House of Commons Library

Vellum: printing record copies of public Acts

Published Wednesday, August 15, 2018

This House of Commons Library Briefing paper provides information about the practice of printing record copies of public Acts. It includes information on the practice of printing on vellum was established, and on the decisions in 2015 and 2016 that led to the printing of record copies of Acts on archival paper.

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Printing record copies of public Acts

Record copies of public Acts, passed since the beginning of the 2015 Parliament, have been printed on archival paper, with front and back vellum covers. From 1849 to 2015, record copies of public Acts were printed on vellum, a durable material made of calfskin. Until 1849, they were handwritten on parchment rolls (usually made from goatskin) until then.

The 1849 resolutions: printing on vellum

The practice of printing record copies of public Acts on vellum was adopted through resolutions by both Houses of Parliament. These resolutions followed recommendations made by the Select Committee on Printing in 1848, and in a 1849 report by the then Clerk Assistant of the House of Lords. The resolutions abolished the practice of ‘ingrossing’ (handwriting) record copies of Acts and ‘inrolling’ them in parchment rolls containing all public Acts passed in a Parliamentary session. Record copies of Acts have since been printed in book form, on vellum. Record copies of private Acts were printed on vellum between 1849 and 1956, since when they have been printed on archival paper.

Proposals for change

In 1999 proposals to print record copies of public Acts on archival paper were considered. The House of Lords approved a proposal to change to printing on archival paper, but the House of Commons voted against.

Those arguing in favour of the change claimed that archival paper was of suitable quality for printing record copies of Acts, and that this move would save a significant amount of public money. Those arguing against the change claimed that printing on vellum was a longstanding tradition; that vellum was more durable than paper; and that the change would have damaging effects on the only remaining company printing vellum in the UK.

The House of Commons Administration Committee published a report on 12 October 2015 that recommended agreeing to a renewed request from the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords for the assent of the Commons to a change to printing public Acts on archival paper instead of vellum.

Answers provided to Parliamentary Questions on 9 November and 2 December 2015 clarified that the House of Lords managed the contract for, and was responsible for the cost of, printing record copies of Acts and purchasing vellum.

On 20 April 2016 the House of Commons agreed a motion instructing the Clerk of the House to convey to the Lords that the Commons “has withheld its consent to the use of archival paper rather than vellum for the printing of record copies of public Acts of Parliament”. James Gray MP, the Member who had secured the debate, said that he hoped the Lords “will listen carefully to the views” of the Commons.

Printing on archival paper

The Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords wrote to the Chair of the House of Commons Administration Committee on 4 May 2016 regarding the implications of the Commons vote. He wrote that: “We are persuaded that printing on archival paper is a more appropriate use of public funds, and that the case for continuing to print on vellum is not made”. He added that if the Commons wished to arrange a contract for printing record copies of Acts on vellum, then the Lords would share experience of managing the legacy contract to assist with this. However, the Lords “does not wish to contribute financially to any future printing on vellum”.

On 23 January 2017, the House of Commons Commission agreed that it would provide front and back vellum covers for record copies of Acts. The House of Lords would retain responsibility for the printing of the record copies of Acts.

 

 

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7451

Author: Richard Kelly

Topic: Parliament

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