Wednesday, 10 February 2016


From the Telegraph

The thousand year old tradition of printing Britain's laws on vellum has been scrapped to save just £80,000 a year despite concerns from MPs about ending the historic practice.

The House of Lords have confirmed that from April all legislation will printed on simple archive paper instead of the traditional calfskin vellum.

"just" £80K? There's never a justifiable "just". Either it's worth spending the money, or it isn't. If paper is cheaper and does the job, switch to it.


Sackerson said...

Paper does not last like vellum.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Good. They should have stopped doing it once they invented paper. The law is the law, whatever it is written on.

Although it might improve things if MPs had to chisel all new legislation into stone tablets before it can be enacted, that would put a bit of a physical brake on constant changes.

DCBain said...

Think of all those cute baby cows they'll save.

Tim Almond said...


So? What's the cost of Vellum vs 25 sheets of paper, giving you 5000 years of legislation?

Sackerson said...

@Mark, The Stigler: it's symbolic, like the way shop names used to be engraved in stone and now plastic fascia. Perhaps one day great files recording our laws will be lost in reorganisation, like Yes Minister's episode on the Thirty Year Rule; perhaps our law will eventually be "writ in water" and all we will know is that we have to obey orders.

Graeme said...

I did not know that the laws had to inscribed on vellum. However, the way that most people read the laws is on paper, as they are printed and reprinted and commented upon by learned lawyers, if such people exist. However, this raises questions, if the official version is on vellum, what are the procedures to ensure that there is no corruption in the secondary copies printed on paper? I presume that separate processes are used - to print on vellum is very different to printing on paper. This suggests that there might be differences between versions. For example, one early printed edition of the Bible omitted the word "not" in one of the commandments, changing it into "thou shalt commit adultery". What guarantee do we have that there are not similar differences between the vellum version and the subsequent paper copies. Questions should be asked in the House!

Tim Almond said...


It has no meaning in terms of the permanence of laws. Being on Vellum didn't stop New Labour introducing huge numbers of laws, or throwing out various rights. If it's symbolic of anything, it's that the politicians don't give a stuff about us, do not view themselves as our servants, but as our masters, people who can burn through money as they aren't paying for it.

Find me an MP who is asking if we should bulldoze the Palace of Westminster and build a new one as it is no longer fit for the job. If these people actually gave a damn, they would all be suggesting that.

Bayard said...

"The House of Lords have confirmed that from April all legislation will printed on simple archive paper instead of the traditional calfskin vellum."

Calfskin vellum has proved that it is extremely durable. There are documents written on vellum that are still perfectly legible, despite having been written before the Norman Conquest. There are also lots of paper records from the 50s that have fallen to pieces. I dare say that there is a modern equivalent to vellum that is supposed to be equally durable, but, a) I doubt that it is paper of any form and b) it will be more than a thousand years before it will have equalled the track record of vellum. History is littered with wonderful inventions that were going to preserve things for ever and have ended up destroying them in very short order.

"If paper is cheaper and does the job, switch to it."

That's the point. No-one knows whether it does.