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I should declare an interest, not only as a part-time historian who spent a large part of his youth burrowed away in the National Archives researching Tudor history, but as the chair of the all-party group on archives and history. The group has more than 100 members in both Houses, and has been fortunate to have as its secretariat the Archives and Records Association of the UK and Ireland, the leading professional body for archivists, record managers and conservators in these islands. The ARA has about 2,500 paid-up members, who have naturally raised concerns over the possible change in the recording of Acts of Parliament from vellum to archival paper, which I wish to reflect in my speech.
There has been a lot of debate on this issue and strong feelings have, naturally, been expressed. That is entirely understandable, as vellum, and parchment, its sheepskin cousin, is at the core of our national heritage. Vellum has been used to record some of the most important events in the history of these islands, not just Acts of Parliament. It is still actively used by our conservation community to repair and extend the life of our existing ancient manuscripts. Vellum is also a highly practical material. It is durable, accessible and much more resistant to fire and water than any kind of paper. It is also an alkaline material. Paper is more fragile, and it is acidic and deteriorates much more quickly over time.