A selection of recently released files - December 2010
Internal situation: Soviet military intervention, Western response, part 2
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/135
- Date: 1980 Jan 6 - 1980 Jan 20
This file discusses a possible Olympic boycott against the Games in Moscow. It also contains a record of a secret meeting in Paris attended by Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong which agrees to support the Afghan resistance and suggests closer coordination of 'Friends' and others. The file contains a report by Lord Carrington on his visit to the region and the announcement of the US boycott of the Olympics.
Internal situation: Soviet military intervention, Western response, part 3
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/136
- Date: 1980 Jan 21 - 1980 Feb 28
This file contains a letter from Mrs Thatcher to US President Jimmy Carter stressing the need for Western unity. There is further discussion on how best to provide covert support for the Afghan resistance. The idea of a Treaty of Neutrality for Afghanistan is dismissed by Mrs Thatcher - 'it would be useless'. The file also contains a record of a meeting between Mrs Thatcher and Chancellor Schmidt, who was strongly critical of US leadership: 'US position thoroughly dangerous...clear and present danger of a Third World War'.
Public expenditure and cash limits; Civil Service pay; White Paper on public expenditure; part 8
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/165
- Date: 1980 Jan 29 - 1980 Feb 29
This file discusses the economic outlook which was continuing to deteriorate, serious problems in public expenditure plans, a shortfall in savings and planned further cuts in expenditure. Mrs Thatcher writes: 'We have got to get economies'.
Budgets: 1979 and 1980. Review of corporation tax; review of capital taxation; part 2
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/175
- Date: 1979 Jun 11 - 1980 Feb 28
The date of the 1980 Budget and Bishop Robert Runcie's enthronement at Canterbury were due to coincide on 25 March, which caused some consternation. Mrs Thatcher asked 'is it possible to change the date of the enthronement?' Chancellor Geoffrey Howe wrote to Robert Runcie to explain the difficulties with the date. The problem was solved when the Government changed the date of the Budget to the 25 March.
Energy conservation and home insulation schemes; oil demand restraint; part 1
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/207
- Date: 1979 May 31 - 1980 April 4
This file discusses the moves towards energy conservation and the reduction of oil consumption, with evidence of much foot-dragging on the issue and the focus on cost and reducing dependency on Iranian oil, rather than any environmental considerations. There are discussions about the public sector leading by example and departments were asked to provide their plans to reduce fuel consumption by 5%. Departmental responses imply reluctance to make the issue a priority. The suggestion to reduce office heating levels to 63-66°F has Mrs Thatcher writing '63 is very cold to work in'. The work of the Committee of Ministers on Energy is discussed at length. Mrs Thatcher requires some convincing of the committee's worth, 'What has it achieved? It looks like a time-wasting talking shop'.
European policy: Community Budget; reduction of UK net contribution: part 5
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/223
- Date: 1980 Jan 22 - 1980 Feb 25
This file shows discussions about the UK's approach to the European Community (EC) Budget and its reform following the rejection of the 1980 Budget at Dublin in December 1979. Mrs Thatcher maintains a firm line - of a Foreign and Commonwealth Office statement on North Sea Oil policy and the EC budget she states 'that statement would be disastrous for Britain and I am not prepared to make it. The idea that we should have to sacrifice our main assets to secure some of our own money back is one that may appeal to the Foreign Office but it [does not] to me. Wouldn't it have been courteous to say the least to have come to me first?' Chancellor Schmidt is described by Roy Jenkins, President of the European Commission, as being 'depressed', 'emotional', critical of the Government's European policies, and also critical of President Carter. Jenkins describes Schmidt as speaking 'in pessimistic, almost apocalyptic, terms about the state of the world'. Schmidt said there was a 'smell of 1914 in the air', believing there was 'at least a 20 per cent chance of another world war'.
European policy: Community Budget; additionality and use of Community funds; part 9
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/227
- Date: 1980 4 June - 1980 19 Sept
Mrs Thatcher's ministers had negotiated a refund of Britain's net contribution to the European Community Budget in late May 1980. This file shows Mrs Thatcher's angry reaction when the basis of the settlement appeared to be in doubt, due to complications concerning VAT and EC procedure for approval of Budget refunds. Mrs Thatcher comments 'No - the procedure is ridiculous. Its whole purpose is to demean Britain…we must fight this one - if necessary openly'.
Fishing: EEC Common Fisheries Policy; fishing limits; part 1
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/233
- Date: 1979 May 08 - 1980 Jan 31
The file shows the Government's attempts to secure better terms in the Common Fisheries Policy which proposed to give the UK a relatively small share of fishing ground in proportion to its fish-rich waters. The Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Agriculture favoured seeking a speedy settlement to help the UK get political acceptance but Mrs Thatcher did not agree, initially holding out for a 50 mile exclusive zone. In a response to a letter from Peter Walker, Mrs Thatcher writes 'It is our water and…our fish. Don't give them away'. Thatcher strongly objects to many of the ideas put forward by Walker with annotations of 'No!!', 'too woolly' and finally 'never' written in the margins throughout the letter.
Internal situation: relations with USA and UK following hostage taking at US embassy, Tehran; sanctions; part 3
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/273
- Date: 1979 Dec 23 - 1980 Jan 08
The file covers international reaction in the immediate months following the taking of American hostages from the US embassy in Iran. The file contains reports and telegram correspondences between the UK Mission to NATO, the British Embassy in Tehran, the Foreign Office in London and the US State Department in Washington as they consider imposing sanctions on Iran. There are some very interesting documents in this file that highlight the British Government's 'serious misgivings' over the US approach in particular that any military action without a Security Council Resolution may 'put the UN in a position where it was refusing to adopt peaceful remedies available to it'. Further to this fear, in a telegram dated 8 January 1980, Lord Carrington indicates the possibility of drawing parallels between the US and Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Towards the end of the file, dated 27 December 1979, there are also telegrams containing detailed accounts of the Swiss Ambassador's brief meeting with the hostages in Iran on Christmas Day 1979.
Situation in the Middle East; part 2
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/295
- Date: 1979 Sep 21 - 1980 May 09
This file contains discussions on various issues including the situation whereby Israel would use an atomic bomb, Menachem Begin's (Israel Prime Minister) opposition to a Palestinian state and Israel's non-recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Foreign and Commonwealth Office took the view that it was unwise to dismiss the PLO as a 'terrorist organisation'. Mrs Thatcher commented: 'This analysis just doesn't stand up. It is riddled with inconsistencies'. The file also contains Thatcher's correspondence with Egypt President Anwar Sadat and letters between Sadat and Begin.
Industrial policy: Industrial relations legislation; Employment Bill; picketing and closed shop; Codes of Practice on Trade Union Immunities; part 6
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/265
- Date: 1980 July 17 - 1980 Nov 28
The Government took its first steps towards trade union reform in 1979-80. This file gives indications of the divergent approaches of Mrs Thatcher and her advisers (pressing for a tougher line) and the 'softly softly' approach of Employment Secretary Jim Prior. On 27 October 1980, T P Lankester, Private Secretary for Economic Affairs, reports that the Prime Minister replied that she did not want to 'take Jim on' on too many fronts this week.
Nationalised industries: British Steel Corporation (BSC); BSC finances and future shape under new chairman; problems of private sector steel firms; part 7
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/312
- Date: 1980 Sept 12 - 1980 Nov 11
The business prospects for the British Steel Corporation (BSC) worsened during 1979-80. Plants were closed and the unions called a strike from 2 January following the offer of a 2% pay rise. This file contains a memorandum by John Hoskyns, Head of the Policy Unit, in which he proposes that BSC should go into liquidation. The file also contains the transcript of a telephone conversation on 30 October 1980 between Mrs Thatcher and Chancellor Schmidt, which concerns quotas on steel production. It also includes comments about the key figures in the Labour Party leadership contest at that time (James Callaghan had resigned as Labour Party leader on 15 October). The file reveals Mrs Thatcher's comments about Callaghan: 'he's such a nice man'.
Nationalised industries: correspondence with Alan Newman Ltd about contract for conversion of liner into floating hotel: negative response from Harland and Wolff and British Shipbuilders
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/315
- Date: 1980 July 2 - 1980 Aug 4
Alan Newman writes to Mrs Thatcher about an enquiry he received from a client asking if his company 'could arrange, working with a British shipbuilder, to carry out a contract for the conversion of a 40,000 ton liner into a floating hotel'. He states that he approached several leading British shipbuilders and received a negative reaction to this proposal, despite high levels of unemployment. A draft reply, explaining the difficulties with the proposal, is submitted to Mrs Thatcher for approval. Her angry reaction is captured in her comments: 'Please tell S of S I am appalled at the excuses and the draft letter' and 'I am very angry that Industry should think of sending such a letter'.
Situation in Rhodesia; return of Patriotic Front; part 12
- Catalogue ref: PREM19/342
- Date: 1979 Dec 21 - 1980 Jan 11
This file concerns the South African soldiers protecting Beit Bridge in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe argues that this erodes confidence in the Lancaster House (land reform) agreement and affects the process leading to genuine rule in Zimbabwe. Mugabe writes a number of letters to Mrs Thatcher protesting at the governor's decision to allow South African troops to be stationed in the country - he sees it as an act of aggression and violation.
Situation in Rhodesia; elections; Robert Mugabe appointed Prime Minister; discussions on composition of Cabinet with Governor Soames; part 16
- Catalogue ref: PREM19/346
- Date: 1980 Feb 29 - 1980 Mar 19
This file contains letters of thanks to the Prime Minister for the UK's actions in Rhodesia from various foreign heads of state, including Robert Mugabe. There is 'a rather extraordinary message' from Zambia which is 'unhappily and ungenerously phrased'. A response to this is written on the file saying 'President Kaunda evidently finds it difficult to be generous!', a sentiment Mrs Thatcher agrees with, writing 'very!' in response. There are discussions on foreign countries' varying responses to Robert Mugabe's election win, particularly those who appeared to avoid issuing congratulations. There is correspondence from Governor Soames on the future policy of Rhodesia. He comments, 'if there is a massive white exodus and rapid economic decline, we shall have to face considerable criticism both home and abroad'. This file also contains discussions of gifts to celebrate the country's independence with Mrs Thatcher stating that the suggested budget for this was too low, 'you can't get much for £2,000'.
Moscow Olympic Games
Sport: UK participation in Moscow Olympic Games following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; part 3
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/376
- Date: 1980 May 9 - 1980 July 30
The Moscow Olympic Games of 1980 were boycotted by many countries because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Mrs Thatcher's Government attempted to persuade British sportsmen and women and their sports federations not to attend the Olympics. However, they could not prevent those who wanted to participate from doing so. This file contains several powerfully-worded copies of letters from Mrs Thatcher putting the Government's case to individuals involved at different levels in sport. It also contains some interesting reports from the British Ambassador in Moscow.
Hunger strike at Maze Prison; the Dirty Protest; part 1
- Catalogue ref: PREM 19/282
- Date: 1979 Nov 15 - 1980 Dec 10
This file highlights the typical working day and current privileges of prisoners and outlines the actions carried out in the 'dirty protests'. Mrs Thatcher comments: 'we cannot make any concessions'. In a letter to Thatcher, Robert Armstrong states that both PIRA and INLA are thinking in terms of some kind of 'spectacular' act of terrorism in support of the hunger strike and 'both the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Dr Paisley have been mentioned as high risk targets'. Comments in the file note that the attitudes of the Church and the Irish Government have been unhelpful. There is correspondence in the file between the Prime Minister and Pope John Paul II.