Vellum tradition likely to continue

By Jo Francis, Tuesday 16 February 2016

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An outcry over plans by the House of Lords to stop printing on vellum has generated such a storm that the tradition now appears likely to continue.


An Act of Parliament on vellum. Image: Parliamentary copyright

The Lords had planned to scrap the centuries-old practice of recording Acts of Parliament on vellum, in order to save what many observers believed was a relatively small sum of money – less than £50,000 a year on average in actual vellum costs.

A subsequent outcry involved a social media campaign under the hashtag #savevellum, and protests from MPs and historians. Even the Prime Minister David Cameron was said to be in favour of such traditions, describing them as “an important part” of Parliament.

The Cabinet Office is now expected to offer to pick up the circa £80,000 a year costs (including printing) to keep the tradition going, although the House of Lords could still decide to refuse the offer.

A House of Lords spokesman said: “If the Cabinet Office write offering to take on the responsibility for printing Acts of Parliament on vellum, it would of course be considered. As of yet that offer has not been made.”

Paul Wright, the general manager at vellum and parchment maker William Cowley, has been fielding media interest from all over the world as a result of the row.

“I’ve been on the radio in Germany, Canada, Switzerland, France and New Zealand,” he said. “None of them can believe we were thinking of doing this, they think it’s a national embarrassment.

“Clearly for me, this news is very, very hopeful. The Prime Minister and the Paymaster General seem to be on board, so I do hope things will be resolved and vellum will continue,” he added.

Wright has also calculated that the equivalent cost per century of the piece of vellum used for the Magna Carta works out at just £6.

“You cannot give me an economic argument against vellum,” he said. “I was on the BBC World Service yesterday and laid down a challenge – if you can find something that’s cheaper, and has the same sort of guarantees about longevity, then prove it.”

Wright also pointed out that the calf skins used for the production of vellum are a by-product of the farming industry.

“Some people also seem to think I go outside and bash a cow on the head every time a law is passed,” he added.


Skins being prepared at William Cowley in Newport Pagnell 

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