A new website has been launched which, according to press reports, details every single law made since 1267. The new website (legislation.gov.uk) brings together the legislative content currently held on the Office of Public Sector Information website and revised legislation from the Statute Law Database (both soon to be closed) and is managed by the National Archives on the behalf of HM Government. The website does not seem to have a name, merely referring to itself as legislation.gov.uk, however it grandly claims that it is “The official home of UK legislation 1927-present”. So will it be of use to historians? Certainly it contains The Statute of Marlborough (1267) (in English and Latin); however there are gaps: there seems to be very little for early periods – as examples, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act (1753) is missing; the Great Reform Act of 1832 is also missing, though the 1867 Act is there; however the Representation of the People acts of 1918 and 1928 are missing. Three particular acts of 1908 are also absent: the Cinematography Act, the Children’s Act and, with particular resonance for the present, the Pensions Act. The limitations can be discovered by looking at the FAQs: “All Legislation from 1988- present day is available” and “Most pre -1988 primary legislation is available on the site”, though the site admits that some legislation may not be present, “…we do not carry the item of legislation you are looking for because it is not available in a web publishable format…” or, “It may be that the item of legislation has not yet been migrated to this site from the OPSI or SLD sites.” Hopefully more pre-1988 material will be added eventually making the site useful for historians.
In spite of absent legislation there is much to commend the site. The browse function is a valuable means of looking at the bigger legislative picture. A map highlights what is available for each country, so hovering over Scotland highlights the Acts of the Scottish Parliament, the Acts of the Old Scottish Parliament, and Scottish Statutory instruments. Clicking on any one of the sub-headings brings up a very useful timeline and interactive graph showing the number of statutes which can then be broken down by decade or year with the relevant legislation appearing below that. Usefully the graphs indicates that the information portrays a “partial dataset” alerting the user to the fact that there is missing legislation.
There is no subject searching (only word searching) however under FAQs there is a note to say that, “It is likely that we will implement a facility to enable users to search Secondary Legislation by subject in a later release.” As an aside a word search on “potatoes” brings up 147 acts! From the Marketing of Potatoes Act (Northern Ireland) 1964 to the Seed Potatoes (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2010. And who would have thought that potatoes from Egypt would have needed a special act – The Potatoes Originating in Egypt (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009. A nice touch to doing such a word search is that a side bar breaks down the legislation by year – clicking on a year brings up the pertinent legislation.
So while not of immediate use for the historian, what a wonderful resource it will be when the datasets are complete and subject searching implemented.