The SLLG Committee were only too happy to help with a group bursary when Morag asked about one to attend the BIALL training on ‘Pepper v Hart’ research, in March. Equally delightful is Morag clearly got so much good from the course. Morag shares some of the key learning points.
What is “Pepper v Hart” research?
This is research of parliamentary materials and the background to legislation most commonly used where there is a problem of statutory interpretation. It originates from the case of Pepper (Inspector of Taxes) v Hart  AC 593 . Mr Hart a teacher at Malvern College benefited from a “concessionary fee” scheme that allowed his son to be educated at the college for one fifth of the normal fees of a pupil. The Inland Revenue attempted to tax this benefit based on the Finance Act 1976 and there was a dispute over the correct interpretation of the Act. Lord Browne-Wilkinson (one of the Law Lords who heard the case) looked at the Hansard debates in order to help with construction. This subsequently established the principle that when primary legislation is ambiguous then, in certain circumstances, the court may refer to statements made in the House of Commons or House of Lords in an attempt to interpret the meaning of the legislation.
Why did I want to do this training?
Working in the Readers Services Department of the Advocates Library, my colleagues and I are often asked by Advocates to obtain the Parliamentary Debates for legislation in order to assist with their research into the background of certain provisions. I find this a very interesting part of my work and I have always wanted to understand how to do this better.
When BIALL offered a training course at Lincoln’s Inn Library on 26 March 2015 on “Parliamentary Debates on Legislation: How to do Pepper v Hart Research” I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to increase my knowledge and improve my skills. The SLLG kindly granted me a bursary for the cost of the training.
Course content and guidelines for “Pepper v Hart” research
The course was organised by Guy Holborn, the Librarian at Lincoln’s Inn and the number of attendees was limited to 16 places. It was an all-day course comprising of both lectures and workshops. The main points emphasised for conducting the research properly were as follows:
a) Knowledge of the parliamentary stages of a bill is essential
It is important to understand the basic pattern of the parliamentary stages of a bill as this helps to identify where the most relevant debates and amendments are likely to be found during the passage of the bill. Bills can start in either the House of Commons or the Lords. The first reading and introduction of the bill are purely formal and can largely be ignored. The second reading is likely to contain debate on the principle of the bill and the mischief aimed at, but the longest and most detailed stage (and therefore the most important) is the Committee stage. This is also where the bill is debated clause by clause and therefore is the stage most likely to be of relevance to a researcher looking to understand what a particular section might mean.
b) Use hard copy debates in preference to online
During the training exercises we used hard copy debates. This method is considered preferable to online research which can be dangerously incomplete for certain parliamentary periods and is not so easily managed on screen.
c) Check that you are you looking for debates on the right Act
The section or part of a section of interest might have been inserted by a later Act (and not the Act initially in question). The Act may also be a consolidation Act and if so, you will need to trace the derivation of the section in the previous Act and find the debates on that Act. If the Act was passed between 1984 and 2010 it is useful to consult the House of Commons Sessional Information Digest (available online from 1995/6. From 2006/07 see also the table of Bills before Parliament on www.parliament.uk)
d) Find all the prints of the bill for both Commons and Lords
There will usually be 2 complete prints of the bill for the Commons and 3 for the Lords. Bill numbers are given in the Sessional Information Digest. It is also useful to have the hard copy of Act as originally enacted in order to see the position of the section in the scheme of Act. You should note whether the clause is present and in an identical form to the section of the Act throughout and if not, at what stage was it inserted or reached its final form. Note the number of the clause at each stage.
e) Find Hansard references for each stage
These can be found in a variety of sources including:
• Sessional indexes (there is a separate index volume for the House of Commons but for the House of Lords the index is contained within the last volume of the session)
• House of Commons Sessional Information Digest
• Explanatory Notes to Act (from 1999-)
• Halsbury’s Statutes (from 1993 onwards)
• Current Law Statutes (but these are not always complete!)
• Bills section from 2006/7 onwards
f) Find the debates on your clause at each stage
There are 8 stages where there might be debate (but if after looking at the bills you identified a stage when the bill was significantly altered you might want to start there):
• Commons – 2nd reading
• Commons – Committee
• Commons- Report & 3rd reading
• Lords – 2nd reading
• Lord Committee
• Lords Report
• Lords -3rd reading
• Commons – Lords Amendments
g) If you find absolutely nothing relevant in the debates!
If after following the steps above you find absolutely nothing at least you can rest assured that you have researched this exhaustively and no vital discussion has been missed out. Naturally there are sometimes exceptions to the general outline provided above but these are the basic main points which I took from the training which may be of help to others undertaking this type of research.
Summary of course experience
I can thoroughly recommend this course for anyone interested in deepening their knowledge of parliamentary research. The printed lecture notes provided are extremely detailed and will be very useful in the future for doing Pepper v Hart research. The four practical workshops led by the Library staff at Lincoln’s Inn provided “hands on” experience of looking at the bills and debates with the opportunity to ask questions and take notes. I think the highlight of the day however was lunch in the Great Hall at Lincoln’s Inn (pictured below) which is a lot more impressive than our staff room at the Advocates Library and the food was better too.
Thank you, Morag, for a very informative blog. Group members are reminded that bursaries are available for all sorts of professional development and are directed to the bursary document for more information.