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Record Copies of Acts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:25 pm on 20th April 2016.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 5:25 pm, 20th April 2016

They have plenty of cows in Ireland, as we do in this country, and my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Had Magna Carta been written on paper, it would have been lost by around 1465, before the birth of Henry VIII—it would not have survived to his times. Let us think of other great documents such as the Dead Sea scrolls, the Lindesfarne gospels and the Domesday Book—all were written on vellum. The Codex Sinaiticus in the British Library was commissioned by the Emperor Constantine in 350 AD. We can look at it today and turn its pages; it is exactly as it was when it was written, and it is as clear as anything. Can one imagine a piece of paper from 350 AD surviving? The oldest complete bound book in Europe, the St John’s Gospel, was put into the coffin of St Cuthbert in the year 687 in Durham cathedral, and it can still be read today as clearly as when it was written because it is on vellum. The use of vellum guarantees that no matter what happens in the future—war, floods, riots or anything else—Acts of Parliament will be preserved for all time.

The third reason why I think it vital to maintain vellum is that William Cowley and sons in Milton Keynes, the last remaining manufacturers of vellum, supply services to the British Library, the Bodleian and records offices up and down the land. If the parliamentary contract is withdrawn, there is at least a chance that the firm’s six employees would no longer be there, meaning that everyone who requires vellum services would have to go to America, because there are no other vellum manufacturers in Europe.

Why on earth, for the sake of some £20,000 a year, if that, should we be considering doing away with a craft of this kind? Why would we want to close down an ancient business? Why should we be considering changing a 1,000-year tradition of this place? Why should we downgrade Acts in the way that is suggested? To me, it is beyond understanding. If Members care for the traditions of this place, if they care for crafts and if they care for Acts of Parliament, they will join me in the Aye Lobby today.