Prime Minister’s files (PREM) – 1986

In this release


Television licence fees: report by Professor Alan Peacock’s Committee on Financing the BBC; BBC accounts; part 2

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1677
Date range: 04 April 1985 – 30 June 1986

A note from Leon Brittan to Thatcher discusses the membership of the Peacock Committee, including the possibility of his brother, Samuel, being included (17 April 1985). Correspondence between Geoffrey Howe and the Chief Secretary of the Treasury details disagreements over expenditure on BBC External Services (26 June 1985). Peter Warry of the Policy Unit reports disappointing BBC accounts and accuses the organisation of failing to maintain proper accounting principles (6 November 1985).

Douglas Hurd is invited to issue an accounts direction for 1985-86 but Thatcher says: ‘I do not like issuing a direction. I should prefer continually to point out what the BBC is doing and that it does not represent a true picture’. Warry shares the unstated objectives for the Peacock Committee with Thatcher, including the aim to knock the BBC down to size, force them to improve efficiency, and prevent them from ‘extravagantly expanding into everything from DBS (Direct Broadcasting by Satellite) to breakfast-time TV’ (13 June 1986).


Questions of Procedure for Ministers: part 2

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1680
Date range: 18 November 1981 – 31 January 1986

Paymaster General Angus Maude writes to the Home Secretary regarding ministerial appearances on radio and television (21 February 1980). He raises concerns at ‘confrontation’ programmes where ministers take part in discussions with shadow ministers or an audience. He says: ‘Over the last ten years or more, Governments have generally been against participation in such programmes.’ He says ministers should ‘rigorously’ examine the advantages of appearing on the BBC television’s Question Time programme but that phone-in programmes ‘can provide Ministers with a useful means of scoring points and the Jimmy Young Show is felt to be particularly useful.’

Bernard Ingham warns against ‘fly on the wall’ style programmes and points to the ‘devastating’ BBC series on Thames Valley Police (27 January 1982). Also included is a Cabinet Secretary minute highlighting ‘a breach of security by the Home Secretary, in leaving classified papers uncovered in his official car’ (22 June 1984).

Diplomatic missions

Armed protection for British government representatives overseas: carriage of arms by bodyguards of VIP visitors

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1698
Date range: 08 January 1980 – 06 April 1986

This file contains briefing and correspondence relating to issues around protecting British diplomats overseas where the host government is deemed to have insufficient security. Thatcher writes to Powell regarding an incident at the London Economic Summit in 1984 which involved two French security officers who arrived at Guildhall without the appropriate passes and were armed even though no authority had been given to the French to carry firearms (15 June 1984). A second incident involving three American agents who were found to have concealed ammunition in their hand luggage at Heathrow. Following on from this, there is a letter from Leon Brittan to Thatcher regarding requests for Reagan’s bodyguards to carry firearms while in the UK for the Economic Summit to be held in June 1985.

Brittan also cites various concerns raised by the French, German and Dutch governments about the capability of the Metropolitan Police in protecting Reagan and their countries’ leaders and the wider issue of the ‘no firearms’ policy and whether exceptions should be made.

Economic policy

Public expenditure: handling of 1986 Public Expenditure Survey; part 34

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1701
Date range: 05 December 1985 – 30 May 1986

The issue of Local Authority capital overspend for England becomes bound up with expenditure discussions concerning Scotland. Malcolm Rifkind draws attention to overspending by English local authorities and seeks compensating arrangements for Scotland (17 January 1986). However, John MacGregor, the Chief Secretary to The Treasury, replies: ‘There is no case in equity for compensating Scotland for this lapse in control’. Nigel Lawson expresses concern ‘at the growing tendency for colleagues’ representations to appear in the newspapers’, referring to an article in the Today newspaper (11 March 1986) and Kenneth Baker makes a light hearted reference to this (12 March 1986). There are several statements to the effect that Ministers must show restraint in proposing increases to their public expenditure programmes (Wicks memo 21 May 1986). Geoffrey Howe’s memo entitled ‘Public Expenditure Survey – FCO Programmes’ refers to the Aid programme and states: ‘The Geldof factor continues to grow in strength’ (29 May 1986). He continues: ‘As Sports Aid has followed Live Aid, public enthusiasm for the aid programme has continued to grow – particularly amongst young people, for whose support we need to make a special effort’. He states there will be increasing pressure on the government to do more as the election approaches.

Public expenditure: Chief Secretary’s bilaterals with spending Ministers; arrangements for Star Chamber; part 35

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1702
Date range: 02 June 1986 – 30 September 1986

Chief Press Secretary Bernard Ingham expresses his worry about the total of spending ‘overbids’ by Ministers (10 June 1986). This is echoed by JB Unwin of the Cabinet Office who writes: ‘The amount of additional bids is unmanageable’ (10 June 1986).

Nigel Lawson tells the PM: ‘I believe we are not far from creating the impression that in the run-up to the next Election we are throwing all restraint on public expenditure to the winds’ (15 July 1986). Various departments write to, and meet with, the Treasury to discuss their bids.

Policy towards privatisation: disposal of public sector assets; contracting out of public sector functions; flotation of Royal Ordnance PLC; Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) picketing at DHSS Huyton Local Office over privatised cleaning contract; part 13

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1703
Date range: 02 December 1985 – 27 June 1986

File includes the privatisation of the National Bus Company and three major privatisations are planned for the first half of 1987: British Airways, the British Airports Authority and Rolls-Royce. Donway Building Maintenance are in dispute with the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) regarding Donway’s cleaning contract with the DHSS premises in Huyton, Liverpool – picketing takes place and there are allegations of intimidation. Donway appeal to the PM and Thatcher writes: ‘We can’t let a small business be extinguished by thugs’ (22 April 1986). Norman Fowler considers a government injunction but Donway withdraws from the contract. Thatcher writes: ‘The TGWU have won. Intimidation has succeeded in forcing a small firm out of a contract legitimately entered into’, and asks for a report – querying whether changes in the law are needed. On 17 June 1986 Thatcher concludes the sale of Royal Ordnance, which had been planned for July, should be deferred.

Policy towards privatisation: disposal of public sector assets; contracting out of public sector functions; flotation of Royal Ordnance PLC; Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) picketing at DHSS Huyton Local Office over privatised cleaning contract; part 14

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1704
Date range: 09 July 1986 – 29 October 1986

The report on the Huyton (DHSS) local office dispute is produced. Thatcher is critical: ‘I think this report is too casual. It looks to me as if there are gaps. I want to know exactly what we do if this happens again’ (25 July 1986). John Major (at DHSS) writes to Donway. Thatcher says that, in the event of any similar future disputes, ‘we should expect to institute legal proceedings forthwith’ (19 August 1986). Referring to the Property Services Agency, John Redwood comments: ‘The speed and purpose in rationalising, redeveloping and refurbishing the government’s estate is still that of a drunken tortoise’ (30 July 1986).

Economic strategy: pay and prices; economic statistics; part 26

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1705
Date range: 15 March 1984 – 16 December 1985

Thatcher describes an Institute of Directors paper from John Hoskyns as a ‘customary rant’ (07 February 1985). In background notes for a meeting, Bernard Ingham refers to the miners’ strike as ‘the classic post-war demonstration of the futility of striking’ (18 Apri l 1985). The file contains a good deal of discussion about the effect of public investment in infrastructure in reducing unemployment. John Redwood writes ‘unemployment still looks unpromising’, and urges that further action is taken on the ‘why work? problem’ (10 July 1985). Conservative Centre Forward Group Francis Pym writes to Nigel Lawson about ‘the cost of unemployment’ (15 July 1985). Lawson asks the Head of the Government Economic Service for a ‘quick and forceful riposte’ to Pym (15 July 1985). At a dinner with Lawson and others ‘the PM expressed concern about the slow progress being made on inflation’ (15 December 1985).

Domestic monetary policy: part 15

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1707
Date range: 02 December 1985 – 30 September 1986

David Norgrove writes to Rachel Lomax at HM Treasury saying: ‘The Prime Minister has asked whether the Treasury and other relevant departments are confident that the arrangements now being put in place for the supervision of banks, other financial institutions…are comprehensive’ (6 November 1986). The file contains more papers on the Johnson Matthey episode.

Reform of taxation policy: preparation of Green Paper on personal taxation; partnership taxation; part 2

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1708
Date range: 10 January 1984 – 29 January 1986

Nigel Lawson produces a Green paper on Personal Taxation. Nigel Wicks writes to the PM: ‘It is most unfair of the Chancellor to plonk on you, under cover of a one-page minute, this massive document…and expect a quick reply’ (27 September 1985). Thatcher responds: ‘There can be no question of treating this Green paper in such a cursory fashion. It must go first to a Cabinet Committee and return to Cabinet’.

Financial Services Bill: Stock Exchange deregulation, the ‘Big Bang’; commercial fraud; Roskill Report on Fraud Trials; part 3

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1718
Date range: 03 January 1986 – 26 September 1986

Robert Armstrong writes to Nigel Wicks expressing his concern about the ‘increasing disquiet about the things that people think are going on in the City…they think more about the way in which corners are being cut and money is being made in ways that are at the least bordering on the unscrupulous’. Wicks replies that Ministers will meet on 5 June 1986 to discuss the ‘Big Bang’ and address these sorts of issues. There is an account of that meeting on the file. There is a good deal of discussion within the file concerning ways to make the Serious Fraud Office effective as it was one of the key proposals of the Roskill Committee.

The Budget, 1985 and 1986; part 14

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1720
Date range: 11 March 1985 – 31 January 1986

Bernard Ingham issues a draft ‘template’ message about the cost of Arthur Scargill regarding the miners’ strike (12 March 1985). Lord Whitelaw responds: ‘Personally I would not go too far on the anti-Scargill line’. Thatcher refers to a VAT changes advert as ‘awful’ (2 August 1985). David Norgrove writes to Thatcher concerning the budget: ‘A more relaxed budget risks damage to market confidence. It could look like the start of an electoral bribe, and it could risk confirming the view that, particularly with the changes in the [com]position of the Cabinet and the Westlands affair, you are no longer ‘the same prudent old Maggie’ as Brian Walden described you’ (31 Januaey 1986).


General policy on education and education expenditure: grant aided schools; biased teaching and political indoctrination in schools and colleges; part 6

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1722
Date range: 04 September 1985 – 29 April 1986

A plan to improve the involvement of parents in schooling in Croydon by sending them test results is shared with Thatcher and receives support from both her and Oliver Letwin of the Policy Unit (5 November 1985). Letwin proposes the establishment of a dozen grant-aided primary schools, which would be independent but directly funded by the government (9 January 1986). A Department for Education and Science suggestion that there should be a manifesto commitment for higher education spending receives short shrift from Thatcher (10 February 1986). Letwin provides Thatcher with a paper entitled ‘Education: The Long-Term’, which details plans for the future and makes the claim that ‘education is still, fundamentally, a nationalised industry’ (21 February 1986). Claims that education was afflicted with political bias are crystallised in a circular and a subsequent note from Keith Joseph (1 April 1986). He requests a House of Lords inquiry but the adviser Tim Flesher argues either the government ‘grasp the nettle of a Government inquiry or let the matter rest with the DES circular’.

Environmental affairs

Report on leak at Windscale: policy towards Sellafield; environmental pollution; report on incidence of cancer in west Cumbria; report of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment; part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1741
Date range: 28 July 1980 – 22 July 1986

Patrick Jenkin suggests a ‘Sellafield dimension’ to Government policies where financial compensation would be given to areas near nuclear plants, such as the Workington Enterprise Zone. This is rejected by David Pascall of the Policy Unit (1 June 1984). The Black Report published in July 1984 causes concern as it looks at leukaemia among young people in Seascale, near Sellafield (17 July 1984). Correspondence between Thatcher and the Taoiseach, Garret Fitzgerald in March 1986 demonstrates Irish concerns over the safety of Sellafield. Advisor Michael Addison describes the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) report as having come at ‘an unfortunate time, after Chernobyl.’

Environmental policy: vehicle emissions; acid rain; pollution control; environmental protection; part 4

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1742
Date range: 18 June 1985 – 31 July 1986

Patrick Jenkin writes to Thatcher suggesting Britain joins other European nations in the ‘30% Club’, a symbolic group looking to achieve a 30% reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions by 1993 (24 June 1985). He believes this could be achieved without any further expenditure, a claim doubted by Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Robin Nicholson (28 June 1985). A paper by Hartley Booth of the Policy Unit looks at the Government’s record on conservation and highlights options for the future; including targeting being part of the 30% Club by July 1986 (12 July 1985). Kenneth Baker suggests a new Pollution Inspectorate be created and discussions follow. A final report shared by the Cabinet Secretary suggests it should be created (14 July 1986).

Margaret Thatcher agrees to a proposed £1.5m refurbishment of Trafalgar Square remarking: ‘Excellent – it is very shabby’ (catalogue reference: PREM 19/1743/1)

Margaret Thatcher agrees to a proposed £1.5m refurbishment of Trafalgar Square remarking: ‘Excellent – it is very shabby’ (catalogue reference: PREM 19/1743/1)

The refurbishment of Trafalgar Square

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1743
Date range: 24 June 1986 – 30 June 1986

Nicholas Ridley writes to Thatcher outlining plans for ‘a major refurbishment of Trafalgar Square’ (24 June 1986). The main proposals would see the relaying and renewal of paving and the repair of lighting and services at a cost of £1.5m. Ridley notes the popular tourist hotspot is ‘badly in need of repair for operational reasons, as well as a general smartening up.’ Thatcher agrees and writes: ‘Excellent – it is very shabby.’ Work is set to begin in mid 1987 and be completed by early 1989 although the area would never be completely closed to pedestrians and the 1987 and 1988 Christmas and New Year celebrations would be able to go ahead. Image available

Government machinery

The 70th anniversary of the Cabinet Office

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1776
Date range: 21 October 1986 – 05 December 1986

The Times contacts the Cabinet Secretary asking for an interview regarding the 70th anniversary of the Cabinet Office on 9 December 1986 (21 October 1986). This is the date when, in 1916, Sir Maurice Hankey first took his place alongside Prime Minister David Lloyd-George as secretary at a meeting of the Cabinet. The Cabinet Secretary refuses an interview but agrees to write a signed article. Thatcher asks for several sections of the draft article to be deleted, including that a lack of a cabinet secretary had led to ‘confusion and uncertainty’ in the past. In 1922, one commentator called for the restoration of ‘honest government’ without a cabinet secretary ‘destroying the responsibility of Ministers’ which Thatcher describes as ‘an unfortunate quote.’ Thatcher also removes a section describing correspondence with King George V explaining why a secretary was needed. In the end, The Times reject the article so the Cabinet Secretary passes it to The Daily Telegraph who ‘with a fine sense of topicality, have accepted it with alacrity.’ (5 December 1986)

Home affairs

Capital punishment: sentencing policy; part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1782
Date range: 11 July 1979 – 05 March 1986

The Northern Ireland Office Permanent Secretary writes to the Home Secretary on the subject of a possible reintroduction of the death penalty in terrorist murder cases (11 July 1979). The Permanent Secretary argues reintroducing capital punishment would put more pressure on judges and lead to a ‘drying up’ of confessions from those accused. Thatcher writes to Professor John Gunn confirming there will be a free vote in the House of Commons on the issue. She signs off saying: ‘I shall vote to restore the death penalty’ (18 July 1979). The Commons reject the proposal but the issue is again raised in 1983. Pieter Dankert, president of the European Parliament, warns a yes vote would be an ‘extraordinary and terrible decision’ and impact on Britain’s world standing in terms of Human Rights (11 July 1983). Irish Foreign Minister Peter Barry writes to James Prior noting: ‘The execution of Irish people under British law for politically inspired offences would almost certainly create a situation worse than anything our two governments have experienced during the past 13 years. The IRA, the INLA and other terrorist organisations would take full advantage of their opportunity’ (8 July 1983). The majority of MPs again vote to reject capital punishment (13 July 1983). Correspondence regarding Leon Brittan’s outline proposals for a new sentencing policy and government attitudes to lenient sentences are also included in the file.

Prime Minister’s seminar on crime prevention, January 1986; part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1784
Date range: 08 August 1985 – 20 March 1986

Douglas Hurd welcomes a ‘timely’ suggestion from the Prime Minister’s Office that Thatcher chair a seminar on crime prevention (30 September 1985). Hurd suggests a multi-agency approach is needed and the seminar should focus on vehicle crime, residential burglary, violent crime and crime in the workplace. Invitations are sent to representatives of the police, insurance companies, the CBI, car manufacturers, school head teachers, architects and politicians, among others, for the seminar on 8 January 1986. However, special advisor Hartley Booth warns Thatcher that: ‘The Home Secretary is concerned that the seminar… may expose the lack of Government policy to tackle violence’ (13 December 1985). Booth suggests a proposed package of measures, including: the promotion of Neighbourhood Watch schemes; ‘rescue missions’ for the elderly ‘marooned in bad council blocks’; and the installation of ‘iron policeman’ emergency telephones on street corners. He also proposes publicising research on television violence to ‘shame the BBC and ITV into monitoring and reducing the level of violence shown.’ The file includes Thatcher’s briefing notes, the meeting agenda and Hurd’s conclusions that several working groups should be set up to build on the seminar discussions (6 February 1986).

Family Policy Group: renewing the values of society; part 3

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1788
Date range: 02 March 1983 – 08 September 1986

Norman Fowler’s paper ‘Preparation for Parenthood’ is shared with Thatcher (7 March 1983). Subsequent discussions involve the possibility of making school facilities available for use by the general public. A paper by David Willetts of the Policy Unit describes how media comment on events like the Brussels football riots indicated Britain was suffering from ‘social instability’ (9 June 1985). His description of the continued prevalence of the traditional family unit suggests this was not the case, and he found comfort in the words of the ‘New Society’ magazine.

The behaviour of British football fans abroad: soccer hooliganism; Popplewell Report on crowd safety and control at sports grounds; part 5

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1789
Date range: 01 August 1985 – 08 August 1986

This file includes continued discussion about the installation of CCTV at football stadia ahead of the 1985-86 season and disagreements between the Government and the football authorities about who should pay the £500,000 bill. A note discusses an offer for Thatcher to appear in Shoot! Magazine (4 September 1985). No 10 Press Officer Christine Wall advises Thatcher against this suggesting the magazine was ‘an inappropriate platform’ as it was aimed at 11-16 year olds. A draft of the Popplewell Report suggests alcohol should be allowed in executive boxes (19 December 1985). But Hartley Booth of the Policy Unit warns this could be seen as ‘another example of one law for a privileged group and a tougher law for those who have to stand on the terraces’. The final Popplewell Report brings a strong response from Thatcher who is determined not to relax previous action that had been taken (10 January 1986). The file ends with positive reports from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about English fans’ behaviour at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico and another meeting between Thatcher and the football authorities (16 July 1986).

Review of the law on public order; part 2

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1795
Date range: 12 February 1985 – 21 May 1986

Hartley Booth of the Policy Unit criticises methods of collecting crime statistics (12 March 1985). A Home Office draft of the Public Order White Paper is circulated (4 April 1985). Thatcher questions proposals to provide police with new powers to disperse crowds and they are dropped (9 April 1985). Douglas Hurd adds further amendments to the White Paper with specific powers to deal with football hooliganism (1 October 1985). The file also includes discussion on the removal of BBC and ITV immunity from incitement to racial hatred legislation. Booth describes this as the ‘right and courageous thing’. A note from Hurd to Thatcher discusses the strategic view on crime, in which he argues Government alone could not bring down crime figures and that: ‘There is no basis for any claim that increases in crime over a particular period can be attributed to the policies of any particular administration.’ (3 December 1985)

Home Office

Obscenity legislation (video nasties): meetings with Mary Whitehouse

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1792
Date range: 18 May 1983 – 30 September 1986

This file contains correspondence from Mary Whitehouse, founder and president of the Viewers and Listeners Association, to the PM regarding legislation on obscenity and offences against public decency with particular reference to ‘video nasties’. Correspondence relates to organising meetings for Whitehouse to meet with Thatcher on this matter. Included is a letter from Whitehouse to Thatcher enclosing extracts from letters received from teachers about the impact of video nasties on children (28 July 1983). Another letter from Mary Whitehouse, requesting a meeting, includes a handwritten note from Thatcher saying: ‘I will of course see Mrs Whitehouse. But first I must have a meeting with the Home Office […] We have been doing nothing about this subject for years. Of course she is upset.’ (21 July 1986)

Tags: 1986, file release, PREM, prime minister's office