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Continuing to Print the British Parliamentary Papers on Vellum


On November 2, 1999 an unlikely alliance of disgruntled Labor backbenchers and Tories in the British Parliament defeated a move to end the centuries-old tradition of printing copies of Acts of Parliament on vellum, by 121 votes to 53. Remarkably this also shows that the centuries-old debate continued on whether paper or vellum are the more permanent material for the storage of information.

"Under the scheme, already approved by the Lords, instead of two copies printed on vellum, only one would be produced on archive paper which has a life expectancy of 500 years.

“Labour's Nick Palmer, a Commons administration committee member, urged MPs to approve the change - which would have saved £30,000 a year and the skin of several goats.

“But opposition to it was led by Labour's Brian White (Milton Keynes NE) who said it would almost certainly put 12 people at William Cowley, a parchment and vellum printing company in his constituency, out of work and mean the death of the industry in Britain.

"He claimed the committee had not consulted the firm about the change until it was too late, and urged MPs to find a "different way forward that doesn't destroy an industry".

“Acts of Parliament dating back to 1497 recorded on vellum are currently held in the House of Lords Public Record Office.

“Under the proposed change duplicate copies of Acts of Parliament would also no longer be placed in the Public Record Office at Kew, replacing a resolution decreed in 1849 that two copies of every Act should be printed on vellum.

“Opening the short debate, Dr Palmer (Broxtowe) said the committee considered the change "appropriate and justifiable".

“Continuing to deposit duplicate record copies of both public and private Acts at the Public Record Offices appeared to "serve no useful purpose".

“Dr Palmer dismissed concerns about the durability of archive paper compared with vellum as "groundless".

“He said vellum and archive paper were both flammable so security could not depend alone on the document.

“Dr Palmer said he found it "attractive" that Parliament would not be using animal products where it was not necessary, although it was not one of the arguments advanced by the committee report.

“'We didn't have sentiment or animal welfare consideration affecting our judgment here, we reached it for practical, you might even say prosaic, reasons,' he said.

“Dr Palmer said British Library conservation department laboratory tests had proved that archival paper could have a life expectancy exceeding 500 years.

“But Tory Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) said: "I don't believe that this kind of tradition should lightly be tossed aside."

“Mr Howarth said the death warrant of Charles I was recorded on vellum and added: 'Who is to say whether archival paper will last 300 to 400 years? We shouldn't take the chance.' "

quoted from BBC News accessed 12-04-2008.


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