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Record Copies of Acts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:46 pm on 20th April 2016.

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Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Chair, Administration Committee 5:46 pm, 20th April 2016

I will not be here in 5,000 years; my teeth will have gone long before that. However, my hon. Friend’s question ignores the fact that there will be progress. I doubt that we will be storing anything in the form that we do now, be it on vellum, on paper or digitally. There will be another way.

I was encouraged by the Minister’s offer to cover the cost of printing on vellum. For a moment, I thought he was offering a blank cheque to pay for all the printing in the House of Commons, because it would be logical to extend the offer in that way. I am not particularly well educated on the constitution, however, and it was pointed out to me forcefully that it would be inappropriate for the Government to play that kind of role in the business of Parliament. Of course, the Minister and the Cabinet Office could choose to fund the purchase of the material, the equipment and the managing of the contract, as well as the long-term storage, if they wished to produce their own copies on vellum from the digital records. Unfortunately, the record of Acts produced by Parliament, on whatever medium is chosen, are the legal authority. The Minister has been gracious in his benevolent offer, but it is not appropriate.

The printing of Acts over many years has changed as time and technology have progressed. We have moved from parchment to vellum to paper, and from handwriting to printing, all of which now have a digital back-up. The only recent backward step that I can think of has been the Ed stone, but that was just an unfortunate incident. I conclude simply by noting that, of the two Houses, it is the one that we would expect to make a stand purely on tradition that is suggesting to the House of Commons that we should progress.