Revised terms of reference


1. The Forum on Historical Manuscripts and Research (the ‘Forum’) is a sub-committee of the Advisory Council on National Records and Archives – an expert advisory non-departmental public body, chaired by the Master of the Rolls and reporting to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

2. The Forum fulfils the Advisory Council’s remit in relation to manuscripts, records and archives not within the public records system. It also provides expert advice and challenge to The National Archives on its work with the archives sector and the research and academic community.


Advising the Secretary of State:

3. The Forum will consider and provide advice to the Secretary of State on matters relating to manuscripts, records and archives, other than public records, and particularly:

• the location, collection, care, custody, preservation, acquisition, sale and use in all formats of such documents
• the compilation and dissemination of information about them
• any questions affecting such documents as may be referred for its consideration, including issues relating to the statutory duties of the Master of the Rolls in respect of manorial and tithe documents, and the making of recommendations to appropriate Ministers on the allocation of archives and manuscripts accepted for the nation in lieu of tax
• other issues that would formerly have come within the terms of reference of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts as set out in the Royal Warrant, which appoints the Keeper of Public Records the sole Historical Manuscripts Commissioner

Advising The National Archives:

4. The National Archives fulfils the UK-wide remit of the Historical Manuscripts Commission and leads the archive sector in England. The Forum will provide advice and challenge to The National Archives’ Chief Executive and Keeper and senior officials on The National Archives’ work discharging these responsibilities, particularly:

• the development of government policies affecting archives
• sector-wide strategies and initiatives led by The National Archives
• any issues of concern highlighted to members by archive users and practitioners
• issues related to the Historical Manuscripts Commission function where independence is needed, including mechanisms for the Keeper, or others, to support the sector as necessary

5. The National Archives serves a diverse community of individuals and institutions engaged in archive-centred and scholarly research. The Forum will provide an open, independent and authoritative advisory voice to The National Archives to support constructive and collaborative engagement between The National Archives and this wider research community, sharing knowledge and developing trust and understanding. Areas for advice and exchange will include:

• opportunities for collaboration
• the development of The National Archives’ archival research strategies
• initiatives to open up and/or more widely disseminate archival collections
• any issues of concern highlighted to members by the research community

6. In relation to both the archives sector and the research community, the Forum provides The National Archives with strategic advice on The National Archives’ engagement with key stakeholder groups.

Membership, attendance and secretariat

7. The Forum is chaired by the Master of the Rolls and comprises four members of the Advisory Council and three additional members appointed directly to the Forum. In the event of the Master of the Rolls being unable to attend a meeting, the Deputy Chair will act as chair.

8. All members of the Forum, appointed via the Advisory Council or directly to the Forum, are appointed by the Secretary of State in line with guidance issued by the Commissioner for Public Appointments and will act in accordance with relevant codes of practice for such appointments.

9. The National Archives’ Chief Executive and Keeper attends meetings of the forum ex officio, as does the Head of Archives Sector Development. Other officials of The National Archives will usually attend as follows:

• The Director of Research and Collections
• The Head of Chief Executive and Keeper’s Office

10. The Secretary to the Advisory Council acts as Secretary to the Forum.

Meetings of the Forum

11. The Forum will usually meet three times a year, with one of the meetings jointly held with the Advisory Council. The Forum may also consider issues via email (e.g. on the acceptance in lieu scheme).

12. Meetings of the Forum will be quorate with the attendance, in person or via remote access, of four of the seven members.

13. Papers will be circulated to all members at least one week (five working days) in advance of meetings. Draft minutes will usually be circulated to members within one month (20 working days) of the date of the meeting.


14. When performing the Forum’s role to advise the Secretary, the Forum reports to the Advisory Council, which is chaired by the Master of the Rolls, which in turn reports to the Secretary of State. This reporting line provides an escalation route for any concerns the Forum may have in relation to the areas within its remit.

15. The Advisory Council receives an update from the Forum as a standing item at each of its meetings. This will usually be in the form of an oral update from one of the members. Agreed minutes of meetings of the Forum will be circulated to members of the Advisory Council.

16. Summaries of the meetings will be published on the Forum’s web pages.

Terms of reference agreed: 21 May 2021
Next review: 2022

If you have any comments on these Terms of Reference please email the Advisory Council Secretary.