On December 31, the UK National Archives will open the government records for files sentenced in 1982 under the 30 year rule (although as I pointed out in this post, some records will be kept closed for a number of reasons). As a historian of the contemporary era, I am very interested in what will possibly be released in just over a week’s time. So here is my Christmas wishlist of the five topics that I hope have archival records released:
1) The decision of Chief Medical Officer, Sir Henry Yellowlees, to reverse his opinion, made in 1980, that x-raying migrant children for age assessment purposes was a satisfactory and accurate practice. In January 1982, Yellowlees sent a letter to Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw that argued that this practice should be stopped. I’m thinking there will be Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office files opened that will uncover the ramifications of this reversal of policy.
2) The fallout from the Scarman Report into the Brixton Riots. In November 1981, Scarman released his report outlining his findings into why the riots of April and July 1981 occurred, which criticised the police actions and the fraught relationship between the criminal justice system and the black communities. The report also made several recommendations on trying to mend this relationship through more community-based policing. I think there’ll be a few Home Office files from 1982 that relate to these recommendations.
3) The machinations behind the implementation of the British Nationality Act 1981. This Act, which came into effect in January 1983, made several changes to Commonwealth migrants who could apply for UK citizenship and further restricted non-EEC migration. This caused particular furore in several Commonwealth countries, especially in South Asia, where large numbers of migrants were hoping to join their families who were already based in the UK. I thnk there’ll be several FCO files dealing with the potential impact of the Act on UK’s foreign relations from 1982 released.
4) There may be some Home Office files (although this is more of a long shot) on the British National Party, who were formed by ex-NF leader John TYndall in 1982, and on the break-up of the National Front after the 1979 elections. It is interesting that the National Archives have not released more records relating to the NF from the 1970s, but I’m hoping that there might be some stuff relased in the next batch.
5) There will definitely be stuff released on the Falklands War, which occurred in 1982, but I would be interested to see if there will be anything released on the anti-war demonstrations and activism that occurred in response to the war. I would be very interested in seeing what groups were involved in protesting against the war, particularly the anarchist groups, who were on the rise in the 1980s.
So there you have it. My christmas archival top 5 wishlist. For any other contemporary historians, what are you hoping will be released?
I should also mention that the National Archives of Australia will be releasing the Cabinet Records of the 1984-85 Hawke Governments around the same time. Due to changes in the legislation, Federal Government records are moving towards being released after 20 years over the next decade. Is there anything in particular that you are hoping to find amongst these records as well?