HL Deb 14 October 1999 vol 605 cc516-9

3.35 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I do not wish to detain the House, but it may be helpful if I explain briefly the background to what may appear to be a rather arcane Motion about archives.

On 16th June the House approved the Second Report from the Offices Committee which recommended that the record copies of Acts of Parliament kept in the House of Lords Record Office should be printed on archival paper instead of vellum with effect from the first Act of the year 2000. The House also agreed that the supply of a duplicate copy for the Public Record Office should cease.

In approving the Offices Committee Report, the House approved these recommendations. The substantive issue has, therefore, already been decided. The purpose of this Motion before us today is to replace the Resolution agreed by Parliament in 1849 to print two record copies of every Act on vellum with a new Resolution to print one copy on archival paper.

Moved, to resolve that, notwithstanding the Resolution of this House of 8th February 1849, the record copy of each Act of Parliament, authenticated by the Clerk of the Parliaments and deposited in the House of Lords Record Office, shall be printed on archive paper instead of vellum; that the supply of a duplicate copy to the Public Record Office shall be discontinued; and that these changes shall take effect in respect of all Acts which receive Royal Assent after 1st January 2000.—(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will not mind if I detain the House for a minute or two. We are changing the practice of 150 years and I think it deserves a small pause. I agree with the noble Baroness that it is a change worth making.

Perhaps I may confirm my understanding, first, that no Acts of Parliament which are currently printed on vellum will be now copied on to archive paper? Secondly, will the noble Baroness confirm whether representations have been made by the manufacturers of vellum; and what the House's response has been? Finally, since we are moving this Resolution today, am I right in thinking that we also need the agreement of another place; or can we act unilaterally on our own?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. We are changing a practice of some substantial historical period. On the other hand, as I said, the substantive point was agreed when the House approved the Offices Committee Report in June.

First, my understanding is that this will be a change which occurs only on the first Act of the year 2000. In that sense I think it is unlikely that Acts which are presently stored in this way will be transferred. I thought that he might suggest that they be put on the Internet, or something of that kind, since we sometimes discuss that in another context.

Secondly, there have indeed been representations, I believe, to individual Members of another place from one of the manufacturers concerned with the production of vellum. I am not aware that individual Members of this House have been similarly approached—noble Lords may rise to say that they have.

Thirdly, it is true that the other place has to agree to this proposal. As noble Lords will be aware, it has not yet resumed sitting in this Session. I understand that its Administration Committee will put this matter to the House in the very immediate period.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness for having missed this matter when it came before the House earlier. We need to be increasingly vigilant over these various proposals for change which can slip past less acute eyes—as mine clearly were.

I am perfectly happy that we should change from vellum to archive paper. That makes sense. I am not happy if there ceases to be deposited in the Public Record Office an authenticated copy of Acts of Parliament. The Public Record Office is a source of historical documents. It is a historical source. As a journalist I have frequently used it myself. Historians make use of it all the time. We expect to find the originals of documents in the Public Record Office. How much money will be saved by not depositing in the Public Record Office one copy of Acts of Parliament on the new archive paper? Acts of Parliament are of great importance. I am most unhappy at the idea that the Public Record Office should lose its completeness in this way.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I would not wish to comment on his vigilance, but I understand that the House of Lords Administration Sub-Committee first agreed to this discontinuance in 1985; so his eye may have been distracted for quite some time.

I am advised that the Public Record Office has agreed to the proposal. As regards the total costs, I understand that the financial savings to the House of Lords are about £30,000 a year, but that is for the total change. I shall of course write to the noble Lord on the specific changes he raises about the two copies.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I stand second to no one in my antipathy to change. But in this case, the whole thing seems a little silly. We have agreed to change to a different kind of paper, but for those of us who are interested in records, surely, the place for this information is on CD-ROM. It is much more easily searched and records in hard copy form are physically ridiculous. CD-ROM is the place where they should be kept permanently and efficiently.

As we are approaching the year 2000, is it not time for your Lordships' House to inch forward—perhaps to move forward more than inches—and adopt a practice which corresponds to modern-day technology?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I hesitate to comment on my noble friend's perception of the historical changes which are made, but he raised the issue which I thought the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition would raise. We have had many exchanges using e-mail and so forth. I am advised that the probable life expectancy of the archival paper which is to replace the velum is about 500 years, but the life of a CD-ROM has yet to be tested in that context.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am a member of the Lord Chancellor's Committee for Public Records and I am unaware of the subject being raised at the previous two meetings which I have attended. However, I presume that all is not lost because anyone who wishes to look for records can find them here. Can the Minister confirm that?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, yes, I can confirm that. The issue is the different nature of the records, not the records themselves.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, as one who uses the Public Record Office from time to time, I support the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in his view that the originals of the Acts of Parliament should be deposited in the Public Record Office. It is of limited cost and provides good value for those who want to see the originals when in the future they go to them as historians.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I hesitate to he discourteous to my noble friend, but that was one of the points discussed in the Offices Committee. The House then approved the report in June. As I said earlier in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, the Public Record Office has agreed to the change.

On Question, Motion agreed to.