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Record Copies of Acts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:26 pm on 20th April 2016.

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Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Conservative, North East Hampshire 6:26 pm, 20th April 2016

Traditions are an important part of our country, our way of life and, indeed, our Parliament. Without them, this House would be a duller, drearier place. As we know from history, once traditions are torn down, it is all but impossible to revive them.

On the question of vellum, I am tempted to defer to Edmund Burke’s view of society as a contract between the living, the dead and those who are not yet born. I have no wish to deprive future generations of the ability to touch and smell the records of their past. In fact, we have a duty to our descendants to leave behind an abiding physical record of our laws and customs, just as our forebears, in their turn, did for us.

Without doubt, vellum is the natural document to last the ages. Without vellum, we would not have the Domesday Book, nor would we have been able to mark more than 800 years of Magna Carta, with all the historical significance that the four surviving 1215 copies added to our celebrations in Odiham in my constituency and elsewhere. It is entirely due to vellum that awe-inspiring texts such as the St Cuthbert Gospel from the 7th century have survived for so long. Even by the most generous estimates, the archive paper that the other place has proposed as a substitute to vellum has nothing like its lifespan.

As our methods of documentation move into an increasingly digitised world, we will gradually lose the ability to experience historical artefacts and to immerse ourselves fully in the study of the past. Every time a dusty volume is replaced by a PDF, and every time a print newspaper transfers to the internet, we gain something—our lives become more efficient and the pursuit of knowledge becomes easier—but we also lose something: the tactile elegance, the timeless simplicity and the physical permanence of record-keeping.

When it comes to preserving this valuable tradition, I believe that Paul Wright, who works for the vellum manufacturer, put it best when he said, “If it’s precious, put it on vellum.” If we in this House have the confidence to make and enact laws, we must also deem them worthy of preserving through the ages.