Complete classes from the CAB & PREM series in the Public Record Office
Series Three: CAB 128 & CAB 129 - Cabinet Conclusions & Cabinet Memoranda, 1945 and following
Part 6: The Wilson Government, January 1969 - May 1970
(CAB 128/44-46 & CAB 129/140-149)
CAB 128 and CAB 129 represent the highest level of British governmental documents recording the minutes and memoranda of the weekly Cabinet meetings held by the Prime Minister and his senior Ministers. These documents form the apex of the whole governmental and Civil Service structure; of the thousands of documents generated by the machinery of government and its many departments, only the most important and highly concentrated reached the Cabinet. As a result the material in CAB 128 and CAB 129 provides an excellent and unique resource for scholars; providing material that represents the core issues facing the government of the day, stripped down to the bare essentials and free from superfluous detail. This clarity of purpose and the succinct nature of the documents will be especially useful for academic studying Post-war Britain and the problems faced by successive governments.
Providing the complete run of Minutes and Memoranda for the remainder of the Wilson administration, (January 1969-May 1970), Part 6 contains documents relating to both the ongoing business of government, such as the economy, defence, international relations, as well as material on the Divorce Reform Act, the Matrimonial Property Act and the abolition of the death penalty.
1969 was the year that witnessed Barbara Castle’s attempts to introduce trade union legislation in her In Place of Strife proposals. The resulting arguments split the Labour Party and almost brought down the Wilson government. Having survived the In Place of Strife crisis, the summer of 1969 brought fresh problems for the government in the form of rioting in Northern Ireland. In August the first British troops arrived in the province to assume security responsibilities. Although initially welcomed by Catholics in the province, their presence would soon become resented as a symbol of British occupation and would spark off nearly thirty years of bitter armed struggle.
By 1970, Harold Wilson had been Prime Minister for six years; the last four years had seen his administration become increasingly unpopular with the British public. In the run-up to the 1970 General Election, Labour’s poor economic and political history gave fodder to the Conservative’s Election Campaign. The devaluation of the pound, wage inflation, Britain’s trade deficit and her role in the Vietnam War were the main issues causing concern amongst the British voters. When the country went to the polls on 18 June, the Conservatives won with a majority of 330 seats to Labour’s 287.
The Minutes and Memoranda for January-May 1970, cover the final months of the Wilson Administration: On the home-front, CAB 128/45 covers the Abolition of British Standard Time, the Free Vote on Abortion, the re-organisation of the Health Service, the controversial dock-workers pay negotiations (one of several documents concerned with wage increases in general), the financial future of Britain’s ship-building industry and the draft White Paper for Britain’s application for membership of the EEC. Internationally, dissension in the leadership of the Soviet Union, situation reports on Laos, Cambodia and Nigeria and the result of elections in Rhodesia, are also featured.
Although many records are still subject to extended closure, CAB 128/46 provides a brief insight into Harold Wilson’s electoral arguments for deferring tough measures that the economy needed, until after the General Election. Fearful that a clampdown on wage inflation might provide an economic crisis requiring further measures of restriction, Wilson wrote:
"If the Labour Party were then returned to power, it would no doubt be distasteful to have to reintroduce a policy of restriction immediately thereafter; but this situation would have to be faced. If, on the other hand, they lost the Election, they might do so by only a narrow margin; and in that case the Conservative Party, who would then constitute the Government, would have to shoulder the responsibility for dealing with the potentially inflationary problem which they would have inherited...”
CAB 128/46 covers most Confidential Records. A large quantity of the material contained in these records has been categorised as ‘highly sensitive’ and remains closed to research.
CAB 129/147-149 looks at:
the Annual Review of the Agricultural Industry, 1970
the Pay of School-Teachers in England and Wales
the Motion for Murder (Life Imprisonment) Bill
the Election Business Committee
These Cabinet minutes and memoranda for 1969 and 1970, give scholars a unique opportunity to reassess events and to judge the performance of Wilson and his Ministers in their final days of power.