New documents released by National Archives

The National Archives have released a new selection of official documents, dating from 1979. Records relating to the intelligence services, strikes and the civil service are now in the public domain.

Interestingly, in 1979 it was suggested that an official history of the intelligence services in the second world war might be ‘laying up trouble for ourselves in the future’, according to Prime Minister Jim Callaghan. At the time the Government did not even acknowledge that the intelligence services existed. An authorised History was published only in 2009, as part of a new policy of openness.

On 11 January 1979 the Transport and General Workers Union voted for a strike among lorry drivers. There was much concern that essential, supplies would be put in danger due to secondary picketing. Troops were put on standby as the Government was on the verge of declaring a state of emergency. Documents released show robust correspondence between the Prime Minister and Union officials, at a time of much unrest.

When the new Conservative Government, by Margaret Thatcher, came to power in 1979 they immediately set upon schemes to freeze and then reduce civil service manpower and running costs. There was much heated debate among ministers about whether they could a 10% cut in budgets. In particular the Chancellor and Secretary of Defence were concerned. Also, Margaret Thatcher also refused to send a goodwill Christmas to civil service staff.

In Northern Ireland, the new Government took a robust position. After the US Government refused to supply weapons to the Royal Ulster Constabulary Margaret Thatcher took up the issue personally with President Carter. There were suggestions that the powerful Irish-American lobby were behind the problems.

New year always brings an interesting release of documents from thirty years ago. Under the 30 year rule most documents are closed for that period of time, unless they are deemed harmless enough to be released early, or sensitive enough to be closed for longer. 2013 should see the release of many documents relating to the Falklands War that aren’t already in the public domain.


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