Macmillan and the Communists

CABINET SECRETS OF 1964: Stephen Ward and Stephen Castle review files n ow in the public domain

Harold Macmillan authorised covert government expenditure to support an organisation set up to counter Communists inside trade unions, according to government files now made public under the 30-year rule.

Lord Shawcross, a former Labour Attorney-General, first introduced him to the organisation, Industrial Research and Information Ltd (IRIS), towards the end of 1962. It was secretly funded by employers, including Ford and Shell, through a private trust ofwhich he was a trustee, the Prime Minister was told. According to Lord Shawcross, unions with a strong Communist presence included the ETU electricians' union, the Draughtsmen's Union, and several more representing white-collar workers. He also claimd the BBC and several television companies were infiltrated. With more money, anti-Communist trade unionists could be supported, and information about known Communists passed on.

Macmillan was immediately interested, and after arranging a meeting to find out more about how the Communists organised strikes and infiltrated organisations, the Prime Minister promised to talk to the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, about raising money from the Secret Fund, which also funded MI5. Sir Burke Trend, the Cabinet Secretary, assured Mr Macmillan's private secretary Sir Tim Bligh that the Secret Fund could manage £40,000 a year.

Mr Macmillan was clearly aware of the controversial nature of what was going on. On 3 December, Sir Tim wrote to Sir Burke saying: "The Prime Minister has discussed this with the Home Secretary and has asked him to take charge of this operation . . . ThePrime Minister feels that the discussions on some of the other matters referred to in Lord Shawcross's letter should be kept to an extremely restricted circle . . ."

Mr Macmillan sent a series of letters over subsequent months assuring Lord Shawcross he had not forgotten the matter. Mr Brooke in turn met Lord Shawcross in February, and offered in principle to fund the Shawcross organisation.

Mr Brooke wrote to Mr Macmillan after the meeting saying IRIS would be a useful way to use information on Communists uncovered by MI5. "The outcome, if all goes well, is that there will exist not only an effective channel for giving wider currency to facts of public interest which we know about certain individuals from secret sources, but also a more powerful instrument for mobilising effort within the trade unions against the determined attempts by the Communist Party to get control of key positions inthe unions nationally and locally." More than a year later, before Lord Shawcross wrote in July 1964 to the new Prime Minister, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, saying: "The help we obtained from official sources was of the greatest assistance in tiding things over, but it does not seem there should be any need to seek further subventions." IRIS had now raised £35,000 of private funding, and did not need more. Sir Alec replied he was delighted that the Government had been able to help.

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