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 in most cases will be fixed. However, the production process might  be complex with short or frequently changing timescales. Occasionally working outside normal business hours may need to be considered.

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

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.

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.

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’?
  • Have you requested a Command Paper, or House of Commons number?
  • If you are using an external/independent author, ensure that a commissioning agreement is in place which assigns the resultant copyright to the Crown.


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

Will the report be printed in colour or black and white?

  • Printing in black and white is quicker and cheaper
  • Only use colour if colour images or graphics are necessary for understanding the content of the paper
  • Avoid using text, images and tints that ‘bleed’ off the page, this enables the document to be printed on less paper
  • Avoid solid opaque ink coverage over large areas (large areas of colour can also take longer to dry and delay delivery)

Identify any professional services required to typeset the document and/or to create print and web PDFs. Is this done in house?

  • 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 ensures that colours, bleeds and so on are correctly specified for printing
  • Black and white documents can be produced in Word, removing the need for a typesetter
  • If an external typesetter is required ensure the text is as final as possible before it is sent to the typesetter to avoid high correction charges

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. You may also wish to check if alternative formats are required.

Page extent, covers and binding

All papers require a cover.

Print copies of papers under 32 pages may have covers printed on the same stock paper as the text pages (self-cover). However, printed copies of papers 32 pages and over must have covers printed on a separate card cover.

Print copies of papers under 72 pages should be saddle-stitched, unless you have requested perfect binding. However, papers 72 pages and over must be perfect bound. This binding method increases production time. Authoring organisations may exceptionally specify that papers over 96 pages be section-sewn. Section sewing will also increase production time but will ensure that pages do not fall out of very large volumes.

Print copies should not have laminated covers. This is because laminated covers are not recyclable.

Allow sufficient time

  • Ensure that the suppliers are aware that the paper will be laid in Parliament. This information allows them to better manage their resources to assist you
  • Make sure there is enough time to proof read the document for typographical and/or other errors before approving the final file to print
  • Allow time for ministerial submission and clearance. Cross-departmental approvals take longer and need to be factored into the schedule
  • Keep your suppliers and colleagues 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
  • 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

Submission to a select committee

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

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.

Check how many print copies are required

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. If you do decide to send out print copies, have you considered the following:

  • 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?

The supplier is responsible for supplying copies to Parliament for Members and Peers at no additional cost to you, so you don’t need to count and pay for these copies unless you have chosen the ‘distribution-management’ option.

Despatch and publication

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

Make sure that both the print-ready PDF and web-optimised PDF have been passed to your digital team, or that of your parent department ahead of laying.  This will help minimise the time between laying and subsequent publication on GOV.UK. Depending on size, or length, some documents’ files will include more than one web-optimised PDF and one print-ready PDF.

Check to see if there are any restrictions on the size of files that can be sent and received by email in your organisation. If these limits apply you will need to make other arrangements 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.

The paper cannot be published online or otherwise distributed digitally or in hard copy until it has been laid before Parliament. To avoid complaints, organisations should publish as soon as possible on the day a paper is laid.

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 correct publication information in the required GOV.UK fields. Guidance on completing these fields set out in the official documents section of the GOV.UK publisher manual. This information is also important so that organisations can fulfil their statutory legal deposit obligations.  The legal deposit libraries harvest the web-optimised PDFs of parliamentary papers using the information entered into GOV.UK. If the publication information entered into GOV.UK is incorrect or missing then your paper may not be found for statutory legal deposit.

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.

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