The National Archives has launched an online consultation on planned changes to the thirty year rule which governs the availability of public records to researchers. Anyone interested can contribute here.
The rationale for the changes was outlined by Gordon Brown in his speech on liberty in October:
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.
Under 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 arrangements.
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.
The inclusion of an NIO official doesn’t sound very promising. Presumably, he is supposed to the be the spokesman for the security interest. Paul Dacre has faced some criticism for taking up what is arguably a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ role. One hopes that he and David Cannadine will stand up for the interests of journalists and historians.