Prime Minister’s office files (PREM) – 1985

In this release


Westland Helicopters: part 1A

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1415
Date range: 30 April 1985 – 10 December 1985

This file, and PREM 19/1416, provides useful material on the background to the Westland Crisis of December 1985 – January 1986. You can see the mounting tensions between ministers about the future of the Westland helicopter company. Michael Heseltine, Secretary of State for Defence, writes to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, on 30 April 1985 about the ailing Westland helicopter company. By May/June, the possibility of Westland going into receivership is being mooted and whether the Government should provide assistance.

Initial concerns and questions are raised between July and October 1985. From the end of October, bids from the American company Sikorsky and rival offers are considered and in November/December, the intervention by Heseltine is commented upon.

John MacGregor (on behalf of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury) writes to Heseltine on 3 December: ‘In my view, our starting point must be that Westland should have the freedom to choose the best commercial deal’. On 4 December Peter Warry (Policy Unit) writes to Charles Powell: ‘Michael Heseltine’s shotgun marriage of the European Helicopter industry echoes Harold Wilson’s reconstruction of the motor industry in the 1960s’.

On 6 December, at a meeting chaired by the PM, it is reported that Westland are not satisfied with the European bid and wished to proceed with the Sikorsky offer. A note of this meeting states that, according to the Defence Secretary: ‘the question was whether it was right to allow a significant British Defence contractor to come under foreign control’. Thatcher stated that it was necessary to make a decision in a formal Cabinet Committee. There would be a meeting on 9 December and a new paper should be prepared for it. On 8 December, Charles Powell informs the PM that ‘the struggle has continued over the weekend’ and that ‘Mr Brittan, although furious at Heseltine’s intervention, has agreed the paper’. Brittan expresses his criticism of Heseltine’s action to the PM on 9 December.

Westland Helicopters: part 1B

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1416
Date range: 10 December 1985 – 27 December 1985

The file contains a note from [JW?] to Nigel [presumably Nigel Wicks, PPS] stating: ‘You might like to tell the PM that Michael Heseltine asked me late [?] to try and persuade her to hold a meeting on Friday. I said I could not do that. I said he must either do it himself or if as he said it was a ‘constitutional necessity’ under Cabinet Government, I suggested he spoke to Clive Whitmore who would if necessary speak to Robert Armstrong’. On 13 December, AJ Wiggins of the Economic Secretariat states: ‘the position remains that Mr Brittan and Mr Heseltine are pursuing essentially different policies’.

On 16 December, Sir Robert Armstrong reports on his investigation of the ‘ring round’ for a possible further meeting on Friday 13 December (to which the Secretary of State for Defence referred in Cabinet on Thursday). He writes: ‘it is normal for the Cabinet to ring around Private Offices…to find out who will be available and when…such a ring round does not imply a definite decision to call the meeting. It was not a summons to call a meeting, but I am afraid the Secretary of State for Defence gave Cabinet on Thursday 12 December the impression that it was, and I am very sorry that the Prime Minister was embarrassed by it’. On 19 December Bernard Ingham asks Nigel Wicks: ‘is Mr Heseltine isolated in Cabinet? Answer?’

The BBC Nine O’Clock News reports that ‘Michael Heseltine’s political future is in the balance tonight’ (19 December). Heseltine writes to Thatcher on 23 December: ‘I know also that you will understand the depth of my convictions in this matter’. Brittan writes to the PM on 27 December countering Heseltine’s points.

This file should be read together with CAB 128/81 CC (85) 36th Conclusions, Thursday 12/12/1985 and CAB 128/82 Most Confidential Record CC(85)36 Conclusions.


Relations with Argentina: Falkland Islands and Dependencies; Belgrano affair; bilateral talks on normalisation of relations; part 39

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1420
Date range: 1 November 1984 – 25 April 1985

Contains correspondence between Thatcher and the MPs George Foulkes, Tam Dalyell and Dr David Owen about the ‘Belgrano affair’. Charles Powell, Private Secretary for Overseas Affairs, writes a note to the PM about the missing log book for HMS Conqueror: ‘it is the Control Room log which is missing…all information relevant to the Conqueror’s engagement with the Belgrano is in the Captain’s report of proceedings’.

There is governmental concern when extracts from the diary of an ex-officer from HMS Conqueror, Lt N Sethia, are published in the Observer as the diary contained classified information. Donald Trelford, editor of the Observer, contacts Clive Whitmore and informs him that the Observer did not have a copy of the diary and the newspaper had been ‘temporarily loaned it’. The PM comments that there was no point in taking out an injunction against the Observer.


Letter from Margaret Thatcher to Home Secretary Leon Brittan (catalogue reference: PREM 19/1442/1)

Letter from Margaret Thatcher to Home Secretary Leon Brittan (catalogue reference: PREM 19/1442/1)

Television licence fees: finances of BBC; pay in the BBC; review of external services; part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1422
Date range: 6 July 1979 – 28 March 1985

This file includes discussions about options for financing the BBC, in particular setting the licence fee. In a telephone exchange with the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, the Prime Minister expressed her concern about ‘the extravagance of some of the BBC’s spending’ and even suggested the introduction of advertising on ‘light music radio programmes’ (28 September 1979). A letter sent to the Prime Minister from the peer Lord John Vaizey echoed these sentiments, asking, ‘why do not BBC 1 and Radios 1 and 2 accept advertising apart from prejudice against ‘commercialisation’ which they equate to low standards and vulgarity?’ (17 June 1980). Discussions abound regarding the difficulty of offering the same rates of pay to the BBC External Services as the much larger BBC Home Services.

A meeting between the Prime Minister and the Controller of Radio 3, Ian McIntyre (described as ‘one of the few supporters in the BBC hierarchy’) explored opportunities to advertise on the BBC (14 December 1984). On 28 February 1985, the Home Secretary Leon Brittan wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting the terms for an inquiry into the financing of the BBC, but the Prime Minister hoped for more, responding: ‘No, the terms of reference are far too limited. Perhaps I might be consulted?!’


Proposal by Julian Amery MP to revive the Special Operations Executive (SOE): history of SOE in the Far East, Greece and Scandinavia

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1437
Date range: 3 April 1980 – 16 December 1985

This file contains correspondence from Julian Amery MP to Thatcher about the possibility of reviving SOE (3 April 1980). There are subsequent letters and correspondence with other government departments about this and a meeting with John Nott and Amery was arranged. More correspondence from Amery followed, pushing the political importance of having a SOE. Within a letter Amery states: ‘I have bitter memories of how ill-prepared we were for this kind of thing when war broke out in 1939 […] we are already far more at war with the Soviets in the subversive sphere than we ever were with Hitler until he invaded Poland’ (29 February 1984).

Arms control negotiations: Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT); Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START); Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF); Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI); Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABMT); arms control and outer space; nuclear non-proliferation; convention on chemical weapons; Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR) discussions; negotiations on Comprehensive Test Ban; Conference on Disarmament in Europe; part 6B

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1443
Date range: 4 January 1985 – 15 February 1985

In a letter of 5 January 1985, addressed to Thatcher, Reagan states: ‘This period of transition could lead to an eventual elimination of all nuclear arms, both offensive and defensive’. The Soviet Union attacks the US Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI – popularly known as ‘Star Wars’). Oliver Wright, British Ambassador in Washington writes to Geoffrey Howe, Foreign Secretary on 29 January – Wright is worried that Britain ‘may miss the bus’, referring to the ‘revolution in defence technology’ represented by the SDI research programmes. However, Howe sounds ‘a note of caution’ in a letter to the PM dated 15 February. He warns of the ‘risks in rhetoric being allowed to run too far ahead of reality’. Referring to the vision of abolishing all nuclear weapons, Howe is concerned about the future of Britain’s own nuclear deterrent, and the ‘difficulty of delivering the President’s dream’. He asks whether we can have a proper debate with the Americans at a lower level.


Bradford City Football Club fire: Prime Minister’s visit to Bradford, May 1985

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1448
Date range: 12 May 1985 – 22 May 1985

A note by Charles Powell on 12 May 1985 gives some details about the tragic fire at Bradford City Football Club which had occurred the previous day. Also contained in the file is a note of the Home Secretary announcing an enquiry into safety and crowd control at football grounds along with a copy of a speech by Robert Maxwell at a civic reception given by the City of Oxford on 12 May (Maxwell was Chairman of Oxford United at this time). Maxwell announced new safety measures for Oxford United’s ground and wrote to Thatcher suggesting a reduction in the Football Pools’ betting levy, which in his view would enable the resulting benefits to go to the Football Grounds Improvement Trust. There are international messages of condolence addressed to Thatcher and copies of her replies.

Downing Street

250th anniversary of PM’s residence at No. 10 Downing Street

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1449
Date range: 10 December 1984 – 12 December 1985

Robin Butler (initials FERB), Principal Private Secretary, writes to the PM on 17 December 1984: ‘As you know, Walpole took up residence at No 10 as Prime Minister in 1735. So next year is the 250th anniversary of its becoming the Prime Minister’s residence’. Thatcher approves a proposal for a television programme to mark this anniversary, and Butler begins corresponding with the BBC. The rules under which the BBC will operate in making the programme are laid down and agreed. Thatcher agrees to some filming of her (and her family) in the flat at No 10. It is suggested that there could also be a visit of schoolchildren to No 10 to mark the anniversary. Mrs Thatcher comments on 29 August: ‘if we are going to have children we should have to provide entertainment. Otherwise they get bored’.

Economic policy

Public expenditure: capital spending; Public Expenditure Survey; running costs targets; 1985 White Paper; part 31

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1452
Date range: 17 December 1984 – 30 April 1985

The Public Sector Borrowing Requirement (PSBR) for November 1984 has exceeded the forecast by about £0.4 bn. Peter Rees of the Treasury is not happy about Michael Heseltine’s reduction of staff numbers at the MoD. Bernard Ingham’s memo of 07 January 1985 entitled ‘Public Expenditure – Presentation’ is typically forthright. Ingham states that the public expenditure survey (PES) exercise ‘has built into it levels of conciliation and (increasingly) degrees of bloodletting on the Government, or No 10 carpet, which, to mix metaphors, is meat and drink to the media’. He asks: ‘can we drastically shorten the Government shooting season?’ Responding to this, Robin Butler refers to the difficulties of bringing together decisions about expenditure and taxes, although he admits it would be desirable. Butler writes to the PM on 7 February and states: ‘The Chancellor is becoming more and more worried’ regarding public expenditure prospects.

Public expenditure: running costs targets; Public Expenditure Survey 1985; part 32

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1453
Date range: 10 May 1985 – 30 September 1985

The PM and Chancellor discuss the new idea that Cabinet members meet informally to discuss public expenditure priorities for the year ahead. Prior to this meeting at Chequers, Andrew Turnbull, Private Secretary for Economic Affairs, asks the PM: ‘Do you want a letter to be sent [to Ministers]? The PM responds: ‘No – it will only leak. I can warn them orally on Thursday’. The file contains memos by John Redwood, Head of the Policy Unit, who consistently writes in a direct style. David Willetts of the Policy Unit writes to the PM about public expenditure: ‘We might be selling the family silver, but we are spending the proceeds on improving the home’ (10 July 1985 – this comment predates the famous speech by the 1st Earl of Stockton, Harold Macmillan of 8 November 1985 – ‘First of all the Georgian silver goes…’).

Peter Rees of the Treasury refers to the ‘over provision’ in the Scottish block and Northern Ireland block last year and suggests reductions are made in the three public expenditure survey years. He is aware that there is likely to be strong opposition from George Younger (Secretary of State for Scotland) and Douglas Hurd (Secretary of State for Northern Ireland). Willetts writes a strongly worded memo to the PM on the subject of provision for Scotland and Northern Ireland on 29 July 1985. The Treasury propose suspending the block formula.

Domestic monetary policy: part 12

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1456
Date range: 5 December 1984 – 26 April 1985

The Bank of England had rescued Johnson Matthey Bankers’ (JMB) gold bullion dealers from collapse on 30 September 1984. This file concerns the aftermath of the rescue operation. It contains correspondence between Dr David Owen MP and Chancellor Nigel Lawson concerning JMB and the use of public money for its rescue. There is a rise in interest rates in January 1985 and John Redwood writes on 28 January: ‘we need to use this period of gloom and doom to sharpen the knives on public expenditure’.

The issue of joining the EMS (European Monetary System) under which members of the EEC link currencies, is raised by John Redwood who is firmly opposed: ‘we should not join the EMS’ (31 January).

Domestic monetary policy: Part 13

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1457
Date range: 10 May 1985 – 28 June 1985

In memos John Redwood argues for an overhaul of banking supervision on 14 May 1985 and addresses the debate about the perceived ‘death of monetarism’ (30 May 1985). On a memo concerning monetary control from the economist Alan Walters, Thatcher writes: ‘I had no idea that we had let things go to such an extent’. In a note to Walters on 5 June 1985 she expresses her concerns: ‘I am very worried about M3, the Bill mountain, the rate of inflation and rising property prices’.

Financial services: position of Stock Exchange, including future changes to structure and membership; Gower Report on Investor Protection; securities regulation; commercial fraud; part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1461
Date range: 24 November 1983 – 18 September 1985

This file contains a memo by John Redwood and David Willetts anticipating the reform of the stock exchange (the deregulation of financial markets, known as the ‘Big Bang’ occurred in October 1986), explaining how the separate functions of ‘jobbers’ and ‘brokers’ will be swept away. It is stated that ‘the Government…should be quite firm that it requires a central electronic marketplace with continuous recording of prices, volumes traded and last-trade price’.

European policy

European Convention on Human Rights: corporal punishment in schools

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1485
Date range: 12 November 1980 – 30 April 1984

This file focuses on discussions within Government following the case – detailed by Private Secretary for Home Affairs, Tim Flesher on 21 February 1983 – regarding two Scottish applicants ‘who do not wish their children to be subjected to corporal punishment at school’. The Secretary of State for Education and Science, Keith Joseph, recognised the requirement to implement the subsequent ruling from the ECHR but wished to ‘avoid undermining discipline in schools’. Legislation is sought to give parents the right to exempt children from corporal punishment.

On 24 February 1983 the Secretary of State for Scotland George Younger was ready to announce the abolition of corporal punishment in public schools in Scotland, which Flesher described as either ‘…a healthy variation on differing attitudes North and South of the Border or an example of inconsistency founded largely on differing attitudes in the Scotland Office and [the Department for Education and Science]’. In a note written on 12 April 1984 to the Lord President of the Council, Viscount Whitelaw Joseph, recognised the difficulty of implementing a system where there are two types of pupil – those who can be given corporal punishment and those who cannot, and believed that schools should have the right to choose.

Home affairs

Civil disorder: Scarman Report on the 1981 Brixton riots; part 2

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1521
Date range: 30 October 1981 – 28 September 1985

This file covers the period between the publication of the Scarman Report on 25 November 1981 – the Prime Minister’s immediate response to which was a concern that it was ‘highly critical of the police’ – and the beginning of disturbances in Brixton and the shooting of Cherry Groce on 28 September 1985. On 22 June 1982, the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw suggested the establishment of a statutory duty on the Police to consult the community, to which the Prime Minister expressed her concern: ‘It will soon be said that the police cannot prosecute or search without consultation’. On 10 September 1985, Hartley Booth of the Policy Unit reported on the Birmingham riot which saw many Asian properties damaged by 400 rioters, ‘all West Indian’. On 13 September 1985, Booth directed his criticism elsewhere: ‘The week’s Socialist blinkers go to Claire Short in Thursday’s Times, who led the “unemployment caused the riot” brigade…’. A Duty Clerk report on 28 September 1985 reported that local police at Brixton had gone to a house and ‘shot twice at a dark figure…A woman is seriously ill in hospital (ie the wrong person)’.

Football hooliganism: behaviour of British football fans abroad; part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1526
Date range: 8 December 1981 – 25 March 1985

This file includes the Government’s concerns about the activities of British football hooligans and the image they were portraying abroad. A letter from the Minister for Sport, Neil Macfarlane, to the Prime Minister on 8 October 1982 described how he had told the Football Association Chairman, Bert Millichip, to get the FA’s house in order. The Official Group on Football Hooliganism reported on 1 August 1984, describing the steps football could take to improve crowd behaviour. However, the riot between Millwall and Luton fans on 15 March 1985 ensured that football hooliganism remained on the agenda. A secret meeting between the PM and the Chairman of Liverpool Football Club, John Smith, on 20 March 1985 suggested some options for the Government and a meeting involving senior ministers the following day set out plans for dealing with the issue.

Football hooliganism: behaviour of British football fans abroad; Bradford City stadium fire and European Cup Final disaster in Brussels, May 1985; part 2

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1527
Date range: 27 March 1985 – 31 May 1985

The file begins with a note from Bernard Ingham to the Prime Minister noting his discussion with Robert Maxwell and his editorial team at The Mirror and, in particular, Ingham’s line that ‘the FA and the FL [Football League] should be roasted’. A telegram early on 30 May 1985 brought the sombre news of the Heysel stadium disaster in Brussels, with the indication that the Belgian media was solely blaming English fans. Later that day, personal messages from the Prime Minister to the premiers of Belgium and Italy – the majority of the victims were Italian supporters – were drafted, and at a meeting the PM suggested that the FA may wish to volunteer to withdraw English participation in European football. A succession of meetings on 31 May 1985 with people prominent in football or present at the disaster – Robert Maxwell, the Liverpool Chairman, John Smith, football correspondents, and the FA hierarchy – enabled the PM to gather a range of views. The file ends with a proposal from the Home Secretary regarding the banning of the sale of alcohol in football stadia, and some hand-written comments from the Prime Minister.

Football hooliganism: behaviour of British football fans abroad; European Cup Final disaster in Brussels, May 1985; part 3

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1528
Date range: 1 June 1985 – 28 June 1985

This file begins with the report that English clubs had been banned indefinitely from European competition and a letter from Robert Maxwell which implored the Prime Minister to do whatever it took, however drastic, to solve the problem of hooliganism. The file also includes a brief disagreement between the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, and the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, Peter Rees, over the latter’s claim that offenders drinking alcohol in stadia should be denied legal aid. A copy of a letter sent by the General Secretary of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, to the national associations informing them of the English club ban is also included. A note from Bernard Ingham to the PM dated 20 June 1985, detailed the media strategy for combatting hooliganism, including an attempt to organise articulate goalkeepers – so often first in line of hooligan fire – in a campaign named ‘Goalies against Hoolies’. The proposal includes the possibility of the PM giving an interview to the Manchester United and England goalkeeper, Gary Bailey and a visible role for high-profile football chairmen, such as Watford’s Elton John, was suggested.

Football hooliganism: behaviour of British football fans abroad; interim report of Popplewell Inquiry into crowd safety and control at sports grounds; part 4

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1529
Date range: 3 July 1985 – 31 July 1985

This file includes further discussions regarding the possibility of banning alcohol in football stadia and introducing a national membership card system, in order to reduce hooliganism in football. Football League clubs, however, continued to be unimpressed with the membership card system. A note from Bernard Ingham to the Prime Minister on 3 July 1985 referred to a phone call from the Liverpool Chairman, John Smith, and his attempts to convince the Football League to consider membership cards. On 9 July 1985, the PM was shown a video of rioting Huddersfield Town and Leeds United fans, which she described as ‘profoundly shocking’. The note of a meeting on 31 July 1985 between the Prime Minister, senior ministers and leaders of the football authorities includes the PM’s concerns that penalties on Luton and Millwall had been lifted and that clubs were not using resources on tackling hooliganism and safety concerns while transfer fees were high.


Margaret Thatcher on a visit to Northern Ireland (catalogue reference: PREM 19/1547)

Margaret Thatcher on a visit to Northern Ireland (catalogue reference: PREM 19/1547)

Prime Minister’s visits to Northern Ireland, pt. 3

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1547
Date range: 2 December 1982 – 24 September 1985

When the Prime Minister visited Northern Ireland in late 1982, the 1st battalion of the Coldstream Guards at Bessbrook raises with her the issue of unsatisfactory overboots, an issue which the PM duly takes up. On a letter from the MoD about this subject, Thatcher writes: ‘Seldom have I received a more unsatisfactory letter. A bureaucratic gem. I will show it to Anthony Jay’ (4 February 1983) [Antony Jay was co-author, with Jonathan Lynn, of the comedies Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister]. She instructs her officials: ‘send the letter back. The answer won’t do’ and complains that the ‘slackness revealed by this incident is appalling’ (written on Robin Butler memo 16 February). The file also includes two photographs of Thatcher on a visit to Northern Ireland.

Situation in Northern Ireland pt 19

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1548
Date range: 31 December 1984 – 28 February 1985

The Anglo-Irish Agreement (signed 15 November 1985) gradually begins to take shape. Sir Robert Armstrong writes that ‘an amendment of the Irish constitution which waived the territorial claim…and endorsed the constitutional guarantee of Northern Ireland’ would be ‘an immense step for the Irish Government and people to take’ (11 January 1985). During a meeting on 14 February, the PM asked the FCO for information about British shipping losses resulting from Britain’s inability to use the Irish Treaty Ports during the Second World War. Thatcher is sent an assessment about this historical issue (some extracts from secondary sources). The file details the complex process of negotiation which finally led to the Agreement. Dr Garret Fitzgerald, the Taoiseach, proposed a Joint Court to try terrorists.

Prime Minister’s meetings with Taoiseach: Anglo-Irish relations; part 8

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1549
Date range: 27 November 1984 – 29 June 1985

The Anglo-Irish negotiation process continues, dogged by recurring leaks to the press. The Irish Government presses for a commitment to establish joint courts and Thatcher writes ‘No’ (circa 19 June 1985). The PM also comments: ‘They are asking for too much. Possibly this is deliberate’. Also contained in the file is Charles Powell’s account of the PM’s meeting with the Taoiseach in Milan on 29 June – Fitzgerald speaks ‘with considerable emotion’: in striving for an agreement ‘he was willing to take the risk whatever it might cost him personally and politically’. He goes on to argue: ‘for 800 years Britain had occupied Ireland to protect its flank. There was now a serious risk of ending up with what we had always tried to avoid, an Ireland under the hostile and sinister influence’.

Prime Minister’s meetings with Taoiseach: Anglo-Irish relations; part 9

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1550
Date range: 1 July 1985 – 30 September 1985

A memo written by Sir Robert Armstrong and dated 26 July 1985 bears many handwritten comments by Thatcher, including the following quotation: ‘I am utterly astounded by this minute. I am not prepared to go ahead with either of these things’. The PM writes ‘No’ several times on the memo. On another Armstrong memo dated 8 August 1985, the PM writes: ‘Shouldn’t dream of putting my name to such terrible English’. A memo by Charles Powell reports on Tom King’s doubts about the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Prime Minister’s meetings with Taoiseach: Anglo-Irish relations; part 10

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1551
Date range: 1 October 1985 – 31 October 1985

On a memo by Charles Powell dated 10 October 1985, Thatcher has written: ‘I think we must fight for our viewpoint. The Irish are still trying to convey the impression that they are going to get some kind of authority in NI The consultations [?] status will give enough trouble as it is – the limitations of their role must be made clear’. As with the other files in this sequence, the complicated process of negotiating the Anglo-Irish agreement is documented in detail. The date for signing the agreement is set for 15 November 1985.

Prime Minister’s meetings with Taoiseach: Anglo-Irish relations; part 11

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1552
Date range: 1 November 1985 – 14 November 1985

Discussions on the draft texts of the Agreement continue. In a personal message from the PM to the Taoiseach on 11 November 1985, the PM writes: ‘You know as well as I do that it [the Agreement] will not be welcome to the Unionists’. Concern is expressed about the proposed location of the Secretariat (of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference). On 14 November, the day before the signing of the agreement, Bernard Ingham writes to the PM: ‘The agreement has been so comprehensively leaked, that, as usual, the central core of the event will be an anti-climax’.


Anglo-Japanese relations: Nissan car plant in UK; part 4

Margaret Thatcher shakes hands with Japanese MP Michio Watanabe during his visit to the UK in November 1983 (catalogue reference: PREM 19/1555)

Margaret Thatcher shakes hands with Japanese MP Michio Watanabe during his visit to the UK in November 1983 (catalogue reference: PREM 19/1555)

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1555
Date range: 1 November 1983 – 17 May 1985

Within the file is confirmation that Nissan will open a factory on the former Sunderland airport site following lengthy negotiations (29 March 1984). Delays in signing the agreement were due to trade union issues in Japan. Thatcher unhappy at proposals to send three male speakers to a conference on life sciences in Tokyo as Mary Warnock was not available. Robin Nicholson proposed Prof Bernard Williams, King’s College, Cambridge, be asked to go in her place on 8 November 1983 but Thatcher notes: ‘No – he did a dreadful report for the Home Office. We need a lady to substitute for Mrs Warnock.’ Similarly, Robert Armstrong proposes an all-male delegation to a life sciences conference in France and Thatcher again notes: ‘Have we no distinguished ladies who could go – Lady Warnock herself?’ (25 January 1985). Lady Warnock was again unavailable.

Prime Minister’s visit to Japan, September 1982: part 2

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1556
Date range: 20 September 1982 – 16 April 1985

Reports of Thatcher’s meetings with leading Japanese politicians in Tokyo. While meeting with Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki, Thatcher emphasises there would be no negotiations with Argentina over the Falklands’ sovereignty as the population were of ‘British stock’ (20September 1982).

Local government

Relations between central and local government: local government finance; abolition of Greater London Council (GLC) and Metropolitan County Councils (MCCs); inquiry into local government practices and procedures (chairman: David Widdicombe QC); part 25

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1559
Date range: 1 January 1985 – 31 March 1985

This file begins with discussions about who should lead the inquiry into local government finances and practices. David Widdicombe QC is recommended, despite a description of him as ‘far from sympathetic to the present Government’. An unsigned note shared on 11 January 1985 entitled ‘Local Government: Countering the Far Left’, detailed solutions to a variety of problems facing the Government’s local government policy and suggested that up to half a dozen local authorities will refuse to comply with the Government’s rate capping scheme.

The Minister of State for Local Government, Kenneth Baker, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, Keith Joseph, on 31 January 1985 about how he saw the ‘politics of the cities’ developing and his view that militant groups were promoting radical socialism in a number of local authorities. A subsequent discussion pitched the Secretary of State for Scotland, George Younger, in confrontation with both the Treasury and No 10 over domestic rate bills in Scotland, which culminated in a forthright reply from the Prime Minister on 5 March 1985.

Central/local government relations: local government finance; abolition of Greater London Council (GLC) and Metropolitan County Councils (MCCs); inquiry into local government practices (chairman: David Widdicombe, QC); part 26

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1560
Date range: 1 April 1985 – 31 May 1985

A meeting on local government finance held at Chequers on 2 April 1985 is summarised in the file, which includes the suggestion from William Waldegrave of the Department of the Environment that domestic rates should be abolished and replaced with a local residents’ or community charge. Waldegrave admitted that: ‘There would be a substantial number of gainers from the charge, but also losers…’. Lord Rothschild, who advised the PM regularly on local government issues, suggested that the community charge was ‘a winner’ but admitted he was ‘nervous lest it is accidentally or deliberately misinterpreted, for example: “Tories hit the poor again”, “No compassion for the have-nots” etc.’ A note from John Redwood and Oliver Letwin on 17 May 1985 is more explicit about who the winners and losers would be and summarised disagreements within the Cabinet, in particular, the Chancellor Nigel Lawson’s belief that a ‘resident’s charge’ would be massively unpopular.

Central/local government relations: local government finance; local authority capital expenditure; rate support grant; setting of rates by Liverpool and Edinburgh City Councils; part 27

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1561
Date range: 3 June 1985 – 31 July 1985

In mid-June it became clear that Liverpool City Council were unwilling to pay the new rates and the Secretary of State for the Environment, Patrick Jenkin, saw this as a clear move by the Council to seek a confrontation with the Government. A brief from JS Brearley of the Cabinet Office set out the options for ministers ahead of a meeting of MISC 109 (the Ministerial Group on Local Government Contingencies) on 18 June 1985 and a letter from Oliver Letwin to the Prime Minister on the same day described the finances of Liverpool City Council. Patrick Jenkin provided regular situation reports to the Prime Minister on the dispute with Liverpool City Council but a draft statement he was due to give to the House of Commons was deemed inadequate by Letwin in a note to the Prime Minister on 18 July 1985.

Future of rating system: alternatives to domestic rates; rate limitation White Paper; rates in Scotland; part 3

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1565
Date range: 4 July 1983 – 31 December 1985

On 5 August 1983, Peter Rees of the Treasury writes to George Younger, Secretary of State for Scotland, arguing that the reason Scottish rates are so high is because Scottish local authorities spend too much. In the winter of 1985, a Rates Green paper is taking shape (the origins of the ‘Community Charge’ or ‘Poll tax’). In a memo on rates reform, dated 8 November 1985, Oliver Letwin states that George Younger ‘is clearly extremely keen to use Scotland as a trail-blazer for the pure residence charge’. Letwin also writes: ‘The Government seriously wants to know whether there are any undetected gremlins lurking in the proposals’ (30 December 1985). David Norgrove discusses the likely points of criticism over the rates reforms in a message to Robin Young at the Department of Environment (31 December 1985).

National health

Expenditure and efficiency in the National Health Service (NHS): annual report; restrictions on NHS prescribing; limited list of drugs; health charges; part 4

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1573
Date range: 04 September 1984 – 29 March 1985

Contains first five-year report on health service in England (14 September 1984). A confidential report to Thatcher from John Redwood on 8 October 1984 says: ‘the more we spend the less popular we become’ when it comes to the drug producers’ ‘cartel’ and doctors. He says the government must ‘expose the ways in which the producers are misusing or misdirecting cash, are playing politics with our health and deliberately organising a campaign against the Government.’ He says ‘well paid’ consultants should also share the burden of junior doctors as: ‘How many people really want to be treated by a young doctor in his 99th hour of the working week?’

The file includes discussions led by Secretary of State for Social Services Norman Fowler to limit items available on the NHS to save around £40m (1 November 1984). Cough remedies, laxatives, pain killers, diet supplements and sedatives are all on Fowler’s list. However, the pharmaceutical industry expressed concerns about the proposals illustrated by two letters from the CEO of Beechams on 15 January 1985 and 29 March 1985 containing veiled threats that changes ‘could impact on US investment’ in the UK compared with other European countries.

Nationalised industries

Financial position of the coal industry: miners’ strike; stock levels and power station endurance; pit closures; part 15

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1578
Date range: 21 November 1984 – 20 January 1985

As the miners’ strike, which began in March 1984, continued, the Government began thinking about the return to ‘normal’ after the strike. The Press Secretary Bernard Ingham wrote to the Prime Minister’s private secretary, Robin Butler, on 21 November 1984 about how the Government should ‘use this as an opportunity to strengthen moderate trade unionism’. Ingham went on to describe the strategy for managing communications at the end of the strike. This file also includes details about the Secretary of State for Energy, Peter Walker’s secret meetings with leaders of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), who – according to Robin Butler’s summary – ‘did not know what to do to get the strike settled.’ The future of the coal industry was also discussed, but the Prime Minister was keen to ensure that any talks about the future of the industry should only take place after a return to work, and that nothing should undercut the working miners. The file ends with the Prime Minister considering a draft statement from the TUC on a Plan for Coal as completely unacceptable while, at the same time, admitting to a continued misapprehension about the competence of National Coal Board (NCB) negotiators.

Financial position of the coal industry: miners’ strike; stock levels and power station endurance; pit closures; Coal Industry Bill; part 16

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1579
Date range: 21 January 1985 – 1 March 1985

This file includes a paper, sent on 25 January 1985 from the Head of the Policy Unit, John Redwood, to the Prime Minister suggesting the steps that should be taken once 50% of miners are working. This included setting a date for everyone to return, the closure of pits without men present, and writing market forces into a new Plan for Coal. He ended with a rallying call: ‘Let’s not snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory’. Throughout the file are papers regarding the legal sequestrators’ attempts to trace money transferred by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to depositors overseas, in particular Luxembourg.

On 1 February 1985 the Cabinet Secretary Robin Armstrong updated the Prime Minister on the operations of sequestrators in the Republic of Ireland, which involved a discussion between the Secretary of the Cabinet, an ‘unnamed man’, and one of the sequestrators. Armstrong went on to discuss the appropriateness of Security Service activity during the NUM dispute.

On 11 February 1985 the unofficial adviser and activist, David Hart, wrote a paper entitled ‘The Final Push’ to the Prime Minister, proclaiming the Government to be on the brink of a great victory, ‘much greater that the Falklands because the enemy within is so much harder to conquer’. A paper from Stephen Sherbourne, the Prime Minister’ Political Secretary, on 28 February 1985 suggested that Hart was also attempting to involve himself in the Star Wars issue and advised the Prime Minister to sever her links with him.

Financial position of the coal industry: miners’ strike – return to work and lessons learned; mineworkers’ pay and pensions; pit closures, colliery review procedure; rebuilding coal stocks; Coal Industry Bill; part 17

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1580
Date range: 27 February 1985 – 31 May 1985

The strike ended on 3 March 1985 following a meeting of NUM delegates. The Government quickly set about preparing its next moves. On 4 March 1985, John Redwood described it as a ‘historic victory for common sense’ and declared that ‘we can no longer afford dear coal, heavily subsidised mines, and a shrinking industry. Together we can build a low-cost, higher output, more successful coal industry’. Amidst concerns that the NUM would seek to call another strike, perhaps in the winter of 1986-87, the policy of stockpiling coal was revisited.

Following a meeting with Ian MacGregor, the chairman of the NCB, Redwood suggested to the Prime Minister on 20 March 1985 that there was a chance to regionalise the NCB, which would help fragment the NUM. Having stuck to the policy of not gloating over the NUM at the time of victory by 15 April 1985 Bernard Ingham felt that the Government ought to progressively get over the fact that the NUM lost, ‘as indeed will other strikes in the future will lose’. The Official Group on Coal (MISC 57) provided its report – Lessons of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike – on 20 May 1985, but the Prime Minister was unimpressed. Writing to her Private Secretary for Economic Affairs, Andrew Turnbull, she wrote, ‘Andrew – the report is too narrative, too insipid, too little insight’.

Financial position of the coal industry: miners’ strike – lessons learned; coal industry strategy; mineworkers’ pay and pensions; pit closures, rebuilding coal stocks; power station endurance; part 18

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1581
Date range: 4 June 1985 – 29 November 1985

The journalist, Woodrow Wyatt, who was sympathetic to the Prime Minister, wrote to her on 10 June 1985 regarding miners who were being threatened with redundancy because they wanted a transfer away, following intimidation while they worked. The PM called for a meeting saying: ‘We must get to the bottom of these cases.’ Nicholas Owen of the Policy Unit wrote to the Prime Minister on 5 September 1985 stating that ‘the 1946 Coal Industry Nationalisation Act needs to be annulled to allow privatisation and competition’. The Prime Minister’s handwritten note agreed: ‘Yes – on a personal basis. The strategy will have to be considered at a meeting with Mr Walker’. A second draft of the lessons learned report was shared on 25 November 1985 but the Prime Minister’s new Private Secretary for Economic Affairs, David Norgrove, while admitting it was interesting, suggested that ‘it has an air of complacency’ and lacked urgency. He suggested that the Government should be working actively to ensure that if a strike happened in 1986-87 it is defeated more quickly. The Prime Minister agreed, suggesting that issue should be tackled ‘while there is still time’.


Cost of Parliament: report of Select Committee on Procedure (Finance)

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1595
Date range: 16 May 1980 – 22 May 1985

MPs pay and pensions: part 5

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1597
Date range: 15 October 1982 – 26 March 1985

PREM 19/1597 contains a discussion on proposed changes to motor mileage being negotiated for civil servants which could ‘adversely affect’ MPs and judges (3 March 1983). Thatcher rules out any salary or remuneration other than expenses for regular attenders of the House of Lords (4 March 1983). Top Salary Review Body report on parliamentary pay and allowances recommends a 39.3% increase for the Prime Minister, 47% for Cabinet members in the Commons, and 71% for Cabinet members in the Lords (24 June 1983). Also the proposed introduction of redundancy pay based on three months’ salary for Ministers not reappointed. In PREM 19/1595, the Lord Privy Seal remarks on ‘disturbing’ figures that the cost of running parliament between 1981/82-1985/86 is consistently outpacing inflation (19 April 1985).


Leak of information on sinking of Argentine warship General Belgrano in 1982 to Tam Dalyell MP: confession and trial of Clive Ponting; part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1626
Date range: 19 August 1984 – 28 February 1985

An investigation took place into the circumstances in which two MoD documents came into the hands of Tam Dalyell MP. An enquiry had resulted in an admission by the Assistant Secretary at the MoD, Clive Ponting, that he had passed the papers to Mr Dalyell. It is stated that the papers were essentially about the handling of Mr Dalyell rather than the circumstances of the sinking of the Belgrano. The matter is referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions, as to whether a prosecution can be brought under the Official Secrets Act, and a decision is taken to prosecute Ponting. The file contains correspondence between Thatcher, David Owen, David Steele and Neil Kinnock following the decision to prosecute. The PM writes to Kinnock: ‘In the House of Commons this afternoon you used these words: “The Rt Hon Lady says now, and she has said to me before, that she was not involved in the decision to prosecute. Frankly, I do not believe the Rt Hon Lady.”’ Thatcher writes: ‘Your charge is utterly untrue. If you cannot substantiate it – and you cannot – I must demand that you withdraw it and apologise unreservedly and immediately’ (12 February 1985). This leads to a series of heated exchanges, by letter, between the PM and Leader of the Opposition.

Contingency arrangements for dealing with terrorist incidents

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1628
Date range: 8 June 1979 – 21 November 1985

This file contains notes and correspondence relating to contingency arrangements for dealing with terrorists and the use of the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR). The first exercise noted within this file is Exercise Martock which was to take place on 2 July 1979 and concerned counter-terrorist measures for activities taking place in Cyprus. Correspondence shows that Thatcher was keen to take part in these exercises. In this particular case, Sir John Hunt did not think it appropriate as it was largely experimental but agreed to her visiting while it was taking place. Also in the file is a note on Exercise ‘Smoked Salmon’ designed to test counter-terrorist arrangements for use in any incident involving off-shore oil or gas installations. Thatcher did not take part but was ‘glad for the information’ (4 December 1979).

The file also references an exercise held on 25-28 November 1985 where there was a simulated takeover of an oil installation in the North Sea which was the ‘first occasion on which the off-shore scenario has been exercised on this scale with full involvement of Cabinet Office, government departments, intelligence agencies, police, armed forces and BP’.

Hijacking of an Air Tanzania Boeing 737 by Tanzanian dissidents: surrender at Stansted Airport, 28 February 1982

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1630
Date range: 28 January 1982 – 19 November 1985

This file contains correspondence in relation to the handling of the hijack of a Tanzanian flight which was the first hijack on British soil for nearly seven years. There are notes on how the terrorists were dealt with including their subsequent requests for asylum. There is also a letter from Robert Armstrong to the Prime Minister on lessons learned from how the situation was handled.

Bomb explosion at the Grand Hotel, Brighton, during Conservative Party Conference, October 1984

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1632
Date range: 12 October 1984 – 24 June 1985

This file includes the Government’s reaction to the Brighton bomb, and included the Principal Private Secretary, Robin Butler’s statement regarding security arrangements at the First Floor Suite, Grand Hotel to the Hoddinott Inquiry. Butler suggested there must be a balance between the Prime Minister’s need to be seen and meet people and ‘the general standard of what is acceptable by way of security arrangements in this country’. He goes on to suggest that ‘it is certainly possible to think of several ways in which the PM was vulnerable to an assassination attempt at Brighton which the security arrangements would not have been adequate to prevent’. Thatcher declined to make a personal statement to the Hoddinott Inquiry. The file ends with a note from Robin Butler on 24 June 1985 describing how the Chief Whip John Wakeham – who was deeply affected by the atrocity – received a call at his home from someone claiming the Brighton bomb was the work of ‘a conspiracy of crypto-Communists, including many of his colleagues in Government, among them the Prime Minister herself’.

Soviet Union

Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow for the funerals of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko in February 1984 and March 1985 respectively

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1646
Date range: 13 February 1984 – 15 March 1985

The file contains correspondence on the British reactions to the deaths of two Soviet leaders. Andropov’s funeral was primarily treated as a chance to discuss some important questions with world leaders but Thatcher’s ‘highest priority’ for going to Chernenko’s funeral was to meet with Gorbachev. Thatcher’s personal telegram to Gorbachev congratulates him on his election as General Secretary. It also contains Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) briefing points for Thatcher to make with various world leaders at both funerals, and reports of her conversations, covering subjects including: nuclear weapons; Iran-Iraq relations; Arab-Israel relations; and Hong Kong. At Chernenko’s funeral Vice President George HW Bush told Thatcher he would be passing on a private letter from Reagan to Gorbachev inviting him to the US. Biographies of leading members of the Soviet Central Committee describe Chernenko as a ‘poor public speaker’ and a ‘prolific writer without displaying any originality’, while the FCO Soviet department warns against over exaggerating the generation gap between Gorbachev and previous leaders. His views are described as ‘probably progressive’ on economic matters but reflecting the party line on external affairs.

UK/Soviet relations: part 4

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1647
Date range: 3 January 1985 – 25 October 1985

Extensive papers relating to the defection of KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky and the expulsion of Soviet intelligence officers from the UK. Gordievsky wrote to Thatcher to say ‘life has no meaning’ without his family. Thatcher’s reply reads: ‘There is always hope. And we shall do all we can to help you through these difficult days’ (7 September 1985). See also PREM 19/1660 for correspondence with the US on this issue. Translated letter from Gorbachev wishing Thatcher a happy birthday and sending regards to Denis, along with Thatcher’s private telegram thanking him for his ‘kind thought’ (12 October 1985). Letter to Powell in which Len Appleyard agrees that: ‘Gorbachev would have risen to the top of the political tree in most countries’ (21 January 1985). Following a conversation at Chequers in which Agriculture Minister Michael Jopling was described as being ‘sceptical’ of Soviet Union recipes, Mrs Gorbachev writes: ‘My apologies for being somewhat inaccurate, in fact there are 500, rather than 300, [Soviet] recipes to cook potatoes’ (19 July 1985). Agriculture, Fisheries and Food private secretary Ivor Llewelyn writes to Appleyard to say: ‘We have the book…it is in Russian. If you have anyone who reads Russian and has a fondness for potatoes, we would be happy to lend it’ (2 August 1985).

A picture of one of the Treaty of Paris candlesticks given to the UK by the USA (catalogue reference: PREM 19/1656/2)

A picture of one of the Treaty of Paris candlesticks given to the UK by the USA (catalogue reference: PREM 19/1656/2)


UK/American relations: part 3

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1656
Date range: 9 February 1984 – 31 May 1985

On the 200th Anniversary of UK/US diplomatic relations, the Government were offered some candlesticks. Charles Powell wants to check that ‘they are not an eyesore’ before they are placed on the Cabinet table. The file includes a record of the meeting between the Prime Minister and President Reagan on 22 December 1984 and briefing notes for the PM regarding a visit by former Congresswoman and Vice-Presidential candidate (Democratic Party), Geraldine Ferraro.

Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, February 1985: part 4A

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1658
Date range: 10 December 1984 – 06 April 1985

In a handwritten letter to the PM, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Field Marshall Sir Edwin Bramall writes: ‘I just wish I was more certain that President Reagan really knew where he was going. That he is determined to go there (wherever it is) there is however little doubt!’. On 22 February 1985 the PM thanks the President warmly for his hospitality during her visit to Washington. A key passage in her message reads: ‘as regards the strategic defence initiative, I hope that I was able to explain to you clearly my preoccupation with the need not to weaken our efforts to consolidate support in Britain for the deployment of Cruise and for the modernisation of Trident by giving the impression that a future without nuclear weapons is near at hand. We must continue to make the case for deterrence based on nuclear weapons for several years to come’.

Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, February 1985: briefing; part 4B

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1659
Date range: 13 February 1985 – 15 February 1985

President Chernenko’s failing health is discussed. Gorbachev is the most likely successor. It is noted that ‘since Brighton bombing the US Administration is anxious to help in every way against the IRA’.

Prime Minister’s visit to New York and the United Nations, October 1985: part 5

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1660
Date range: 15 April 1985 – 15 November 1985

The 40th anniversary of the United Nations is marked. In connection with the PM’s speech at this event, Charles Powell writes to LV Appleyard at the FCO. He explains that Thatcher wishes to contest the assertion of Shimon Peres, Prime Minister of Israel, that Israel’s attack on the PLO Offices in Tunis (1 October 1985) was justified in international law. On 12 September 1985, the PM writes to the US President and gives her thoughts concerning Gorbachev who is ‘showing himself to be a deft operator’. Thatcher advises Reagan regarding the need to take the measure of Gorbachev but adds: ‘I certainly don’t want you to feel that I am lecturing (perish the thought!)’.

At a meeting with Peres, held at the UN Plaza Hotel on 23 October, Thatcher is reported (by Charles Powell) as saying ‘that she had recoiled from Israel’s attack on Tunis with the killing of many civilians. There was no legal or historical justification for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Nor was it right that Israel should now deny the Palestinians the rights which Israel had sought for herself for more than 2,000 years’. Peres stated that he finds the occupation ‘corrupting and undesirable’.

Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, July 1985

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1661
Date range: 8 July 1985 – 29 July 1985

On 17 July 1985, Reagan’s operation for a cancerous tumour is referred to in a telegram. The file contains accounts of meetings on the PM’s Washington trip of July 1985, including a meeting with Vice-President George HW Bush on 26 July. On 29 July, Charles Powell writes to Len Appleyard of the FCO explaining that Reagan had called Thatcher during her meeting with Bush: ‘The Prime Minister commented that the President’s voice sounded firm and that he appeared in good spirits. Mrs Reagan, who also spoke, sounded by contrast care-worn and under strain’. It is also noted that, in discussion of the President’s health after the phone call, Vice-President Bush said: ‘so far as he could tell the President was recovering…anxious to get back to work. Mrs Reagan was, however, under considerable strain; indeed, he was worried about her. She had nagging doubts about whether the President’s cancer had really been eliminated…she was doing all she could to limit his engagements’. It is also reported that Mrs Reagan had stopped the President from rising from his chair at a National Security Council meeting.

Tags: 1985, file release, prime minister

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