Why MPs insist that Acts of Parliament still need the slaughter of Norwegian goats

WHO WILL stand up for the goat? Even this animal rights-conscious Parliament, prepared to risk the wrath of the Countryside Alliance over hunting foxes, is determined to cover its library in goatskin.

MPs dug in their heels, and in a free vote, refused to end the tradition of printing Acts of Parliament on vellum. The supposedly modernising House is unmoved that use of paper would save the taxpayer pounds 30,000. Vellum costs pounds 28 per A4 page.

It cares not that vellum is made from goatskin. It cares not for the nasal passages of workers at the Record Office in the Victoria Tower at Westminster, where there are almost 60,000 Acts of Parliament on the shelves. "It is a bit oily and it smells," moaned one clerk of his daily encounters with vellum. "It is not attractive stuff to come into contact with."

Nonsense, says Wim Visscher, a partner at William Cowley, the only producer of vellum in the country. He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that vellum demanded craftsmanship of a high order.

"We take an animal skin and we spend an awful lot of time stretching it and scraping it to get a flat surface. It demands a lot of elbow grease." Vellum, he says, has qualities that paper can only dream of. It doesn't burn, and it is the only material apart from stone guaranteed to last for centuries. What would the Domesday Book be now if not written on vellum? Dust. What would Magna Carta be now if not written on vellum? Also dust.

Nicholas Palmer, a Labour member of the Commons administration committee, who tried to persuade MPs to abandon vellum, is aghast. "Our constituents will react with total incredulity if we continue to insist that our laws are prescribed on goatskin," he says.

And spare a thought for the goats. William Cowley buys the skins from Britain and Norway for parliamentary use. One skin will make about 16 leaves of writing. That's not a lot of legislation per goat.

It could be worse. Two years ago archaeologists discovered a "gospel factory" that produced the vellum for the 1,300-year-old Lindisfarne Gospels and other priceless Dark Age illuminated manuscripts. Excavation unearthed the bones of scores of calves, with the remains of a vellum-production complex that appears to have included a slaughterhouse, pens, and two workshops.

Each 500-page book would have needed the skins of 130 calves. So perhaps today's Parliamentarians are champions of change. Though they might need to justify their faith in vellum with more logic than the Conservative MP Gerald Howarth. He says: "I take the view that if it is not necessary to change it is necessary not to change. That seems to me to be the foundation of tradition."

The view of one lobby correspondent is more convincing. "The best vellum has a smooth and glossy surface. Vellum is thus the perfect metaphor for what goes on in Parliament."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most