Planning a paper

Once there is agreement to publish a parliamentary paper, production is arranged to meet the paper’s laying and publication date, which are generally fixed. The production process might  be complex as timescales can be very short and change frequently. Occasionally working outside normal business hours may need to be considered.

Once a paper is in production keep everyone involved informed of progress or any potential issues, particularly those that may impact timelines. Ensure that key contacts, including suppliers, have your up-to-date contact details and that you have theirs.

Gather cost estimates or quotes

You should also obtain the necessary sign-off from the budget-holder for the likely total cost of the project.

On request, the paper also needs to be available in Braille, large print, audio or British Sign Language, so include these in the plan and budget.

Establish the project’s time frame

Agree a schedule that allows enough time to circulate and check proofs. Overrunning projects mean greater expense. Be aware that timelines may change, but the laying and publication date may be fixed.

Ensure any commissioning agreement assigns the resultant copyright in the document to the Crown

You must do this if an external author is being used to write a report, for example an independent review.

Plan and agree the report’s content

  • Does the government organisation have a drafting template or branding guidelines for major reports?
  • Are there graphs, photographs, logos or other items?
  • Do you have permission to use any third party copyright material?
  • If there are photographs of identifiable individuals, have they signed a ‘model release’?


Typesetting and printing the document and/or creating print and web PDFs

  • Will the report be printed in colour? Or in black and white (monochrome – which is cheaper than colour)?
  • Identify any professional services required to typeset the document and/or to create print and web PDFs. Is this done in house?
  • Most organisations publish their parliamentary papers in PDF format. Government organisations should ensure that their PDFs adhere to HM Government requirements for publication on GOV.UK
  • Does a summary, or all of the report, need to be translated into Welsh?
  • Is an Easy Read edition required?

Page extent and binding

Remember that papers over 32 pages long need a separate cover. Covers of papers published through the contract must not be laminated. This is because laminated covers are not recyclable.

Papers up to 72 pages long should be saddle-stitched, unless perfect binding is requested by the authoring organisation. Papers over 72 pages must be perfect bound. This method of binding will increase production time. Authoring organisations may exceptionally specify that Papers over 96 pages be section sewn.

Allow sufficient time

  • Ensure that there is enough time to proof read the document for typographical and/or other errors before approving the final file to print
  • Ensure that the suppliers are aware that the paper will be laid in Parliament. This will allow them to better manage their resources to assist
  • Allow time for ministerial submission and clearance. Cross-departmental approvals take longer and need to be factored into the schedule
  • Suppliers and colleagues need to be kept up to date with changes in the schedule. Some schedules may require out-of-hours working, which will change/increase costs and may require another spending approval
  • Please note that due to the practicalities of the print production process there will be a time beyond which a print schedule cannot be reduced further. In addition, while there may be sufficient time to print a paper, during busy times a supplier may not have enough capacity to print and deliver print copies to a fixed deadline, particularly when a paper’s sign off has been delayed

Written Ministerial Statement or Oral Statement

Confirm with the relevant parliamentary unit whether a Written Ministerial Statement or Oral Statement will be used to announce the document to the House.

Submission to a select committee

Check whether the paper must be submitted to a select committee prior to publication.

Check how many print copies are required

The contractor will supply copies to Vote Offices for MPs at no cost to you, so you don’t need to count and pay for MPs’ copies unless you have chosen the ‘distribution-only’ option.

How many copies are required by your organisation for laying, its select committee, the organisation’s own use and for distributing to stakeholders? Remind colleagues that it is cheaper to email a URL instead of sending everyone a printed copy.

  • Is a cover letter required for stakeholder copies?
  • Is the stakeholder list complete?
  • How will the organisation’s printed copies be mailed out?
  • Have the distribution costs been budgeted for?

Publication and despatch

Allow enough time to approve the final file to print, and for printing, binding, packing and despatch of printed copies:

Ensure that both the print-ready PDF and web-optimised PDF have been passed to your digital team, or that of your organisation’s parent department if you do not have access to GOV.UK, ahead of the document being laid. This will help to minimise the time between laying and subsequent publication on GOV.UK. Some documents’ files will include more than one web-optimised PDF and one print-ready PDF.

Remember that some PDFs could be large files. There may be restrictions on the size of files that can be sent and received by email in your organisation. If these limits apply other arrangements will need to be made to ensure that the files are received in time for prompt publication. Alternatives to email could include the use of memory sticks/courier or your supplier’s FTP site. In addition, some organisations’ shared email accounts may allow larger files to be received than personal email accounts. Ensure that the arrangements provide the appropriate level of security and if this is unclear consult with your organisation’s security officer.

Remember, the paper cannot be published online or otherwise distributed digitally or in hard copy until it has been laid before Parliament. Generally, publication should take place as soon as possible after laying to avoid any potential complaints.

The PDF versions published online must be exactly the same as the version laid before Parliament. When published on GOV.UK, the document must be accompanied by the appropriate publication metadata to ensure that users can locate the document in the ‘official documents’ filter.

Controlling  costs and schedules

There are a number of steps that government organisations can take to keep down the production costs of parliamentary papers. You should also consider these steps if a paper is being produced to a very tight schedule:

  • keep it monochrome (black and white) throughout, which is cheaper and quicker than colour. Avoid grey tints and photos – in other words, keep any images such as graphs to black and white lines or dots, which enables the document to be printed on uncoated (cheaper) paper
  • avoid using text, images and tints that ‘bleed’ off the page, this will enable the document to be printed on less paper
  • opt for colour only if colour images or graphics are necessary for understanding the content of the paper
  • as far as the publication date allows, ensure the text is as final as possible before it is sent to an external typesetter (if it is being typeset), to avoid high correction charges
  • black and white documents can be produced in Word, removing the need for a typesetter
  • if you have the appropriate Adobe software and the skill, you can also produce web-optimised and print-ready PDFs from the Word file, avoid trying to produce print-ready PDFs direct from colour Word documents and instead have colour documents typeset. This will ensure that colours, bleeds and so on are correctly specified for printing
  • avoid solid opaque ink coverage over large areas. The print technology used for short print runs can result in the finish of printed documents being poor. Large areas of colour can also take longer to dry and delay delivery
  • aim for extents fewer than 72 pages. Papers longer than 72 pages have additional binding requirements that will increase cost and production time
  • keep the number of print copies required as low as possible. Additional copies increase the overall cost and take longer to produce. Instead of mailing out printed copies to stakeholders, email them the paper’s URL after the document has been laid and published

Production and publishing flowchart and planning checklist

The National Archives and Department for Transport have produced a production and publishing flowchart. The flowchart provides a detailed breakdown of the steps involved in the production and publication of parliamentary papers, particularly Command Papers.

Not all documents or organisations will include all of the steps outlined here; for example not all papers will include third-party copyright photographs. In addition, some organisations’ documents are produced in an in-house Word template which may mean that there is no need to purchase typesetting services.

The flowchart will assist those who have no or limited publishing experience and can help ensure that no important steps are missed.