Large scale document archive

MT's official files as Prime Minister, 1979-90

MT's official files as PM can be read on this site as they are released, in full and free to all - the confidential files originally stored at No.10, the core record of her premiership.

This is the first time in Britain - in fact as far as we can tell, in any country - that the declassified archive of a head of government has ever been published in full, paper or online.

The files have been copied at the British National Archives (TNA) at Kew in London and can be downloaded precisely as they appear in the reading room.

We are doing something more to help people make sense of this mass of information. The files are subject-based, logically enough, but that system makes it difficult to reconstruct the flow of paper across the Prime Minister’s desk at any point in time, depriving us of a sense of context and cross-winds, some of them overwhelming.

To combat this effect we are uploading a large selection of the most important documents from these files – thousands in total - to our powerful site database. You can search and sort by date, subject and other parameters, getting as close as anyone can now get to reconstructing the Prime Minister’s daily "Red Boxes", the rich diet of foreign and domestic policy papers submitted to her by the No.10 Private Office.

list & links to the files

Secret no more


Below are links to the downloadable files in numerical order. The subject terms are those used in the original filing system. Files held back from release are listed in red.

An average file has around 200 pages.

You can read here an account of how filing worked at No.10, and the system for archiving MT's Prime Ministerial papers, both of which had their quirks.

Some of these downloads are very big, as large as 75MB, though most are in the range 1-10MB. To keep sizes down, images have been compressed, though legibility should never be a problem. High quality copies can also be supplied, where a need is established, on application to the site editor.

Where documents within a file have been selected for the site database, they can easily be viewed by clicking the link after the file name ("Selected PREM19/959"), as well as via conventional searches from the archive search screen. Over time most files will have had documents selected in this way, but it will take time and care is being taken not to allow the site database to become so large as to be unmanageable.

You can sort each column by clicking on its title in bold at the top, a powerful tool to find all the files on a particular subject over several years.

You can also search the list from the box on the right. The term "Public Spending", for example, will produce all the parts of the main file on that topic.

engagement diaries

An alternative way through the material is to read MT's engagement diaries, jumping day to day.

The engagement diaries link directly to relevant documents in the site database, so this is a good way to recover the perspective from the Red Box.


Link to full file File name Begins Ends Date of release Any docs withheld?sort descending File classification Pages Link to selections
PREM19/1774 Government Machinery (Rayner Scrutiny programme: promotion of efficiency and elimination of waste) (Part 21) 1986 Jun 2 1986 Oct 31 2014 Dec 30
PREM19/1431 Commonwealth (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), Nassau, Bahamas, October 1985) (Part 9) 1984 Jun 18 1985 Oct 13 2014 Dec 30 Secret 242
PREM19/1095 Nationalised industries (Prospects for the steel industry; plant closures; future of Ian MacGregor, chairman of British Steel Corporation (BSC)) (Part 12) 1982 Dec 1 1983 Jun 30 2013 Aug 1 Secret 368
PREM19/8 Civil Service (Stock Criticisms) 1979 Dec 31 1979 Dec 31 2009 Dec 30 Unclassified 15
PREM19/684 Defence (Special project) 1980 May 9 1982 Nov 29 Retained Retained Sec 3.4
PREM19/343 Rhodesia (Situation in) (Part 13) 1980 Jan 12 1980 Jan 24 2010 Dec 30 Secret 258
PREM19/2589 Australia (Visits to the UK by Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, State Premier of Queensland, and his successor Mike Ahern) 1979 Jul 9 1989 Mar 1 2016 Dec 30
PREM19/3132 Prime Minister's Tours Abroad (Prime Minister's visit to Switzerland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, September 1990: administrative arrangements) 1989 Dec 1 1990 Oct 18 2016 Dec 30
PREM19/2063 Defence (Future UK defence policy: merchant shippling and defence needs; NATO maritime rules of engagement) (Part 2) 1983 Nov 1 1987 Jul 27 2016 Nov 7
PREM19/2473 Royal Family (The Prince of Wales' Special Projects Unit) 1987 Jul 29 1987 Sep 1 Retained Retained Sec 3.4
PREM19/1694 Defence (Arms control) (Part 8) 1986 Mar 5 1986 Jun 27 2014 Dec 30
PREM19/1351 Prime Minister (Election of Prime Minister as Honorary Bencher of Gray’s Inn) 1983 Feb 9 1984 Dec 6 2014 Jan 3
PREM19/1013 Elections (Procedure for General Elections: actions to be taken by Prime Minister's Office; allocation of official residences; questions of procedure for Ministers; Ministerial travel; Queen's speech on opening of Parliament) 1970 Aug 4 1982 Jul 19 Retained Unknown
PREM19/604 Vietnam (Vietnamese refugees; resettlement in the UK) (Part 3) 1979 Jul 17 1981 Feb 28 2011 Dec 30 Confidential 244
PREM19/264 Industrial policy (Industrial relations law) (Part 5) 1980 Apr 14 1980 Jul 16 2010 Dec 30 Confidential 192