Laying and publishing a paper

Government organisations are responsible for ensuring that parliamentary papers are published correctly on GOV.UK. This section explains the steps that organisations need to take to ensure that end users can access their publications.

Checking that a paper has been laid

Parliamentary papers must be laid in the Journal Office before they are published or otherwise distributed. The act of laying is undertaken by your department’s parliamentary clerk, or that of your parent department. Some annual reports and accounts however are laid by HM Treasury. Publishing before laying is considered discourteous to the House of Commons. Securely wrapped hard copies may be distributed under embargo before a document is laid, however the copies must not be unwrapped until after laying has taken place.

You can check whether your organisation’s document has been laid by speaking to your department’s parliamentary clerk. Organisations can also confirm the laying of documents by referring to the Votes and Proceedings for the day on which the document was due to be laid in the House of Commons. The Votes and Proceedings can be found on Parliament’s website.

Publishing the paper

Organisations must publish their Command, House of Commons or un-numbered Act Paper on GOV.UK on the same day that it is laid before Parliament. Organisations may co-ordinate publication so that it coincides with a major announcement or policy launch.

It is the authoring organisation’s responsibility to ensure that the paper is published on GOV.UK. This requirement applies to papers published by organisations listed on GOV.UK. It also applies to organisations which have an exemption from publishing other content on GOV.UK.  Exempt bodies will need to liaise with the digital teams in parent departments to arrange publication. It is strongly recommended that exempt bodies identify the appropriate contacts in advance of the paper being laid in Parliament.

The PDF versions published on GOV.UK must be the same as the version laid in Parliament.

In the context of GOV.UK, Command, House of Commons and un-numbered Act Papers are referred to as ‘official documents’.

The documents’ web-optimised PDF/A and print-ready PDF need to be published on GOV.UK. Web-optimised PDFs should also meet Government Digital Service guidelines on creating accessible PDFs. More information can be found in the Government Service Design Manual.  For a fee, the PVP contractor and other suppliers can provide services to create an accessible PDF.

Most organisations publish their parliamentary papers in PDF format. To comply with the Government Digital Service policy on open document formats, organisations should be working to ensure that PDFs published on government websites adhere to the requirements for viewing government documents.

Organisations must obtain print-ready PDFs from their printer. The print PDF is the file used by the printer to produce the copies that your organisation, or parent department will lay in Parliament.

The publication of the print-ready PDFs will allow any supplier wishing to sell professionally printed copies to the public to do so. There is no official contracted print publisher providing this service to the public, although organisations are able to obtain print copies from their printer to give stakeholders or to use at press launches.

Organisations should time the receipt of documents’ final web-optimised PDFs and print-ready PDFs so that GOV.UK publication can take place on the same day as the document is laid before Parliament. It is strongly suggested that both web PDFs and print PDFs are received before laying to expedite publication.

Parliamentary papers PDFs published on GOV.UK need to include specific metadata. Including the correct metadata, as advised by Government Digital Service, will ensure that your document can be found by the GOV.UK search functionality for official documents.

The web-optimised PDF metadata includes the document’s:

Print PDFs of official documents uploaded to GOV.UK should include the:

  • document’s title in the relevant metadata field with ‘(print-ready PDF)’ inserted after the title
  • print ISBN
  • HC number/Parliamentary Session or Command Paper number

It is suggested that the print PDF appears underneath the web-optimised version.

When supplying the PDFs to digital teams you should include the print and web ISBNs, Cm number or HC number and Parliamentary Session years in the covering email. Organisations may also wish to supply extra explanatory text to include on the document’s page on GOV.UK.

Further information on the metadata to be added can be found in the GOV.UK Publisher Manual.

Publication metadata, such as the ISBN, HC number or Command Paper number are unique to particular publications. This information is used by researchers, students and librarians to identify specific publications, therefore it is important that it is included with every document published on GOV.UK.

When uploading House of Commons Papers organisations must ensure that the correct Parliamentary Session is selected. For annual report and accounts, the Session that a document is laid in will not always be the same as the financial year that the report covers, For example, HM Treasury’s 2013-2014  annual report and accounts was laid in the 2014-2015 Parliamentary Session. Including the wrong Parliamentary Session can create difficulties for users trying to locate your document. If there is any doubt consult your organisation’s parliamentary unit or check the Parliamentary recess dates.

These documents may also be published in on GOV.UK in additional formats and on organisations own websites, where they exist.

If a paper has been distributed through the PVP contract, bibliographic information about the document will be available to users.

Risks associated with not publishing documents correctly on GOV.UK

Failure by organisations to publish promptly will result in the public, media, third-sector or businesses being unable to access the information. Details of documents laid before Parliament are publicly available, therefore users of these documents expect to be able to find these documents once they have been laid.

Failure to publish promptly may result in the content of documents being discussed in the media, but the wider public being unable to access the information.

The British Library will collect the web PDFs of Command and House of Commons Papers from GOV.UK for the purposes of legal deposit. Therefore it is important that the documents are published correctly, and that the files meet the PDF/A standards to enable legal deposit to take place.

Failure to publish the PDFs promptly on GOV.UK may result in government organisations receiving complaints.

GOV.UK exceptions

Print-ready PDFs do not need to be uploaded to GOV.UK for un-numbered Act or un-numbered Command Papers. However, if these PDFs are available please consider whether their inclusion would be helpful for end users.

A few organisations which produce House of Commons and un-numbered Act Papers should not publish documents on GOV.UK. This is because in the context of GOV.UK, they are not considered to be government organisations.

These organisations are the:

  • National Audit Office
  • Electoral Commission
  • Local Government Boundary Commission England
  • Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
  • House of Commons and House of Lords
  • medical professional bodies overseen by the Privy Council Office

Instead, these organisations should ensure that their papers are published on their own corporate websites, ensuring that papers’ copyright statements refer availability on their own website instead of referencing GOV.UK.

Additional publishing information for un-numbered Act and un-numbered Command Papers

If an organisation is producing an un-numbered paper without using the PVP contract’s services please ensure that the correct copyright and re-use statement is included within the document.

Please see the Journal Office guidance for other information relating to un-numbered Act Papers.

Publication and the evolution of policy

Command and House of Commons papers must be published on GOV.UK. Information included when the documents are uploaded will ensure that users will be able to search for documents across the entire body of papers.

As policies and priorities change, previously published Command or House of Commons papers may be superseded. Organisations should never remove superseded documents from GOV.UK. This will result in the paper no longer being searchable. If a document is superseded, organisations should archive the GOV.UK page which the document was originally published on.

Alternatively, if the superseded document appears on a page with other material which is current, create a separate standalone page for the document and archive that. This will ensure the document remains available but will make it clear that the content no longer reflects current policy.