The Ministry of Justice has announced that the current 30-year rule for historic official documents is to be reduced to 20 years.
Currently, official Government documents handed to the National Archives are closed for 30 years after they were produced. This means, for example, that documents relating to the Falklands War in 1982 are expected to become available in 2012. The exception, of course, is material that is judged to be too sensitive on national security grounds.
This is welcome news for historians, as it means that more historic records will be available for research much more quickly. According to the announcement on the ministry’s website, however, the process may take a while:
“To amend the Public Records Act to reduce the 30-year rule so that historical records are generally made available at The National Archives and other places of deposit after 20 years; this will be transitioned over a 10 year period at a rate of two years’ worth of records being transferred per year, with a view to commencing the process in 2013″
This still means however that documents relating to a whole host of events in the 1980’s will become available up to 10 years earlier than anticipated – the Falklands War, Thatcher‘s disputes with the Unions, Northern Ireland and the IRA, and possibly even documents relating to football hooliganism, Thatcher’s downfall and the first Gulf War. It has also been argued that the move will enhance transparency in Government, as ministers will only have to wait 20 years for their actions to come under scrutiny, rather than the present cushion of three decades.
Oliver Morley, Acting Chief Executive of The National Archives, said: ‘We look forward to working with government to implement these changes and will play a pivotal role in smoothing the transition for the records bodies involved.’
The move comes following a review of the 30 year rule in 2008. The 30 year rule has been increasingly redundant, as the Freedom of Information Act has made it possible for members of the public to request the opening up of material well before its 30 year closure has elapsed. This is particularly relevant with harmless and non-sensitive material that will help historians and family history enthusiasts alike.
I have also often thought that the 100 year limit on the national census returns is also excessive – might 50 years not be more sensible? I long for the day we can all access the little-known ‘wartime census’.
- Information laws to be extended (bbc.co.uk)
- Revealed: plans for extending FOI (nsrtk.blogspot.com)
- Secrets of Thatcher’s downfall will be public in just five years (telegraph.co.uk)
- Search & Display Over 10 Million Historical Government Records, Thanks to the National Archives (readwriteweb.com)
- Margaret Thatcher’s notes from 1979 reveal how she reprimanded ministers (dailymail.co.uk)
- Clegg pledges to expand freedom of information (dailymail.co.uk)