I’m currently going round the houses to get access to a file from the 1970s, so I am also quite pleased with the Prime Minister’s plan to make access to historical files easier:
Freedom of Information is not simply about current discussions
within government but about the restrictions we place on the
publication of historical documents.
It is an irony that the
information that can be made available on request on current events and
current decisions is still withheld as a matter of course for similar
events and similar decisions that happened 20 or 25 years ago.
the present arrangements historical records are transferred to the
national archives and are only opened to public access after thirty
years or where explicitly requested under the FoI Act. It is time to
look again at whether historical records can be made available for
public inspection much more swiftly than under the current
There are of course cost and security
implications of a more open approach which we will need to examine
thoroughly. So I have asked Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief of Associated
Newspapers and member of the Press Complaints Commission – working with
Sir Joe Pilling, former Permanent Secretary of the Northern Ireland
Office, and the eminent historian David Cannadine – to review this
rule. And we look forward to receiving their proposals in the first
half of 2008. (10 Downing Street)
Welcome as this, I wonder if there is a political calculation involved here, namely that the main beneficiaries of the status quo are the Tories.
Under the thirty year rule, we are due for a steady diet of releases about Jim Callaghan’s Government in the lead up to a likely election in 2009. A switch to a twenty-year-rule could mean a concentrated burst of revelations from the 1980s, an era that many younger voters will not remember.
A new system would need to be in place fairly quickly to have an impact. Could we see files on the Thatcher years appearing on the National Archives website in January 2009?
Brown knows the power of such revelations as a result of the pensions controversy. Might this prove to be one of his more astute wheezes?
Incidentally, for a wider critique of Brown’s speech on liberty, it’s worth checking out Jon Bright’s latest piece at OurKingdom.