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Record Copies of Acts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 20th April 2016.

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Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Education) 5:41 pm, 20th April 2016

That saving grace is very welcome.

Many of us from different parties might be described as strange bedfellows in this debate, but we have come together on this issue because we agree that the continued use of vellum is part of recognising our heritage and traditions. The Palace of Westminster is to undergo a potential £7 billion refurbishment to conserve this place for future generations to use, visit and admire; how can anyone argue for a saving that is so small by comparison, without considering what we would lose?

Our most important documents have been printed or written on vellum, from the Magna Carta to the Domesday Book and a piece of important north-east English history, the Lindisfarne gospels. All these historical manuscripts have been preserved for posterity because they were printed on vellum. They have lasted through the ages due to vellum’s durable qualities, which have ensured that future generations can appreciate and respect our shared history. Surely the legislation that we make here is worthy of this small additional cost. These are the laws of our land, and they should have the status and respect that is implied when they are printed on vellum. As Paul Wright from William Cowley said on the Jeremy Vine show last year, “If it is precious, put it on vellum.”

The crux of my concern about the change is the debate about the costs of printing on vellum. Both the Administration Committee and the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords have claimed that ending the use of vellum would save Parliament, and the taxpayer, an average of £80,000 per year, but that figure has been disputed. William Cowley has said that, according to its books, the sale of vellum to Parliament is worth £47,000 per year. My question is: where does the proposed saving of £33,000 come from?

There is also concern about the use of archival paper. As we have heard, vellum manuscripts have lasted for centuries, and archival paper has not been proved to have that kind of longevity. There is talk of 250 years and of 500 years, but it must be borne in mind that those are estimates, not facts. It is a fact, however, that vellum lasts longer, and I therefore cannot support a switch to the inferior medium of archival paper.

Parliament is an important beacon of our history and heritage, and the fact that Members of either House can so easily dismiss a centuries-old practice is deeply worrying. We should remember that William Cowley is our last remaining vellum maker here in the UK. If it were to lose its contract with Parliament, that could be detrimental to the future of this heritage craft, and those who wished to buy vellum would have to look to other countries. It would not be just our medals that we would be buying from France. That is why I hope that today we can finally save vellum for good.