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Cabinet Office brushes off bleats about vellum

Published 15/02/2016

Cabinet Office minister and Paymaster General Matt Hancock says the technique is cost effective
Cabinet Office minister and Paymaster General Matt Hancock says the technique is cost effective

The 1,000-year-old practice of printing laws on goat and calf skin will continue, a minister has said just days after the House of Lords signalled the tradition would end.

Peers said printing two copies of each Act of Parliament, one for the Parliamentary Archives and one for the National Archives, on the parchment known as vellum, was "extremely expensive".

A switch to archival paper, which can survive for up to 500 years, had been expected to save around £80,000 a year.

But Matt Hancock, minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, said the technique was "cost-effective".

He told the Daily Telegraph: "Recording laws on vellum is a millennium-long traditions and surprisingly cost-effective.

"While the world constantly changes, we should safeguard some of our great traditions."

MPs handed the decision to end the practice to peers, who had decided on Wednesday to push ahead with the cost-cutting measure.

But it met with criticism in the House of Commons, with Conservative MP James Gray calling for the "retrograde decision" to be reversed.

The House of Lords also made the decision to end the practice in 1999 but the move was then blocked by MPs.

Paul Wright, general manager at Britain's last vellum producer William Cowley, insisted it was an inexpensive method of recording information.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "Magna Carta worked out as a safe method of storage at £6 a century. Give it another 100 years it will be £4.27 a century."

"The reason I got so vocal about it all - I just felt that there were a small number of people who effectively were deciding that future generations would be negated of the opportunity to, what the Americans call, touch history."

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