House of Commons Library

Page Updated: 29th September 2013

The House of Commons Library provides research, analysis and information services for MPs and their staff. It is part of the Department of Information Services.

Research and Information Services for Members

The House of Commons Library’s research and information service provides a specialist impartial information and briefing service for MPs, their staff, committees and staff of the House. Its staff produce a wide range of briefing material and other services, including:

  • Confidential answers to enquiries on the full range of subjects of interest to Members of Parliament and Commons Committees
  • Research Papers and other briefings on bills and other topics of public and parliamentary concern
  • Material via the parliamentary intranet
  • Talks and informal face to face briefing



There are eight subject teams, each comprising subject specialist researchers and a resource team.

  • Business and Transport
  • Economic Policy and Statistics
  • Home Affairs
  • International Affairs and Defence
  • Parliament and Constitution Centre
  • Science and Environment
  • Social and General Statistics
  • Social Policy



The Reference Services Section is the Library’s main face-to-face contact point with its customers – MPs, their staff and staff of the House. The section answers requests for information directly or identifies the relevant source for the information if it requires specialist knowledge or analysis. It also manages reading rooms and enquiry points in three locations:

  • the Members’ Library in the Palace of Westminster
  • the Derby Gate Library
  • the Members Centre in Portcullis House



Some of the work produced by the research and information service is available to the public.

  • Research Papers – briefings on most government and some other Bills, on other topical issues and regular statistics including election results.
  • Standard Notes – short briefings often produced in response to frequently asked questions by MPs. They are less formal briefings than Research Papers.
  •  Parliamentary Information Lists – giving factual information on a wide range of parliamentary topics.
  • Deposited Papers database – government information placed in the Library, normally in response to a Parliamentary Question.



Authors of Research Papers and Standard Notes are available to discuss their contents with MPs and their staff but cannot advise others. The research service welcomes comments on its papers, however it cannot guarantee to respond to them all. Comments should be sent to or by post to Research Service Support Officer, Room L3-06, 1 Derby Gate, London SW1A 2DG.


Indexing and Data Management Section

The Indexing and Data Management Section maintains a database of Parliamentary data known as Parliamentary Information Management Services [PIMS]. PIMS offers subject-indexed references and full text access to current and recent Parliamentary information and press material (parliamentary questions, proceedings, papers and legislation, press notices and selected articles). Public access to PIMS data is available on a commercial basis via Parlianet (external website).



Library Resources Section

The Library Resources Section is responsible for the Library’s principal holdings of parliamentary papers, books, pamphlets, Official Publications, serials and newspapers. It is also responsible for the binding and conservation of library stock of all types, and for the Library’s access to on-line resources.



Further Information

Further information about the work of the Library can be obtained from the House of Commons Information Office and the factsheet, The House of Commons Library Department (PDF PDF 132 KB)Opens in a new window.

Image: Parliamentary copyright


Below, are some selective topics of Commons Library Standard Notes and Research Papers

Standard Notes are generally shorter and more informal than Research Papers. They serve a variety of purposes, but are often used to supply a quick response on subjects raised frequently by Members of Parliament, or to provide an update on legislation or other important developments. They are usually evolving documents which are updated from time to time but we do not have the capacity to keep them all up-to-date, so please note the dates on them.

Research Papers are an occasional series of papers, numbered by year and sequence of publication, and usually deal with topics of current parliamentary interest.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


Marriage venues

Published 18 January 2012 | Standard notes SN02842

At present, marriages must normally take place in a Register Office; a building that has been approved for the purposes of civil marriage by the local authority of the area in which the building is situated; a building of the Church of England or the Church in Wales; a building that has been registered for the purposes of religious marriage other than in the Church of England or Church in Wales; or a naval, military or air force chapel. Clause 112 of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which is still before Parliament, would remove the time restrictions for marriage or civil partnership and the associated offences in England and Wales.

Topic: Marriage, Registration of births, deaths and marriages


Women in Parliament and Government

Published 05 January 2012 | Standard notes SN01250

This note shows how the number of women in Parliament has changed since 1918, when women first became eligible to be elected as MPs. It presents comparative data for women in Parliament and other elected bodies in the UK and internationally. It also looks at some milestones over the last 100 years for women in Parliament and Government in the UK.

Topic: Elections, Equality, Members of Parliament, Parliament


Financial provision orders on the breakdown of a relationship

Published 04 January 2012 | Standard notes SN05655

During or after a divorce, annulment of a marriage, judicial separation, or dissolution of a civil partnership, the court can make an order for financial provision. This is also known as ancillary relief and can involve, for example, the division of property, pensions, and the payment of maintenance.

Topic: Civil partnerships, Divorce, Marriage


Legal aid for victims of domestic violence


Published 16 December 2011 | Standard notes SN05839

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill would take most private family law cases out of scope for legal aid, with an exception where such cases involved victims of domestic violence. Even though the Ministry of Justice has broadened the range of evidence of domestic violence to be accepted in applications for legal aid, the provisions remain controversial.

Topic: Crime, Crimes of violence, Legal aid


Immigration: The minimum age for marriage visas

Published 17 November 2011 | Standard notes SN04927

On 28 November 2011, the minimum age requirement for applicants and sponsors of spouse/partner visas will revert to 18. This change to the Immigration Rules is being made in order to comply with a recent Supreme Court determination that the previous age requirement (21 years) was a disproportionate interference with ‘genuine’ couples’ right to family life, as provided for by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Topic: Civil law, Family law, Immigration, Marriage


Parental responsibility

Published 03 November 2011 | Standard notes SN02827 Amended 07 November 2011

This note provides information on acquiring parental responsibility, including for unmarried fathers, civil partners and step-parents.

Topic: Child care, Children and families, Family law


Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Bill – Committee Stage Report

Published 20 October 2011 | Standard notes SN06088

This Bill is a Private Members’ Bill introduced by Sir Paul Beresford. It has received Government support. This Bill was introduced into the Commons on 30 June 2010, and received its second reading without debate on 18 March 2011. The Government tabled a series of amendments for the Bill’s committee stage, which were welcomed by Sir Paul. These amendments were all added to the Bill without division. The Bill is due to have its report stage on Friday 21 October 2011.

Topic: Crimes of violence, Criminal law


Children: Enforcement of contact orders

Published 16 September 2011 | Standard notes SN03101

Amended 03 October 2011 This note outlines the powers of enforcement available to the courts when a parent does not comply with a contact order.

Topic: Children and families, Divorce


Women in prisons: a select bibliography

Published 04 July 2011 | Standard notes SN05303

This note suggests further reading on the subject of women in prisons.

Topic: Prisons


Legal help: where to go and how to pay

Published 27 May 2011 | Standard notes SN03207

This note sets out information about where to seek legal help or advice in England and Wales.

Topic: Legal aid, Legal profession


Immigration: Abolition of the certificate of approval to marry requirement

Published 13 April 2011 | Standard notes SN03780

The certificate of approval to marry requirement was introduced in February 2005 as part of a package of measures designed to deter persons from entering into marriages of convenience (‘sham marriages’) for immigration purposes. It is due to be abolished on 9 May 2011.

Topic: Family law, Immigration, Marriage


Pre-nuptial agreements: recent developments

Published 15 March 2011 | Standard notes SN03752

Topic: Family law, Marriage, Registration of births, deaths and marriages


Civil partnerships

Published 24 February 2011 | Standard notes SN05608

This note provides a summary of how registration and dissolution of civil partnerships work under the Civil Partnership Act 2004. It also looks at the legal differences between civil partnership and marriage and considers the impact of both the Human Rights Act 1998 and the new Equality Act 2010 on civil partnerships.

Topic: Civil law, Civil partnerships


Humanist marriage ceremonies

Published 10 February 2011 | Standard notes SN05864

Humanists, like anyone else who does not wish to have a religious marriage, are able to have a civil marriage either in a register office or in approved premises. However, the British Humanist Association believes that humanists still suffer a disadvantage: they have given as an example that the registrar may not share humanist values and may even be personally opposed to humanism. The British Humanist Association is campaigning for the law to be changed.

Topic: Family law, Marriage, Registration of births, deaths and marriages


Legal aid: the quashing of the 2010 contracts for family and social welfare work

Published 28 January 2011 | Standard notes SN05846

In 2010, the Legal Services Commission held a tendering exercise for new contracts for crime and civil legal aid work. This resulted in a significant drop in the number of firms awarded contracts for family and social welfare work. A judicial review brought by the Law Society led to those contracts being quashed.

Topic: Civil law, Family law, Legal aid


Legal aid: controversy surrounding the government’s plans for reform

Published 27 January 2011 | Standard notes SN05840

Many changes have been made to the way in which the legal aid scheme is organised and managed but the current scheme is, in essence, the same as it was when founded in 1948. A green paper on legal aid reform was published on 15 November 2010. Perhaps its most controversial aspect has been the proposal to take some categories of case – including education, welfare benefits, debt (except where the client’s home is at risk), housing (except where there is an immediate risk of homelessness) and private law children and family cases where domestic violence is not present – out of scope for funding.

Topic: Legal aid


Children: Residence and contact related matters for parents, grandparents and others after separation

Published 01 July 2010 | Standard notes SN03100

Children: Residence and contact related matters for parents, grandparents and others after separation. By Manjit Gheera. SN/SP/3100.

Topic: Children and families, Children’s social services

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