HC Deb 13 January 1976 vol 903 c100W
Mr. George

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he intends to relax the rules governing access to public records in Northern Ireland, to bring them into line with those applying elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Yes. I have decided that in general public records in Northern Ireland should be open to the public after 30 years, instead of 50 years as at present. The change can be made by administrative action, without amending legislation.

Records relating to the Northern Ireland Cabinet and Northern Ireland Government Departments up to the end of 1945 which have been catalogued by the Public Record Office were released on 1st January 1976. Thereafter, year by year, further records will be made public.

As is the case elsewhere in the United Kingdom, certain records will remain closed for extended periods. In deciding which documents warrant this special treatment I shall bear in mind experience elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Restrictions will be kept to the minimum consistent with protecting the security and revenue of the State, the privacy of the individual, and undertakings of confidentiality given by Departments. Documents may be released in advance of the normal period, if there are good reasons.

In the first instance the 30-year rule will apply only to the records relating to the Northern Ireland Cabinet and Government Departments, but it is intended, after consultation with the appropriate authorities, to extend the new arrangements to records deposited by the courts, local authorities and statutory bodies.