Command paper requirements

Should a document be a Command Paper?

Command papers can cover a wide range of subjects. You should consider whether a document will be a Command (Cm) Paper at an early stage.

The criteria below will help you to assess whether your document should be published as a Cm Paper. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then your document should be a Cm Paper:

  • Will it prompt an Oral Statement in the House of Commons?
  • Will it be of constitutional importance?
  • 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 historical interest to researchers?

Your department’s parliamentary unit can usually advise as to whether a document should be published as a Cm Paper. However, if there is any doubt, you should contact The National Archives for advice. Cm 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 these cases you should consult your department’s legal advisers and seek advice from the Journal Office as soon as possible.

Obtaining a Command Paper number

Cm Papers numbers can be obtained from The National Archives up to a month in advance of publication. When requesting a number, please provide details of the document’s title and proposed laying date. Working titles can be used to request numbers. The laying date will generally be the same as the document’s publication date.

If the publication of a Cm Paper is postponed or cancelled, you must inform The National Archives so that the number can be reallocated. Please email us 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. These terms have no formal definition in the context of official publications and using them may lead to confusion.

Formatting and laying of Command Papers

While decisions about the design of Cm 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.

Cm Papers are A4 (297 x 210mm) portrait, although landscape maps or diagrams may be included. All Cm Papers must be laid as print copies as the Journal Office will not accept electronic versions. They all have a title page (page 1) which includes:

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

They all have a title verso page (page 2) which includes:

  • a current copyright and re-use statement
  • the ISBN
  • text indicating availability on www.gov.uk
  • recycled paper content;
  • printed/produced in the UK line

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’

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 outside Westminster

Most Cm 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. In these cases you should contact your organisation’s parliamentary unit to identify any extra laying requirements, including any additional presentation lines.

Publication

Once a Cm Paper has been laid before Parliament, it must then be published correctly on GOV.UK. In most cases laying and publication will take place on the same day. Any delay in publication could result in complaints. Papers should not be published digitally, or otherwise made available prior to laying.