Western Libraries

Government Publications Glossary

Here you will find terms, with definitions, used in government publications

Terms and Definitions

Act : Under the Westminster system, an item of primary legislation is known as an Act of Parliament after enactment. In Canada an act is a bill which has been enacted into law; it has passed three readings in the House of Commons and the Senate and been given Royal Assent. An Act may come into force immediately upon Royal Assent or it may provide for a proclamation or a specific date for its coming into force.

Bill: a draft of an act to be considered by Parliament. In Canada public bills are initiated by the government and introduced through a Minister. Public bills introduced by Members of Parliament under their own name are known as Private Members public bills. Private bills are introduced by members for the benefit of particular persons or groups. All bills are examined in principle in Parliament and in detail during the Committee stage. Bills entailing the expenditure of public money must be tabled first in the House of Commons.

Blue Paper/Blue Book: Long detailed government report, describing a committee's or group's findings after an investigation. A list of prominent persons. They were usually bound in blue covers. In Canada a Blue Book generally refers to the Estimates which are tabled in the House in February by the Presidnet of the Treasury Board.

Breviate:  A breviate is a compendium, summary or abstract.

 Canada Gazette:  From 1947-1974 published in 2 parts; Part I: General, published weekly, includes proclamations of the Govenor General, orders-in council, proposed regulations, and official notices.Part II: published bi-weekly and contains Statutory Orders and Regulations. From 1974 onwards published in 3 parts; Part III: the Statutes of Canada include the text of the act as well as any amendments to statutes passed during previous parliamentary sessions.

Case Law : Proceeds from the judgments of the court, in contrast to statutory law which is made in or under the authority of Parliament.

Census: an official count or survey of a population, typically recording various details of individuals.

Charter Roll :  the administrative record created by the medieval office of the chancery that recorded all the charters issued by that office. In the medieval Kingdom of England, the first Charter Roll was started in 1199 during the reign of King John, and the Roll was started in order to keep track of charters that had been issued by the government. Instead of keeping the records in a register or book form, they were written on sheets of parchment stitched together into long rolls to form a roll for each year.
The Charter Rolls for the years 1199 to 1216 were published as abbreviated Latin texts in 1837, entitled Rotuli Chartarum in Turri Londinensi asservatiCalendars (summaries) of the rolls from 1226 to 1516 were published in six volumes by the Public Record Office between 1903 and 1927.

Command Papers: papers which are of interest to Parliament but whose presentation to Parliament is not required by statute. Numbered in series up to 9999.

Committee of the Whole: In Canada it consists of the whole House sitting as a committee. The speaker vacates the Chair and the Deputy Speaker presides. The Commons meets a Committee of the Whole in order to consider bills clause by clause; these bills usually concern the raising and  spending of monies.

Constitutional Law: Relates to the Constitution and in general deals with the distribution of powers of government and the relations of the various levels of government to each other and to the individual citizen.

The Crown: The symbolic and ceremonial head of state in Canada. Federally the Crown is represented by the Governor General, provincially the Crown is represented by the Lieutenant General.

Division List records the way in which Members voted in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and is usually available to the public the following day in Hansard and on the Parliament website.

Gazette: Gazettes are official publications of a government containing proclamations and notices.

Green Papers: see Policy Papers

House Paper: as in House of Commons Papers (HCPs) are numbered consecutively in a series which starts with each new Parliamentary session. For example, No 0936 is an HCP from March 2006, and No 0001 is an HCP from June 2005 .House papers include reports from Select Committees, Royal Commissions and Department Committees.

Hansard/ Debates: The official verbatim daily record of the proceedings of the Houses of Parliament. They are referred to as the Hansards after the family that published these proceedings from 1812-1899.In Canada the official title is Debates of the House of Commons

Joint Committee: Comprised of members from both Houses, there are Standing Joint Committees and Special Joint Committees.

Journals : The permanent and official record of decisions and other transactions of the legislative body; i.e.: the House of Lords or House of Commons for England, the House of Commons or the Senate for Canada. The Journals are published following the prorogation of a session or the dissolution of a Legislature or Parliament. In Canada, at the end of the session for the House of Commons the daily Votes and Proceedings are issued in bound volumes and titled the Journals. For the Senate the daily Minutes of Proceedings are published as the Journals of the Senate.

Letters Patent: An official document giving a person/corporation authority from the government to do some act or have some right.

Minutes of Proceedings: Published daily when the Senate is in session they constitute the official record of the proceedings of the Senate. They establish the order of business for the specific day and are constructed in a set format. At the end of the session they are edited and bound under the title Journals.

Office Consolidation: A copy of an Act or a regulation incorporating all its amendments and intended for reference only.

Order in Council: In theory specific orders for action given by the Governor General; in practice the orders are formulated by the Cabinet of a subcommittee fo the Cabinet and automatically approved by the Governor General.  Federal orders are issued for the following purposes:

  • to announce appointments (senators, diplomats, judges, senior officials
  • to appoint commissions of inquiry and dismissals

An order-in-council may also be legislative and constitute delegated legislative power, which is only by an Act of Parliament. Orders-in-council are published in the Canada Gazette, Part I

Order Paper: an Order Paper provides the official daily agenda. The Order Paper lists all the items that may be brought forward on that day.

Order Paper and Notices: The daily agenda for the use of members of the House of Commons. Issued daily when the House is in session they provide an account and the status of the business of the House. The Order Paper and Notices are not reissued or cumulated at the end of a session.

Parliament: Parliament is the legislative branch of the federal government in Canada. The Parliament of Canada is made up of the Sovereign, represented by the Governor General of Canada, the House of Commons and the Senate. In Canada  Parliament may last no longer than five years and may have several sessions. A session begins when Parliament assembles and ends with prorogation, which suspends all business until a new session commences.

Parliamentary  Papers: papers which come before either House of government

Parliamentary  Publications: everything that is published which relates to parliament and it's work, including agendas and legislation

Patent rolls: comprise a register of the letters patent issued by the Crown expressing the sovereign's will on a wide range of matters of public interest, including – but not restricted to – grants of official positions, lands, commissions, privileges and pardons, issued both to individuals and to corporations. The rolls were started in the reign of King John. The texts of letters patent were copied onto sheets of parchment, which were stitched together (head-to-tail) into long rolls to form a roll for each year. 
The most solemn grants of lands and privileges were issued as charters, and entered on the Charter Rolls. These were discontinued in 1516, and all charters issued thereafter were entered on the patent rolls.
The patent rolls run in an almost unbroken series from 1201 to the present day, with a small number of gaps, notably during the English Civil War and Interregnum (1641–1660). They are written almost exclusively in Latin in the early period. English was used occasionally in the 16th century, during the Commonwealth and after 1733 all the entries are in English.

Policy Papers:A Green Paper is a consultation document, a type of command paper, which puts forward proposals for consideration and public discussion. Green papers present options but do not commit the government to a particular policy.
White Papers contain statements of government policy. A White Paper states the government's position or philosophy about a social, political, or other subject, or a not-too-detailed technical explanation of an architecture, framework, or product technology. Typically, a white paper explains the results, conclusions, or construction resulting from some organized committee or research collaboration or design and development effort.

Proceedings: the formal actions and decisions of a House of Parliament.

Privy Council: Common name of the Queen's Privy Council of Canada. The Privy Council offers advice to the Crown. All Privy Councillors are appointed by the Governor General on the Prime Minister's recommendation.

Proclamation:  A formal announcement issued by the government in Council and recorded in the Canada Gazette Part I, that an Act passed by Parliament will come into force on a determined date.

Regulation: Using the powers in an Act, secondary legislation may be introduced through Regulations or Orders.

Research Papers, or Research Briefings : occasional series of papers compiled for the benefit of Members of Parliament usually dealing with current topics before the House. They aim to be politically impartial and contain factual information as well as a range of opinions on the subject covered.

Revised Statutes: A multi-volume set containing the Acts of Parliament. They have been revised six times since confederation. The Canada Gazette Part III publishes public Acts after they receive Royal Assent.

Royal Commission: created by the Queen/Governor General on the advice of government a Royal Commission looks into prescribed issues. They have considerable powers and their reports are taken into account when the government considers laws in areas affected by the issue. In Canada Royal Commissions were established by the Inquiries Act and they have the power of fact finding, information gathering, public opinion sampling and policy initiation.

Sessional Papers: the working papers of Parliament, they include Bills, reports from committees and/or commissions, accounts, papers

State Papers: are produced by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  There are three series with the State Papers: 1) Treaty Series, 2) Country Series and 3) Miscellaneous Series.

Statute: a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a country, state, city, or county. It may be a single act of a legislature or a body of acts which are collected and arranged for a session of a legislature.

Statutory Instrument: official Parliamentary orders, notices and regulations served under particular Acts.

Treaty: a formally concluded and ratified agreement between two or more states in reference to peace, alliance, commerce, or other international relations. .

Votes and Proceedings: the minutes of the House. It is a summary of what was done, and the decisions and votes on House business. Votes and Proceedings differ from Hansard, which is a complete transcript of what was said in the House debates.

White Paper: See Policy Papers.