Douglas Hurd on Leon Brittan at the Home Office

Douglas Hurd was Minister of State at the Home Office from after the General Election on June 9th, 1983, until September 10th, 1984 (when Hurd was promoted to the Cabinet, to become Northern Ireland Secretary), as detailed in his Memoirs (London: Abacus, 2003), pp. 318-328. Leon Brittan was Home Secretary at the time. Hurd writes the following about Brittan in the memoirs:

‘Another set [of Cabinet ministers] are centralisers. Loving detail, they gather it relentlessly into themselves. Such ministers can thrive only if they have trained their minds to absorb formidable quantities of facts and figures and transmute them into decisions. Two examples of this style in my time were Geoffrey Howe and Leon Brittan, which suggests to me that it comes most easily to lawyers. Serving later under Leon Brittan at the Home Office, I marvelled at his mastery of a complicated agenda.’ (p. 285)

‘‘Leon Brittan could have been forgiven some exasperation at this point. He was lumbered with a Minister of State nine years older than himself who had acquired a reasonable reputation at the Foreign Office but who seemed unsuited for the job he had now been given. Leon possessed a first-class legal brain, had served in the Home Office before, and held every issue at his fingertips. The pile-up of work was formidable. Leon would have been justified in politely pushing me to the margins and getting on with all important matters himself. If that had happened, then the fear I wrote into my diary a week after joining the Home Office that I would never reach the Cabinet would have come true. Leon’s style was centralising in the sense that he liked to know everything and took the main decisions himself. But he involved me fully in his meetings, listened patiently to my naïve views on criminal justice, delegated to me just the weight I could carry, and showed officials that I was to be treated with respect.’ (pp. 320-321) (my emphasis)

(William Whitelaw, Home Secretary during the first Thatcher Government, shared a similar view of Brittan’s brilliance, talking of him and Patrick Mayhew, both working under Whitelaw as ‘two outstanding lawyers’, and Brittan as ‘an exceptionally clever man’ (William Whitelaw, The Whitelaw Memoirs (London: Aurum Press, 1989), pp. 162, 256).

On Wednesday (July 2nd, 2014), Brittan issued the following statement:

‘During my time as Home Secretary (1983 to 1985), Geoff Dickens MP arranged to see me at the Home Office. I invariably agreed to see any MP who requested a meeting with me.

‘As I recall, he came to my room at the Home Office with a substantial bundle of papers. As is normal practice, my Private Secretary would have been present at the meeting.

‘I told Mr Dickens that I would ensure that the papers were looked at carefully by the Home Office and acted on as necessary.

‘Following the meeting, I asked my officials to look carefully at the material contained in the papers provided and report back to me if they considered that any action needed to be taken by the Home Office.

‘In addition I asked my officials to consider a referral to another Government Department, such as the Attorney General’s Department, if that was appropriate.

‘This was the normal procedure for handling material presented to the Home Secretary. I do not recall being contacted further about these matters by Home Office officials or by Mr Dickens or by anyone else.’

Then a few hours later, Brittan issued a second statement:

‘In the last hour I have been alerted to a Home Office independent review conducted last year into what information it received about organised child sex abuse between 1979 and 1999.

‘The review found information had been dealt with properly. It also disclosed that material received from Mr Dickens in November 1983 and January 1984 had not been retained.

‘However, a letter was sent from myself to Mr Dickens on March 20, 1984 explaining what had been done in relation to the files.’

Considering this dossier contained ‘explosive’ information, according to Dickens’ family, can we really believe that a Home Secretary who Hurd describes in such a fashion would act in this manner?

Furthermore, as detailed (with full references to published articles) on Spotlight, there were three Dickens dossiers, given to Brittan on c. August 20th, 1983, November 23rd 1983, and January 18th, 1984. Hurd was Minister of State at all of these points. A further Minister of State during the period was David (now Lord) Waddington., whilst David Mellor was Under-Secretary of State; he has today (July 5th, 2014) said that he remembered ‘sort of chat around the department’ that it ‘wasn’t a very substantive thing at all’, and that ‘People are talking about this document as if it’s a carefully worked through expose of people. There’s no reason to think it was’.

Hurd would, following his stint in Northern Ireland, succeed Brittan as Home Secretary in August 1985, saying that Margaret Thatcher ‘was moving Leon Brittan to Trade and Industry because she wanted more attention paid to these subjects. She asked me to explain this to Leon, as if that were my responsibility rather than hers.’ (Hurd, Memoirs, p. 346)

A full statement from Lord Hurd is needed, not least about whether Lord Brittan’s account of the dossiers is consistent with what Hurd himself has written about the man.

9 Comments on “Douglas Hurd on Leon Brittan at the Home Office”

  1. artmanjosephgrech says:

    This is the weekend to remember when the cover up of covers ended, I hope with the judicial review of the last cover up

  2. Daniel says:

    David Waddington went on to serve Thatcher as Home Secretary and Chief Whip. His first ministerial role was as a minister in the Department of Employment, which he joined on the same day as Peter Morrison. In Waddington’s memoirs he recounts that he and Morrison had to share a driver because of their relatively junior status.

    Another politician in the Home Office between 1982 – 1985 was Rodney Elton, who is now known as Baron Elton.

    • Ian Pace says:

      Could you possibly post here anything else at all which might be even tangentially relevant from Waddington’s memoirs? Anything about his time at the Home Office under Brittan in particular.

      • Daniel says:


        From Chapter Twelve: More Home Office Tribulations

        ‘Very much more important than the Data Protection Act was the Interception of Communications Bill which I helped Leon Brittan to take through the House at about the same time. It put telephone tapping authorised by the Secretary of State on a statutory basis and outlawed telephone interceptions not so authrorised; and it was to be the model for later legislation putting the security service on a similar statutory basis. Gerald Kaufman was the shadow Home Secretary and I will long remember the skillful way in which Leon handled him and disarmed Labour opposition to the Bill. ‘One day, Gerald,’ said Leon, ‘you will be occupying the in which I am now sitting and bearing the heavy responsibilities I am now bearing; responsibility for the very safety of the nation.’ As Leon spoke you could see Gerald settling back more comfortably into his seat and dreaming he was across the way in Leon’s.’

        In the same chapter there is section about the Zola Budd case. He starts the section by writing that ‘In 1985 the Zola Budd case hit the headlines. Leon Brittan was still Home Secretary and he asked me to see whether there were any difficulties in the way of Zola Budd obtaining British citizenship so that she could run for Britain in the Olympic Games.’

        • Ian Pace says:

          That’s very interesting – Douglas Hurd also credits Gerald Kaufman with helping to get the Police and Criminal Evidence Act through Parliament during the same period.

        • Daniel says:

          From Chapter Fourteen: Home Secretary

          ‘The responsibilities of the Home Secretary were greater in the 1980s than they have now become. The Home Secretary was, for instance, concerned with the administration of criminal justice, criminal law, the treatment of offenders and the prison service – all matters now within the remit of the Ministry of Justice. He was also responsible for broad questions of national broadcasting policy’

          • Daniel says:

            Ian, I can’t find anything else of obvious relevance. Waddington seems to have spent most of his time on immigration matters during the time that Brittan was Home Secretary. But sections I have posted do not contradict the impression given by Hurd and Whitelaw of Brittain as an almost omnipotent figure.

  3. […] Douglas Hurd on Leon Brittan at the Home Office (5/7/14) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s