Catalogue description House of Lords: Public Bill Office: Original Acts

This record is held by Parliamentary Archives

Details of HL/PO/PU/1
Reference: HL/PO/PU/1
Title: House of Lords: Public Bill Office: Original Acts

This series contains Public Acts of Parliament from 1497 onwards. Public Acts are pieces of legislation which contain a part of the law of the land, and it is a statutory requirement that they are known by the judges and published to the general public.

Date: 1497-present

The Act are divided into annual sub-series.


Until 1692 Acts were described by reference to the session of Parliament in which they were passed, and the session of Parliament was described in terms of the regnal year or years during which it occurred. Thus, an Act was described as having been passed in the


Parliament of 3 George II, or of 4 & 5 George V. If two sessions were wholly within one regnal year their Acts were numbered separately as belonging to either 'session' 1 or 2, for example, to 1 George I session 1. If the sessions were not of the same Parliament, and so could not be numbered consecutively, the Acts were described as 'statute' 1 or 2 of that regnal year. From 1963 however, under the Acts of Parliament Numbering and Citation Act, 10 & 11 Eliz. II, c. 34, the calendar year has been substituted for the regnal year and the session. As a unique identifier, each public act has been given a 'chapter' number, continuing the fiction that an act is part of a greater sessional statute. This is rendered as '1964, c. 34', etc. This information is contained within the title of each description in this catalogue.


Within the Parliament Office, between 1497 and 1902 all original Acts received consecutive numbers in a single series for each session and the manuscript or printed Original Act of that period is most accurately referred to as, e.g. 5 Anne, no. 23. This number related to the order in which the Acts received royal assent, not their chapter number. It is this Parliament Office number which is the document reference for the purposes of ordering the Act up to 1902. From 1902, the catalogue is arranged in chapter number order.

Related material:

Original Acts of a local, personal or private character are in HL/PO/PB/1.


Engrossed public bills which have not received royal assent are preserved separately among the main papers of the House of Lords.


From 1278 to 1468 statues were enrolled in the Chancery series of Statute Rolls now preserved in the Public Record Office as series C 74. The original petitions survive today at the Public Record Office for the 13th to 16th centuries in SC 9, C 49 and E 175.


Public Acts since 1483 onwards enrolled on the Parliament Rolls of Chancery, now also in the Public Record Office (C 65). Since 1849 a separate duplicate has been made of each printed Original Act for transfer to this series.


During the Commonwealth period (1642-1660) no acts of Parliament were passed. Instead, printed texts of Acts and Ordinances appear in C. H. Pirth and R. S. Rait, Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660, 3 vols. (1911), as well as in contemporary volumes of the Acts and Ordinances.

Held by: Parliamentary Archives, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

House of Lords, Parliament Office, c1509-

House of Lords, Public Bill Office, 1854-

Physical condition: Acts from 1497 to c1558 consist usually of a single membrane of parchment, cut according to the length of the act, and varying from a small slip, 12 inches x 3 inches, to a large skin, 42 inches x 34 inches. Acts comprising lay subsidies are in the form of indentures, but from 1535 are in roll form, the membranes being sewn head to tail. From about 1558 this 'Chancery roll' format is followed for all Acts, those of post 1660 date being invariably 12 inches in width, but varying greatly in length, some of them reaching about a quarter of a mile. The handwriting at first diverse, although usually of Secretary type, became in about 1660 stereotyped in a sloping mixed Secretary-Italic hand, written large and open. This 'Parliamentary hand' was ordered to be used generally in recording all court proceedings by the Proceedings in Courts of Justice Act, 1730 (4 Geo II, c.26). The engrossments may have interlineations, deletions and interpolated annexes on parchment. From these the various stages in the progress of the Bill through Parliament may sometimes be reconstructed. No seals were appended to the engrossments, unless the engrossments in certain instances were presented together with the appropriate Royal Commission, in which case the tag of the Commission's seal might be passed through a slit at the foot of the Engrossed Bill. The Royal Sign Manual was superscribed by the Sovereign with decreasing regularity between 1497 and 1558; thereafter it only appeared as a mark of royal licence or consent for a Bill affecting the Crown to be read. The Sign Manual does not appear to have been treated as authentication of the text. This was guaranteed by the superscribed or endorsed formula of assent and by continuous custody in the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments. The authentic text of each Public Act, from 1849, and of each Private Act from 1850, has been printed separately. Each document is composed of one or more gatherings of vellum with leaves of about 8 inches x 12 inches. The gatherings are pierced by three holes in the margin, and bound by a red silk tape passed through them and tied on the front cover. In 1957 it was decided that the complete text of Public Acts should continue to be printed on vellum, and this decision was reconfirmed in 1999.
Access conditions:

Open. All the Acts for 14 & 15 Henry VIII and for 21 Henry VIII have been lacking from the series since the 16th century. Certain other Acts have been lacking since at least 1850. For conservation reasons, a surrogate (ie microfilm or printed version) will be supplied to researcher in the first instance where one exists, rather than the original manuscript.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred to the Parliamentary Archives from 1946 onwards.



  • Legislation
Unpublished finding aids:

Each Act has a 'long title' which sets out in general terms the purposes of the Act. This from 33 Henry VIII is consistently endorsed on the Original Act, and it appears in printed texts. The clerks from the 15th century, however, also used abbreviated or short titles (of perhaps three or four words) for some acts. From 1849-50 onwards the printed Original Acts have the long titles printed on the covers and at the opening of the text, and short titles at the heads of the covers and of each page of text. From c 1866 the Acts themselves may contain a 'short title clause' and the Short Titles Act, 59 & 60 Victoria c 14, and subsequent Acts have conferred official short titles, some of which may not be the same as those used contemporarily in the Parliament Office for acts passed before 1866); the remainder are copies or working papers relating to the checking of Acts.


The definitive modern list of Public Acts, with their short titles and chapter numbers is the 'Chronological Table of the Statutes', published annually by the Stationery Office.


A list of older finding aids using both long and short titles of Acts can be found in M F Bond, 'A Guide to the Records of Parliament' (HMSO, London, 1971), p. 97.

Administrative / biographical background:

From the 13th century onwards, formal decisions made by the king in Parliament which effected a permanent change in the law of the land were incorporated in a text known as a 'statute'. The statute was drawn up, on behalf of the king, by judges and other members of his Council at the conclusion of each Parliament or each session. The statute included all individual enactments of this type made during that Parliament or session, and each separate enactment was a 'chapter' of the statute. From 1389 each chapter formed a separate public Act, or Statute in the modern sense.


Public Acts, either in the form of Petitions and Responses, or of the official draft Acts, were entered on the Parliament Rolls kept by the Chancery; from 1483 they were regularly enrolled in their final enacted form. The original text of each individual petition was the starting point in the legislative process, both for statutes later to be inscribed on the Statute Rolls, and also for decisions on private petitions eventually recorded on the Parliament Rolls.


During the 15th century certain petitions reveal a significant development in Parliamentary procedure. It had been customary for the King when he initiated legislation, to introduce complete bills in the modern sense, that is, texts in final legislating form. The same practice was adopted by the Commons in the case of money bills, and then by both Commons and Lords in all instances in which legislation was initiated by them. This development was under way in the the earlier 15th century and became general during Henry VI's reign. As a result, although late 15th century bills might still open in petitioning form, they then continued with such formulae as 'Be it therefore ordained', that is, they were petitiones formam actus in se continentes. Thus the document handled in Parliament, which had previously been merely the starting point for the composition of the text of the final Act, became (when the Royal Assent was given) the act itself, any amendments made during debate in Parliament being incorporated in the original text.


These 'evolved petitions' (now known as Engrossed Bills) were transferred to Chancery in the same way as the earlier petitions had been.


The general procedure for the enactment of a Bill and the preparation of the Original Act in the period since 1497 is as follows. After a bill has passed both Houses, the authoritative text (the Engrossed Bill until 1849-50; thereafter the House Bill) remains in the custody of the Clerk of the Parliaments. (In fact, until 1849, in the hands of an assistant, the Clerk of Inrollments.) Bills for granting aids and supplies are returned to the custody of the Commons until the Royal Assent is about to be given, when they are however, if Royal Assent is given by notification.) At a Royal Assent the Clerk of the Crown reads out successively the short titles of the Bills, and the Clerk of the Parliaments pronounces on behalf of the Sovereign (whether the Sovereign is present or not), the appropriate formulae. This procedure has remained fairly constant since the 16th century. From 1967 onwards, however, under the Royal Assent Act, 1967, the power to refuse a Bill was last exercised on 11 March 1708. The first occasion on which the Sovereign was not present, but gave assent by commission, was on 11 February 1542; the last occasion on which the Sovereign gave assent in person was on 12 August 1854. Since then all assents have been by commission or by notification.


Until 1849-50, after assent or refusal had been given, the Clerk of the Parliaments superscribed the formula of assent or refusal at the head of the engrossed roll, thereby authenticating it as the 'Original Act'. He endorsed the roll with its Parliament Office number, which was assigned in strict order of assent and regardless of the classification of the Bill. From 1793 onwards he likewise endorsed the roll with the date on which assent was given, under the provisions of the Acts of Parliament (Commencement) Act, 1793, (33 Geo III, c 13). The Act was then listed in the Parliament Office List of Acts and subsequent enrolments and certifications were made from it by the Clerk of the Parliaments.


From 1849-50 onwards the Original Act has been newly printed, after assent, from the House Bill. The formula of assent is still superscribed on the Original Act on behalf of the Clerk of the Parliaments; and as an additional form of authentication, the Act is signed at its conclusion by the Clerk of the Parliaments or his deputy.

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