Select Committee on Administration Second Report


Note by the Clerk of the House

Record Copies of Acts


1. The purpose of this note is to seek the view of the Committee on the proposals -

that from the first chapter of the year 2000 the record copy of public Acts preserved in the House of Lords Record Office should be preserved on archival paper and not on vellum, and both private and public Acts should have archival paper covers, and

that (subject to the views of the Keeper of the Public Records and the Master of the Rolls) the deposit of duplicate record copies of both public and private Acts at the Public Record Office should be ended, with effect from the same date.

2. The arrangements proposed to be changed derive from Resolutions of both Houses in 1849 (CJ (1849-50) 42). The Resolutions provided for two copies of every Act, whether Public or Private, to be printed on vellum, one to be deposited in the Record Tower (now the House of Lords Record Office) and the other with the Master of the Rolls (now the Public Record Office). The copy deposited in the Lords' Record Office is authenticated by the Clerk of the Parliaments. Where a doubt arises about the accuracy of the published text of an Act the Courts look to this authenticated copy as the authority for what Parliament has enacted. As well as providing authority for the Courts the authenticated copy is consulted by members of the public both in the United Kingdom and from abroad. The authenticated record copy therefore needs to be held in a form in keeping with the authority and dignity of Parliament.

3. The 1849 Resolutions were not formally amended by the House when in 1956 (following the recommendations of a Joint Committee and the Lords Offices Committee) it was ruled by the Speaker that the vellum requirement should no longer apply to private Acts (HC Deb. (1955-56) 558, c. 945). On the other hand, given the recent history of attempts to change the practice regarding record copies of public Acts (see para. 4 below) it is suggested that amendment by the House (and by the Lords) of the earlier Resolutions would be the most appropriate course in this case.

Archival paper

4. A proposal to extend to record copies of public Acts the 1956 decision on printing of private Acts on vellum was rejected by a Sub-Committee of the Lords' Offices Committee in 1957 after they had heard evidence which appeared to cast doubt on the suitability of paper for archival purposes. The suggestion was not considered in the Commons at that time. In 1985, a similar proposal which had been agreed by the Lords was put before the Accommodation and Administration Sub-Committee in this House and rejected: no report was made setting out the Sub-Committee's reasons, though it is believed that Members took the view that the anticipated level of savings did not justify a departure from long-standing tradition. It was also the case that representations were made by a Member in whose constituency a vellum-making factory was located. (It should perhaps be added here that there is currently only one supplier of vellum in Europe. In the event of failure, recourse would have to be had to North America.)

5. So far as concerns the suitability of archival paper raised in 1957, samples of the record copies of the Private Acts deposited in the Lords' Record Office from 1956 have since been tested and reveal no deterioration in the archival paper on which they have been printed. Forty years is not a long time in archival terms, but British Library Conservation Department laboratory tests have proven a life expectancy of 250 years and indicate that archival paper can have a life expectancy exceeding 500 years. All record copies are maintained by the Lords Record Office in proper archival conditions and they are produced for inspection only under supervision.

6. In addition, archival paper has the advantage of being considerably less bulky and easier to handle than vellum since vellum sheets are, on average, two and half times as thick as archival sheets. The Clerk of the Parliaments, who is the Parliamentary Officer responsible for the preservation of the record copies of Acts, has concluded that the adoption of archival paper for the record copies of the Public Acts would be as satisfactory for those Acts as it is for the Private Acts. Examples of archival paper will be available at the meeting of the Committee.

7. As to the cost, which was at issue in 1984, it is clear that there would be substantial savings to public funds from such a change. The current cost of vellums is £27 per page (ie for two copies). Expenditure on vellums amounted to £59,000 for the 1997 Acts, and is projected to be £67,000 for the 1998 Acts. The Finance (No. 2) Act 1998 alone cost £11,502. This figure does not take account of staff costs involved in checking vellums, necessitated in particular because ink does not take as easily to vellum as it does to paper. A saving of nearly £24,000 per annum could be made by switching from vellum to archival paper, or some 35.7 per cent of the total cost (and see also paragraph 9).

8. Finally, there are practical considerations arising from the printing process itself. The use of vellum is a very specialised form of printing which few printers are equipped to carry out (see para. 4), and which probably even fewer would be prepared to take on. In view of the current process of tendering for the printing services to both Houses, and the likelihood that HMSO will also tender for its contract in respect of printing Acts (to which the printing of vellums is tied) in the near future, it is desirable to remove any disincentive to which the need to print vellums might give rise in prospective providers of such services. The more that can be done to create genuinely competitive conditions for the award of new printing contracts, the better.

Duplicate copies

9. The 1849 Resolutions also incorporate a requirement for a duplicate record copy. The then Keeper of Public Records was consulted about this in 1984 and he indicated that the duplicate copies held by the Public Record Office were rarely consulted and that any inquirer wishing to consult these duplicates was normally referred to the Lords' Record Office. The then Master of the Rolls was also of the opinion that these duplicates should be dispensed with. Their respective successors are being consulted, but there is no reason to expect that the position of the Public Record Office has since altered. I will keep the Committee up to date with any replies received. Using archival paper for the production of only one record copy would increase the annual saving to some £30,000 or 42.5 per cent of the total cost.


10. I have no objection to the proposal to print record copies on archival paper. The status of these copies would not be affected. The manner of preservation is appropriate and the durability of the material involved is acceptable. There will be cost advantages. In practice the consequences for the two Houses will be very limited indeed. So far as concerns the lodging of a duplicate copy in the Public Record Office is concerned, Members are reminded that the published Queen's Printer's copy of an Act is a legally recognised text in its own right, and is produced from the same type as the record copy. A further specially authentic copy in the Public Record Office seems unnecessary.

11. The Administration & Works Sub-Committee of the Offices Committee in the Lords agreed on 4th May this year that vellum copies should be discontinued and recommended that from the first chapter of the year 2000 one single record copy of Acts, whether public or private, should be produced on archival paper. If the Committee concurs, and the Lords Offices Committee agrees, I suggest that the next step would be to seek the House's agreement by means of a Resolution to amend or supersede that of 1849, with a parallel procedure in the Lords.

7 May 1999

previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 21 June 1999