Monday, January 16, 2006

1911 Census debate

The Campaign for the release of the 1911 census rolls on, see website of the pressure group "The UK Centre for Census Access Studies"
"...has recently discovered that, in August 2004, the Information Commissioner’s Office advised the National Archives that “the Commissioner might experience considerable difficulty in agreeing that the release (of the 1911 census) could be delayed until 2011 in the event of a request under Section 1 of the (FOI) Act.” Nevertheless, for reasons that are not obvious, the Commissioner has not yet published his decisions on requests about this matter which he received in May 2005 – 8 months ago."

There is an early day motion , currently signed by 36 MPs
"That this House notes that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 repealed the 100-year closure period for decennial census records, but that, nevertheless, the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the National Archives assert that it is Government policy that the 1911 Census shall remain closed to inspection for 100 years; and urges the Information Commissioner to take an early opportunity to publish his advice on this matter."

See the Parliamentary background at "They work for"

The issue is complex - as it relates to a duty of confidentiality to those still alive in 2006 who were recorded when the Census was taken in 1911 and I suspect practical issues of resourcing the availabilty of the census that will attract a huge amount of interest. There is a strong argument that the duty may not be "actionable" given the time delay and the likelihood no one may be living at the addresses now and there would still be a consideration of public interest. Though it is understandable that the Government are proceeding cautiously given that the duty given on a census form is an important guarantee for public confidence in the system. Any ICO decisions will be interesting.

1 comment:

Kittybrewster said...

EDM 1198 has now been signed by 116 MPs. The "duty of confidentiality" to those who were recorded when the Census was taken in 1911 was not undertaken by any government until the 1960s (when the 100-year rule was introduced by ministerial statement without a vote by Parliament) and it has long been accepted that no government can bind its successor. The Government in 1911 gave no undertaking on the census form to adhere to any 100-year rule. There is no issue of public confidence in the system. By contrast the 100-year rule and the Census were discussed by Parliament prior to the adoption of the FoI Act 2000 and Parliament deliberately chose not to include Censuses in the exceptions to the Act.