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Record Copies of Acts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 20th April 2016.

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Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Conservative, Hazel Grove 6:31 pm, 20th April 2016

It is a pleasure to follow that Ciceronian example of oratory from my hon. Friend David Warburton. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Gray and Mrs Hodgson on their work.

I wish to address a point that I feel has been somewhat overlooked: these proposals represent the thin end of the wedge, and a general direction of travel away from physical storage and towards a digital-only future that I would want to avoid. I was concerned to read in a written answer from 9 November last year that in addition to reassurances that archive paper is a sufficient replacement for vellum—a claim I dispute—further reassurance was offered that Parliament maintains a comprehensive database of legislation, both “as originally enacted” and “as amended” on the website www. legislation.gov.uk. I took that as a sign that some think that web-based archives can be the equivalent of hard copies, but they are not, for the simple reason that technology evolves far too quickly to serve as a permanent record for any sensible length of time. New and “better” devices and file formats come on the market every month, and it takes only a few years for technology to become redundant. If I handed you, Mr Deputy Speaker, a copy of your maiden speech from 1997 on a floppy disk, would you be able to access it readily? I doubt that you would, and let us not even begin thinking about transferring documents between PC and Apple formats.

Many computer devices that are sold now do not even feature CD-drives, such is the fashion for online storage—the “cloud”. While online storage might be the current flavour of the decade and it works fine for now, such is the pace of change that I ask whether we can really expect information to be stored sufficiently in that format in 10 or 20 years, let alone in 500 or 1,000 years. If we are not cautious, we could soon be facing a new digital dark age in which accessing digital files from a few years earlier will prove trickier and trickier.