Prime Minister’s office files (PREM) – 1989-90

In this release

Prime Minister

Personal correspondence with Princess Margaret

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2577

Date range: 9 January 1980 – 7 February 1980

This file contains two letters: a photocopy of one from Thatcher to Princess Margaret; and an original, handwritten letter from Princess Margaret to Thatcher, on Kensington Palace headed paper. The letters discuss both writers’ visits to the United States, the Princess’ health, and various issues of the day including: the steel industry strike; nuclear power stations; Soviet actions in Afghanistan; and a possible boycott of the Moscow Olympics.

Prime Minister’s term of office: Mrs Thatcher’s tenth anniversary as Prime Minister

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2802

Date range: 9 September 1987 – 3 May 1989

Chief Press Secretary Bernard Ingham notes that Thatcher will become the longest serving Prime Minister this century on 3 January 1988, and asks for comments in regard to possible celebrations both public and private. Nigel Wicks, Principal Private Secretary agrees that it would be good to mark the occasion. Cabinet and the Chief Whip are to invite Thatcher to a dinner at the Carlton Club. The file then moves on to focus on the ‘10 years as Prime Minister’ anniversary of May 1989. Wicks notes Thatcher is keen not to mark these types of event until they had actually been achieved.

Resignation of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/3213

Date range: 20 November 1990 – 11 January 1991

A ‘Resignation Action Plan’ for 22 January 1990 lists the actions to be taken by the Prime Minister and others. The file also contains copies of many letters from Thatcher to foreign leaders thanking them for their ‘great cooperation and friendship’, and wishing them well for the future. Charles Powell, Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs, attaches a ‘very warm’ message addressed to Thatcher from Gorbachev, noting that he addresses her as ‘Dear Margaret’, for the first time. Thatcher responds addressing the Soviet Premier as Mikhail Sergeyevich. Powell also reports Henry Kissinger had telephoned him ‘in a very emotional state about your decision to resign’. The file contains many letters from foreign leaders to Thatcher expressing their sadness that she is leaving office and praising her achievements. Cabinet decides to present Thatcher with a pair of silver candlesticks at the Lord Chancellor’s lodgings on 23 January 1991. Secretary of State for Energy, John Wakeham, writes to Sir Robin Butler, Cabinet Secretary on 11 November 1991, regarding a book on the fall of the Prime Minister by Alan Watkins which is due to be serialised in the Observer.


Internal situation in China: part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2597

Date range: 30 May 1979 – 21 July 1989

The file begins with discussion of the changes in Chinese politics and economic policy and their impact on British trade. It goes on the chart the political leadership changes in China through the 1980s, with some reports by British officials on the situation in the country. It contains copies of contingency letters produced in case of the death of China’s elderly leaders including Deng Xiaoping. The file goes on to discuss the reaction to a letter from the Dalai Lama to Thatcher about the attacks on protestors in Tibet in March 1989. The second half of the file contains accounts of the protests in May and June 1989 in Tiananmen Square and details of British reaction, including evacuation advice and response to the fallout.


Policing of demonstrations at military bases: activities by anti-nuclear demonstrators: part 2

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2615

Date range: 27 March 1986 – 16 March 1989

This files contains details of an intrusion by anti-nuclear demonstrators into Clyde submarine base at Faslane on 9-10 October 1988. Three men were apprehended after forcing their way onto the nuclear deterrent submarine HMS Repulse. Two further intruders were arrested inside the onshore oil depot.  During the incident, anti-nuclear graffiti was daubed in the control room of HMS Repulse. In a report on the incident it was stated there was no risk of a nuclear explosion. The Prime Minister was ‘utterly horrified’ and viewed the intrusion as yet another example of slackness in sensitive matters that revealed a sorry succession of security lapses. The Prime Minister demanded a full report on the action being taken to ensure such an occurrence never happened again.  Charles Powell considered the incursion ‘a very serious matter indeed’ adding that if the demonstrators had been armed terrorists, the consequences would have been incalculable.


Fire at King’s Cross Underground Station, 18 November 1987

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2896

Date range: 19 November 1987 – 31 July 1989

This file includes initial reports and messages of condolence sent by various world leaders to the Prime Minister following the fire at King’s Cross Underground Station. A note from an official at the Department for Transport (24 November 1987) indicates Secretary of State Paul Channon had suggested the government provide £250,000 to Camden, the local borough, for a memorial fund. The Prime Minister agrees. This was the same amount paid to Bradford following the stadium fire in 1985 but more than the Zeebrugge ferry disaster of March 1987. A note on 2 June 1988 discusses the campaign led by the Evening Standard for the resignation of Keith Bright, London Regional Transport chairman. A note from Channon to the Prime Minister on 27 October 1988 discusses the forthcoming report into the fire and the shortcomings of management in London Underground.

Railway accident at Clapham Junction, 12 December 1988

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2622

Date range: 12 December 1988 – 7 November 1989

This file details the government’s response to the Clapham Junction rail disaster including the setting up of an inquiry under Anthony Hidden, QC. The file contains letters of condolence from foreign heads of state. The file includes a copy of the inquiry report critical of both British Rail and the unions for allowing excessive overtime, and the government’s response delivered by Cecil Parkinson, the recently appointed Secretary of State for Transport.


Drug misuse: international cooperation; part 4 

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2624

Date range: 25 June 1987 – 29 November 1989

This file includes discussions about drug abuse policy including an update from Hartley Booth of the Policy Unit (19 November 1987) which commends the efficiency of the BBC’s ‘Say No to Drugs’ campaign. A note from Carolyn Sinclair of the Policy Unit to Thatcher on 15 September 1988 details an experiment being trialled to provide education about drugs in the classroom, including the use of Life Education Centres and community involvement. A note from the Home Secretary (14 April 1989) provides an overview of meetings with the Director General of the UN Office at Vienna, Margaret J Anstee, about resources for the UN’s drugs bodies, and a general overview of action against drugs. Particular concern is paid by ministers towards the threat of crack cocaine, and in June 1989 a Home Office report is shared, including observations from a fact-finding trip to the US.

Environmental affairs

The litter problem in the UK: briefing on the City of Westminster Bill; Westminster Initiative Report: part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2661

Date range: 11 December 1985 – 24 April 1989

The Prime Minister asks Kenneth Baker, Secretary of State for the Environment, to bring forward proposals to ‘clean up Britain’, and he responds on 16 May 1986, referring to a new scheme, the National Environmental Work Scheme (NEWS). However it runs into difficulties regarding funding. Thatcher takes a personal interest in the issue of litter – she is ‘particularly concerned about the state of the M4 between London and Heathrow’ (background note, 25 June 1986). A major campaign against litter is launched in March 1988.

Home affairs

Sentencing policy: Criminal Justice Bill; draft Green Paper ‘Punishment, Custody and the Community’: part 3

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2716

Date range: 5 March 1987 – 6 October 1989

Behaviour of British football fans abroad; football hooliganism; Football Spectators Bill: part 7

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2722

Date range: 5 July 1988 – 17 January 1989

This file includes the note of a meeting attended by the Prime Minister, Bert Millichip of the Football Association (FA), and Graham Kelly of the Football League on 6 July 1988. Millichip confirmed the FA’s deep embarrassment and regret for incidents of fan violence at that summer’s European Championships in West Germany. A note from Carolyn Sinclair of the Policy Unit on 2 September 1988 outlined proposals regarding a National Membership Scheme for fans. The Prime Minister wrote several notes with additional suggestions, including her doubt as to whether the FA was competent enough to run such a scheme.

The behaviour of British football fans abroad: football hooliganism; Football Spectators Bill; Taylor Report on the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster: part 8

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/3027

Date range: 2 February 1989 – 31 January 1990

The file begins with discussions between Cabinet ministers concerned about potential hooligan activity at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. The Home Secretary looked to bring forward the Football Spectators Bill to deter hooligans. Ministers decided to pause on further activity on 12 April 1989 in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster. The file also includes handwritten notes by the Prime Minister ahead of a debate in Parliament two weeks later.

Acid house parties

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2724

Date range: 22 August 1989 – 05 December 1989

This file begins with a copy of correspondence sent to Archie Hamilton MP by his uncle, Gerald Coke, of Bentley, Hampshire. Coke was disturbed by an ‘acid house’ party that had taken place in his village recently and Hamilton felt the Prime Minister would be interested in learning more. The file goes on to include various options for restricting acid house parties, such as giving greater powers to police or ensuring organisers had to request permission. Noise disruption appeared to be the government’s main concern, underlined by a note to the Prime Minister from Carolyn Sinclair of the Policy Unit on 12 October 1989 which indicates ‘drugs are not the main issue’.

Sex discrimination

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2726

Date range: 6 August 1985 – 27 February 1989

This file begins with a letter to Foreign Minister Geoffrey Howe from the Secretary of State for Employment regarding a European Court ruling on the Sex Discrimination Act; specifically the current exemption of employers with fewer than five employees. Enclosed in the letter is a draft consultation document on the subject. Also discussed in the file is Oxford and Cambridge women’s colleges relationship with the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministers for Women’s Affairs. Towards the end of the file there are guidelines for government departments on women and public appointments and notes on heterosexually transmitted HIV.

Civil disorder: part 4 The Scarman Report

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/3021

Date range: 21 June 1988 – 4 December 1990

Following an update to the Prime Minister on public order in inner cities, from Home Secretary Douglas Hurd on 21 June 1988, an update on disorder in rural areas was provided (28 June 1988). Hurd informs the Prime Minister of a scheme in Coventry banning the consumption of alcohol in public areas of the city centre. On 3 April 1990 Thatcher meets with Sir Peter Imbert, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, regarding disorder in Trafalgar Square over the Community Charge. The Prime Minister praises the police for their efforts Sir Peter states he appreciates the moral support, and wished the whole force could be commended.

National Health

Outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Staffordshire: Stafford Hospital Inquiry

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2782

Date range: 20 May 1988 – 18 July 1989

This file largely consists of a report on the inquiry into the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Staffordshire. Towards the end of the file there is correspondence between the Health Secretary and other ministers on the situation and the actions which had already been taken to combat the spread of the disease.


NATO’s 30th, 35th and 40th anniversaries

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2787

Date range: 10 May 1979 – 23 March 1989


UK/Polish relations: internal situation; economic assistance: part 10

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2798

Date range: 8 February 1988 – 31 August 1989

Royal Family

Visits to Northern Ireland by the Duke and Duchess of Kent

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2833

Date range: 31 March 1980 – 26 July 1989


Scottish High Court judges: possible homosexual scandal

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2838

Date range: 22 December 1989 – 22 December 1989

There is only one page on this file. It concerns the imminent resignation of Judge Dervaird. There has been speculation in the press about a ‘homosexual scandal’ involving three Scottish judges. An official comments that ‘apparently, nothing illegal has been uncovered’. Thatcher indicates, by writing her initials, that she has seen the note, but makes no comments.

South Africa

Visits to the UK by the South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2865

Date range: 16 October 1979 – 15 March 1989

This file contains details of visits made to London by Pik Botha, the South African Foreign Minister and includes accounts of his various meetings with the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. The South African government expressed their concern that the Lancaster House agreement was not being observed and that Zimbabwe ‘was going down the drain’. In the course of the meeting Botha also revealed that Joshua Nkomo, the former leader of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union, had sought the help of the South African government in toppling Robert Mugabe but had been refused. Botha also stated that by not imposing a trade embargo, the Prime Minister had saved the country from the cruelty of sanctions and had done more for black people in South Africa than any black leader or other world figure.


Salmonella and eggs: part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2904

Date range: 8 December 1988 – 27 February 1990

This file is largely concerned with measures the government put into place to tackle the scare over salmonella in eggs, which was heightened by a statement made by Edwina Currie, parliamentary under-secretary of state to the Department of Health. A serious crisis affected egg producers and the government implemented measures to assist the egg industry.

Salmonella and eggs: part 2

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2905

Date range: 6 April 1990 – 23 November 1990

This is a thin file which contains a small amount of additional correspondence on the subject of salmonella. Some of the measures the government introduced to deal with the problem are referred to, including the compulsory slaughter of infected flocks producing eggs for human consumption (‘laying flocks’).


Internal situation in East Germany: question of German reunification; part 1

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2696

Date range: 1 October 1979 – 31 December 1989

This file begins with discussion of East Germany’s changes to the currency exchange policy coming out of the Gera speech in 1980 and its impact on economic policy and relations with West Germany. It contains material on Hermann Axen’s visit to London in 1981. The second half of the file deals with the political changes in East Germany in 1989 including reports by British diplomats on the unfolding events, communication with the Soviets, reaction in Germany and the reunification issue.

Anglo/German relations: part 5

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2997

Date range: 1 September 1989 – 13 September 1989

This file covers issues in Anglo-German relations including German reunification, low-flying aircraft, and European economic and monetary union. It includes Helmut Kohl’s Ten-Point Plan for German Unity, and correspondence relating to comments by trade and industry secretary Nicholas Ridley on Germany and the European integration. Prime ministerial meetings covered include those with: German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (29 November 1989, 14 February and 30 July 1990); defence minister Gerhard Stoltenberg (22 February 1990); and Baden-Württemberg minister-president Lothar Späth (26 March 1990). There is further information on the visits of Bundesbank president Karl Otto Pöhl (2 July 1990) and Genscher (29–30 July 1990). The file also gives details on Percy Cradock’s June 1990 visit to West Germany and the 1990 Königswinter conference dinner.

Internal situation in East Germany: policy towards German reunification; part 2B

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/2999

Date range: 16 February 1990  – 28 February 1990

This file contains correspondence relating to the reunification of Germany. It covers Chancellor Kohl’s visit to Camp David; the German-Polish border (including messages exchanged between Thatcher and Tadeusz Mazowiecki); the British Military Government Berlin; Soviet and Polish views on Germany; a meeting with academic experts on Germany; the monetary union of both Germanies; and the implications for the EC. It also contains briefings and memos relating to the unification process and summaries of telephone conversations between Thatcher and President Bush.

Internal situation in East Germany: policy towards German reunification; part 3

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/3000

Date range: 1 March 1990 – 29 March 1990

This file contains correspondence relating to the reunification of Germany. It covers Chancellor Kohl’s visit to Camp David; the Two plus Four Agreement; military and legal issues arising from the reunification; the German-Polish border; nuclear weapons on German territory; security issues; EC implications; Soviet views on the reunification; a meeting between Douglas Hurd and Kohl; the forthcoming elections in East Germany; and an academic seminar on Germany (including a summary record). The file also contains summaries of conversations between Thatcher and President Bush, and correspondence between Thatcher and Kohl.

Internal situation in East Germany: policy towards German reunification; part 5

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/3002

Date range: 5 September 1990 – 23 November 1990

This file contains correspondence relating to the reunification of Germany. It covers the ceremonies organised to mark the reunification; the Two plus Four Agreement; and the German elections. The file also contains messages exchanged between Thatcher and Kohl on 3 October 1990.

Prime Minister’s meeting with Lothar de Maziere, Prime Minister of the German Democratic Republic, June 1990

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/3004

Date range: 31 May 1990 – 27 June 1990

Visits by Chancellor Helmut Kohl to the UK: part 10

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/3007

Date range: 20 November 1986 – 30 March 1990


Renewal of Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978; consideration of Section 12 (detention); reviews of the Act; Government’s security policy in Northern Ireland

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/3052

Date range: 25 June 1980 – 8 November 1990

This file concerns the renewal of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act in 1980 and subsequent reviews into its operation and renewal. The file includes Defence Secretary Francis Pym’s proposal that the 1980 renewal of the Act allow provisions under Section 12 (detention without trial) to lapse. The Prime Minister’s Office initially rejected this proposal, feeling it would be seen as a sign of ‘weakness’ in the eyes of Ian Paisley and others. However the Prime Minister agreed to allow Section 12 to lapse after it was favoured by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins. Also included in the file is correspondence relating to appointments to subsequent reviews of the Provisions in 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1990, and the draft text of Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Brooke’s 1990 statement on the Provisions, with minor annotations by Thatcher.


Prime Minister’s meeting with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, 5 February 1990

Catalogue reference: PREM 19/3206

Date range: 25 January 1990 – 27 March 1990

This file includes a record of the meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Jesse Jackson which focused heavily on South Africa, and Jackson’s comments to the media immediately afterwards. It also includes a biography of Jackson and a copy of an article published in ‘Black Enterprise’ magazine.