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LABOUR HISTORY

Series One: British Labour Party Research Department Memoranda & Information Papers, 1941-1979
Part 3: Memoranda, June 1970 - October 1974, with Information Papers, 1971-1974

 

Publisher's Note

Part 3 of this project covers the British Labour Party Research Department Memoranda for the period June 1970 up to October 1974 along with the Information Papers for 1971-1974. These documents are an invaluable source for understanding the factual analysis lying behind the party’s policies, whether in Opposition or in Government. They reveal the synthesis of ideas and attitudes and their process through to agreed statements of party policy.

After the General Election of June 1970 the Labour Party again found themselves in Opposition until March 1974 when they came back to power, but only as a minority government. Part 3 of this project ends at the October 1974 election when Labour improved the position, gaining an overall majority of 3 seats, enabling them to carry on under Harold Wilson and then James Callaghan through the mid-1970s. The period from November 1974 to May 1979 will be covered in Part 4 of this microfiche project.

Harold Wilson was re-elected to the leadership unopposed after the election defeat of June 1970. Issues of particular importance in this period were Britain’s entry into the Common Market, the Housing Finance Bill, Industrial Relations, Unemployment, Inflation, Oil Prices and the Miners’ Strike.

No: 38 of the Series of Information Papers for 1972 deals with the Housing Finance Bill with details of a consultative conference on education and housing. Nos: 22 and 25 of 1972, Nos: 52, 64 and 77 of 1973, also focus on housing. Nos: 1, 12 and 14 of 1971 address Britain’s entry into the Common Market. Subjects addressed by the Information Papers for 1974 include the Structure of Local Government in England and Wales, Social Security Legislation, North Sea Oil, Nuclear Power, Trade Unions and Labour Relations, Pensions, Equality for Women, Nationalisation of the Ports, Agriculture, Northern Ireland and the Tories’ economic record.

Research Memoranda for the second half of 1970 begin with an emphasis on Local Government. RD 2 of July 1970 begins:

“Labour’s defeat in the General Election adds new importance to the rebuilding of Labour’s strength in local government. The loss in recent years of many experienced councillors makes it highly desirable that some form of training should be provided for the new candidates who will be replacing them. No doubt some courses will be organised at local level by enterprising local parties. But the L G A C has already agreed that some initiative should come from Head Office. The Committee has already shown this with the production of the “Guide for the New Councillor and Candidate” which is in hand. (see RD 1 of June 1970). It ought to be feasible for us to organise a postal course, based on existing published material, to begin next autumn. We should consider a course for up to 500 students in England and Wales. (RD 1 notes that there are nearly 7000 Labour councillors in Britain). It would run from about November to March and each student would receive about eight papers, consisting of prescribed reading and questionnaire, covering the major local government topics:

STRUCTURE AND FUNCTIONS OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT
(2 papers)

FINANCE - HEALTH AND WELFARE

HOUSING - PLANNING AND ENVIRONMENT

EDUCATION - TRANSPORT

There is obviously scope for greatly extending the syllabus in future years....”

RD 37 contains Evidence to the Finer Committee on One Parent Families.

RD 65 finds that “the general pattern in the new London Boroughs appears to be that the Health, Welfare and Children Committees are all part of the Housing management teams dealing with tenants euphemistically called problem families....” ie: those most likely to be facing Court Orders for Possession (repossession of council homes). Ron Brown, M P comments on the failure to produce amending legislation covering the powers of local authorities to obtain Court Orders for Possession despite all the other significant changes made by the recent Labour Administration concerning Housing matters. He argues that Council Tenants should be better protected under the law.

In RD 52 of January 1971 the Regional and Local Government Sub-Committee addresses the subject of “Finance of Council House Building” and the argument put forward by Mr Frank Allaun (M P for Salford East) that local authorities should “finance the building of council houses out of their own revenue, in order to relieve tenants and ratepayers of interest charges on long-term borrowing for house building”.

RD 12 sets out the Programme of Work for the Labour Party’s Research Department following up the brief note in RD 5 which highlighted the need to undertake “a radical re-casting of the research programme now being undertaken by the Home Policy Committee and the Research Department”. Key decisions after the electoral defeat in the summer of 1970 were postponed until after the summer break.

By September 1970 the Research Department consisted of the Research Secretary and 11 Research assistants, one of whom was designated Local Government Officer. Full details of membership of existing Advisory Committees and Study Groups are given with a review of progress made and proposals for the way ahead. Suggested new areas for research outlined in the document include Mergers, the Pharmaceutical Industry, the Aircraft Industry, Disablement Benefits and crucial areas of political strategy such as the Structure of Government, Demand Management, Poverty and Broadcasting.
RD 36 of December 1970 looks in detail at Multi-National Companies. RD 72 (revised in April 1971) contains the Draft Report of the Study Group on Immigration which runs to some 61 pages. This is typical of the wealth of detail in some of the Research Department Memoranda.

Major issues coming to the fore in the Research Department Memoranda from April 1971 onwards include Britain and the EEC (RD 98, RD 146, RD 221, RD 243 and RD 259), Industrial Relations (RD 106, RD 110 and RD 227), Unemployment (RD 111, RD 128, RD 129 and RD 142), Care for the Elderly in the Community (RD 95, RD 119, RD 127 and RD 274), Housing (RD 208, RD 224, RD 236, RD 299, RD 300 and RD 301) and Education (RD 297, RD 306 and RD 307).

The first revision of Priorities in Government - Labour’s Aims for Britain (100 pp + xvi) is set out in RD 374.

“We are a democratic Socialist Party, and proud of it. We put the principles of democracy and socialism above considerations of class and market economics. We aim to bring about a society based on co-operation instead of competition; where production is for people’s needs not for private profit; where community care is capable of replacing individual self-help; where personal relationships are based on equality and international relationships on mutual respect for the principles we hold”. The document goes on to set out Labour’s aims - planning for full employment, high priority in public expenditure to the housing programme, improving industrial performance, redistributing wealth, substantial immediate increases for existing pensioners and other welfare beneficiaries plus a radical new earnings-related pensions plan, reform of the health services, benefits as of right for the disabled, a major new Education Act, a prices policy and a fresh approach to the relationship between government and industry stressing the qualitative aspects of growth.

Comparison can be made with the Third Draft in RD 378 which has an additional 3 page Foreward which explains “Participation 72” and emphasizes grass roots involvement: “Policy in the Labour Party is made by the members”. The text of the Foreward goes on to state: “We are publishing the document as a basis for discussion throughout the country in time for debate at our next Annual Conference. In part it is the result of work carried out in many Sub-Committees and Study Groups set up in recent years. In other parts it contains proposals from the uncompleted legislation of the last Labour Government. Where our policy work is incomplete, we have said so - and subsequent proposals will come at a later stage. In Chapter 10 we indicate that a major document on Foreign Policy will come next year. A few extremely important areas of policy - Northern Ireland being one, and the future of the House of Lords another - we have not felt it appropriate to make proposals here”.

“In preparing the document we were greatly helped by the 600 Labour Parties (and the 10,000 individual members involved) who met to complete our “Participation 72” exercise “Labour’s Party Programme”. They indicated to us several gaps in our work, and went on to indicate the degree of priority for studies now in hand...”

A fourth draft, retitled Labour’s Programme for Britain (RD 392) was presented for debate at the 1972 Annual Conference.

Many Research Memoranda for 1973 contain amendments for Labour’s Programme coming from M P’s, Study Groups and Liaison Committees.

In May 1973 there is a Revised Final Draft of a Green Paper on Capital and Equality produced by the Capital Sharing Study Group. This runs to 66 pages. (see RD 769 and RD 846). Another important document is RD 776 on financing Labour’s Programme, which is followed in July 1973 by Labour’s Programme: Financing the Expenditure by Denis Healey. (see RD 841). RD 776 is a lengthy document itemising the costings of the main commitments. RD 841 goes on to put the points covered in RD 776 into a sharper perspective so that decisions can be made about priorities. The section headed “Priorities” begins: “It will be seen from the above that the implementation of our expenditure objectives will present grave difficulties, even allowing for all the increases which could be expected in tax revenue”.

In conclusion, Healey argues:
“ 1) The next Labour Government will face difficult fiscal problems in its first two years if, as seems politically essential, it immediately implements its commitment to pension increases, while simultaneously dealing with its economic legacy from the Tories;
2) Even a five-year period of office would be insufficient to permit the Government to implement some of its more expensive commitments;
3) Wealth taxes, the removal of Tory concessions to the rich, and the closing of tax loopholes, are unlikely to provide more than £1000 million for resources expenditure;
4) Therefore any commitments which raise our additional expenditure over £1000 million will have to be covered by increases in taxation or contributions affecting a large proportion of the voting population, if not all. The National Executive must therefore take into account the effect of such increases, not only on the political popularity of the Labour Party, but also on inflationary pressures resulting from increased wage demands;
5) In this situation the National Executive Committee must decide its basic priorities well before the next Election so that the next Labour Government’s planning of public expenditure is not thrown to the winds in the first period of economic difficulty, or pre-empted by a few specific commitments which do not permit a balanced programme and leave no room for manoeuvre in an emergency.”

RD 867, by Tony Benn, covers “The Working Methods of the Next Labour Government” for discussion by the Home Policy Committee.

At the end of 1973 a campaign document entitled Labour’s First Five Years was produced. See RD 920 for the various revisions of this. RES 49 of May 1974 contains a Draft Outline for the Manifesto for the October election; RES 130 of July 1974 provides a Revised Version.
By 1973 and 1974 additional issues have come to the fore: eg: The North Sea Oil Question (see RD 587, RD 588 and RES 66) and The Coal Industry (see RES 40).

Towards the end of 1973 the Conservative Government entered into a bitter battle with the Trade Unions over Stage Three of their counter-inflation policy. This conflict coincided with the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war and subsequent oil embargo. Oil prices went up. The Heath Government became locked into a head on confrontation with the Miners, culminating in Heath’s defeat at the February 1974 General Election. The Oil Crisis and the Miners’ Strike came to dominate this final period.

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