Command paper requirements

Should a document be a Command Paper?

The National Archives strongly advises that government organisations consider the Command Paper criteria at an early stage. Find information on the types of documents published as Command Papers. In assessing whether a document should be published as a Command Paper, use the criteria below, which also apply to cross-government reports, policy proposals and independent reviews: If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then a document is a Command Paper:

  • Will it prompt an Oral Statement in the House of Commons?
  • Does it cover topics that might form the basis of a debate in Parliament?
  • Is it a consultation paper on proposed policies that might lead to future primary legislation (for example, a draft Bill) or a significant piece of secondary legislation?
  • Will it include recommendations (for example, from a review or other inquiry) that might lead to the Government bringing forward policy proposals or future legislation?
  • Will it be of constitutional importance?
  • Will it be of historical interest to researchers and likely to be included in library catalogues?

Government departments’ parliamentary units can usually advise as to whether a document should be published as a Command Paper. However, if there is any doubt, please contact The National Archives for advice. Command Papers do not attract parliamentary privilege. Therefore, if the content is of a sensitive nature, or includes criticism of individuals, you should consider publishing the document as an HC Paper. In such cases government organisations should first consult their legal advisers and then seek the views of the Journal Office as soon as possible.

Command Paper requirements

Obtaining a Command Paper number

Government departments obtain Command Papers numbers from The National Archives. To request a number you will need to provide details of the document’s title and proposed laying date. The laying date will generally be the same as the document’s publication date. Please note that publication of documents before they have been laid before Parliament is considered discourteous. Numbers are issued up to a month in advance of publication. They can be issued on the basis of working titles. However, you must inform The National Archives when the title has been finalised. If, for whatever reason, the publication of a Command Paper is postponed or cancelled, you must inform The National Archives so that it can reallocate the number. Please email official.publishing@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk to request a number. Numbers required urgently can be obtained by calling 020 8392 5218.

Selecting a title for a Command Paper

The best titles to use are those that state clearly the content or purpose of the paper. The National Archives strongly advises that the terms ‘green paper’ or ‘white paper’ are not used within the title. This is because these terms do not have any formal definition in the context of official publications and their use may lead to confusion.

Formatting and laying of Command Papers

While decisions about the design of Command Papers are left to the originating government organisation, you must follow some standard format and styling requirements so that the papers can be laid before Parliament.

Command Papers

Command Papers are A4 (297x210mm) portrait, although they may include landscape maps or diagrams may be included. They have a title page (page 1) including:

  • the Royal Arms at the top
  • the correct presentation line for Command Papers
  • Command Paper number
  • text that is ideally 12pt, but at least 10pt

They have a title verso page (page 2) including:

  • a current copyright and re-use statement
  • the web and print ISBNs
  • text indicating availability on www.gov.uk
  • recycled paper content;
  • printer line

In addition they

  • have a contents page (page 3) which will help users navigate the paper
  • have a back cover including the print barcode
  • are laid as print copies

The Journal Office may refuse to accept documents for laying which do not meet these requirements. The Journal Office has produced detailed guidance on the procedures for laying parliamentary papers.

The Command Paper presentation line

The presentation line is included on the paper’s the title page and follows this formula: ‘Presented to Parliament by [minister/s titles] by Command of Her Majesty’

When there is more than one laying minister

If a paper is being produced by a number of departments, the laying ministers should be listed by Cabinet precedence. The Journal Office can provide details on Ministers with authority to lay before Parliament and the order of Cabinet precedence.

Using the Royal Arms

The Royal Arms must appear at the top of the title page without the department’s name. No text or other imagery may appear above the Royal Arms and nothing may be superimposed over them. Read about the government identity system.

Laying format

Papers must be laid as printed copies, accompanied by an appropriate cover letter. The Journal Office will not accept electronic copies for laying purposes.

Laying outside Westminster

Most Command Papers are laid before the UK Parliament. However, in certain circumstances a paper may need to be laid before the legislatures of Scotland, Northern Ireland and/or Wales. If additional presentation is required, the paper should carry an appropriate presentation line and may also need to carry an additional series number. For further information, in the first instance please contact the parliamentary unit of your organisation, or that of its parent department.