Certain papers are formally presented to Parliament. This process is called laying a paper. Laid papers include:
- Command papers: these are papers published by the Government which they consider to be of interest to Parliament. They include statements of Government policy and proposals for new policies or new legislation, and annual reports of departments.
- Act papers: some papers are required by law to be laid before Parliament. They include reports and accounts of some statutory bodies, such as executive agencies.
- Statutory instruments: certain statutory instruments are required by law to be laid before Parliament.
- Papers called for by return: each House has the power to call for papers using a motion for a return. Papers from departments headed by a Secretary of State are called for by means of a humble address to the Queen. Other papers are called for by an order of the House. This power is delegated to select committees, enabling them to send for papers. Sometimes the Government use a motion for an unopposed return to publish a paper to which they want to give the protection of parliamentary privilege.
Laying a paper in the House of Commons involves taking two hard copies of it to the Journal Office.
The purpose of laying a paper is to make the information in the document available to the House and to MPs. You can come to the Journal Office in the Palace to look at a paper as soon as it’s laid. Copies of papers should also be available in the Vote Office shortly after they’re laid. Putting a paper in the House of Commons Library isn’t the same as laying it.
Most papers are laid before both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. In the Commons, once a paper has been laid it will appear in the Votes and Proceedings. In the Lords, it will appear in the House of Lords Business Paper.