Page last updated at 22:44 GMT, Thursday, 25 February 2010

Secret papers 30-year rule reduced to 20

A file from the depository at the National Archives
Papers can be released earlier under the Freedom of Information Act

The 30-year rule for publishing secret government papers is to be reduced to 20 years, the government has announced.

The measure - to be phased in over 10 years - falls short of the 15 years proposed by a government-commissioned review but was welcomed by campaigners.

Papers relating to senior royals will remain exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests and will be kept secret for the person's lifetime.

Ministers have dropped their objection to Cabinet papers being released early.

On Thursday Justice Secretary Jack Straw published the government's response to the 2009 review, which was chaired by Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre.

'Openness principle'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown had already indicated he favoured a 20-year delay and said Cabinet papers and documents relating to communications with the Royal Family should be not the subject of FOI requests.

In the government's response on Thursday, it said it had dropped its objection to Cabinet papers being released earlier in certain circumstances.

We are extremely pleased that the prime minister has decided to drop the proposed Cabinet exemption
Maurice Frankel
Campaign for Freedom of Information

It said: "The government believes that there are arguments on both sides and that the importance attached to the principle of openness means that greater protection should only be introduced if it is essential to maintaining the constitutional position of collective responsibility.

"Having considered the arguments, on balance the government does not consider such enhanced protection to be necessary as a result of the reduction to 20 years."

Ministers will keep their power to veto an FOI decision by the information commissioner, which has already been used in two cases.

Communications with the monarch, heir and second-in-line to the throne will be kept secret for 20 years, or five years after the individual's death - whichever is the later.

Papers relating to minor royals could be released earlier, depending on the public interest.

The new 20-year rule will be phased in over 10 years by doubling the amount of old records released each year.

The proposals are contained in amendments to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill.

Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, welcomed the news, saying it meant records would be released when people could still remember the events they referred to.

He said: "We are extremely pleased that the prime minister has decided to drop the proposed Cabinet exemption.

"That would have ruled out the release of any paper circulated to Cabinet or a cabinet committee, even if there would be no harm to decision-making or collective responsibility."

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