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1,000-year-old tradition of recording laws on goat and calf skin hangs in balance

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Peers say scrap tradition in favour of £80,000 a year savings

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The 1,000-year-old tradition of recording laws on goat and calf skin hangs in the balance, with the House of Lords calling for the age-old practice to be scrapped.

Written down on parchments known as vellum, the material is said to retain its integrity much longer than regular paper. With the oldest paper records in the Lords dating back to the early 16th century, the original copies of Magna Carta — signed almost 800 years ago — used vellum.

Citing savings in excess of £80,000 a year, peers have said the ancient practice will end this April.

However, the Cabinet Office has now waded in to the debate, revealing it may be willing to stump up the extra cash to save vellum.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Matthew Hancock, the minister for the Cabinet Office and paymaster general, said:

Recording our laws on vellum is a millennium long tradition, and surprisingly cost effective. While the world around us constantly changes, we should safeguard some of our great traditions and not let the use of vellum die out.

With the lime-washed animal skins lasting over 5,000 years, ministers have warned that the less durable paper would require special storage at additional costs.

Warning of a “constitutional stand off” if the Lords push ahead without a Commons vote on the matter, James Gray MP is planning to call a back- bench debate on the fate of vellum.

Despite having a similar attempt blocked by MPs in 1999, and opposition this time round, a spokesperson for the House of Lords said:

The House of Lords is responsible for producing record copies of Acts of Parliament. We are therefore proceeding to replace vellum with archival paper. It is expected this will save at least £80,000 a year. Archival paper has a lifespan of several hundred years.