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.

Leading article, page 9

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us