are grouped into 19 major subject areas, each of which is subdivided. Citations include the title, session, bill, house or command paper number, volume number, and page number. Please note, however, that this catalogue was compiled in conjunction with a microfiche set which Bobst does not own.
  • British Parliamentary Papers. General Index. Shannon: Irish University Press, 1968. 8 volumes.
    Bobst REF1 Z2009 .I73
    The three volumes which cover the period 1801-1852 are divided by type of paper: bills, command papers, and committee reports, and then arranged by general subject. Volumes covering the second half of the century are generally by decade, with all types of papers interfiled in a general subject arrangement.

House of Commons Papers and Indexes: 20th Century

Bobst does not own any large editions of the twentieth-century Parliamentary Papers in print format; they are available only in microformat, as follows:

  • 1901-1979
    Bobst Microprint/MP14 (one index at end of set)
  • 1980- present
    Bobst Microfiche/MF325

For indexes, use the following or consult Breviates for selective lists of 20th-century papers.

  • Great Britain. Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Annual Catalogue. 1985-present.
    Bobst REF1 Z2009.G82
    This catalogue and its predecessor have various titles. Earlier volumes (1920-1984) are in the stacks: Bobst Z2009. G85.

How to Read a Citation to Parliamentary Papers

A complete citation to a parliamentary paper should resemble the example below. The citation may appear with or without the name of the bill, report or paper. The numbers correspond to the following information: session/paper number/volume of bound set/volume page number.

Game Law. Sel Cttee. Report; 1845(602): xii, 331
-- or simply --
1845(602): xii, 331

Sessions may be given as one year (1845) or two consecutive years, since Parliamentary sessions varied in length and starting date. The volume of the bound set (xii) is often given in Roman numerals, followed by the page number (331) within the bound volume on which the paper begins. The volume and page numbers are the most important information for locating the item within the bound sets. The report number (602) usually appears on the first page of the item. References are usually to House of Commons papers; references to reports appearing only in the House of Lords papers should have a paper number preceded by "HL". The examples on this page are from:

  • Cornish, W.R. et al., Crime and Law in Nineteenth Century Britain. (Government and Society in Nineteenth Century Britain/Commentaries on British Parliamentary Papers). Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1978, p. vii.

Command Papers

These are indicated by an abbreviation forming part of the word "command", e.g. Cd.112 or Cmd. 394. In many academic works command papers are referred to solely by this number, as in the following example:

Finance and Industry. Committee Report 1930-31. Cmd. 3897.

It is necessary to translate this command number into a full reference to the annual bound sets in order to locate the report, as follows (where xiii is the volume number and 219 the page number within volume xiii):

Finance and Industry. Committee Report 1930-31 Cmd. 3897, xii, 219.

An index compiled to supply complete references for command papers is:

Di Roma, E. A Numerical Finding List of British Command Papers Published 1833-1961/62. New York: New York Public Library, 1967. Also: Supplement to 1976/77 by Elizabeth A. McBride.
Bobst REF1 Z2009.D5

Breviates (Selective Indexes)

Breviates are selective lists of bills, committee reports and annual reports of governmental departments which provide references to the item's original publication in the annual bound sets. They were compiled to provide references to the most frequently consulted Parliamentary Papers. The breviates list papers relating to internal affairs only. For selective lists of papers concerning colonies and foreign policy see Guides to Foreign Policy Documents. Breviates are currently in seven volumes:

  • 1833-1899
    Bobst J301.M3 1953
  • 1900-1916
    Bobst REF1 JN549.F59 1969
  • 1917-1939
    Bobst JN549.F6 and REF1 JN549.F6 1969
  • 1940-1954
    Bobst JN549.F62 and REF1 JN549.F62
  • 1955-1964
    Bobst REF1 Z2009.F675 1970
  • 1965-1974
    Bobst REF1 Z2009.A1 F59
  • 1974-1983
    Bobst REF1 Z2009.F65 1989

House of Commons Journals

  • 1547-1974
    Bobst Microprint/MP11 (shelved after MP14)
    Indexes: one for each year, shelved at end of set.
  • 1974-1980
    Bobst Microfiche/MF 325

House of Commons Debates

The Debates have been officially recorded and published since 1803. Bobst has a complete collection of these:

  • 1803-1908 (series 1-4)
    Bobst J302.A2/A4/A5/A6 (includes House of Lords)
  • 1909-1980 (5th series)
    Bobst J302.A7 (House of Commons only)
  • 1981- present (6th series)
    Bobst J302.A7 (House of Commons only)

Indexes by session are with the Debates. They are most complete for names of speakers and geographic names but not as detailed for thematic subjects. References in the indexes are to column numbers. Prior to 1803, unofficial sources such as newspapers and private reports have to be relied upon and it is important to bear this in mind when using them. Bobst owns the following unofficial records of the debates:

  • The Parliamentary History of England, From the Earliest Period (ca. 1600) to the Year 1803. 36 volumes.
    Bobst J302.A1
  • The Parliamentary or Constitutional History of England, From the Earliest Times to the Restoration of King Charles II. London, 1751-1762. 24 volumes.
    Bobst J301.H18
    Covers from the eleventh century through 1660. The detailed table of contents serves as a subject index.

House of Lords Debates

  • 1803-1908 series 1-4
    Bobst J302.A2/A5/A6
  • 1909-present 5th series
    Bobst J302.A8
    Indexes: See above under House of Commons.

Guides to Foreign Policy Documents

  • Temperley, H.W.V. A Century of Diplomatic Blue Books, 1814-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938.
    Bobst Z2009.T28
  • Vogel, Robert. A Breviate of British Diplomatic Blue Books, 1919-1939. Montreal: McGill University Press, 1963.
    Bobst Z2009.V6
  • Adam, Margaret. Guide to the Principal Parliamentary Papers Relating to the Dominions, 1812-1911. Ann Arbor: UMI, 1976.
    Bobst Z2021.C7A3x 1976
  • Maltby, Arthur. Ireland in the Nineteenth Century: A Breviate of Official Publications. Oxford: Pergamon, 1979.
    Bobst REF1 DA950.M25 1979
  • Sims, John. A List and Index of Parliamentary Papers Relating to India, 1908-1947. London: India Office Library, 1981.
    Bobst REF1 Z3208.A5 S55 1981
  • Willer, Thomas F. Southeast Asia References in the British Parliamentary Papers, 1801-1972. Athens: Ohio Univ., 1978.
    Bobst REF1 Z3221.W54

For North America see:

  • Proceedings and Debates of the British Parliaments Respecting North America, 1542-1754. Leo Francis Stock, ed. Washington D.C.: Carnegie Institute, 1924-1941. 5 volumes.
    Bobst E187.G79
  • Proceedings and Debates of the British Parliaments Respecting North America, 1754-1783. R.C. Simmons & P.D.G. Thomas eds. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus International, 1982. 6 volumes.
    Bobst E187.G79 1982

Guides to British Governmental and Parliamentary Papers

  • Ford, Percy & Grace Ford. A Guide to Parliamentary Papers: what they are, how to find them, how to use them. 3rd ed. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1972.
    Bobst REF1 Z2009.F66 1972
    The best introduction to the records.
  • Rodgers, Frank. Guide to British Government Publications. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1980.
    Bobst REF1 Z2009.R62
    This is a detailed treatment, more useful for non-Parliamentary publications. However, one entire section is devoted to a description of the parliamentary publications.
  • Wilding, Norman & Philip Laundy. An Encyclopaedia of Parliament. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971.
    Bobst REF6 JN555.W5 1971
    Useful, alphabetically arranged encyclopedia of parliamentary history and procedures.
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