Diplomats asked to dig up info on Geoffrey Howe's dinner guests, FCO papers reveal

Then-foreign secretary and his wife asked officials to gather "as many details as possible" about the wives and family lives of foreign ministers, new papers show

By Jonathan Owen

24 Aug 2016

Civil servants were tasked with gathering intelligence on dinner party guests to help the flow of conversation at functions attended by the British foreign secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe and his wife, newly released FCO papers show.

One document released to the National Archives today, titled: “EC foreign ministers: personality notes” was sent to British officials in capital cities throughout Europe in October 1985, by C.A. Munro at the FCOs’s western European department.

The note stated: “I enclose a self-explanatory minute from Colin Budd about personality notes for the Secretary of State and Lady Howe. You will see that all your efforts are very much appreciated, especially the information you have dug up on families.”

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Colin Budd, the then assistant private secretary to Sir Geoffrey, in a memo dated 28 October 1985, to Mr Dain, of the FCO’s Western European Department, said: “The Secretary of State and Lady Howe were again most grateful for the trouble which had been taken on this front for last weekend’s meeting in Luxembourg.”

He added: “Please stress to all our EC posts the importance from Lady Howe’s point of view, in particular, of reporting as many details as possible about the wives/family lives etc of Foreign Ministers. Anecdotal material is much appreciated, and the Howes in return will add as much as they can.”

Budd cited examples, such as knowing which individuals speak hardly any English, whether people are about to move home, take up new jobs, or are even expecting grandchildren.

One “interim offering” detailed by Budd stated: “The eldest Barry daughter lives in Maidstone and will soon be having a baby. Eldest son awaiting accountancy results. Youngest child (18) still at school.”

Another said: “Delors lost 25 year old son to ? leukaemia in 1982. Daughter (born 1950) has one child.”

Budd concluded: “Most helpful if all these notes could show whether, and if so when, husband and wife have been to 1 Carlton Gardens and/or Chevening.”

The senior civil servant added: “Please urge posts not to be bashful about this. Private Secretaries to be asked direct as necessary! We can if necessary supply eg Lady Howe’s 'Who’s Who' entry and other factual information as quid pro quo.”

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