In line with the Lord Chancellor’s code of practice on the management of records, the FCO maintains an inventory of its record holdings and carries out regular file audits.
In my statement of 30 November 2012, Official Report, column 36WS, I informed the House of the existence of a large accumulation of legacy records in the FCO known as the “special collections”. On 12 December 2013, Official Report, column 55WS, I explained that the FCO had published a detailed inventory of its archive records on gov.uk. This inventory arose out of a file audit carried out in 2013 which focused principally on the main FCO archive. All of these record series have been incorporated into the FCO’s records release programme. Details are available at: www.gov.uk/archive-records
As a result of an internal management audit, we became aware in July last year that a substantial number of legacy paper files are held outside the main FCO archive. I therefore asked FCO officials to carry out a further file audit across the entire FCO estate covering all departments in the UK and all overseas posts. During this file audit, all identified file stores in the UK were physically inspected by a specialist contract team and every overseas post provided summary details of their legacy paper file holdings. The audit was carried out over September and October last year.
Following this file audit we have identified a number of collections of records across the FCO which contain files overdue for review under the Public Records Act. The total number of files in these record series is just under 170,000. Unlike records held in the main FCO archive, a significant proportion of these files contain copies of original records or routine management, finance, personnel and consular records. Some files, however, are likely to require permanent preservation. We have reported our findings to the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on National Records and Archives and we have also provided full details to Professor Tony Badger, the independent reviewer appointed by the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague).
The Lord Chancellor has granted the FCO one year’s legal retention for these files while we develop a prioritised plan for their review under the Public Records Act. We will submit this plan to the Lord Chancellor’s advisory council by February. We will ensure that files requiring permanent preservation are correctly prioritised for release and incorporated into our current release programme.
By the end of March, we will publish on gov.uk a new version of the FCO archive inventory incorporating all of the files series identified during this file audit. We will also publish a revised record release plan.
I am pleased to inform Parliament that the first record series from the FCO’s special collections, consisting of 445 colonial reports, were released at The National Archives on 23 December.
The FCO is committed to complying with the Public Records Act and to full transparency with respect to our record holdings.