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Government secrets under the spotlight at the University

Published: 3 November 2003

A one-day seminar at the University of Southampton this month will mark 50 years of unlocking Government documents.

University academics will contribute their expertise to the John Hansard Trust Colloquium being held at the Hartley Library on 13 November. Delegates will examine several issues including nuclear power and democratic accountability, freedom of information during the Cold War and the British state and official knowledge in the 18th and 19th centuries. They will also hear about a pioneering project to make Parliamentary papers from the 18th century onwards available on the world wide web.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first of the 'breviate' summaries of Parliamentary papers by Professor Percy Ford who was appointed in 1926 to the Economics Department of the, then, University College, Southampton.

Colloquium organiser Professor Miles Taylor said: "With a Freedom of Information act underway and questions of official secrecy and Parliamentary accountability dominating the news headlines in recent months, it is a particularly appropriate time for historians and political scientists to meet and share ideas and research in convivial surroundings.

"Professor Ford had a deep, lifelong interest in social and economic problems and policy, and believed that the fundamental sources for their study were Parliamentary Papers and other government publications through which policy and practice could be explored and assessed. As a schoolboy he had collected the great Blue Books of Royal Commission reports.

"His enthusiasm was shared by his wife Grace who, in her teens, had worked in Sylvia Pankhurst's experimental nursery schools in the East End. Between 1950 and 1970, the Fords published six volumes of Breviates and Select Lists, offering an invaluable tool for navigating around British Official Publications for the period 1833 to 1964."

Political journalist and leading historian Peter Hennessy will also speak at the event.

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