How to research debates on sections of an act

This guide will help you to find debates on sections of an act of parliament for Pepper v Hart type research.

Pepper v Hart [1992] UKHL 3 established that, in certain circumstances when they need to interpret unclear primary legislation, courts can refer to statements made in parliament by ministers or other promoters of a bill.

Pepper v Hart research can be complex but our library staff can help you find the relevant sources so you can carry out your own research.

If you need more help, ask our library staff for the booklet Parliamentary Debates on Legislation: How to do Pepper v Hart Research (2004).

This guide only describes the process for straightforward research. There are exceptions to these general principles, which is why Pepper v Hart research can be complex.

There are some resources in our library which can save research time.

Current Law Statutes Annotated (1952 onwards)

These can include:

  • details of pre-bill material (for example papers and reports already published)
  • Hansard references to parliamentary debates on a particular clause of a bill

Read the commentary under the relevant section of the act and check the general note at the beginning of the act.

The Current Law Statutes Annotated are in Bay D.

Textbooks

Relevant textbooks on acts can include useful material. Our catalogue shows you the books and looseleafs held in our library.

Public Information Online

This subscription database lists all the documents that relate to a particular act.

Public Information Online is available in our library. Ask library staff for access.

If the act is a consolidation act, you’ll need to find the original section from the original act and research that instead. A consolidation act is made up of several existing acts of parliament on the same subject. They’re used to help tidy up areas of statute.

Read more on the additional steps for consolidation acts below.

If the section was inserted by a later act, you’ll need to research the later act.

Until a bill becomes an act, the sections are called clauses. The clause number in the bill is generally not the same as the section number in the act. This is because clause numbers often change as the bill goes through parliamentary stages and gets reprinted.

Gather all the versions of the bill and compare them with the act so you can see:

  • whether the clause is identical in all reprints
  • if the clause was changed, when did it happen
  • if the clause was inserted, when did it happen

Make a note of when the clause reached its final form and what the clause numbers are at each stage.

You may find it easier to view the printed versions of the bills. Speak to one of our library staff who may be able to help.

See our guide on how to find bills

There are several tools to find the debates. Which you use depends on when the debates took place.

Older acts

There are separate indexes for House of Commons (HC) and House of Lords (HL) Hansards. They’re bound at the back of the last volume for each parliamentary session and give volume and column numbers (ignore references marked *).

Bound volumes of Standing/Public Bill Committees contain indexes by clause number.

Recent acts

  • Sessional Digests – lists the Hansard dates (1983/84 to 2010-/12).
  • House of Commons Weekly Information Bulletin (19 October 1996 to 23 July 2011) – lists dates. This is available on the parliament website.

Alternatives

  • Halsbury’s Statutes (1993 onwards) gives details of stages, dates, volume and column numbers.
  • Current Law Statutes Annotated (1952 onwards) gives stages, volume and column numbers of debate. It gives fewer details for earlier debates.
  • Explanatory notes to acts (1999 onwards) give stages, dates, volume and column numbers.

The HC and HL Hansard volumes are found at the following locations in our library.

Hansard volume Location in library
1803 to 1908 (Commons and Lords in same volumes) Common Room 251 (ask staff)
1909/10 to 1995/96 (Lords) South Gallery (ask staff)
1996/97 to most recent bound volumes (Lords) Bay 164
1909/10 to 1965/66 (Commons) South Gallery (ask staff)
1966/67 to 1996/97 (Commons) North Gallery (ask staff)
1997/98 to most recent bound volumes (Commons) Bay 157
Most recent issues (Commons and Lords) HC and HL website

The Standing Committee and Public Bill Committee Hansard volumes are found at the following locations in our library.

Hansard volume Location in library
1967/68 - 1993/94 (Standing Committees) Room 105 (ask staff)
1994/95 - 2015/16 (Standing and Public Bill Committees) Bay 167

The subscription database Public Information Online contains HC and HL Hansard from 1909 onward and Committee debates from 1919 onward. This database is available in our Library.

Read the debates to see if the clause is mentioned.

The second reading of the bill is usually a discussion of the broad aims of the bill.

At committee and report stages the bill is debated clause by clause.

Standing Committee debates say at the start if clauses are going to be discussed out of number order. You can check the start of the debate to see when the relevant clause will be discussed.

There’s no guarantee that the clause will have been discussed at all.

If you’re researching a consolidation act, you can trace the previous act by using:

  • Halsbury’s Statutes (see step four above)
  • Current Law Statutes Annotated (see step four above)
  • tables of derivations in Public General Acts (1967 onward)

Check that the previous act is not a consolidation act as well. If it was, you’ll have to repeat the above process.

Next, compare the wording of the original act and the consolidation act. If it is identical, research the original act. If it’s not identical, research the consolidation process. Ask library staff to see the booklet Parliamentary Debates on Legislation: How to do Pepper v Hart Research.

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