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4.57 pm

Dr. Palmer: I am grateful for the opportunity to respond briefly to a couple of the points made during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White) made a passionate and effective defence of the interests of his local company. I have resolved that, if I am ever defeated in Broxtowe, I shall move to Milton Keynes, so as to get the benefit of my hon. Friend's advocacy.

On the specific issue of consultation, I can tell my hon. Friend that the Administration Committee tries to abide by the terms of the Ibbs report, which means that we rarely take evidence in open session. We ask the Officers of the House to make inquiries, to discuss matters and to correspond with companies, as was done in the case in question.

I confirm that members of the Administration Committee were apprised of the contents of the letters from William Cowley, and had the opportunity to bring the issue back to the Committee before the decision was published. We decided that we were still satisfied with the case.

Mr. White: How many times did the Committee discuss with the supplier the issues of substance in the report?

Dr. Palmer: As I said, the Committee does not normally take direct evidence in session from companies

1 Nov 1999 : Column 46

or individuals, but our officers corresponded with the supplier; as my hon. Friend will know, there was a substantial correspondence on the subject.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: How long has the firm been under contract to the House?

Dr. Palmer: I am afraid that I do not have that information, but I shall be happy to supply the hon. Gentleman with it when I get hold of it after the debate.

As for durability, several hon. Members drew attention to the fact that, in principle, vellum will last for perhaps 1,500 years, and archival paper for between 500 and 1,000 years, or even, perhaps, 2,000 years. They argued that that was the crucial element. However, as I said earlier, the important question is not only the survival of the original documents but the security with which documents are kept, and the availability of computer back-up.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) said that that was not a viable argument because computers crash. However, Members who work more actively with computers will agree that storage, especially storage of documents available on the internet, is not affected by the crash of any individual personal computer such as the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members may own. We are talking about long-term storage with thorough back-up facilities, as thorough as those used by the Bank of England or other established bodies to secure the long-term viability of data.

Several hon. Members suggested that £30,000 is not a very large sum. Opposition Members attempted to ride with the hounds and run with the fox by attacking the Government for alleged overspending while recognising that the report is from an all-party Committee. I pointed out earlier that the availability of many more firms able to work with archival paper is likely to produce substantial savings of a kind that will be familiar to Opposition Members. It is unfortunate that they have presented their case as a partisan attack on the Government, and that approach will not benefit them in the vote.

It was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, North-East and the hon. Member for Aldershot that it would be a shame to lose our foothold in an industry in which Britain is a leader in the world. Valuable though it may be to be the leader in the world in printing on goatskin, if we are unable to sustain the industry except by subsidising it with unnecessary orders from Parliament, the industry is not sustainable. I believe that that is the view of Ministers and Opposition Front Benchers, and of most hon. Members on both sides of the House. We are not in the business of preserving industries merely for the sake of it.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I am concerned by my hon. Friend's reference to subsidy. Does he agree that several valuable industries have been sustained by subsidy and that Britain remains an industrial nation as a result?

Dr. Palmer: My hon. Friend's point would lead us into a broader political debate, but I agree with him that key industries have effects on other industries and need to be preserved during difficult times so that they can survive in the longer term. I suggest that the printing of documents on goatskin is not one of them. I note also that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes,

1 Nov 1999 : Column 47

North-East mentioned the need to support British agriculture, but I understand that the goatskins in question come not from Britain but from Morocco.

Mr. White: My hon. Friend has referred to goatskin throughout the debate, but it is calfskin that is used.

Dr. Palmer: I am grateful for that correction. In any event, the skins in question do not come from British cows.

The hon. Member for Aldershot, who is the authoritative voice in this House of the 19th century--and earlier centuries--noted the value of the death warrant of Charles I. I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that any future royal death warrants will not be put on archival paper. The motion refers only to Acts of Parliament.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: I am grateful for that explanation. However, should some measure that is not an Act of Parliament require the approval of the House, from where will we get the material?

Dr. Palmer: In the event of a future royal death warrant or other matter, we might exceptionally violate the call of the Leader of the Opposition and import the material from France.

The hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) argued that Finance Bills are too long. That is a non-party issue, which goes beyond the current debate, but I suggest that the way to shorten Finance Bills is not necessarily to preserve them on animal skin.

The hon. Gentleman also pleaded the case of tradition. Let me give a serious response to the arguments about preserving tradition. I do respect the traditions of the House and those of the country. I believe that we should support traditions that are in keeping with our concept of Britain today, but to preserve a tiny industry that prints on animal hide for the sake of tradition alone does not seem to me sensible, and would not be understood by our constituents as sensible.

Question put:--

The House divided: Ayes 53, Noes 121.

Division No. 279
[5.6 pm


Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Allen, Graham
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bermingham, Gerald
Boateng, Paul
Breed, Colin
Burnett, John
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Caplin, Ivor
Chaytor, David
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cotter, Brian
Darvill, Keith
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Dowd, Jim
Foulkes, George
Heald, Oliver
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Hill, Keith
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Kirkwood, Archy
Lock, David
McAvoy, Thomas
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Pope, Greg
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Ruane, Chris
Sarwar, Mohammad
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Stevenson, George
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Tipping, Paddy
Tyler, Paul
Walter, Robert
Webb, Steve
Worthington, Tony
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Dr. Nick Palmer and
Mr. Andrew Miller.


Allan, Richard
Amess, David
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Barnes, Harry
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)
Bercow, John
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Butler, Mrs Christine
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cox, Tom
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Dalyell, Tam
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Dawson, Hilton
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Brian H
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Etherington, Bill
Fabricant, Michael
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Fyfe, Maria
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gill, Christopher
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Grant, Bernie
Grieve, Dominic
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Harris, Dr Evan
Healey, John
Heppell, John
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Howells, Dr Kim
Iddon, Dr Brian
Jamieson, David
Jenkin, Bernard
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Khabra, Piara S
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Leigh, Edward
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Lidington, David
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
MacShane, Denis
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Meale, Alan
Moffatt, Laura
Mountford, Kali
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pike, Peter L
Pollard, Kerry
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prosser, Gwyn
Rapson, Syd
Robathan, Andrew
Rogers, Allan
Rooney, Terry
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Sawford, Phil
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soames, Nicholas
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stringer, Graham
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Wareing, Robert N
Watts, David
Wells, Bowen
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Winnick, David
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins and
Mr. Brian White.

Question accordingly negatived.

1 Nov 1999 : Column 49

Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.

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