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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:14 pm on 20th April 2016.

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Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South 6:14 pm, 20th April 2016

I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr Speaker, in this important debate.

I start by adding my congratulations to my hon. Friend Mr Gray on putting the case so powerfully. I am happy to pay tribute to Mrs Hodgson for her work, and also to Brian White, the former Member for North East Milton Keynes, for his championing of the cause. Brian has just announced his retirement from Milton Keynes Council and has given many years of dedicated public service. I am happy to pay tribute here to all the work that he has done for this cause and many others.

My reason for speaking has been mentioned—Milton Keynes is home to the last British producer of vellum, William Cowley, founded in 1870 and family-owned throughout, which currently employs six people. It is in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend Mark Lancaster, who, if he were not bound by ministerial responsibilities, would be hoping to speak in the debate. My comments can be amplified by him.

It is rather ironic that the home to one of the oldest traditions and industries in this country is located in the borough that is perhaps the most modern, the newest of new towns, the innovator of matters digital, autonomous pods, smart cities and the rest, but we are very proud to have it in Milton Keynes. Although I am a great believer in innovating digital technology, records and so on, I believe that we should preserve for all time the laws of this place on an indestructible material, and not run the risk that everything gets wiped out one day by some cyber-attack. I take comfort from the fact that we will have a permanent record here.

We should not take a risk with one of the oldest industries. Most nations of the world use vellum from William Cowley to record their national history for future generations or to create documents and works of art. Britain is the world’s foremost authority on vellum. We should not underestimate the disbelief in other countries that we are even considering ending its use. Should we decide today to turn our backs on vellum, we are likely to consign another traditional craft to the history books. It will lead us to import more from overseas. It risks supplies to other bodies, as my hon. Friend Michael Ellis eloquently pointed out.

I cannot see good reasons to abandon the practice. Vellum is cost-effective. There is an opportunity cost if we move to other sources. Vellum does not require intricate monitoring of storage. There is no need for expensive systems of microbiological or insect control. It is non-combustible, so there is no need for expensive non-water-based fire prevention systems. It is 16 times more durable than the highest quality paper available. I represent Milton Keynes, but I come from Scotland. Thrift is important and I abide by the old adage, “Buy cheap and you buy often.” Vellum is eco-friendly. It is, as we have heard, a by-product of the meat and dairy industry. The skins not used for vellum would otherwise have to be incinerated or go to landfill. It avoids tree felling and the use of chemicals to treat the paper.

We should protect our heritage and tradition of skilled craftspeople. I cannot see a problem that needs to be fixed by abandoning the use of vellum. I therefore hope the House will enthusiastically back the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire.