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.