Public Records

Foreign and Commonwealth Office written question – answered on 4th December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Lester of Herne Hill Lord Lester of Herne Hill Liberal Democrat

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their plans to release files from their Special Collections archive during this Parliament.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State

Files outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) standard corporate file plan are now known as non-standard files.

Estimated at around 600,000, the non-standard files are generally older than the standard departmental files.

We have divided most of the non-standard material into four main categories in order to prioritise the preparation of these files for transfer to The National Archives (TNA): High Priority (around 60,000 files), Medium and Low priority (around 290,000 files across both categories) and a separate category for the Hong Kong government records (around 270,000 files). The Hong Kong records require further assessment before we can prioritise them for release (most are on microform).

Our prioritisation of the non-standard files has taken into account feedback from a wide variety of sources and interested parties including Professor Tony Badger, Professor of History at Northumbria University, the Independent Reviewer of the non-standard files.

We aim to prepare for transfer to TNA all high priority non-standard files (10% of the total) by 2019.

The first of the high priority records have now been released at TNA. They include 445 Colonial Reports, which are bound volumes of reports submitted annually to the Colonial Office by colonial governors. In October 2015, 254 files relating to the defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean were released to the public.

Our current estimate is that we will be able to prepare the medium and low priority records for transfer to TNA by 2027.

The FCO is committed to complying with the Public Records Act and to full transparency with respect to our record holdings.

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