Prime Minister’s office files (PREM) – 1986-88

In this release

Foreign policy

East/West relations: Part 6

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1759
Date range: 1986

This file mainly deals with the possibility of a US-USSR summit and, as British Ambassador to the USSR Bryan Cartledge put it on 24/09/86, ‘the relentless operation of Murphy’s law in US/Soviet relations.’ The first major event it covers is the meetings Eduard Shevardnadze (Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs) had with George Shultz (Secretary of State) and President Reagan on 19-20 September; talks with Shultz lasted 14 hours and essentially revolved around the Daniloff Case (Nicholas Daniloff, US journalist arrested 2 September 1986 by the KGB for espionage) and arms control; talks with Reagan were solely devoted to Daniloff.

The second event is a meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev held in Reykjavik on 11-12 October 1986 to discuss human rights, arms reduction, regional issues and bilateral matters. Messages and letters exchanged between Thatcher and Reagan and Thatcher and Gorbachev before and after the meeting are included, as well as the summaries of a telephone call from President Reagan (during which he expressed distrust of Soviet motives and his suspicion that Gorbachev’s ‘attempt to freeze US research into strategic defence’ was a cover for them ‘to go ahead like crazy with their own missile defence plans’) and of a meeting between Thatcher and Karpov (chief Soviet negotiator at Geneva), who insisted that ‘an historic agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons had been within grasp’.

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Germany

Prime Minister’s meetings with Chancellor Helmut Kohl: part 5

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1765
Date range: 1986

The file contains briefings, reports of discussions and draft press releases relating to Margaret Thatcher’s meetings with Helmet Kohl, particularly the Anglo-German summits of November 1983 and January 1985. There is considerable discussion in 1983 around the deployment of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) in Germany and the arms reduction negotiations with the Soviet Union. A connected but separate issue was that of US foreign policy, particularly following the invasion of Grenada. There was concern expressed at the more proactive US policies and a possible sense of exceptionalism within its sphere of influence. Thatcher noted that ‘the West pursued its objectives of freedom and justice by persuasion not by military force’. The 1985 discussions focused on European enlargement, the upcoming VE Day commemoration, and British attempts to normalise relations with Argentina. In relation to this there is correspondence related to British attempts to prevent Germany from authorising the sale of advanced torpedoes to Argentina.

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Home affairs

Civil Disorder: the Handsworth and Tottenham riots: part 3

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1783
Date range: 1986

The file begins with a note from the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd to the Prime Minister (04/10/85) in which he alluded to frank conversations he had with ‘responsible members of the ethnic minority communities’. He suggested that it seemed to those communities that the Government did not care about the problems they faced and that the Prime Minister should make a statement of support at their Party Conference. The file includes the note of a telephone conversation between Hurd and Thatcher on 07/10/85, the day after the Broadwater Farm riot in Tottenham, in which the Prime Minister reiterated her support for the police, while lamenting the relatively small number of arrests. Notes from Hartley Booth of the Policy Unit (08/11/85, 15/11/85, and 19/11/85) discussed the apparent theft of milk bottles in Tottenham – and their potential use as petrol bombs – and reports of the purchase of ingredients that could be used to make napalm in the area. A note from Booth on 26/11/85 discussed the report on the Handsworth riot by the Chief Constable of West Midlands police and highlighted an apparent racial element of the riot, omitted from the Chief Constable’s report. The file ends with a request from a representative of the Tottenham Conservative Association for the Prime Minister to visit Broadwater Farm, a request which was eventually declined.

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Possible reform of the law on Rape

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1826
Date range: 1986

The comments of Judge Richards in January 1982 that a rape victim was ‘guilty of a great deal of contributory negligence’ sparked a public debate and demands that the Judge should be dismissed. The Prime Minister, conscious of public concerns, took an interest in the issues raised. Government ministers explore ways to ensure that rape victims are more sympathetically treated by the Police and the Courts, so that they have the confidence to come forward and report the offence to the police. Issues around anonymity are discussed, in relation to victims and defendants.

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Memorials

WPC Yvonne Fletcher Memorial

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1850
Year: 1986

WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot during a protest outside the Libyan embassy at St. James’s Square on 17 April 1984. Shortly afterwards film director Michael Winner set up the Police Memorial Trust charity to honour British police officers killed in the line of duty and proposed that a memorial to Yvonne Fletcher be placed close to the spot where she was killed. On 07/11/1984 Winner writes to the Prime Minister on behalf of the Police Memorial Trust asking her if she would like to unveil the memorial. The Home Secretary [Leon Brittan] has doubts about the wisdom of accepting the invitation, but, following a further message form Winner, the PM signals her willingness to carry out the unveiling. Thatcher is keen to have representatives from other political parties at the ceremony, to reinforce the impartiality of support for the police. The unveiling ceremony takes place on 01/02/1985.

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National health

Committee on Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Chairman: Lady Warnock); medical ethics, human surrogacy; German conference on bioethics; part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1855
Date range: 1986

On 10/02/1982 Shirley Williams writes to the Prime Minister referring to recent developments in embryology, genetic engineering and replacement surgery and calling for a Royal Commission to examine these issues.  There are increasing public concerns about commercial surrogacy. Norman Fowler (Secretary of State for Social Services) proposes that a committee be set up to look into this subject and Dame Mary Warnock is chosen to chair the enquiry. When the Warnock report is produced in July 1984, Oliver Letwin (Policy Unit) greets it as a ‘long and interesting report’ but adds that ‘some of the reasoning by which the committee arrives at these recommendations is intellectually suspect’.

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Private Medical Care

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1856
Date range: 1986

Patrick Jenkin, Secretary of State for Social Services, in a memo to the Prime Minister, refers to ‘our commitment to facilitate the wider use of private medical care’ (22/05/1979). At a meeting held on 29/08/1979 the Prime Minister ‘said that she was alarmed at the sheer wastage of drugs, not only through patients taking unnecessary drugs but through over-subscription of drugs which were never used’. The benefits of the private sector of health care are explored in various ways in this file.

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Mental Health Bill. Draft White Paper

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1858
Date range: 1986

In October 1981 Norman Fowler (DHSS) announces the government’s intention to introduce a bill to amend the 1959 Mental Health Act. His draft white paper is included in the file. One of the key aims is to improve safeguards for detained patients. Hartley Booth writes a memo to the PM on 19/04/1986: ‘we have found the Home Office fully in support of the criticisms levelled at the secure mental hospital system, which they say releases prisoners too quickly’.

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Contraception for those under sixteen

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1860
Date range: 1986

This file concerns issues associated with the provision of contraceptives to school children without parental knowledge or consent. DHSS Statisticians study the figures for the number of girls conceiving before their 16th birthday and on 27/04/1981 the Prime Minister is informed that ‘on 1979 figures, one girl in forty four becomes pregnant before her 16th birthday’. The existing DHSS guidance on the issue of contraception for those under 16 was revised circa February 1986 to take account of the Law Lords judgements in October 1985 on the Victoria Gillick case.

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Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS); part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1863
Date range: 1986

This file charts the government’s responses to the emerging public health problem of AIDS, from 1985 onwards. On 24 February 1986, David Willetts (Policy Unit) informed the PM that ‘Norman Fowler [Secretary of State for Social Services] is proposing to place explicit and distasteful advertisements about AIDS in all the Sunday papers. The AIDS problem is now so serious that we must do as he proposes’. The PM comments ‘do we have to have the section on risky sex? I should have thought it could do immense harm if young teenagers were to read it’. The Lord President voices Mrs Thatcher’s concerns, but The Health Committee feel that the material had to be included. The PM emphasised her concern that unnecessary anxiety would be caused to parents and many teenagers. Norman Fowler agreed a couple of amendments to the advert and the first round of advertising went ahead in March 1986. Lord Hailsham, Lord Chancellor, wrote to William Whitelaw, Lord President: ‘I am convinced there must be some limit to vulgarity’ (27/06/86).

On 21/08/86 Norman Fowler indicates that he wishes to step up the public education campaign. He proposes that an AIDS leaflet be delivered to every household in the UK, spelling out in simple and explicit language what the public need to know. The PM is doubtful about this course of action: ‘Why universal delivery of AIDS leaflet – but nothing about drugs? My first reaction is against the idea – but await other comments’. David Willetts writes that ‘there is a perception that the Government in general, and the Prime Minister in particular, is reluctant to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves’ (27/10/86) and proposes that the PM hold a review meeting with interested ministers. Bernard Ingham, Chief Press Secretary, argues that the PM should be seen to take a personal interest in the issue. On 07/11/86 the PM gives her agreement to the leaflet campaign. Television advertisements about AIDS are planned for early 1987, but Fowler’s proposal for a ministerial broadcast is dropped.

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Nationalised industries

Financial position of the coal industry; mineworkers’ pay; part 19

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1865
Date range: 1986

Following the end of the miners’ strike in March 1985 the Government began to make plans for the future of the coal industry. However, a note from the Private Secretary of Economic Affairs, David Norgrove to the Department of Energy (02/12/85), spoke of the Prime Minister’s continued concern that the National Coal Board (NCB) and the power industry should be in a strong position, in case there was another challenge from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Later, a meeting with the Secretary of State for Energy, Peter Walker, the Prime Minister was still warning that the Government could not afford to be complacent (19/12/85). The file also includes several suggestions to the Prime Minister from John Wybrew of the Policy Unit regarding the future of energy policy (14/02/86 and 21/05/86). One in particular looked forward to the privatisation of electricity supply and posed other key questions about the future of the industry (31/07/86).

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Police

Future strategy; policies to combat crime; manpower and pay; part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1886
Date range: 1986

The file contains a series of reports regarding the challenges of policing and possible new approaches in policing in a number of regions including London, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It reports a broad range of pressures on police for improved crime prevention and clear up rates as well as specific challenges such as terrorism. The later part of the file deals with police grievances with concerns being raised by Hartley Booth (17/5/85) across a range of issues including rent allowances. The file concludes with considerable discussion around police funding and expenditure and includes a powerful note by Booth on ‘anti-police propaganda’ produced by the Greater London Council which was ‘scurrilous and a disgraceful attempt to undermine the rule of law’.

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Prime Minister

Meeting with Geoffrey Dickens MP about child welfare and protection, 30 January 1986

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1890
Date range: 1986

This file includes the briefing notes ahead of the meeting between the Prime Minister and Geoffrey Dickens, the MP and campaigner for improved child welfare provision (29/01/86). Dickens was due to propose that there should be specific ministerial responsibility for child welfare and protection but the Prime Minister was advised that it would be difficult to repurpose a co-ordinating Minister for Children without complicating departmental responsibilities. The note of the meeting itself is also included (03/02/86) where Dickens stated he was not seeking a new Ministry, but an addition to the Department for Health and Social Security team. The Prime Minister responded by suggesting she was reluctant to designate particular roles of this kind because it may raise unrealistic hopes and expectations, but did not rule out Dickens’ proposals.

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Gift of Moondust to People of UK from US President

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1906
Date range: 1986

When PM Harold Wilson paid a visit to Washington in late January 1970, he received a gift of moondust to the British people from US President Richard Nixon. The moondust consisted of ‘four miniscule pieces embedded in a clear plastic globule mounted for display’, and included in the display stand was a Union Jack that had been taken to the moon and back by Apollo 11. A photograph of the display stand is contained in the file. Wilson stated that the gift should belong to No. 10 in perpetuity but could be placed on temporary loan to a museum. After some deliberations, it was loaned to the Science Museum for 6 months and, due to heavy demand, it then went on a ‘tour’ of museums across the United Kingdom, returning to No. 10 in December 1973. In July 1979 it was brought to the attention of PM Margaret Thatcher. It emerged that, during his tenure as Prime Minister, Edward Heath had been ‘unable to identify a sufficiently public spot in No. 10 aesthetically suitable for locating the contemporary style display stand’, in the words of a Downing Street official, and it had been placed in a cupboard. On 18/01/85, it was decided to retain the display in the Waiting Room at No.10.

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Gifts received by the PM since taking Office

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1907
Date range: 1986

This file contains numerous thank you letters from the Prime Minister acknowledging the gifts she had received since taking Office in 1979. An eclectic range of gifts is mentioned, for example, when Mrs Thatcher is asked whether she would like to receive a “Derby Dwarf” (a porcelain figure) she responds ‘I should love to!’ (04/07/83). The PM is presented with books which she pledges to read over the Christmas holidays. When US Vice-President George HW Bush visited Chequers on 11-12 February 1984, he presented ‘2 Parker anoraks, one for PM and one for DT [Dennis Thatcher] – with names embroidered on’.  Mrs Thatcher urged caution about the disposal of gifts that went into storage: ‘when I leave I wish to consider the option of returning them, especially those given to me personally’.

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Regional policy

Inner cities policy and problems; Regeneration of Liverpool and London Docklands; Urban Development Corporation

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1920
Date range: 1986

The file begins with confirmation from Secretary of State for the Environment, Kenneth Baker confirming that a consortium of American bankers and developers wished to build ‘a new financial centre in London’s Docklands’ (04/10/85). Subsequent discussions centred on the construction of the site (11/11/85) and the possibility of the use of public finances in the extension of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to the Bank. A note from the Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, to the Prime Minister entitled ‘Inner City Youth’ (23/10/85) sparked a debate amongst ministers and advisers (25/10/85, 04/11/85, and 12/11/85) about how best to solve the issues that led to inner city disturbances.

The publication of the ‘Faith in the City’ report, commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, was prefaced by handwritten letters to the Prime Minister by the Bishop of Liverpool (25/11/85) and the Archbishop (27/11/85). The Head of the Policy Unit Brian Griffiths provided the Prime Minister with a critical evaluation of the report (29/11/85), with some further points shared in a Second Instalment of Criticism on 30/12/85. Ministers decided to consider ten urban areas to potentially become Urban Development Centres, but areas such as Brixton were ignored as – in a note by the Lord President of the Council, Willie Whitelaw (05/12/85) – ministers agreed they ‘were anxious to avoid giving the impression that riot was being awarded’.

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Inner cities policy and problems; Regeneration of Liverpool and London Docklands; Urban Development Corporation

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1921
Date range: 1986

Plans to create eight inner city Urban Development Centres continued, although the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, John MacGregor was only willing to commit £5m to the exercise (04/02/86), a figure seen as too small by Kenneth Clarke of the Department for the Environment. John Wybrew of the Policy Unit discussed the use of public money to help fund the extension of the DLR and suggested that the Exchequer could ‘share in possible super profits’ from the Canary Wharf development (18/04/86), an idea deemed unsuitable by the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary of Economic Affairs, David Norgrove. Hartley Booth of the Policy Unit informed the Prime Minister of an impressive proposal to develop a new waterfront in Cardiff, having been ‘expecting the begging bowl for public funds’ (07/11/86). The proposal – which included the construction of a barrage across the River Taff – was also supported by the Secretary of State for Wales, Nicholas Edwards. Edwards was so struck by resistance from the Chief Secretary of the Treasury that he suggested continued disagreement would leave him ‘in a position of great difficulty’ (27/11/86). The lack of fully costed plans, and secure private sector funding, saw both Norgrove and the Prime Minister argue against Edwards proceeding with the plans (28/11/86).

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Review of regional policy including assisted area boundaries and the creation of enterprise zones; territorial expenditure; the North/South issue; part 7

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1922
Date range: End of 1984 – 1986

This file includes details about the responsibilities for Scottish and Welsh regional development (22/11/84) and the potential development of a Regional Industrial Executive for the North East (16/09/85). Negotiations between the Treasury and the Secretary of State for Scotland, George Younger (25/10/85) led to a wider discussion about funding provision for Scotland, and the other territories. David Willetts of the Policy Unit suggested future funding options for Scotland to the Prime Minister (08/01/86, 12/02/86 and 21/05/86) and a Territorial Expenditure report published on 18/04/86 is also included in the file. A note from Norman Blackwell – also of the Policy Unit – to the Prime Minister (22/12/86) explored the ‘political priority’ of defusing the notion of a North/South divide, and laid out various suggestions on how the issue could be dealt with.

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Transport

The Channel Tunnel; Euroroute; part 4

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1991
Date range: 1986

This file covers the Anglo-French agreement on a Channel Fixed Link. It contains a summary of the assessment of the four competing proposals (environment and security being the main concerns), correspondence between Nicholas Henderson (Chairman of The Channel Tunnel Group) and Nicholas Ridley (Secretary of State for Transport), an account of the arrangements made for the Channel Fixed Link Summit in Lille (20/01/86), and draft communiqués, speeches and parliamentary statements as well as a draft of the White paper which was published in February.

The file also includes a note on a conversation between Margaret Thatcher and President François Mitterrand held on 20/01/86 (Channel Fixed Link, South Yemen, Libya) and an account of the arrangements made for the Treaty Ceremony scheduled on 12/02/86. The file also contains a hand-written statement by Margaret Thatcher announcing the choice of the Channel Tunnel projects as delivered in Lille on 20/01/86; it is signed by both Margaret Thatcher and President François Mitterrand and concludes: ‘later a drive-through link should be built.’

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United Nations

Financial Crisis

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1996
Date range: 1986

This file contains correspondence relating to the United Nation’s financial problems, which the General Secretary (Javier Perez de Cuellar) largely attributed to ‘the unilateral withholding of contributions by certain Member States, contrary to obligations flowing from the Charter’ (07/03/86). It includes proposals by the UN General Secretary, the assessment of these proposals by the FCO (‘inadequate’), and the summary of actions taken by the UK.

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Drugs

Visit to South America by Mr Mellor, Minister of State Home Office; co-operation between Police and Customs; part 3

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2078
Date range: 1987

The file deals with the general issues of drugs and the requirements, both political and general, for positive action. It contains details of the British reaction to the Pakistani efforts to limit the drugs trade, particularly in heroin, it emphasises the successes that they had achieved and the resultant impact on neighbouring countries including Afghanistan and India. With respect to this there is discussion of co-operation with other governments on drugs issues including correspondence with the Dutch Minister President, Ruud Lubbers, and the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The file contains a document produced by the Policy Unit on drugs in South America and a detailed report of David Mellor’s trip to the continent, 6-11 September 1986. The Policy Unit document focused on possible supply side solutions to the problem, whilst Mellor felt the issue could only be fully addressed by removing demand. There is also considerable discussion around the information available to police in the course of their investigations into drug trafficking, in particular the disclosure of third party Inland Revenue information.

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Education

Seminar held by the Prime Minister at Downing Street

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2115
Date range: 1986

The Prime Minister intends to hold a seminar with a number of distinguished people from the world of education on 2 October 1985. There are three sections to the seminar: higher education, schools, and new directions in vocational education and training. The file contains many letters of acceptance for the invitation to the seminar. Certain themes, reflecting governmental thinking, come across from the correspondence and papers in this file, including the need for greater parental choice and the more autonomy for the individual school. Ray Honeyford, a Bradford Headmaster, proves to be a controversial choice for inclusion in the seminar.

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Future of Inner London Education Authority (ILEA); opting out of ILEA by London Boroughs; contingency plans for abolition; part 5

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2131
Date range: 1988

The majority of papers in this file concern responses to a draft consultation document circulated by the Secretary of State for Education, Kenneth Baker, on the abolition of the ILEA. The Prime Minister agreed that plans for the dismantling of the ILEA were attractive and should be supported. There was concern that more thought should be given to how those boroughs with a poor administrative track record could develop sufficient competence to run a better education service than the ILEA. Concern was also expressed on the level of the community charge needed to run the new schools and the number of staff required. There was agreement that no central government support would be available towards the cost of dismissal by inner London boroughs of unsuitable teachers transferred to them by the ILEA. The cost should be covered by the sale of County Hall.

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Industrial policy

The Future of British Leyland, part 10

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1801
Date range: 1986

This files charts the government’s continued efforts to re-structure the British Leyland Group. It was noted that until a new chairman was appointed ‘BL will continue in its devious and anarchic ways’. The No. 10 Policy Unit favoured the privatisation of BL to foreign owners arguing that it was ‘the competiveness of British industry not its ownership that was important’. The file discusses the potential sale of Austin Rover to Ford and the purchase of Leyland Tucks, Land Rover and Freight Rover to General Motors of America.

The Future of British Leyland, part 11

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1802
Date range: 1986

The file continues with the proposed sale of British Leyland to General Motors which was eventually abandoned. The BL Board declined additional bids from JC Bamford (JCB), Avelling Barford, Lonhro and Schroders for various parts of BL on the basis that on both commercial and industrial grounds, the retention of the businesses within BL, pending a later sale, presented a more attractive option.

The Future of British Leyland, part 12

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/1803
Date range: 1986

The file continues with the proposed sale of British Leyland. To increase the attractiveness of the sale, the name of BL was dropped in favour of Rover ‘which still has some appeal in the market-place’. The remainder of the file discusses the sale of Unipart and Leyland Bus and the possible sale of the Austin Rover Group to Honda. The release of the company’s financial results made ‘dismal reading’ with the Prime Minister demanding ‘radical options’. The integration of the company with Honda was considered as ‘this is the only alternative to a complete collapse of the company’. The Prime Minister was keen to demonstrate that ‘if Honda showed faith in Britain, that faith would be reciprocated’.

Information and publicity

Status of transcripts of Prime Minister’s press conferences; request from office of Neil Kinnock, Leader of Opposition

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2263
Date range: 1988

The file details discussions between Bernard Ingham, the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, and Mark Addison, the PM’s Private Secretary for Parliamentary Affairs, as to whether transcripts of the Prime Minister’s press conferences should be made available to the Leader of the Opposition and the media. The issue arose following a request from Neil Kinnock’s office that all transcripts should be available to the leader of the Opposition. The request was rejected by Bernard Ingram on the grounds that the transcripts were primarily made for No.10’s defensive purposes of having an authoritative record and were not automatically made available to the media, ‘we cannot provide a regular, consistent or comprehensive service; still less can we guarantee to provide such transcripts as are made within 24 hours’.

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