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Record Copies of Acts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:36 pm on 20th April 2016.

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Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 6:36 pm, 20th April 2016

This expense is simply to continue a tradition because that is the way it has always been—that seems to be the only genuine argument that has been presented for continuing to print Acts of Parliament on vellum. A much more important tradition is the 800-year-old one that all Members of this House are equal, which the Government ended when they introduced English votes for English laws in such a shoddy way. Conservative Members were willing to let go of that tradition, and I see no reason why the tradition we are debating today is more worthy of retention.

The Minister and other hon. Members have said that vellum should be kept as it is the only way to maintain physical copies of Acts of Parliament for the long term, but the Parliamentary Archives contains paper records that date back just as long as vellum ones. The manuscript journals of the House of Lords, which date back to 1510, have been printed on paper, but the oldest vellum record is an Act of Parliament from 1497, which is a difference of only 13 years.

I know that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire likes to remind everyone that if Magna Carta had been printed on paper, it would have been lost in about 1465, sometime before the birth of Henry VIII, but we are not talking about Magna Carta. As Ronnie Cowan pointed out, we are talking about the Coinage (Measurement) Act 2011, the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 and every other Bill that is passed in this place. I might also point out that there was a greater need to print on vellum at the time when Magna Carta was drafted, given the surprise emergence of computers and the internet since the 13th century.

Several hon. Members raised concerns about the future of William Cowley, which is a serious point because that company currently provides the vellum for Acts of Parliament.