HC Deb 18 July 2000 vol 354 cc157-8W
Mr. Cohen

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what the current composition and role is of the Advisory Committee on Public Records; who appoints its members and for how long they remain on the Committee; how frequently the Committee meets and when it last met; who decides which matters are on its agenda; how its activities will be affected by the implementation of the Freedom of Information Bill; and if he will make a statement. [130686]

Mr. Lock

The current composition of the Advisory Council on Public Records is as follows:

  • Chairman: the Master of the Rolls (ex officio)
  • Miss Amanda Arrowsmith, Director of Libraries and Heritage, Suffolk county council
  • Professor David Cannadine, Director of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London
  • Sir John Chilcot GCB, retired, formerly Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office
  • Professor Peter Clarke, Professor of Modem British History, University of Cambridge and Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge
  • Mr. Ian Coulson, teacher, schools inspector in Kent
  • Miss Rosemary Dunhill, County Archivist of Hampshire
  • Professor Ralph Griffiths, Professor of Mediaeval History, University of Wales, Swansea
  • Mrs. Anne Hanford, film librarian and consultant in the management of media collections
  • Mrs. Gillian Hughes, a professional researcher and record agent
  • Professor Rodney Lowe, Professor of Contemporary History, University of Bristol
  • Professor the Earl Russell, Professor of British History, Kings College London. Represents the Liberal Democrats on the Council
  • 158W
  • Mrs. Shahwar Sadeque, educational and information technology consultant
  • Mr. Andreas Whittam Smith, Journalist, former editor of The Independent, chairman of the Sir Winston Churchill Archive Trust and president of the British Board of Film Classification
  • Dr. Anne Thurston, executive director of the International Records Management Trust
  • Right hon. Lady Trumpington, former Baroness in Waiting, House of Lords. Represents the Conservative Party on the Council
  • Right hon. Alan J. Williams, Labour MP for Swansea West. Member of the Public Accounts Committee.

The role of the Council is set out in the Public Records Act 1958 s1(2), as being: to advise the Lord Chancellor on matters concerning public records in general and, in particular, on those aspects of the works of the Public Record Office which affect members of the public who make use of the facilities provided by the Public Record Office.

The Council's current terms of reference were set by the Lord Chancellor on 22 January 1998 and were published with the Council's annual report for 1997–98 in the Keeper's Report for that year (HC 840).

In accordance with the terms of the Public Records Act 1958, members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor. They normally serve for a three-year term, which is renewable once.

The Council meets four times a year, normally in February, June, October and December. It last met on 15 June 2000. Much of the Council's agenda is determined by the timetables for applications by Departments for the retention or extended closure of public records. Other items appear on the agenda at the request of members of the Council, of members of the public, or of the Keeper of Public Records. The agenda is approved by the Master of the Rolls.

The Freedom of Information Bill is expected to give the Council a statutory role in advising on the availability to the public of information in public records once they are more than 30 years old. This will be much the same function as it has exercised for the last 40 years in advising the Lord Chancellor on the operation of s5(1) of the Public Records Act 1958. The Bill currently before Parliament provides for extension of the Advisory Council's role by inserting S1(2A) as follows: The matters on which the Advisory Council on Public Records may advise the Lord Chancellor include matters relating to the application of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to information contained in public records which are historical records within the meaning of Part VI of that Act.

The Advisory Council's involvement in the release of information in public records will be set out in some detail in Part II of the Lord Chancellor's code of practice on the management of records under Freedom of Information, a working draft of which will be published shortly.

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