This is a brief guide to researching British government records on Parliament. Parliamentary records are wide-ranging and can sometimes be complicated. Most are available online or from the Parliamentary Archives. These tend to be the best places to start your search.
This guide will help you gain a general overview of the main sources of information, and where to find them.
What do I need to know before I start?
In general, The National Archives often holds the documentation which contributed to the creation of particular papers rather than the final versions of command papers and reports themselves.
There are two types of Parliamentary acts, public and private. A public act enshrines a piece of legislation as national law, whilst a private act is applicable only in a more particular, sometimes local, set of circumstances.
Private acts of Parliament were not necessarily printed and published. These are only available, therefore, from the Parliamentary Archives.
Original acts of Parliament from 1497 are held at the Parliamentary Archives in Westminster. Earlier records are at The National Archives.
Almost all the original records of the House of Commons were lost in the fire that destroyed the building in 1834.
Parliamentary Papers (1715–2005)
Search the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers website (institutional subscription required) for a sessional paper in the House of Commons 1715–2005, or additional material for both houses back to 1660. Search them by keyword, date and paper number.
Public Acts of Parliament (1801–present)
Search by date for Public General Acts of Parliament as they were originally enacted. There are full text versions of all Public General Acts from 1988 and Local Acts from 1991, and digitised versions of some Acts from 1801.
Parliament Rolls (1275–1504)
Search the medieval Parliament Rolls (£) which contain the official records of the English parliament from 1275 to 1504. Some digital images of the records are included on the site.
Acts of Parliament and other legislation (1235–present)
Search the Justis Publishing website (institutional subscription required; free access on site at The National Archives, Kew) for General Acts of Parliament from 1235, Local Acts of Parliament from 1797 and statutory instruments from 1949.
UK legislation (1267–present)
Search for legislation still in force on legislation.gov.uk, the UK’s official legislation website. Read the help section for more information about what it contains.
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
Parliament rolls (1327–2005)
Browse Discovery, our catalogue, for enrolled copies of public acts, and a number of private acts, between 1327 and 2005 in C 65. Some of the original documents are in Latin, Anglo-Norman or Medieval French, but texts and translations have been published on the Parliament Rolls website.
Local statutory rules and instruments (1922–2006)
Search TS 37 by statutory instrument number and year. If you do not know the number use the registers in TS 76 (1892–1998). For further information on statutory instruments see our Privy Council guide and the help section of legislation.gov.uk.
Please note, it is best to start your search at the appropriate local record office as the sealed copy of confirmed local authority byelaws was usually returned to the responsible local authority.
A second copy was usually retained in the confirming government department. Most of these second copies are in HLG 25 (1872-1977) . Alternatively search by keyword ‘byelaw’ or ‘bye law’ within department codes such as ED, MT and HO.
Records in other archives and organisations