HC Deb 12 May 1998 vol 312 cc68-9W
Mr. Burstow

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement on the public holding arrangements for the Great Seals for the period 1617 and 1831 concerning patents granted. [40133]

Mr. Hoon

Copies of letters patent issued over the great seal between 1617 and 1831 could be enrolled in the Chancery patent rolls. Under the Public Records Act 1958, these patent rolls are open for consultation by the public in the Public Records Office.

Not all letters patent were thus enrolled and the system of enrolment broke down between 1648 and 1659, for which period few rolls survive. Original letters patent over the great seal were issued to the person to whom the grant was made. They thus passed into private hands, and were not subject to public holdings arrangements.

The matrix for a new seal is cast at the beginning of the reign of each Sovereign or when the Seal wears out. In the past, the old Seal was broken into several pieces but more recently, it has been the custom for the Sovereign to 'damask' (deface) the old Seal by means of a special hammer, to render it unfit for use. The old Seal is then presented to the Lord Chancellor as a personal gift of the Sovereign.