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Record Copies of Acts

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:46 pm on 20th April 2016.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock The Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office 6:46 pm, 20th April 2016

I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of our traditions. The Heritage Crafts Association, which she so ably spoke for, has for many years supported the skills needed to keep these crafts going. I knew its work when I was Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, and am delighted to support the skills of those who make and print on vellum now.

Committing our laws to this robust material underlines the point that the law of the land is immutable and that the rule of law is steadfast. We should never take that for granted. To those who say that this is symbolism, I say yes, it is vital symbolism. What else are laws but symbols on a page? What are these symbols? They are symbols of great importance that make up and underpin the fabric of our society. The vellum record copies of Acts—signed in Norman French, no less, by the Clerk of the Parliaments—are part of the rich character of this House and of our evolving constitution, just like Black Rod’s staff or the colour of the Benches of this Chamber. The symbolic power of vellum is undeniable. After the public outcry that followed the proposal to scrap it, it is time to reconsider. As Burke said, the British constitution is like an ancient house that

“stands well enough, though part Gothic, part Grecian, and part Chinese, until an attempt is made to square it into uniformity. Then it may come down upon our heads altogether in much uniformity of ruin”.

Let us not make the mistake of trying to square this great tradition into uniformity.

That is the symbolic case, but let me turn to the practical case for vellum. By any measure, vellum is far more durable and far stronger than archive paper, lasting thousands of years. It is hard to destroy, and without vellum, would we today have copies of the Domesday Book, the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne gospels, Henry VIII’s certificate of marriage or Charles I’s warrant of death? I doubt that we would. Portugal is this nation’s most long-standing ally, and since 1373, the Anglo-Portuguese treaty has held the force of law, and it can be read. Why? Because it was written on vellum. We used vellum even for the town charter of Grimsby.