Catalogue description HM Treasury: Private Office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer: Sir Geoffrey Howe's records

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Details of T 639
Reference: T 639
Title: HM Treasury: Private Office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer: Sir Geoffrey Howe's records

The records comprise the complete collection of records formerly created and held by Sir Geoffrey Howe (1926-2015; later known as Lord Howe of Aberavon) during his tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1979 to 1983 in Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. The records may be characterised as containing high level policy work and correspondence at ministerial level.

It has been noted that the dates of some of these files extends to 1986; post-dating Sir Geoffrey Howe's tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer to 1983. The explanation for this occurence is unclear and conjectural as it is presently unknown whether it was a deliberate or accidental act to include papers into this collection after his tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Date: 1978-1986

Although Sir Geoffrey Howe had instituted a seemingly well organised registry system for his papers and the records, there was no docket book system employed to indicate the themes and subjects aligned to the alpha-numerical references he used. However, the catalogue list which has been derived from information on the front covers of files clearly describes what the themes and subjects were.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe, Baron Howe of Aberavon, 1926-2015

Physical description: 266 file(s)
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Immediate source of acquisition:

in 2016 Treasury

Accumulation dates: 1979 to 1983
Selection and destruction information: These records have been preserved in their entirety.
Accruals: No future accruals are expected.
Administrative / biographical background:

The Treasury private office contained the ministers who were the leaders at the highest strategic and functional level of the business of the department. If the private office was at the apex of the Departmental Treasury, the 'Chancellor of the Exchequer's Office' was positioned on the very needle point of this apex having the ultimate responsibility for the work of the junior ministers of the Treasury who were accountable directly to the Chancellor.

During the tenure of Sir Geoffrey Howe as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1979 to 1983) the Treasury was divided into four main sectors. These were:

  • the Public Services Sector which was responsible for controlling aggregate public expenditure and for most of the individual public expenditure programmes;
  • the Domestic Economy Sector which was concerned with fiscal, monetary and counter-inflationary policies, and also with the Treasury's contributions to industrial policies, including control of public expenditure on industry and agriculture;
  • the Overseas Finance Sector which was concerned with the balance of payments policies, the management of the reserves, international monetary cooperation, the aid programme and matters connected with the UK membership of the European Community;
  • the Chief Economic Adviser's Sector which was responsible for the preparation of short-term and medium-term economic forecasts and for specialist advice on macro-economic policies.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Second Lord of the Treasury, is the effective Ministerial Head of the Treasury and has overall responsibility to Parliament for all aspects of Treasury management. He also had responsibility to Parliament for a number of other departments and agencies; e.g. which over the course of the 1980s and 1990s had included HM Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue, Department for National Savings, Registry of Friendly Societies, National Investment and Loans Office, The Paymaster Agency, Central Statistical Office and the Government Actuaries Department. He was also accountable to Parliament for the Expenditure Votes for Civil Superannuation and Net Payments to European Community Institutions. The Chancellor's role is to influence the economy through his powers to set interest rates; he decides (after consulting with others: see junior minister roles below) which taxes to levy and what other finances to raise; he has the power to modify or oppose the spending of other government departments. All of the following junior ministers were accountable directly to the Chancellor for their portfolios of work.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury was a member of the Cabinet and was the second in command to the Chancellor. The Chief Secretary was responsible for the control of public expenditure (including local authority and nationalised industry finance); nationalised industry pay; and value for money in the public services (including' Next Steps' Agencies in the early 1990s). Control of public expenditure interest means the Chief Secretary had direct links to the Treasury Public Services Sector.

The Financial Secretary was responsible for the largely formal procedure of voting funds by Parliament; other financial Parliamentary business (e.g. concerning the Public Accounts Committee, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Exchequer and Audit Acts); Inland Revenue taxes (other than oil taxation; general oversight of the Inland Revenue (excluding the Valuation Office); privatisation and wider share ownership policy; European Community business including the Community budget and Economic and Monetary Union; and competition and deregulation policy. Parliamentary business interest meant that the Financial Secretary had direct dealings with Public Services Sector, Treasury Officer of Accounts Division. Tax / fiscal interest indicates direct dealings with Domestic Economy Sector, Fiscal Policy Group, tax divisions. Interest in the European Community budget indicated that he also had direct dealings with Overseas Finance Sector, European Community group divisions.

Two further junior ministers roles whose titles could vary between the 'Minister of State', the 'Paymaster General', the 'Exchequer Secretary', or the 'Economic Secretary' were also introduced and retracted intermittently during the 1980s and 1990s. Those with the title of Secretary ranked as Secretaries to the Treasury Board but their precise departmental responsibilities would vary from time-to-time and were decided by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day.

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