Surely all Acts and Parliamentary Debates are available on the Internet these days?
Some, but not all. See our Guide to digitised historical Parliamentary material.
I want... the text of an Act of Parliament
Full texts of Public Acts from 1988 and Local Acts from 1991, and earlier legislation if it is still in force, are available from the Legislation.gov.uk website. The text of Public Acts dating between 1628-1701 from Statutes of the Realm, and the Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum 1642-1660 are available via British History Online.
Apart from these, you will need to consult the paper versions - there are no free online versions available. Most Acts have been printed in various editions including Statutes at Large, Statutes of the Realm, Local and Personal Acts, and Public General Acts, and will be available at a good public library or university research library near you. More information about Local Acts, including which libraries should hold printed versions of those that pre date 1991, is available on the Legislation.gov.uk website.
Images of the printed volumes printed Local Acts 1797-1834, and Private Acts and bills 1702-1834 are available via a subscription service widely available in university libraries, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers Chadwyck Healey. Public Acts can also be found via the subscription service Justis, available in law libraries and law firms.
Titles (not full text) of all Acts from 1497 to 2008 can be searched on our online catalogue, Portcullis . To restrict your search to public Acts of Parliament only, enter 'HL/PO/PU/1*' in the RefNo field. To restrict your search to local, personal or private Acts of Parliament only, enter 'HL/PO/PB/1*' in the RefNo field. Then put the term you want to search for in the Any Text field. You may have to use your imagination to think how an Act would have been titled in the past. Bear in mind also that some early Public Acts (before 1800) are of a local nature. If you find any Acts you want to see, you can make an appointment to come in to see them here, or order photocopies from us.
If you are looking for a Private Act, for instance an Act that concerned a divorce, naturalisation or an estate, then it is unlikely to have been printed and you may need to consult the Original Act in the form of a parchment roll here at Westminster or order a copy from us - we will be the only place you can find it. Please note that copying of original act vellums is restricted as per our reprographic guidance.
Acts produced in our searchroom will usually be supplied in the form of a surrogate (a printed copy, if available, or a microfilm if not) in the first instance, rather than the original manuscript vellum. Most Public Acts will be printed and so we will produce the printed volume or (if one is not readily available) a microfilm of the printed volume. Local Acts from 1798 onwards are also printed and we will produce the printed volume or (if one is not readily available) a microfilm of the printed volume. If your research specifically requires you to see a particular format (vellum, printed or microfilm) please let us know in advance of your visit which Acts you wish to see and we can advise which formats will be available. Back to Top
I want... the text of a Bill currently before Parliament
The text of any bill currently before Parliament is available on the Parliament website. All the Parliamentary Debates on bills currently before Parliament will be available via the Parliament website. Hansard (Parliamentary Debates) from 1988 (Commons) and 1995 (Lords) to present day is available on the Hansard web pages. You can search Hansard using free text. Alternatively, if you know the exact dates a particular bill was debated, you can follow links from the Hansard home page to all debates on that specific date and browse the text from there. The dates for all bills during this session can be found on the Weekly Information Bulletin. Follow the link to Public Bills before Parliament. Back to Top
I want...the dates of a Bill as it went through Parliament
Your starting point to trace the progress of a bill through Parliament should be to consult the Journal of the House of Lords and Journal of the House of Commons. The Journals are the formal record of business in both Houses and the official record of all the relevant dates and other information from introduction to Royal Assent. This should be supplemented by Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), if you are interested in the speeches and debates. Note that as well as the debates in the House of Lords and House of Commons, there may have been debates in a House of Commons Standing Committee, where the detailed clause-by-clause discussion goes on.
Journals, Hansard and Standing Committee debates are all published and may be found in large reference libraries if you have access to one near you. Alternatively, they are all easily accessible here. Some are available digitally. House of Lords Journals 1509-1717 & 1832-4 and House of Commons Journals 1547-1699 & 1830 are available via British History Online; Hansard 1803-2005 is available at the prototype Hansard Millbank website; Standing Committee debates 1997 onwards only are available on the Parliament website.
If you would like to know more about how a bill passes through Parliament generally, the House of Commons Information Office has produced some Legislation Factsheets which may be of interest. A very useful recent textbook about Parliament including a chapter on 'Making the Law' is Robert Rogers and Rhodri Walters, How Parliament Works (6th edition, London, 2006). Back to Top
I want...the date that an Act came into force/was enacted/commenced
Before 1793, Acts were held to come into force on the first day of the session they were passed in. In effect, they came into force on a date before they were actually passed. In 1793, an Act was passed to change this situation; Public Act, 33 George III, c. 13, An Act to prevent Acts of Parliament from taking Effect from a time prior to the passing thereof ['Acts of Parliament Commencement Act 1793']. Since then, Acts have come into force from midnight on the date of Royal Assent, unless another date is specified within the Act, or set by a commencement order. The Parliamentary Archives can help advise on the date of Royal Assent of an Act, but cannot provide legal advice about commencement. Back to Top
I want...to know more about Royal Assent
Royal Assent was originally performed within Parliament by the Sovereign but has been able to be performed on his or her behalf by Commissioners appointed by Letters Patent under the Great Seal. This was originally validated by the Commission Act, 1541, 33 Henry VIII c. 21. At a Royal Assent the Clerk of the Crown reads out successively the short titles of the Bills and the Clerk of the Parliaments pronounces on behalf of the Sovereign (whether or not the Sovereign is present), the appropriate formula; the usual formula for public bills is "La Reyne le veult" (the Queen wishes it), or "Le Roy le Veult" (the King wishes it). The Royal Commission originally consisted of one or more membranes of parchment with the Great Seal pendent and the Sign Manual superscribed until 1900, when the present form of printed pages with a Great Seal impressed en placard and the Sign Manual superscribed was adopted.
The first occasion on which the Sovereign was not present but gave assent by commission was Henry VIII on 11 February 1542; the last occasion on which the Sovereign gave assent in person was Victoria on 12 August 1854. Since then all assents have been by commission or by notification. The last occasion where power to refuse a Bill was exercised was Anne, who refused the Scottish Militia Bill on 11 March 1708, when the formula used was "La Reyne s'avisera" (the Queen will take advice).
Until 1849-50, after assent or refusal had been given, the Clerk of the Parliaments superscribed the formula of assent or refusal at the head of the engrossed roll, thereby authenticating it as the ‘Original Act’. He endorsed the roll with its Parliament Office number, which was assigned in strict order of assent and regardless of the classification of the Bill. From 1793 onwards he likewise endorsed the roll with the date on which assent was given, under the provisions of the Acts of Parliament (Commencement) Act, 1793, 33 Geo. III, c. 13. Since 1849-50, the Original Act has been newly printed, after assent, from the House Bill. The formula of assent is still superscribed on the Original Act on behalf of the Clerk of the Parliaments; and as an additional form of authentication, the Act is signed at its conclusion by the Clerk of the Parliaments or his deputy. The Original Act is then deposited in the Parliamentary Archives. Back to Top
I want...the text of a statutory instrument
Statutory Instrument (SIs) from 1987 to present day can be found and searched for at the Legislation.gov.uk website. Before 1987 you will need to consult them in hard copy in a legal reference library, or in our searchroom at Westminster. There is a House of Commons Information Office factsheet which can tell you more about SIs - follow the link to Factsheet L7. Local statutory instruments can be very hard to obtain. We do not have a set in Parliament, but the British Library Official Publications section may be able to help, or The National Archives who have a research guide covering statutory instruments. Back to Top
I want...the text of a debate before 1988 (Commons) or 1995 (Lords)
Parliamentary Debates (commonly known as Hansard) are available on the UK Parliament website from 1988 (House of Commons) and 1995 (House of Lords) onwards.
Hansard 1803-2005 has also been made available electronically by the Hansard Digitisation Project at Hansard Millbank Systems. This site is still undergoing development and experimentation, and further features may be added in due course.
Hansard is a printed published work widely available in large reference and university libraries in the UK and in some major reference libraries abroad, so you may be able to find a set of Parliamentary Debates near you. If not, you are welcome to visit us in London to view our set. There is an index at the end of each volume and each session in which you can look for the names of individual MPs, subjects of debates, etc. We can supply photocopies from Hansard, see Reprographic Services for details of cost. However we need specific information (exact dates, or the column numbers for each volume) before we could do this; it is not possible for us to browse many volumes looking for debates on a particular subject, or for all speeches by an individual MP: you will need to do this initial research before contacting us for copies.
Please note that Hansard did not become a full record of everything said in Parliament until it became the Official Report in 1909. Between 1803-1909 Parliamentary Debates were published by T C Hansard and were selective and largely reliant on newspaper reporting, especially before 1878. As a result debate before 1909 may simply not have been recorded in Hansard, or not fully. Researchers wishing to be thorough should also consult contemporary newspapers. Back to Top
I want...the text of a debate after 1988 (Commons) or 1995 (Lords)
Hansard (the Parliamentary Debates) from 1988 (Commons) and 1995 (Lords) to present day is available online. If you know the exact date it is probably easiest to follow links to that specific date and browse the text from there. Otherwise use the Parliament website search engine, restrict your search to Debates and Answers, and put in as many other factors as possible (e.g. date range, name of speaker).
How to find a division: Votes by MPs (divisions) are recorded in Hansard. Be aware that Hansard debates are long and can be split over many pages, which can make searching difficult. In particular the long lists of names of MPs in a division may cover pages and pages on their own, so (for example) you might find an MPs name recorded in a division on a different page from that of the word 'Division' or the name of the bill they were voting on.If you can use the search to locate a day where there was evidently debate on the piece of legislation you are interested in, it may be worth then following the debate page by page until you find the division.
Tracing debates on bills. If you can find the exact dates a bill was debated on, you can follow links from the Hansard home page to all debates on that specific date and browse the text from there. You can find the dates specific bills back to 1995 were debated by looking first at the Sessional Information Digest. Follow the link to the session you want and look under 'Complete List of Public Bills and their stages in both Houses'. Once you have the dates, you can then go back to the Hansard page to find the debates. Back to Top
I want... the text of a debate before 1803
There was no official record of Parliamentary speeches until Parliamentary Debates (commonly known as Hansard) began in 1803. The best source for Parliamentary debates from earlier periods is 'The Parliamentary History of England 1066-1803', 36 volumes, edited by W Cobbett and T C hansard. This is available in large reference libraries and has also been digitised by Oxford Digital Library. It brings together debates from many sources such as newspaper reports, although it is of course only a record of a small amount of debate over that period. They are not fully indexed but there is a detailed list of contents and an index of speakers at the start of each volume.
Some other sources for early debates including a collection of debates from 1660-1739, can also be found on British History Online. Others, including the Parliamentary Register 1774-1805, can be found at the subscription service House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, widely available in university libraries. These publications can be found in large university libraries, and copyright libraries (such as the British Library). We hold selected early debates of this kind too. Back to Top
I want...a video or sound recording of a debate
We don't hold these. Contact the Parliamentary Recording Unit on 020 7219 5511 or e-mail them. Back to Top
I want...a Command paper/government green paper/white paper/Treaty
We hold the historic records of Parliament, meaning records created by or presented to the House of Commons and House of Lords. This includes some government Green and White papers, but only the ones presented to Parliament. White papers (Government proposals for legislation) are usually printed among Parliamentary Papers as Command papers (papers literally printed 'by Command'). Some Green papers (consultative documents) are also published as Command papers. There are many other papers published as Command papers including reports of government committees, reports of Royal Commissions of enquiry, and treaties. See Factsheet P13. All Command papers for 2005 onwards are available at TSO online.
Treaties are agreements between countries, so original treaties are Government documents held by The National Archives, not by Parliament. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office database UK Treaties Online has details of thousands of treaties involving the UK, in some cases with full text.
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I want...some memoranda submitted to a House of Commons Select Committee not published with the Committee report.
If the memoranda were reported to the House of Commons but not printed, then the Committee should have deposited copies with us which you are welcome to see in our searchroom or order by post. These memoranda are usually listed and referenced at the end of the Committee's report. Please supply these references when you contact us. Back to Top
I want...a Protestation Return
Our online catalogue, Portcullis, contains details of all the Protestation Returns. You can search this to see if there are any of interest to you. Entering 'protestation returns' in the Any Text field, and '1641 -1642' in the Date field will find them. You can then make an appointment to view them in our Westminster searchroom or email us to ask for a quote for a copy. Please note if you are interested in Derbyshire that the Derbyshire Protestation Returns are held by Derbyshire Record Office. Back to Top
I want... an enclosure award and map
We don't hold enclosure awards and maps, but we do have enclosure Acts, which you can search for in our online catalogue, Portcullis. For awards and maps you should initially contact the local authority record office which covers the area concerned. Some may be held by The National Archives. Back to Top
I want...a petition presented to Parliament
All petitions presented to the House of Commons before 1834 were destroyed in the fire which burnt down the old Houses of Parliament. Original petitions were also routinely destroyed between 1834-1951. However there is a record of the presentation of petitions in the Reports of the Committees on Public Petitions giving information such as subject matter, place of origin, and numbers of signatures. These Reports date from 1833-1974. In addition, the full text of a number of petitions was printed each year in the Appendices to these reports. The Reports and Appendices are among the printed Votes and Proceedings of the House of Commons (HC/CL/JO/6); we have a set which you are welcome to consult, and it is possible a major university library might also have a set. There is an index to these reports and appendices covering 1833-1852.
The original records of the House of Lords survived the 1834 fire but originals of petitions were usually routinely destroyed up until 1950. Presentation of petitions can be traced through the Journal of the House, and some original petitions do survive among the Main Papers (papers laid on the table of the House) in series HL/PO/JO/10 and in the Parliament Office papers in series HL/PO/6.
There is also a small collection of miscellaneous Parliamentary petitions - various stray petitions now returned to the Parliamentary Archives and catalogued with the reference PET. These are searchable on our catalogue. The House of Commons Information Office has published a Factsheet (P7) on public petitions which contains some information about procedure and the history of petitions. Back to Top
I want...records of medieval Parliaments (pre-1497)
Before 1497, rolls of proceedings in Parliament were written and stored by clerks working in the Chancery, the royal secretariat. The records of Parliament can therefore be found among the Chancery records held by the National Archives which preserves government records for the nation. Writs and returns of MPs (dating back to 1275) are in the series C 219. The Parliament Rolls containing details of proceedings (dating back to 1327) are in the series C 65. The Parliament Rolls were published in six volumes entitled Rotuli Parliamentorum (London, 1767-77) where the full texts of the medieval rolls can be found, in Latin and French. These volumes (or a subscription to the digitised records) may be available nearer to your home in a large university or copyright library or similar. Back to Top
I want...records of a particular railway
From 1794 promoters of private Bills were required to deposit copies of plans of projected works such as canals and from 1803 this included railways. We may therefore have plans relating to the railway you are interested in including books of reference with details of property owners. In addition evidence may have been given to the committee considering the Bill proposing the railway, in which case you might be able to discover more about why it was being built. Search Portcullis, online catalogue, for places or railway names. Back to Top
I want...the Death Warrant of Charles I
The Death Warrant is our most famous record, and because of this, the original is only available for viewing in exceptional circumstances. Facsimiles are available for purchase for £5 (plus £1 for UK postage, contact us for overseas postage) - please send a cheque made payable to 'House of Lords Account' to our postal address. We have prepared an online exhibition about the Death Warrant, and if you believe you are descended from one of the regicides you may like to read our FAQ on that too.
I've got...a Death Warrant of Charles I! Is it worth much?
The original death warrant of Charles I is held at the Parliamentary Archives. Engraved facsimiles (copies) of the death warrant are fairly common and we get several enquiries a year about versions in private hands. There were two main facsimiles made - one in the 18th century by the Society of Antiquaries, and one published following the fire which burnt down the old Palace of Westminster in 1834. Others may have appeared in illustrated books in the 19th and 20th centuries.Engraving is a printing process in which a metal sheet is scratched with a design and then the depressions filled with ink and pressed onto a sheet of paper.Engraving was a method of producing prints of pictures and - in this case - famous documents, for the mass market. Many thousands could have been produced at the same time, and engravings of the death warrant such as this apparently used to be seen fairly often on the walls of English pubs throughout the country! The Archives cannot provide valuations of individual engraved versions; for that you should go to a local print dealer or antiques dealer who will be able to help. The valuation will depend on the condition of the print, whether it has been trimmed at the edges and whether it is framed. However, for your information, a member of staff at the Archives purchased, for personal use, a framed copy of the 18th century facsimile, trimmed, and framed, from a junk shop for £45 in 2007. You are welcome if you wish to send us a digital photograph of your facsimile for further comment. The taking of a digital photograph of the document will not harm it. Back to Top
I want...the Queen's Speech at the Opening of Parliament
The Queen's Speech read out by her at the State Opening of Parliament is a Government, not Parliamentary record. It is drafted by Downing Street, and outlines the aspirations the government for its proposed programme of legislation for the year ahead. Once the Queen completes reading the speech, the document is handed back to the Lord Chancellor (who originally presented it to her), and original speeches therefore find their way into the records of the Lord Chancellor's Department (now the Ministry of Justice) at the National Archives (series ref: LCO 21). LCO 21 contains speeches back to 1936. Original speeches by Queen Victoria and George V can be found in the Royal Archives. No original speeches survive for the reign of Edward VII.
From 1803, a full transcript of the text of the King or Queen's speech can be found on the relevant day in the House of Lords Hansard. Transcripts of the speeches are also entered in the House of Lords Journal until 1981. The Lords Hansard has been digitised and is available on the web. A list is available that gives the dates of all the King's and Queen's speeches 1950-2004, with links to the relevant sections in the Lords Hansard. Alternatively, we hold hard copies of both these sets of records, and they will also be available in major reference libraries in UK and elsewhere. Back to Top
I want...the act saying that King Charles spaniels have special rights in the Houses of Parliament
Contrary to popular rumour, there is no Act of Parliament referring to King Charles spaniels being allowed anywhere in the Palace of Westminster. We are often asked this question and have thoroughly researched it. The House of Commons Information Office Factsheet G7 Some Traditions and Customs of the House states that 'Dogs, except guide dogs, are not generally allowed in the Palace of Westminster.' There is no evidence whatsoever, that spaniels have ever been officially exempt from this rule, and any dogs which have been resident in the palace with their owners were confined to private apartments, such as the Speaker's or Lord Chancellor's residences, and not permitted free run through the palace. Having said that, there is one recorded example of a dog, other than a guide dog being in the House of Commons chamber. On page 309 of the House of Commons Journal, in the entry for 14 May 1606. It states that "A strange spanyell of mouse-colour came into the House." Back to Top
I want...an Order in Council/ Royal Proclamation/ Royal Charter
We do not generally hold these as they are not records of the House of Commons or House of Lords. They are royal decrees, made by the monarch with the Privy Council, and are therefore separate from Parliamentary statute law. Privy Council records are held at the National Archives, which holds the historic records of government. The National Archives has a research guide on Privy Council records including Orders in Council and Proclamations, which you may find informative. Orders in Council are also published in the London Gazette. Royal Charters are similarly issued by the Privy Council, and the National Archives has a research guide on Royal Grants and Charters too. Back to Top
I want...evidence presented to a Royal Commission
Reports of royal commissions are presented to Parliament and printed by command. Copies of reports will be available among House of Commons 'Parliamentary Paper' collections in good reference libraries throughout the UK, as well as being held by us'. Some evidence submitted to Commission will be printed in the reports. We also hold the initial warrant under the great seal for the setting up of commissions (HL/PO/JO/15). As for unpublished evidence submitted to commissions however, this will not have been presented to Parliament and will probably have been destroyed by the commissioners once the report was published. Very occasionally these working papers turn up in the relevant government department's records at the National Archives or possibly in the personal archives of chairmen. Back to Top
I want... a Parliamentary Paper (Sessional Paper/Blue Book)
For the 19th and 20th centuries, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1801-2004 have been digitised and made available on subscription from Chadwyck Healey. If you are a member of a university you should check to see if your university subscribes to this service. If not you are welcome to visit us and consult them in our searchroom, or we may be able to search it for you and provide copies.
Hard copies and microfiche of House of Commons Parliamentary Papers are available from many large reference libraries in the UK and across the world, as are 19th and 20th century House of Lords Parliamentary Papers (which are not digitised). See Where is my nearest collection of Parliamentary publications?.
Commons sessional papers 1714-1800 have been published in a facsimile edition edited by Sheila Lambert. Lords sessional papers 1714-1805 have been published in a facsimile edition edited by F W Torrington. These can be consulted here, found in large reference libraries or read on subscription at House of Commons Parliamentary Papers. Back to Top
I want... Parliamentary Papers relating to Ireland
There is a searchable catalogue called EPPI of these publications, containing the full text of all Parliamentary Papers on Ireland up to 1922. Back to Top
I want...Notes on Clauses for a specific bill
We only occasionally have these. They were created by the relevant government department responsible for the bill, but weren't usually printed or laid on the table of either House, so they aren't part of our collection. On the rare occasion they were printed, they were received by one or both of the libraries (Commons and Lords) as deposited papers and only then will we have access to them. Otherwise, they should be amongst the records of the relevant government department at the National Archives. From 1999, Explanatory Notes replaced Notes on Clauses. Explanatory Notes are printed and can be found on the Legislation.gov.uk website along with the Acts they relate to. Back to Top
I want... a paper which Hansard says was placed in the House of Commons or House of Lords Library
Ministers sometimes state in the Commons or the Lords that they will be placing or depositing a paper in the Library. We may be able to provide access to these; please contact us with the details of the paper, and what date in Hansard it was said that it would be placed in the Library, and we will contact the appropriate Library. Please note that if it is not explicitly said by a Minister in the House that a specific paper will be placed in the Library, the Libraries are under no obligation to keep material among their deposited papers just because something has been sent to them. The House of Commons Information Office factsheet on Deposited Papers provides more information. Back to Top
I want ...a House of Lords Judgment or Appeal Case record
From 14 November 1996 to 30 July 2009, House of Lords Judgments are available online. Earlier judgments are available in hard copy only and photocopies can be ordered from us (the usual charges apply), or they can be viewed in our search room at Westminster. The judicial functions of the House of Lords transferred to the new Supreme Court on 1 October 2009, which keeps its own records.
Bound copies of the House of Lords Appeal Case records, containing the evidence offered by the appellant along with the argument and interpretation put by their legal defence are also held by us and can be viewed in our search room. If you are able to access them, you may also find copies of House of Lords Appeal Cases at Lincoln's Inn Library, the Advocates Library in Scotland and the Library of Congress in Washington, USA. The Parliamentary Archives does not hold any other court case records apart from House of Lords Appeal Cases, see The National Archives research guides for advice on tracing other court records. Back to Top
I want...Registers of Members' Interests
The current Commons Register of Members' Interests and previous editions back to 1997/98 are available on the Parliament website. We also hold hard copies of Commons Registers of Members' Interests dating from 1992-2001 in the Parliamentary Archives (our reference HC/CS/1). You can make an appointment to look at them or order copies.
The most recent Register of Lords Interests is also online. Lords Registers are published annually in printed form as House of Lords (HL) papers, so you can consult them in our search room or in a large reference library. Other than committee reports, HL papers are not available online, nor is there any online index of them. To find the HL paper number for the printed Register of Lords Interests for any given year, you need to consult the relevant TSO (The Stationery Office) Annual Catalogue. There is more information about the electronic availability of HC and HL papers in our Guide to digitised historical Parliamentary material. Back to Top
I want... Macaulay's Minute on Indian Education from 1835
Macaulay's Minute, sometimes referred to as a speech given in Parliament or a minute presented to Parliament, is not a Parliamentary record so is not held by the Parliamentary Archives. Baron Macaulay, historian, essayist and poet, was an MP between 1830-1834, 1840-1847 and 1852-1857. His famous Minute on Indian Education is dated 2 February 1835, when he was not an MP. He had resigned his Parliamentary seat in early 1834 and sailed for India, as he had been made a member of the Supreme Council in India. The Minute was therefore presumably written for the Supreme Council, not the British Parliament.
The text of Macaulay's Minute can be found on many websiteS using a search engine such as Google and entering the title and name of the author. Alternatively, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records that Macaulay's Minute was printed by G. O. Trevelyan in an appendix to his book The Competition Wallah (1864). The Parliamentary Archives cannot vouch for the authenticity of any of these websites, nor does it hold a copy of Trevelyan's book. Back to Top
I want...papers, plans or drawings about the building or rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster
We do hold many papers, drawings and plans of the Palace of Westminster and you can find more information about the history of the building and some of our collections. However, responsibility for the Houses of Parliament as a building lay with various incarnations of the Office of Works and Ministry of Works between 1378-1992, and their records are held at The National Archives, so you should find more there. The series reference for two of the key sets of records of the Office of Works and successors which relate to the Houses of Parliament which are held at The National Archives are WORK 11 and WORK 29. Back to Top
I want...a record confirming that Robert Jenkins exhibited his severed ear to Parliament in 1738 (War of Jenkins’ Ear)
There are various conflicting contemporary stories about Jenkins' ear which was cut off by Captain Fandino of a Spanish guarda-costa in a skirmish off Havana in April 1731. Jenkins was allowed to appear before the king with his story shortly after his return to England in June the same year but the matter was dropped and only revived again during the agitation of 1738 when political capital was eventually made out of the incident.
The evidence from parliamentary records is inconclusive. It is recorded in the House of Commons Journal that on 16 March 1738 it was 'Ordered, That captain Robert Jenkins do attend this House immediately'. He obviously did not do so because again on 17 March it was 'Ordered, That captain Robert Jenkins do attend, on Tuesday morning next, the Committee of the whole House to whom the Petition of divers merchants ... interested in the British plantations in America ... and many others is referred'. After that there is no mention of him at all, even though reference is made to the petitions 'of divers merchants ...' etc. several times on 21-22, 28 and 30 March. The MP William Pulteney, however, refers to the Jenkins case in a speech after the Committee had reported to the House and other contemporary accounts state that Jenkins did in fact appear before the Committee.
Unfortunately detailed records of the proceedings of the Committee of the whole House do not exist for this period. According to the Dictionary of National Biography Jenkins produced something which he asserted was the ear which was cut or torn off, which suggests that it need not have been the actual ear. Indeed, it seems highly improbable that he would have kept it for seven years! After all, he was not to know in 1731 that his story was going to be brought back into the limelight and become an important factor in bringing about war with Spain so many years later. During the popular excitement following the Committee's report it was said that Jenkins paraded around showing off his 'ear' wrapped in cotton wool and kept in either a box or a bottle. Nothing more is known of Jenkins after 1738. Back to Top
I want... information about an item which I think is a wartime souvenir from the Houses of Parliament
The debris and rubble which resulted from the bombing which damaged the House of Commons in 1941 was disposed of or put to use in a variety of different ways. The iron was sent away for use in the foundries. The glass fragments and roof timbers were made into plaques, shields and gavel and given to the Presidents, Prime Ministers and Houses of Parliament of other countries. The stone was made into a variety of souvenirs by a company called London Stonecraft Ltd between 1942 and 1945. The stone souvenirs included ashtrays, book ends, letter racks, pen holders, wall plaques, inkwells, tobacco jars, bowls, vases, cocktail mats, spill holders, garden bowls, rose bowls, greeting cards, serviette rings, rocker blotters, paper knives and powder bowls. Profits from the sale of these went to the Red Cross. Back to Top
I want... the Act that allowed Parliament to sit in secret during the First/Second World War
There have been occasions during the First and Second World Wars when both Houses of Parliament have sat in secret, that is to say with no strangers present and no record of proceedings made. It is sometimes suggested that these sittings took place by right of powers under the Defence of the Realm Act 1914 c. 29 or under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939 c. 62. However, neither of those Acts contains powers concerning the sitting of either House in secret. Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice has a section on Proceedings in Secret Session. It states:
“During the War of 1939-45, following the precedents of the years 1916-18, whenever it seemed that the matters of value to the enemy might be revealed in debate in either House, motions were made for the House concerned to go into secret session, either to discuss a particular named subject, or for the remainder of the sitting, without any reason being specified. It was also a frequent practice to devote part of a sitting to secret matters, and then resume a public sitting. In December 1945, it was resolved that no proceedings during the last Parliament held in secret session be any longer secret.”
It would therefore appear that the House of Commons or the House of Lords can sit in private by virtue of their Standing Orders. The current Standing Orders of the House of Commons contain a Standing Order No. 163 on Motions to sit in private, and the Standing Orders of the House of Lords include Standing Order no. 15 on Secret Sittings. Back to Top
I want... a file marked on your catalogue as 'Closed'
Files are marked as closed on the Parliamentary Archives catalogue for various reasons, including possible data protection issues. Requests to see these files will be considered in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000. If you are looking for information, and you think it might be in one of the closed files held by the Parliamentary Archives, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org listing the references of the files you have found and explaining what the information is that you hope to find within. It would be helpful if you could explain to us the nature of your research topic, as we may be able to help and advise you more broadly. Much historical Parliamentary information is published, for example, such as Acts of Parliament, Parliamentary Debates and Committee reports, and may be accessed without the need to use Freedom of Information requests. Academic researchers may find the following publication by the UCL Constitution Unit useful: Making Freedom of Information Requests: A Guide for Academic Researchers. Back to Top