Government cuts 30-year rule and looks to extend FoI

• 30-year-rule to be cut to 20 years
• Tim Berners-Lee to help open up government data online
• Freedom of Information could be extended

The length of time government records are kept secret is to be cut from 30 to 20 years as part of a series of reforms announced today.

Gordon Brown said today that he had asked internet guru Sir Tim Berners-Lee to “help us drive the opening up of access to government data on the web”.

He also said that justice secretary Jack Straw was considering whether the scope of the Freedom of Information Act should be extended to further bodies which spend public money.

In a wide-ranging Commons speech this afternoon, Brown said more work needed to be done to clean up parliament following the expenses scandal and improve transparency. Legislation will be introduced and debated before the summer recess.

Under the proposals, official documents apart from sensitive material, Royal Family and Cabinet papers will be released after 20 years instead of the current 30-year limit.

Brown told MPs today: “The last few months have shown us that the public require, as an urgent imperative, higher standards of financial conduct from all people in public life and an end to the abuses of the past.

“In the midst of all the rancour and recriminations about expenses let us seize the moment to lift our politics to a higher standard. In the midst of doubt let us revive confidence.”

Brown also said that the long-awaited official publication of MPs’ expenses on the internet would happen “in the next few days”.

Earlier this year, an independent team of experts led by Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre recommended that the 30-year rule be halved to 15 years.

Dacre said at the time that the perception of secrecy in government was breeding “public cynicism” and expressed a hope that the reforms would result in a “more mature democracy”.

There was no right of access to government records until the Public Records Act 1958 introduced a 50-year rule. This was reduced to 30 years in 1967.

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