Laying and publishing a paper

Government organisations are responsible for ensuring that parliamentary papers are laid before Parliament and then published correctly on GOV.UK. On GOV.UK, Command, House of Commons and un-numbered Act Papers are referred to as ‘official documents’.

Checking that a paper has been laid

Parliamentary papers must be laid in the Journal Office before they are published or otherwise distributed. Laying is usually undertaken by your department’s parliamentary unit, or that of your parent department. Some annual reports and accounts 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

Once laid, parliamentary papers must be published on GOV.UK. Publication may be co-ordinated 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, including those with an exemption from publishing other content on GOV.UK.

Correct publication on GOV.UK ensures that the whole body of parliamentary papers can searched for through the official documents filter and accessed on a single website.

Exempt bodies need to liaise with the digital teams in parent departments to arrange publication and should identify the appropriate contacts well in advance of the paper being laid in Parliament.

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.

If there is any doubt as to whether an organisation should be publishing a paper on GOV.UK then please contact The National Archives.

When publishing on GOV.UK, organisations must ensure that:

  • both the web-optimised PDF/A and print-ready PDF are published for each paper
  • information about the paper is correctly added to the fields in the GOV.UK publishing system in line with Government Digital Service (GDS) requirements
  • web-optimised PDFs should meet GDS guidelines on creating accessible PDFs. More information can be found in the Government Service Design Manual
  • web-optimised PDFs should also adhere to GDS requirements for viewing government documents
  • the PDF versions published on GOV.UK must be the same as the version laid before Parliament.

For a fee, the contractor and other suppliers can provide services to create an accessible PDF.

Organisations must obtain print-ready PDFs from their printer, unless the PDF was created in-house. This should be the file used by the printer to produce the copies that your organisation, or parent department will before Parliament.

The publication of the print-ready PDFs will allow anyone wishing to produce and sell professionally printed copies to do so.

Parliamentary papers PDFs published on GOV.UK need to include specific information about the paper. Including the correct information, as advised in the official documents section of the GOV.UK Publisher Manual, will ensure that your document can be found by the GOV.UK search functionality for official documents, and harvested by the legal deposit libraries for statutory legal deposit.

The information to be added to the relevant fields in the GOV.UK publishing system for each PDF uploaded includes:

If your document is an un-numbered Act Paper then the ‘un-numbered’ box should be ticked and the ‘HC number’ field left blank.

With the exception of the Parliamentary Session years, all of the above information is on the title and title-verso page of a document.

When uploading House of Commons or un-numbered Act Papers, it is important that the correct Parliamentary Session year is selected. The period covered by an annual report and accounts will not always be the same as the Parliamentary Session. Failure to select the correct Session will create difficulties for users trying to locate your document. If you are in any doubt about the correct Session then please consult your parliamentary unit or the Parliamentary recess dates.

The publication information added to GOV.UK is unique to each publication and is used by researchers, students and librarians to identify specific publications. It is therefore important that the correct information included with every document published on GOV.UK.

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.

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

Risks associated with not publishing documents correctly on GOV.UK

Failure by organisations to publish promptly and accurately will result in people being unable to access the document. Details of documents laid before Parliament are publicly available, therefore users of these documents now, and in the future, expect to be able to find these documents once they have been laid.

Failure to publish promptly, or with the correct publication information may result documents being discussed in the media, but the wider public being unable to access the paper. This may result in organisations receiving complaints.

The British Library collects the web PDFs of parliamentary papers from GOV.UK for statutory legal deposit. Therefore it is important that the documents are published according to GDS requirements, and that the files meet the PDF/A standards required by the GDS.

Failure to meet these obligations might lead to a paper being unavailable to users.

GOV.UK exceptions

There are a number of organisations that do not need to publish their House of Commons or un-numbered Act Papers on GOV.UK.

These organisations are the:

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

These organisations should instead 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  contract’s services please ensure that the correct copyright and re-use statement is included within the document.

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.

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

Publication and the evolution of policy

As policies and priorities change, previously published parliamentary 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 ensures the document remains available but will make it clear that the content no longer reflects current policy.