House of Lords Intervenes in Row Over Writing Laws on Animal Skin

February 19, 2016 Updated: February 19, 2016

The government has intervened to try and save the tradition of printing all laws on vellum made of animal skin, which dates back beyond the Magna Carta but is under threat to cut costs.

The House of Lords has decided that the centuries-old practice would be scrapped and laws would be printed on paper instead of goatskin or sheepskin in a bid to save £80,000 per year.

That prompted fury among some lawmakers in the House of Commons and a senior lawmaker in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party, James Gray, was set to organise a debate to try to block it.

In a bid to secure the future use of vellum, Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock told the Daily Telegraph that his department would be prepared to cover the cost of recording all laws on animal skins.

“While the world around us constantly changes, we should safeguard some of our great traditions and not let the use of vellum die out,” he said.

Wright, general manager of William Cowley, Britain’s last remaining vellum makers and suppliers to parliament, welcomed the intervention.

He argued that printing laws on vellum lent them a greater sense of gravity, giving the example of the result of Britain’s looming referendum on whether to leave the European Union.

“If we record that on paper, does it not almost lessen it?” Wright told the BBC.

But parliamentarians spoke out to make clear it was them, not the government, who would decide whether vellum would continue to be used.

“It’s an important principle that parliament, not government, holds and cares for its archives,” Chris Bryant, the main opposition Labour Party’s shadow leader of the House of Commons, wrote on Twitter.

Vellum scrolls with laws on are kept in the Act Room in the Victoria Tower at the Houses of Parliament.

They take up a large amount of space – one, an act dealing with taxation dating back to 1821, is nearly 350 metres long and would take two men a full day to roll up.

© 2016 AFP