Six Parliament Traditions That Make Printing Laws On Goat And Calf Skin Seem Modern

Six Parliament Traditions That Make Printing Laws On Calf Skin Seem Modern
File photo dated 23/03/07 of the original 1806 Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill on show at the House of Commons. The 1,000-year-old practice of printing laws on goat and calf skin will continue, a minister has said just days after the House of Lords signalled the tradition would end.
File photo dated 23/03/07 of the original 1806 Foreign Slave Trade Abolition Bill on show at the House of Commons. The 1,000-year-old practice of printing laws on goat and calf skin will continue, a minister has said just days after the House of Lords signalled the tradition would end.
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The centuries-old tradition of printing laws on goat and calf skin is to continue, the Government confirmed yesterday, after it looked set to be scrapped to save money.

The House of Lords decided to stop using the special parchment, known as vellum, from April in a bid to save taxpayers £80,000 a year.

The move provoked outrage from traditionalists, and Labour MP Sharon Hodgson complained the paper replacement would not last as long as vellum – which has a life span of thousands of years.

Yesterday, Cabinet Office Minister Matthew Hancock confirmed the practice would continue, and today David Cameron gave his full support to continuing using the skin of dead baby cows to record UK laws.

The PM’s Official Spokeswoman said: “Traditions are an important part of our Parliamentary heritage and it’s right that we should look to preserve them wherever possible.”

If you are surprised the move away from parchment to paper has been halted, here are other traditions which show Parliament really is stuck in another age.

Can't get enough of that wonderful snuff

If you ever hear MPs sniffing in the Commons, it could well be thanks to the free snuff that’s laid on for them.

With smoking banned in the Commons for more than 300 years, a cheeky snort of snuff was the only way for MPs to get a tobacco hit while in the chamber.

A box containing the eye-watering powder is kept at the doorkeepers’ entrance to the chamber should any member wish to partake.

The outgoing principal doorkeeper Robin Fell told Westminster Hour last night that grades of snuff ranged from "weapons grade" to milder versions.

A House of Commons spokesman told the Huff Post UK: “The snuff is traditionally purchased by the Principal Doorkeeper, so no public funds are used.”

Labour MP Dennis Skinner has found himself in breach of Parliamentary language rules a few times

Listening to a House of Commons debate might make you think you have travelled back in time thanks to the archaic language used by MPs.

Members are not allowed to refer to each other by name during debates, instead saying “the honourable member for….” as they desperately try to remember which constituency the other MP represents.

If the MP is talking about someone from the same party, they can say “my honourable friend”, and if they are a member of the privy council, they are “the right honourable.”

MPs are not allowed to accuse each other of lying – no matter how tempting it might be – and other words also deemed “unparliamentary” include “blackguard”, “stoolpigeon”, “idiot”, “tart” and “pipsqueak.”

If an MP uses such a term, and refuses to withdraw it, they can be ‘named’ by the Speaker – which means they are banned from the Chamber for at least the rest of the day.

In 2005 Labour veteran Dennis Skinner was ‘named’ after saying: “The only thing growing [in the 1970s and much of the 1980s] were the lines of coke in front of boy George [Osborne] and the rest of them.”

You would think no one would want to be Speaker of The Commons based on the fuss they make when they are chosen.

The successful candidate has to be physically dragged to the chair by other MPs, although to be honest they don’t put up much of a fight.

According to the Parliament website: “This tradition has its roots in the Speaker's function to communicate the Commons' opinions to the monarch. Historically, if the monarch didn't agree with the message being communicated then the early death of the Speaker could follow.

“Therefore, as you can imagine, previous Speakers required some gentle persuasion to accept the post.”

The first speaker was appointed in 1377, and Parliament research shows “nine of his successors are known to have died violent deaths, of which seven were beheaded.”

Louise Mensch lasted less than three years as an MP

In 1624, a resolution was passed meaning MPs could not resign their seats – a rule which, of course, stays to this days.

So if an MP cannot technically resign, how do they get out of Parliament early to, say, move to New York with their family despite having only served two years of a five year parliament (we’re looking at you, Louise Mensch).

A legal loophole means that MPs cannot have any employment paid for by the Crown, so any member wishing to bail out of parliament early applies to one of two positions: Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds and of the Manor of Northstead.

Neither is an actual job, and merely allows the MP to be technically ‘disqualified’ from serving.

The 56 SNP MPs elected last May showed they meant business when it came to shaking up Westminster by breaking one of the rules of the Chamber: no clapping.

But their rebellious act might not be as daring as they had hoped, as clapping is technically not banned in the Commons.

From Robin Cook’s resignation speech over the Iraq War to David Cameron leading the applause as Tony Blair left the Commons for the last time, the Chamber has frequently reverted to the sound of clapping.

A Select Committee looking into the modernization of the House of Commons in 1998 said: “While we agree that spontaneous clapping at the end of a speech could in no way be interpreted as disturbance of the speaker, there is a danger that such a practice might be open to abuse and could lead in certain circumstances to orchestration of what would amount to standing ovations with the success or failure of a speech being judged not by its content but by the relative length of the ovation at the end.”

According to Westminster folklore, the Government and Opposition benches are two sword lengths apart to stop MPs from stabbing each other.

However this is unlikely to happen as the only person allowed to carry a sword in the Chamber is the Serjeant- At-Arms.

So where do MPs keep their swords when they are debating? In the purple ribbons attached to hangers in the members’ cloakroom of course.

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