As the Deputy is aware, the National Archives is responsible by law for the acquisition of records of permanent value from Departments of State, the courts and 61 named bodies. The National Archives can also acquire archives from other sources, such as businesses, hospitals, charities and voluntary bodies, where it is considered that the archives are of outstanding quality and value. This can, on occasion, entail the rescue of archives that are in danger of destruction.
I understand that the National Archives has a historic backlog of approximately 70,000 boxes of archives which need archival and preservation processing to varying degrees. These documents are held in safe and secure conditions but, in light of the pressure on resources, progress on the historic backlog is likely to be slow. As each archival collection will require different levels of work, it is not possible to estimate accurately the funding implications arising. I would like to make it clear that the National Archives statutory annual intake of official records does not generate any backlog in cataloguing work and is catalogued within existing resources each year.
The historic backlog largely comprises records of national significance rescued by the National Archives in order to secure their preservation, where there is no legal requirement on the agency that created them to implement an archival preservation programme; and records acquired by the former Public Record Office of Ireland and State Paper Office of Ireland from Government Departments and offices prior to the enactment of the National Archives Act 1986, in order to secure the preservation of these records in the absence of a legally mandated institution to perform this preservation work.
Cataloguing is one of the core professional duties of archivists in the National Archives, requiring specialist knowledge and in-depth understanding of the content and historical and administrative context of the archives. Unfortunately, due to the moratorium on recruitment, it has not been possible to increase the number of archivists in recent years. Consequently, while the annual intake is catalogued and managed within current staffing resources, the backlog of 70,000 boxes cannot be dealt with at present, other than on an incremental basis as resources permit. I would like, in that context, to acknowledge here in the House the high level of work and commitment by the director and her staff.