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Before 1849, all Acts were written out by hand on rolls of parchment, in exquisite handwriting; it is really worth seeing. The motion refers to a resolution of both Houses dated
The amount of money that would be saved by a move from vellum to archival paper has been disputed, but in the grand picture of public expenditure, it is not enormously significant. It is worth observing that we expect the saving to be more than the salary of a single Member of Parliament, which many of us probably consider not to be that great anyway. The National Archives has helpfully informed Parliament that it does not require vellum, and as it is part of the Minister’s departmental portfolio, I must take notice of that.
Vellum is an extremely expensive material, requiring an expensive and specialised form of printing. The cost of printing the Acts of 2014-15 on vellum—I asked about this specifically, in order to try to get it right—was approximately £107,000. The cost of using even the most expensive parchment-style paper would have been £8,000, a reduction of 92%. Unfortunately, however, the challenges associated with printing on vellum do not stop there.
As was pointed out by Mrs Hodgson, there are precisely two surviving printing machines that print double-sided on vellum to the standard that is required—note: to the standard that is required. One is in a museum, and the other is owned or utilised by the contract printer, but to put it colloquially, it is on its last legs and is probably being held together by Sellotape. Therefore, if the decision were made to continue to print public Acts on vellum, my opposite number in the House of Lords would have to provide a business case for a contract with the firm that was prepared to construct a new printer. The cost of that would leave Parliament contracted to a single supplier, which would negate the normal practice of competitive tendering.