Revelations of 1966 from Public Record Office files
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sweeteners for

Catholic schools

The same Labour government that in 1966 looked with "benevolent neutrality" on reforms to the abortion and sexual offences law also increased the rate of grant to Roman Catholic schools.

Prime Minister Harold Wilson, himself one of the most cautious members of the Cabinet when it came to making government time available for private members' bills to reform the laws on homosexuality, urged his Secretary of State for Education, Tony Crosland, to cultivate the Catholic and Anglican bishops.

The papers show this was something Crosland, otherwise renowned as a free thinking liberal, was happy to do. After conversations with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool Crosland proposed increasing the state grant to Catholic schools to 80 per cent and making new grants to Catholic training colleges.

His reasoning was that the money would sweeten the church authorities towards comprehensive schools. .

Cabinet discussion of the year's great "social legislation" (abortion law reform was begun in 1966 but completed in 1967) was minimal. Most discussion took place, if at all, in Cabinet committees rather than the full Cabinet. Wilson emerges as a cautious voice, saying for instance that he was "in no way committed to giving extra time for homosexual law reform". In a note to Douglas Houghton, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and chairman of the Cabinet's social services committee, Wilson wondered whether they needed to "rush" their thinking about allowing local social services departments to dispense contraceptive advice.

Wilson, MP for the Merseyside seat of Huyton, was clearly concerned about Catholic opinion. But the Cabinet committee was enthusiastic. "The fact that one section of the community would not wish to use facilities was not sufficient reason for withholding them from others." A report from the Church of England Board of Social Responsibility in favour of extending the availability of contraception helped.

But in language that would not be considered politically correct today, Houghton said he was in favour of more contraception because "the problems of our social services are aggravated by the calls made upon them by the families of feckless, sub-normal and irresponsible parents".

But for all its reputation for social reform the Wilson government backed away from two measures discussed in the social services Cabinet committee. One was to redistribute money spent on family allowances to ensure it went only to the needy. The second was to replace "national assistance" (as income support was then called) with a universal "income guarantee" clawed back from the better off through income tax.

Cabinet plan for ads on BBC radio

A meeting of the Wilson Cabinet approved in principle the idea that the BBC should take advertising on one of its radio channels to bail it out of a financial crisis.

It was only after several further meetings and some spirited lobbying from the BBC's then vice-chairman, Lord Fulton, and its director-general, Hugh Greene, that the proposal was dropped. Labour in those days was attracted by advertising as a source of revenue for public purposes.

At a January Cabinet it was proposed that council rates could be kept down by giving councils a percentage of the proceeds from setting up local commercial radio stations. The proposal was deferred pending the conclusions of a large-scale review of councils.

US tapped for funding of OU

Lack of money to pay for Harold Wilson's brainchild, the Open University, prompted the Prime Minister to suggest American firms and foundations should be approached for donations.

He asked his legal adviser, Lord Goodman, to make soundings. Wilson himself said he would contact the president of the Ford Foundation, the former White House official McGeorge Bundy.

Murder for eastern stars

The might of Her Majesty's diplomatic service was mobilised to ensure a new generation of British ambassadors abroad - pop stars - encountered no problems.

From Japan a charge d'affaires anxiously reported rumours of an assassination attempt on the Beatles and said he proposed to do all he could to make a success of a forthcoming tour by the Rolling Stones.