The Journals of the House of Commons
7.15The Commons Journal forms the permanent official record of the proceedings of the House. It is published sessionally, and one volume usually contains the record of one session, though if there are two sessions in one year (as in 1922 and 1948) the second session is included in the same volume. Where a session has extended over more than one year (as in 2010–12 and 2017–19) it may be published as two volumes.
The first extant Journal of the House of Commons records the Parliament of 1547. Thereafter, the series is nearly complete to the present day.1
The Journal is compiled from the daily Votes and Proceedings.
The words of the Speaker, or of another occupant of the Chair, have been entered in the Votes and in the Journal, with2 or, more usually, without the order of the House, as have the texts of documents communicated to the House. Among the statements so entered have been the admonition of a Member and the reprimand of a non-Member and a Member,3 explanations from the Chair relating to the previous day's business, acknowledgments of resolutions of the House thanking the occupant of the Chair,4 statements announcing the disqualification5 and reinstatement of a Member6 and statements on historic occasions, such as the rekindling of the light in the clock tower after five and a half years of war.7 Documents entered without an order of the House have included an extract from the records of the Assemblée Nationale of France describing its proceedings on the occasion of a visit by the Speaker of the House of Commons.8 Letters announcing the retirement of the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Deputies, or of the Clerk of the House and the Serjeant at Arms, may also be published.9
Entries in the Journal and the Clerks' Minute Books have occasionally been ordered to be expunged,10 and if such entries are challenged, the proper course is to give notice of a motion to expunge them.11
A printed copy of the Journal is accepted as evidence in a court of law under the Evidence Act 1845, s 3.12 When a cause is tried in London, it was usual for an officer of the House to attend with a printed Journal; if the trial is elsewhere, a party may either obtain from the Journal Office a copy of the entries required, without the signature of any officer, and swear that it is a true copy; or, with the permission of the House, or, during the recess, of the Speaker, an officer may attend to produce the printed Journal, or extracts which the officer certifies to be true copies.
- 1. No official record at all survives for the Parliaments between 1584 and 1601, and some of the Elizabethan and Jacobean ‘Journals’ which do exist are probably drafts and not the finished version (if a perfected copy was ever made). For some of these gaps the ‘journals’ given in D'Ewes may be adequate alternatives.
- 2. CJ (1983–94) 477.
- 3. CJ (1929–30) 503; ibid (1947–48) 22, 23.
- 4. CJ (1912–13) 409; ibid (1917–18) 56; HC Deb (1917) 92, c 569.
- 5. Votes and Proceedings, 8 November 2010.
- 6. CJ (1998–99) 222, 269, 294.
- 7. CJ 1944–45) 106.
- 8. CJ (1947–48) 71; see also ibid (1987–88) 716.
- 9. See Votes and Proceedings, 4 May 2011, 30 April 2014, 14 November 2018.
- 10. CJ (1644–46) 397, etc; ibid (1646–48) 197; ibid (1651–59) 317; ibid (1693–97) 210; ibid (1770–72) 509. In addition, some earlier entries seem to have been struck out of the Journal without any traceable order (eg the Crown's refusal to approve the election as Speaker in 1679 of Sir Edward Seymour, for which see W R McKay Observations, Rules and Orders (1989), pp xxxiii–iv). When the resolution of 17 February 1769, affirming the incapacity of Wilkes, was ordered to be expunged on 3 May 1782, ‘The same was expunged by the Clerk, at the Table, accordingly’ (CJ (1780–82) 977) and the entry was erased in the manuscript Journal of that day; but the printed Journal still contains the resolution. On 16 May 1833, a motion was made by Mr Cobbett, impugning the conduct of Sir Robert Peel. Lord Althorp moved ‘That the resolution which has been moved be not entered in the minutes’, but the Speaker put the question thus, ‘That the proceedings be expunged’ on the ground that the minutes had already been entered in the Clerk's book. The question was carried and no entry of the motion was made in the Votes and Proceedings (Sir Robert Peel Speeches in the House of Commons 1810–1850 (1853) ii, p 704; Parl Deb (1833) 17, c 1324). On 6 March 1855 a motion was made relative to the appointment of a recorder for Brighton; and on proceeding to a division the mover was left alone, the Member who had seconded his motion pro forma declining to vote with him. It was immediately successfully moved that the motion should not be entered in the Votes and Proceedings and there is no entry of either motion in the Votes and Proceedings (Parl Deb (1855) 137, c 202). The House resolved that the resolutions of 22 June 1880 (CJ (1880) 233), which debarred Mr Bradlaugh from taking the oath of affirmation, be expunged from the Journals; and accordingly the Clerk passed a red line through that resolution in the volumes preserved in the Library and Journal Office of the House, and annotated the margin of the page accordingly (CJ (1890–91) 45). The Clerk also requested that the copies of the Journal in the copyright libraries in London, Edinburgh and Dublin should be altered (see Erskine May (21st edn, 1989), pp 209–10). On 16 July 1909 the House ordered that the entry of a previous day concerning the naming of a Member by the Chairman should be expunged. The entry ordered to be expunged was printed in the Journal in erased type (CJ (1909) 304, 311, 567).
- 11. HC Deb (1960–61) 634, cc 795, 938.
- 12. Under the Evidence Act 1845, s 3 (which does not extend to Scotland) all copies of the Journals of either House, purporting to be printed by the printers of either House of Parliament, are to be admitted as evidence by all courts, and others, without proof being given that such copies are so printed.