Government publications

  • Government publications are primary sources of information for many subject areas. This guide will help you trace UK Government publications both in the Library and on the Web. You may find this A-Z glossary of key parliamentary terms helpful for understanding the role of specific kinds of publications.  
    Although this guide focuses primarily on UK Government publications, it also includes some guidance on tracing EU, US and international sources.
    For guidance on how to reference government publications, check Cite Them Right Online.

    • See below for guidance on finding specific types of publication.

      An Act of Parliament is a law, enforced in all areas of the UK where it is applicable. More about Acts (UK Parliament guide)

      Statutory Instruments (SIs) are government orders or regulations made by a Minister under the authority of a specific Act [Parliament glossary]

      For further help, see the Library Guide to English Law (PDF)

      Print sources

      • Current Law Statutes (shelved at 348.02 C on Level 2) is a print series which provides the full text of Acts. It dates from 1961 and statutes are listed chronologically (there is no subject index). 

      Online sources

      • UK Statute Law Database is freely available and provides full-text access to UK Statutes from 1988 and SIs from 1987.
      • The database LexisLibrary provides full text Statutes and SIs. There is also some access to previous versions of legislation.
      • Westlaw database provides fully consolidated* full-text Statutes since 1267 and SIs since 1947. (*A consolidated statute incorporates all the amendments to the statute since its last revision.)
      • The Statutory Instruments web site provides access to the full text of (SIs) since 1997, arranged by year and SI number. Use the search engine to find SIs on a particular topic.
      • Acts of the Scottish Parliament provides full text of Acts from 1999. 

      A Bill is a draft law; it becomes an Act if it is approved by a majority in the House of Commons and House of Lords, and formally agreed to by the reigning monarch (known as Royal Assent). More about Bills (UK Parliament guide).

      • Parliament Bills web site provides access to the full text of Bills currently before Parliament.
      • House of Commons Parliamentary Papers - library database giving access to the full text of the entire collection of House of Commons parliamentary papers including Bills, from 1688 to 2003/04 session. More about the collection.
      • The Weekly Information Bulletin  provides access to bibliographic details about Bills from 1996 onwards. It provides complete lists of public bills and their progress through Parliament
      • The Library holds a few Bills and some publications about individual Bills. Search by keyword on the Library Catalogue to check our holdings, e.g. 'housing bills' 
      • See the Hansard section of this guide to find information about debates on Bills. 

      Government publications presented to Parliament are known as Command Papers. Most but not all Command Papers are published in a numbered series. More about Command Papers (UK Parliament guide)

      • Command papers online - use the filter options on the left to look narrow your search e.g. by date. 
      • House of Commons Parliamentary Papers - library database giving access to the full text of the entire collection of House of Commons parliamentary papers including Command Papers, from 1688 to 2003/04 session. More about the collection.
      • The Library also holds a number of Command Papers. A keyword search on command paper on the Library Catalogue will give a list of all command papers. Search by keyword for particular topics, e.g 'command paper family'
      Hansard (official report) is the daily record of debates from Parliament [Parliament Glossary]
      The full text of many debates from 1988 onward can be found on the Hansards section of the UK Parliament web site. These include both debates from the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
      • The UK Government website lists Government Departments which can provide a range of useful information, e.g. publications including White Papers and Green Papers, statistical information, links to other useful sites.
      • The Library holds many publications by different government departments. The Library Catalogue provides details of our holdings . Try searching by keyword using the particular Department e.g. 'Department of Health' and/or the subject e.g. 'special needs'. 
      • Whitaker's Almanac at QR 052 WHI (in Quick Reference, Level 1) details all government departments with addresses and contacts. 

      A consultation paper is a policy document that is put out by the Government for public comment and feedback.  The UK Government website has a list of All current consultations

      • Green Papers are consultation documents produced by the Government. The aim of this document is to allow people both inside and outside Parliament to  give the department feedback on its policy or legislative proposals. [Parliament glossary]
      • White papers are policy documents produced by the Government that set out their proposals for future legislation. White Papers are often published as Command Papers and may include a draft version of a Bill that is being planned. This provides a basis for further consultation and discussion with interested or affected groups and allows final changes to be made before a Bill is formally presented to Parliament. [Parliament glossary]

      The full text of White Papers and Green Papers are available on the web sites of the Government Departments publishing them.

      The Library also holds a number of consultation documents or papers. A keyword search on the Library Catalogue for consultation document and your chosen topic, e.g 'planning consultation documents' will find all relevant items. To ensure you find all relevant items, do an additional search for 'planning consultation paper'

      Select committees are small groups of MPs or members of the House of Lords that are set up to investigate a specific issue in detail or to perform a specific scrutiny role. They may call in officials and experts for questioning and can demand information from the government. Select committees publish their findings in a report and the government is expected to respond to any recommendations that are made [Parliament glossary] 

      • The Law Commission is a statutory independent body that keeps the law under review and recommends reform where it is needed. The Law Commission web site contains summaries and full text of all recent reports and consultation papers. 
      • The Library also holds a number of reports and papers. Use the Library Catalogue to find details of our holdings. Try searching for 'law commission' for all publications, or use keywords for reports on a particular subject.
      • Many official statistics are freely available online. Check the Library guide to Statistics which is organised by subject, to trace statistical information online as well as in the Library's collection.
      • The Library houses small separate collections of statistics at Headington and Wheatley. Use the  Library Catalogue to find our holdings. Try searching by keywords for example 'morbidity statistics'
      • UK Statistics Authority web site provides details of the range of publications produced by government and gives access to a range of statistics.
      Grey Literature is material with little or no general distribution, it is not available through normal book selling channels. The Library Catalogue provides details of all our holdings.

      Newspapers can provide relevant, up-to-date information on government issues, policies, reports and legislation. The Library's News and current affairs guide helps you trace information from newspapers.

      • LexisLibrary offers full text access to all the main UK daily newspapers. To search the database for news articles, click on News in the top menu bar on the initial screen.
      • Factiva is an international news database.

      Europa: the official web site of the European Union includes news, official documents, statistics. The following sections may be useful:

      • European Commission - The European Commission is the source of policy initiatives within the European Union. It also acts as the EU executive body and guardian of the Treaties.
      • EU law and publications - The Publications Office provides access to official documents from the EU including Green and White Papers via this web site.
      • Eurostat - offers a wide range of free EU statistics.

      • CURIA: Court of Justice of the European Communities Includes current case law and full-text judgements.
      • European Council - The Council defines the EU's overall political direction and priorities. It is not one of the EU's legislating institutions, so does not negotiate or adopt EU laws. Instead it sets the EU's policy agenda, traditionally by adopting 'conclusions' during European Council meetings which identify issues of concern and actions to take.
      • European Parliament - The Parliament acts as a co-legislator, sharing with the Council the power to adopt and amend legislative proposals and to decide on the EU budget. It also supervises the work of the Commission and other EU bodies and cooperates with national parliaments of EU countries to get their input. 

      • Library guide Resources for EU Law (PDF)
      • Useful websites for EU law
      • The Congressional Record is the official daily record of the debates and proceedings of the U.S. Congress (Senate and House of Representatives). Through this website you can also access The Daily Digest which summarizes floor and committee actions in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
      • HeinOnline database includes the full text of US Federal legislation. To find a specific act, go to the database home page and choose 'U.S. Federal Legislative History Library' under 'Browse Databases by Name'. When you click on the database title you'll get a menu of options. Choose the top one also called 'U.S. Federal Legislative History Library'. You'll get an option to browse for legislation by title. 
      This list includes a range of useful and authoritative websites for students of international law. It includes international conventions and treaties.