A selection of recently released files - December 2011
Liquid milk prices
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/389
- Date: 1979 May 16 - 1981 March 11
A 1½ p per pint increase in the retail price of milk is proposed by Peter Walker, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, in a letter to Chancellor Geoffrey Howe. Walker states that he will be looking into the current system of milk pricing and making further proposals. This prompts the following handwritten comments by Mrs Thatcher: 'I do not believe such a large increase is possible politically. 1½ p is a great addition to the housewife's budget. Moreover there is the other political point - I abolished school milk in schools!'. Discussions continued, including considering whether government should be involved in regulating milk prices at all.
The Defence Budget; future defence programme; part 6
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/416
- Date: 1981 May 18 - 1981 June 30
This file includes discussion among government ministers on proposed cuts to the defence budget. In a letter to the Prime Minister, First Sea Lord, Sir Henry Leach expresses concern at the depth of the cuts. Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, also raised concerns about the proposed cuts, writing to the Secretary of State for Defence, John Nott, about the vital role played by HMS Endurance in protecting the Falkland Islands. It was important to 'maintain our normal presence in the area', he wrote, as any reduction would be interpreted by the islanders and the Argentines as a 'reduction in our commitment to the islands and in our willingness to defend them'. This could be perceived as building up to the Falklands War which began the following year. Concern is also expressed in the file about the possible impact of the defence cuts on US/UK relations. Ahead of the final cabinet meeting to decide on the proposals, John Nott wrote to the Prime Minister that it would be impossible to make further savings without having an impact on the forces.
Public expenditure (PE) and cash limits; White Paper on PE; part 13
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/418
- Date: 1980 November 25 - 1981 February 16
The Central Government Borrowing Requirement (CGBR) had been pushed upwards in November 1980 for a variety of reasons. In the weeks leading up to the 1981 Budget, the financial situation deteriorated. Chancellor Geoffrey Howe's memo of 9th January, addressed to the Prime Minister, brought 'more bad news'. Mrs Thatcher's concerns are underlined by her handwritten comments addressed to Tim Lankester, her Private Secretary for Economic Affairs 'Tim - I cannot just do nothing about this. We appear to have no control over expenditure'. Thatcher also writes some exasperated comments in reaction to a letter addressed to Geoffrey Howe from Lord Soames, Lord President of the Council, on the theme of government expenditure.
Economic strategy; pay and prices; monthly economic report; part 8
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/423
- Date: 1981 January 2 - 1981 June 10
Concerns about presentational problems are reflected in several internal memos by Bernard Ingham, Chief Press Secretary who described the government's problems in dramatic terms. He warns about the damage done by divisions within government and Cabinet. On 30 March 1981, 364 economists wrote a letter to The Times which strongly criticised the strategy behind Chancellor Geoffrey Howe's March Budget. Professor Patrick Minford wrote an article (also published in The Times) defending the government's approach. This action prompted a letter of thanks from Mrs Thatcher to Professor Minford, included in the file.
Economic strategy; pay and prices; monthly economic report; economic prospects; part 9
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/424
- Date: 1981 June 12 - 1981 October 9
This file includes a hard-hitting memo from Bernard Ingham dated 8 July, which paints a very gloomy picture of the government's troubles, referring to the explosion of urban riots 'where next?', the imminent Warrington by-election, and rising unemployment figures. However, by 31 July, Ingham's tone is more cheerful 'contrary to all expectations, we have ended July - and entered Recess - on a higher rather than lower note'. He states that 'the triumph of the Royal Wedding has been a national tonic'.
Visits to UK by Vice President Mubarak in June 1979, May 1980 and September 1980: calls on the Prime Minister
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/451
- Date: 1979 May 29 - 1980 September 8
This file concerns visits to the UK by the then Vice President Hosni Mubarak. A character profile of Mr Mubarak describes him as 'no intellectual' but 'friendly and cheerful'. However, 'his affable exterior evidently conceals a degree of ruthlessness'. Officials are warned not to mention Mrs Mubarak's Welsh relatives unless the subject is brought up by the Mubaraks themselves, as 'it is thought they may wish to play the connection down'. The family are characterised as 'attractive and amusing' and it is noted that they 'obviously enjoy good living'. It was considered important to 'make a suitable fuss' over Mubarak as he was identified as being the most likely successor to President Anwar Sadat 'should anything happen' to him. An evening at the theatre or ballet is suggested 'subject to Mubarak's tastes'. The file also contains copies of correspondence between Anwar Sadat and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel.
Visit to UK by President Giscard d'Estaing, November 1979: meetings with Prime Minister; part 1
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/469
- Date: 1979 July 11 - 1981 March 3
The French advance team, advising on protocol for the meeting between President Giscard d'Estang and Margaret Thatcher in the Cabinet room, were not happy that her chair would have arms and his would not. The file contains a report of an exchange on this subject between Sir Reginald Hibbert, the British Ambassador in Paris, and Jacques Wahl, Secretary General to the Presidency of the French Republic. The outcome of the chair debate is not recorded.
Prime Minister's meetings with Chancellor Schmidt; part 2
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/471
- Date: 1980 June 4 - 1981 November 18
This file contains briefing papers for Thatcher, ahead of her meeting with the German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt. Key issues covered include the German general election, Germany's key objectives, and the Chancellor's worsening health. There are transcripts of a dinner conversation between Schmidt and Thatcher where they discuss newly elected US President Ronald Reagan who Thatcher was recorded as stating he 'has been greatly underestimated' and 'it would be a very serious mistake if we antagonised him'. Thatcher believed consultations with Reagan should be handled carefully as there was a real risk that Europe would not get off on the right foot with him and be weakened as a result. The file also notes that an earlier planned meeting between Thatcher and Schmidt was postponed because the Chancellor had 'decided to visit the states'.
Expenditure on accommodation
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/474
- Date: 1979 June 20 - 1981 April 2
Following a written question about the costs of refurbishing accommodation for ministers, a breakdown of spend for each of the government departments was published without consulting the Prime Minister's office. Officials in Thatcher's office appear sceptical of the alleged costs for refurbishing Number 10, stating they thought the figures inaccurate. Thatcher voices her agreement writing 'So do I!' In particular the cost for bedding is queried with Thatcher noting 'we use only one bedroom' and the price of an ironing board prompts her to repeatedly state in the file 'I will pay for the ironing board'.
Civil disorder: disturbances in Brixton, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, and London districts; Prime Minister's meetings with community leaders; anti-riot equipment for the police; Urban Programme; implications for local authority
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/484
- Date: 1980 Apr 2 - 1981 Oct 29
This file contains discussions, particularly after the Brixton riots of April 1981, of what government expected to be the main sources of disturbance throughout the rest of that year. The file also contains recorded telephone conversations between Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw and Mrs Thatcher where they discuss police requests for equipment, including the use of baton rounds, water cannons, the potential for arming police, and whether army camps should be used to house offenders. A record of Mrs Thatcher's late night visit to New Scotland Yard is included, where she hears of these requests directly from police. The file also contains communications establishing the urban programme and concerns from one local authority that by focussing on Liverpool and the London Docklands area, other regions could be ignored.
Information and publicity
Public attitudes on pay determination; presentation of government's economic policy; part 2
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/495
- Date: 1980 July 4 - 1981 November 17
This file details the government's campaign of public economic education with the aim of permanently changing attitudes to pay and productivity in order to lower expectations in pay bargaining. It includes a list of lines for ministers to use when they give a speech so it is impressed on the public the consequences of bargaining over public sector pay.
Internal situation; USA and UK relations following hostage taking at US embassy; demonstrations in Grosvenor Square; sanctions; part 8
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/496
- Date: 1980 May 28 - 1981 February 18
This file includes discussions between Thatcher and the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, about the possible deportation of Iranian students, arrested following demonstrations in Grosvenor Square. There are safety concerns regarding deporting them by air. The closure of the British Embassy in Tehran is also discussed following threats of violence and a bomb hoax. The proposed move of the Iranian Embassy in London, to Victoria Street is not well received. The file includes a transcript of a telephone conversation between Thatcher and the then US President Jimmy Carter in the hours before the release of US hostages in Iran. The file shows insight into Thatcher and Carter's 'special relationship' with Thatcher recorded as saying 'I think the whole situation has been wonderfully handled by you Jimmy, I think it has been masterly'.
Hunger strike at Maze Prison ; the 'Dirty Protest'; part 4
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/505
- Date: 1981 May 20 - 1981 July 2
Following the death of four hunger-strikers at Maze Prison, including Bobby Sands who died shortly after his election as a member of parliament, this file contains material relating to the UK government's stance of refusing the imprisoned Irish dissidents political status. The majority of the file consists of documents which outline Margaret Thatcher's unbending stance over the matter but the file also contains the hunger-strikers' statements of complaint, their appeal to the European Commission for Human Rights, and the conditions at Maze Prison. Individual appeals and criticisms presented to the Prime Minister on behalf of the prisoners include leading church figures such as Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich and Bishop Richard Lennon, and the Taoiseach Charles Haughey.
Prime Minister's meetings with the Taoiseach, Charles Haughey; Anglo-Irish joint studies; part 4
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/508
- Date: 1981 Mar 11 - 1981 Oct 20
In the shadow of the Maze Prison hunger strikes and the IRA bombing in London, this file discusses the proposals of a joint study looking into encouraging greater co-operation between the Irish and UK governments. Whilst recognising the need for greater co-operation Margaret Thatcher is adamant not to allow the study to get 'out of hand' in proposing changes which challenge the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the UK. Thatcher responds to the study by writing: 'This is the most alarming set of papers on the UK/Irish situation I have ever read. They reveal starkly a total difference in approach we are trying to achieve'. The file also contains draft copies of the joint study findings along with reactions from community leaders, such as Reverend Ian Paisley. The file provides insight into the Prime Minister's difficulties in negotiating closer relations without alienating domestic constituencies.
Inner city policy: creation of urban development corporations to assist in regeneration of Liverpool and London docklands; part 1
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/577
- Date: 1979 Jul 23 - 1981 August 7
This file contains early discussions about the establishment of Enterprise Zones in various conurbations across the UK. Following the civil disturbances in July 1981, Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine suggests he should be relocated to Merseyside to show evidence of the government's concern. There is evidence of some concern, particularly from Cabinet Secretary Robin Armstrong, that he may not be the right person for such a role, and the Prime Minister expresses the belief that large amounts of money are being spent in the region, in response to Heseltine's request for further finances.
Inner city policy: creation of urban development corporations to assist in regeneration of Liverpool and London docklands; part 2
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/578
- Date: 1981 Aug 11 - 1981 Oct 20
This file continues the discussions about post-riot inner city regeneration, and particularly Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Heseltine's fortnight in Merseyside. The file contains Heseltine's draft report on his findings, 'It Took a Riot', and responses from across Cabinet and amongst the Prime Minister's advisors, including the general point of concern that other regions may look unfavourably on perceived special treatment for Merseyside. The file also includes Chancellor Geoffrey Howe's counter-points to Heseltine's 'godfather' role on Merseyside, and final conclusions from the Prime Minister that include the agreement to relocate Heseltine in Liverpool for a year.
Proposed BBC Panorama programme on British intelligence services
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/587
- Date: 1980 June 18 - 1981 February 3
The file details the government's efforts to prevent the broadcast of a BBC Panorama programme on the security and intelligence services. The government's seldom-used power to veto BBC programmes is raised although it is noted that use of the veto would produce 'a tremendous hoo-ha…about censorship'. A handwritten note from Mrs Thatcher pointedly says: 'I would be prepared to use the veto'. Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong is sent to meet Sir Ian Trethowan, Director General of the BBC, to persuade him not to go ahead with the programme. The government's efforts to persuade the BBC to drop the programme were ultimately unsuccessful and a heavily cut version was broadcast. However it was not enough to please Robert Armstrong who noted that 'it looks as if Sir Ian Trethowan has not managed to clean the programme up to the extent we might have hoped.' The story behind the edit was leaked to The Guardian and the BBC publicly denied that they had shown the film to anyone outside the corporation or that they had been put under pressure by the government.
Leak to The Times of Cabinet proceedings on public expenditure discussions
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/595
- Date: 1981 October 21 - 1981 October 28
The file includes a briefing note to Mrs Thatcher from Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong on how to handle her Cabinet after an embarrassing leak. Mr Armstrong suggests the Prime Minister read the riot act to her colleagues and even suggests another reshuffle or excluding members suspected of leaking information from future Cabinet discussions. Armstrong notes that 'more than one person has been talking' and believes that the time has come for a 'written warning'. Mrs Thatcher writes that she will use Armstrong's letter 'as a speaking note' at the next meeting.