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United Kingdom: The Parliaments: Parliamentary Resources

Parliamentary Resources at Bobst Library

Both Houses of Parliament, the Commons and the Lords, produce parliamentary papers. These are varied in type and content and Bobst library has a wide range of parliamentary material. The use of these materials can be very rewarding because they are a rich and vast source of information on almost all aspects of life in Britain from the late sixteenth century to the present. Because of the United Kingdom's role as a world power and as both a colonial and merchant empire, parliamentary materials also contain unique and rare information about much of the rest of the world.

Parliamentary materials are divided into three principal categories: the Sessional Papers, the Journals, and the Debates (popularly referred to as Hansard after their early nineteenth century publisher). What follows is a description of each and what materials are available at Bobst. Important sets and reference works have been tagged "uk westminster parliament research." You can search this as a tag is Bobcat.

The Sessional Papers are the working documents of each session of Parliament and and further divided into three types of papers: Bills, Reports, and Command Papers.  There is significant overlap between the two houses and it is only after World War One that the Lords' Sessional Papers are unique. All three of these are to be found in the database House of Commons Parliamentary Papers (see the guide to its use at the tab  House of Commons Parliamentary Papers).  There is a microfilm set (at  MP10 and MP14 up to 1979 and MF325 1980- ) that begins in 1685 and continues to the 1978/79 session. For the eighteenth century there is a selective printed set of Commons' Sessional Papers covering 1715-1800 in the 147 volume set House of Commons Sessional Papers of the Eighteenth Century. The House of Lords for this period is collections in a set not owned by Bobst: House of Lords Sessional Papers, edited by F. W. Torrington and published by Oceana. For the nineteenth century there is a selective but still extensive printed compilation known as the "Thousand Volume Irish University Press" set (a detailed guide is at Using the Irish University Press 1000 volume set). For the twentieth century Bobst's holdings of printed copies is minimal but the database House of Commons Parliamentary Papers fills this gap in combination with the Parliament's growing collection of on-line documents

The Journals are the record of proceedings and decisions of Parliament.  They exist from 1509 for the House of Lords (the only copies in Bobst are held in Special Collections / Fales Library, which has a set covering 1509-1803).  The House of Commons' Journals are available in microform from (MP10 1547 to 1974, MF325 194-1980, 1996-date).  Indexes for each year are shelved at the end of the set,  The House of Commons Parliamentary Papers has the  House of Lords Journals for 1685-1834 and the House of Commons Journals for 1688-1834.

The Debates or Hansard is the daily record of debates in the two Houses. According to the Westminster website: "Hansard is an edited record of what was said in Parliament. It also includes votes, written ministerial statements and written answers to parliamentary questions. The report is published daily covering the preceding day, and is followed by weekly and final versions." But it is not a verbatim record. The Parliamentary website states "Hansard only dates from 1803; all earlier debates are unofficial, collected from various private sources. Also, Hansard was not a complete record of all debates until it became the Official Report in 1909; it was selective." Furthermore, Hansard "has had a long and tumultuous history from the first recorded efforts to suppress reports in 1628, law cases, to the official grants in 1877." See a chronology at the Parliament's website. [NB: Many other nations -- Australia to Zimbabwe -- also publish their debates and title them Hansard. So include Great Britain to get only the ones for the United Kingdom.] Debates as published in the Proceedings for the years 1774-1780, 1780-1796, 1796-1802 and Hansards from 1803-2005 are in the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers. Bobst has Hansard in print volumes from the 1892 on the 4th Floor East. Many of the older volumes are available from the HathiTrust site. Check the listings at the appropriate chronological page in this guide and the list of sources for debates at Researching Debates.


Introduction to the History and Functions of Parliament

Parliaments of the United Kingdom

         Houses of Parliament in London

The Houses of Parliament at Westminster

Parliament is the legislative body (see the Legislation box to lower right) of the United Kingdom, including its overseas territory, and is located in London's Palace of Westminster.  Parliament is divided into two Houses: the House of Commons whose members are elected and the House of Lords, which are not.  Members of the House of Lords are of two types, bishops from the Church of England (Spiritual) and those from the Peerage (now appointed titles). According to the Parliament website the Commons is a "Democratically elected house, makes laws and checks the work of Government" and the Lords is "A forum of expertise, making laws and providing scrutiny of Government."  There are 550 members of the House of Commons (Members of Parliament, or MPs) and 786 Lords.  Below are brief descriptions of the four currently functioning 'national' legislative bodies, with their logos and links to their websites.  [Any quotations are from the body's own web-pages.]  


Westminister ParliamentThe Parliament is properly known as the Parliament of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In 1707 the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland created the Parliament of Great Britain from the Parliament of England and added Scottish members to both Houses.  The 1800 Act of Union created the Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland, abolished the existing Parliament of Ireland, and added Irish members to both houses.  In 1920 the government of Ireland Act created two parliaments in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, while reducing Irish representation in Westminster.  In 1922 the independent Irish Free State was created and in 1927 the name of Parliament was officially changed to the current Parliament of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.


Northern Ireland Assembly The Parliament of Northern Ireland existed from 1920 until 1972, with 52 members of Commons and 26 members of a Senate.  Suspended in 1972 and then abolished in 1973, the Parliament of Northern Ireland was replaced with the Northern Ireland Assembly with 108 members.According to its web-site "The Northern Ireland Assembly is the devolved legislature for Northern Ireland. It is responsible for making laws on transferred matters in Northern Ireland and for scrutinising the work of Ministers and Government Departments. The Assembly sits at Parliament Buildings, Stormont Estate, in Belfast. Members (MLAs) meet to debate issues; question Ministers; and make laws for the benefit of people in Northern Ireland. Each MLA represents her or his constituency, and there are 6 MLAs for each constituency."


Scottish ParliamentIn 1999 the Scottish Parliament (or Pàrlamaid na h-Alba) was created with 129 members.  "Scotland was granted devolution by the passing of the Scotland Act in 1998 which means that Scotland has a parliament with ‘devolved’ powers within the United Kingdom. Any powers which remain with the UK Parliament at Westminster are reserved. Reserved matters were set out in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act. A basic breakdown is given below. Essentially the powers of the Scottish Parliament are set out by what it does not have legislative competence in rather than in what it can do.Devolved powers: Matters such as education, health and prisons, which used to be dealt with by the Parliament at Westminster, are now decided in Scotland. Reserved powers: Decisions (mostly about matters with a UK or international impact) are reserved and dealt with at Westminster."

National Assembly of Wales

The same year was also the founding and first meeting of The National Assembly for Wales (or Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru), which has 60 members."The National Assembly for Wales is the democratically elected body that represents the interests of Wales and its people, makes laws for Wales, and holds the Welsh government to account."

Subject Librarian

Andrew H. Lee's picture
Andrew H. Lee
Office directions: on the Bobst Mezzanine. West 3rd Street side, I am in room 1M-04E, just past midway (6th door going west), and my name is on the door.

(212) 998-2633


This is a very rich resource with so many so many features and is completely free... easier to use than most U.S. sites -- especially remarkable since it is free (repeating to stress) ... Use the advanced tab to browse and explore.