How to find parliamentary bills

This guide explains how to find parliamentary bills in our library.

Parliamentary bills are presented to parliament for debate. They either contain a proposal for a new law, or a proposal to change a law that already exists.

Parliamentary bills are published in two series:

  • House of Commons (Commons bills)
  • House of Lords (Lords bills)

Passage of bills through parliament

A bill can start in either house and usually passes through the same stages. If ‘HL’ appears after the title of a bill as it passes through parliament (for example ‘Act of Union Bill [HL]’) it means that the bill started its passage in the House of Lords.

A bill usually, but not always, fails if it does not pass all stages before the end of the parliamentary session.

  • First reading – this is the introduction of the bill to the house.
  • Second reading – this takes place after the bill is published for the first time. The general principles are debated, but no amendments made.
  • Committee Stage – the bill is debated clause by clause and amendments made. This usually takes place in a Public Bill Committee made up of a cross-section of MPs with knowledge of the topic, or by the whole house.
  • Report Stage – the bill is reprinted to incorporate all amendments made at Committee Stage. MPs not involved so far now have an opportunity to make amendments.
  • Third reading – the bill is debated again in general terms, but no further amendments can be made.
  • The bill is passed to the other house and the above stages repeated.
  • Royal Assent – when the bill has completed all stages and both houses have agreed on the text, the bill is submitted to the Crown. This is a formal procedure where permission is given for the bill to become an act and it becomes law.

Identifying bills

Bills are identified by a number, which you can find on the front page. Each time a bill is reprinted it is given a new number.

For Commons bills the number format is ‘Bill 34’.

For Lords bills the number format is ‘HL Bill 34’.

When government bills are first printed, they’re usually accompanied by a separately printed explanatory memorandum. This explains what the bill is for. There are some exceptions to this, such as appropriation and consolidation bills.

Finding bills in our library

We hold bills in hardcopy (microfiche) and on the subscription database, Public Information Online.

In our microfiche collection, we hold:

  • Commons bills from 1801 to 2016
  • Lords bills from 1984/85 to 2016

Lords bills for the 1984/85 and 1985/86 parliamentary sessions are included in the House of Lords Papers sequence. From 1986/87 Lords bills are a separate sequence.

To find bills on microfiche you'll need to find the bill number. For bills before 1979/80 you'll need the volume and page numbers of the microfiche.

Our microfiche collection is held in filing cabinets at the following locations:

Bill year Library cabinet Location in library
1801 to 1881 (to vol. LI) B Next to Bay 42
1881 (from vol. LII) to 1914 D Next to Bay 41
1914 to 1985/86 C Between Bays 54 and 55
1985/86 to 2004/05 G Between Bays 58 and 59
2004/05 to 2015/16 I Between Bays 60 and 61

We also have access to the Public Information Online subscription database, which contains:

  • Lords bills from 1901 to current session
  • Commons bills from 1919 to current session

Ask library staff if you need access to this database.

Finding the number of a bill

There are several ways to find the number of a bill in our library. Ask library staff if you need help finding bill numbers.

Index to House of Commons parliamentary papers

We have the index to House of Commons parliamentary papers for bills from 1801 onwards. It can identify:

  • bill numbers
  • the volume and page numbers of the microfiche (if needed)

The microfiche parliamentary papers also have an index at the end of each session.

Printed indexes to bills, estimates and reports

We keep printed indexes to bills, estimates and reports from 1910 to 1969 behind the library enquiry desk. These indexes give the microfiche volume and page numbers.

HM Stationery Office/The Stationery Office catalogues

These contain lists of House of Commons and House of Lords bills from 1910 onwards with their bill numbers.

They are kept in our library in Bay F1.

The House of Commons Sessional Information Digest

These digests contain lists of bills from the 1983/84 to 2010/12 parliamentary sessions. It includes the bill numbers and details of the stages the bills reached in both Houses.

This is kept in our library in Bay E7.

Online resources

You can find most bills from the 2001/2002 parliamentary session onwards on the UK Parliament website.

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