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General Index of Bills in the Commons’ Journals

The General Index
The journals of the commons were printed several times during the 18th century. The last, and fullest, edition appeared as the The journals of the house of commons of the kingdom of Ireland (21 vols, Dublin, 1796-1802). Volumes 20 and 21 contain a very extensive General Index to the contents of the Journals. One of the largest headings in the index is ‘Bills’, which appears in volume 21. It runs to more than 300 pages and contains over 4,000 entries for bills which came before the Irish commons between 1613 and 1800.

The General Index and Database numbering of bills
Rather than arbitrarily invent a new series of numbers for bills, the numbers used in the General Index have also been used in the Database wherever possible. All numbers in the Database (for members of parliament and bills alike) are given in 4-digit form. Therefore Bill No. 1 in the General Index appears as Bill No. 0001 in the Database, and so on.

Over 360 bills have been identified which do not appear in the General Index. Rather than continue the numbering of the General Index directly from its last entry (4154), these items have been given a new series of numbers (starting at 5000) in the Database. Bills in the Database with numbers up to 4154 have equivalent entries in the General Index. Those with numbers of 5000 and higher will be found only in the Database.

More than 400 bills which appear in the General Index do not have entries in the database. In nearly all cases this is because the bills belong to the period 1613–1666, which is not included in the Database. In a few cases it is because the General Index entries were found to be duplicates or otherwise defective and their numbers are therefore not used.

Differences between the General Index and the Database
The General Index contains only bills which came before the commons. The majority of bills began in the commons, but significant numbers began in the lords and the Irish privy council. These latter categories also appear in the General Index (provided they did not fail before they could be presented to the commons). The General Index however has no entries for bills which began in the lords (about 180 bills) or the Irish privy council (about 70 bills) but which failed at some point before reaching the commons.

The General Index also simply missed a few bills in the commons, especially ones which fell in their early stages. Furthermore, the compilers of the General Index had a simple solution for a large number of unsuccessful bills in the sessions of the 1690s whose procedural forms were very irregular: it simply omitted them. All have been included in the Database.

There are other cases where the correspondence between the General Index and the Database is not exact. Sometimes the General Index created two entries for a single bill, often because of a failure to recognise that a bill laid before the commons had begun there earlier as heads of a bill. Sometimes it conflated two separate bills in a single entry. These errors appear to have arisen because the General Index, unlike the Database, took no account of proceedings in the lords or the privy councils.

Uses of the General Index
Despite shortcomings, the General Index represents the product of much work and still has value. Indeed, it has been used as a tool to cross-check entries throughout the Database.

It was created as a subject index, and is still very useful in this regard – with the proviso that almost 10% of bills in the Database are not in the General Index. The Subject Codes used in the Database are one way to find categories of bills on a given topic; another is to search the titles of bills for certain words. Both types of search can be supplemented by browsing the General Index.

The General Index often contains more detail of the commons stages of bills than the Database. The General Index attempted to record every stage of bills in the commons, whereas the Database is restricted to key stages. The General Index however omits one very important stage which is recorded in the Database, namely ‘initiating petitions’ recorded in the Commons’ Journals.

The General Index gives date and page number references to all recorded stages. The date references can be used as a key to all editions of Commons Journals; the page number references of course are useful only for the last edition.