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FAQs


Acts: Enactment date and Royal Assent
Bills: Passage
‘Closed’ records
Death Warrant of Charles I
Enclosure awards and maps
Hansard (text of debates)
Deposited papers in the House of Commons or House of Lords Library
House of Lords Judgments and Appeal Cases
The Palace of Westminster
Petitions presented to Parliament
Protestation Returns
Railway records
Records of medieval Parliaments
Registers of Members’ Interests

I want to know when an Act came into force/was enacted/commenced

Before 1793, Acts were held to come into force on the first day of the session they were passed in. In effect this meant they came into force on a date before they were actually passed.

The Acts of Parliament Commencement Act 1793 changed this, with acts coming into force from midnight on the date of Royal Assent, unless another date was specified within the Act or set by a commencement order.

Royal Assent is the Monarch’s agreement that is required to make a Bill into an Act of Parliament. While the Monarch has the right to refuse Royal Assent, the last time this happened was on 11 March 1708 when Queen Anne refused the Scottish Militia Bill. Today, Royal Assent is regarded as a formality.

The first occasion on which the Sovereign was not present but gave assent by commission was Henry VIII on 11 February 1542; the last occasion the Sovereign gave assent in person was Queen Victoria on 12 August 1854.

At a Royal Assent the Clerk of the Crown reads out the short titles of the Bills and the Clerk of the Parliaments pronounces on behalf of the Sovereign (whether or not the Sovereign is present), the appropriate formula. The usual formula for public bills is “La Reyne le veult” (the Queen wishes it), or “Le Roy le Veult” (the King wishes it).

Usually, public bills which have not been passed by the end of a parliamentary session are lost.

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I want information on a specific bill

Your starting point to trace the progress of a bill through Parliament should be to consult the Journal of the House of Lords and Journal of the House of Commons. The Journals are the formal record of business in the chamber of each House and the official record of all the relevant dates and other information. This should be supplemented by searching the Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), if you are interested in the speeches and debates. As well as the debates in the House of Lords and House of Commons, there may have been debates in a House of Commons Standing Committee, where the detailed clause-by-clause discussion goes on.

We only occasionally hold notes on clauses for specific bills. The notes were created by the relevant government department responsible for the bill but weren’t usually printed or laid on the table of either House, so they aren’t part of our collection. However, they should be amongst the records of the relevant government department at The National Archives. From 1999, Explanatory Notes replaced Notes on Clauses. Explanatory Notes are printed and can be found on the Legislation.gov.uk website along with the Acts they relate to.

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I want a file marked on your catalogue as ‘Closed’

Although most of the records we hold are open to public consultation, you might notice that some are marked ‘Closed’ on our catalogue. This means access to that record is restricted. A ‘Closed’ status can be assigned for various reasons including preservation, security and data protection.

If you’d like to see a ‘Closed’ file from our collections, you will need to submit a Freedom of Information Request in writing. To do this, please email us providing the catalogue references of the documents you wish to see and explain what information you are hoping to find in the documents. It would be helpful if you could also explain the nature of your research topic, as we may be able to help and advise you more broadly. Your request will be processed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

University College London have produced a helpful guide for researchers making Freedom of Information Requests.

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I want to see the Death Warrant of Charles I

The Death Warrant is one of our most famous records. As such, you can access lots of information about the document online. A digital copy can be accessed via our online catalogue alongside a full transcript. Our YouTube channel includes stock footage of the Death Warrant. Or you can request your own digital copy for a standard charge.

If you come on a tour of Parliament, you will be able to see a copy of the Death Warrant.

Engraved copies of the Death Warrant are fairly common. We get several enquiries a year about versions in private hands. These copies were created by Society of Antiquaries in 18th century, published after the Palace of Westminster Fire in 1834, or taken from illustrated books in the 19th and 20th centuries. We cannot provide valuations of individual engraved versions; for that you should go to a local print dealer. However, for your information, a member of our team purchased, for personal use, a framed copy of the 18th century facsimile, trimmed, and framed, from a junk shop for £45 in 2007.

To help preserve the original Death Warrant we cannot provide physical access to it.

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I want an enclosure award and map

We don’t hold enclosure (or inclosure) awards and maps, but we do have enclosure Acts which can be ordered and viewed in our searchroom.

Awards and maps are likely to be held by the local authority record office responsible for the area in question or by The National Archives. You can search The National Archives online catalogue for ‘enclosure’ to find out more or use their helpful guide to researching enclosure awards.

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I want the text of a debate from Hansard

You can find out more about accessing text from Hansard – the official record of Parliamentary debates from 1909 on our Parliamentary Debates page.

The best source for Parliamentary debates before 1803 is ‘The Parliamentary History of England 1066-1803’, 36 volumes, edited by W Cobbett and T C Hansard. It brings together debates from many sources such as newspaper reports, although it is only a record of a small amount of debate over that period. They are not fully indexed but there is a detailed list of contents and an index of speakers at the start of each volume.

Between 1803-1909 Parliamentary Debates were published by T C Hansard and were selective and largely reliant on newspaper reporting, especially before 1878.  Therefore, it might also be useful to consult contemporary newspapers for this period.

Hansard did not become a full record of everything said in Parliament until it became the Official Report in 1909.

If you want to search for a debates there are lots of online resources to help. You can find out how to access these resources on our  Parliamentary Debates page.

If you prefer to see a hardcopy of Hansard, we can provide access to the volumes in our our searchroom. Before you visit you’ll need to provide the exact dates, or the column numbers for each volume you wish to consult. We are not able to do this research for you.

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I want a paper which Hansard says was placed in the House of Commons or House of Lords Library

Ministers sometimes state in the Commons or the Lords that they will be placing or depositing a paper in the Library. If it is not explicitly said by a Minister in the House that a specific paper will be placed in the Library (and therefore recorded in Hansard), the Libraries are under no obligation to keep the paper.

The Deposited Paper search can be used to find deposited papers from 1987 onwards, with digital versions being available from 2007.

If only hard copies exist, we can facilitate access to these papers in our search room. Please email us to request the paper you require and we can arrange for you to visit, or provide you with a copy order quote.

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I want a House of Lords Judgment or Appeal Case records

We hold bound copies of House of Lords Appeal Cases and Judgments from 1702 to 1996. You can use our online catalogue to find documents relevant to your research before requesting to view them in our searchroom. Alternatively, you can request your own digital copy for a standard charge.

If you are looking for a House of Lords Judgment from November 1996 to July 2009 you can find these online at House of Lords Judgments.

For advice on tracing other court records, please consult The National Archives helpful research guides.

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I want papers, plans or drawings about the Palace of Westminster

We hold many papers, drawings and plans of the Palace of Westminster (also known as the Houses of Parliament). You can find out more on our Palace of Westminster page. 

However, responsibility for the Palace buildings lay with various incarnations of the Office of Works and Ministry of Works between 1378-1992. Their records are held at The National Archives in two sets of records: Office of Works, Registered Files and Office of Works, Plans and Drawings.

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I want a petition presented to Parliament

Unfortunately, very few original petitions survive but you may be lucky, or at least be able to track its presentation.

House of Commons
All petitions lodged before 1834 were destroyed by fire. Then, until 1946 petitions were routinely destroyed by the administration. From 1947 some records do survive, usually recording the number of signatures and the date.

Although few original petitions survive, the presentation of the petitions can be traced through the Journal of the House of Commons.

Another great source are the Reports of the Committees on Public Petitions (1833-1974). These record the presentation of petitions and also provide information such as subject matter, place of origin, and numbers of signatures. In addition, the full text of a number of petitions was printed each year in the Appendices to these reports. There is also an index to these reports and appendices covering 1833-1852. The Reports and Appendices are among the printed Votes and Proceedings of the House of Commons which can be viewed in our searchroom.

The Reports of the Committees on Public Petitions for 1833 to 1918 are also available online through the subscription site UK Parliamentary Papers where they are called ‘Select Committee on Public Petitions Reports’.

House of Lords
All petitions prior to 1950 were routinely destroyed by the administration. Some original petitions do survive among the Lords Main Papers and in the Parliament Office papers. There is also a small collection of miscellaneous Parliamentary petitions which have been separated from the main run of papers. All these records can be viewed in  our searchroom.

The presentation of petitions can be traced through the House of Lords Journals.

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I want a Protestation Return

Images of all the protestation returns we hold are attached to our online catalogue and prototype interactive map.

Do remember that when searching for parish names, the spellings may not be what they are today! If you wish to view the original return, you can make an appointment to visit our searchroom.

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I want records of a particular railway

From 1794 promoters of Private Bills were required to deposit copies of plans of projected works with the House. This included plans of canals and from 1803, railways. As such, we may have plans relating to the railway you are researching, including books of reference with details of property owners. In addition, evidence may have been given to the committee considering the Bill proposing the railway, in which case you might be able to discover more about why it was being built. To find out if we have a railway plan that is relevant to your research, use our online catalogue to search for places or railway names. The search box can be found at the top of this page.

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I want records of medieval Parliaments (pre-1497)

Records of Parliament before 1497 are called the rolls of proceedings. They were written and stored by Clerks working in the Chancery and because of this they are held at The National Archives.

Some records of medieval Parliaments are accessible online. To find out more see our our Proceedings and Journals page.

Alternatively, you could search the The National Archives online catalogue and request to view the documents in their searchroom. See their Parliament subject guide for information on their holdings, which include the Writs and returns of MPs (1275-1497) and Parliament Rolls (1327-1497).

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I want the Register of Members’ Interests

The Register of Members’ Interests are compulsory forms where members register interests which someone might reasonably consider to influence their actions or words as an MP.

You can find out more on our Registers of Interests page.

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