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REES, Merlyn Merlyn- (1920-2006), Baron Merlyn-Rees, politician

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0097 MERLYN-REES
Held at: British Library of Political and Economic Science
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Full title: REES, Merlyn Merlyn- (1920-2006), Baron Merlyn-Rees, politician
Date(s): 1949-2002
Level of description: collection
Extent: 45 boxes
Name of creator(s): Rees | Merlyn Merlyn- | 1920-2006 | Baron Merlyn-Rees | politician
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

Merlyn Rees was born into a mining family in Cilfynydd, South Wales, on 18 December 1920. In the 1920s his family moved to London. From 1933 to 1939, he attended Harrow Weald County Grammar School and later went on to Goldsmiths College (where he was President of the Students' Union) to train as a teacher. During the Second World War he joined the RAF, with the Desert Air Force. He served in campaigns in Italy, France and Austria. By demobilisation he had risen to the rank of Squadron Leader. Following the war, Rees studied economics and history at the London School of Economics. In 1949 he became a teacher at his old school in Harrow. Also in 1949, he married Colleen Cleveley, a former pupil of Harrow Weald County Grammar School. In 1955, he was awarded an MSc (Econ.) from London University for a thesis entitled, 'The economic and social development of extra-metropolitan Middlesex in the nineteenth century'. In 1960, Rees was the organiser of the Festival of Labour (held on 15-17 June 1962). From 1962-1963, he was Lecturer in Economics at Luton College of Technology. In the 1950s, Rees had a run of unsuccessful attempts as Labour parliamentary candidate for Harrow East. However, in June 1963, he successfully fought the by-election in Leeds South which had been called following the unexpected death of Hugh Gaitskell. He served as Member of Parliament for the constituency until 1992 (the seat changed its name to Morley and Leeds South in 1983). On becoming an MP, Rees became Principal Private Secretary to James Callaghan. He was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Army, 1965-1966; for the RAF, 1966-1968; and, at the Home Office (where he was responsible for immigration and the fire service), 1968-1970. In October 1971, Rees became opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland. The role involved shadowing Willie Whitelaw when he became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland following the announcement of direct rule from Westminster in March 1972. In opposition, Rees adopted a bipartisan approach to Northern Ireland policies, especially in support of the Government's white paper, 'Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals' (Cmnd 5259), published in March 1973. The paper proposed an elected Assembly, a power sharing executive and the establishment of 'institutional arrangements for consultations and co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland'. He also supported the Sunningdale Agreement (December 1973) which, amongst other points, agreed the formation of a Council of Ireland. When Labour regained power in March 1974, Rees became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Much of his time in this role was spent on security matters, at a time of intense terrorist activity in the province. His immediate political priority was to support the power sharing executive and implement the Sunningdale Agreement. However, Unionist opposition to Sunningdale was growing, as was evident by the fact that in the UK General Election of February 1974, 11 of the 12 Northern Ireland seats were won by anti-Sunningdale unionists. In May 1974, the Ulster Workers' Council organised a strike against the Sunningdale Agreement which crippled power supplies to the province. This led to the collapse of the executive and the restoration of direct rule from Westminster. In July 1974, the government published a white paper, 'The Northern Ireland Constitution' (Cmnd 5675). This proposed the establishment of an elected constitutional convention which, it was hoped, would enable Northern Ireland's political parties to create a workable constitution for the province. Elections were held on 1 May 1975, with Unionist parties opposed to power sharing in the majority. By the end of November 1975, the Convention recommended a return to majority rule - a position which was not acceptable to the Nationalists. Rees tried to break the deadlock by holding a series of talks with all the parties involved in the Convention. The talks failed and the Convention was dissolved in March 1976.

Other aspects of his time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland include: a ceasefire by the Provisional IRA; the end of internment (December 1975); and, ending of special category status for paramilitary prisoners (March 1976). For more details about his time as Secretary of State, see Merlyn Rees' own book, Northern Ireland: a personal perspective (1985). Following Harold Wilson's resignation as Prime Minister in 1976, Rees was manager of the successful campaign for Jim Callaghan to be the next leader of the Labour Party. In September 1976, he was appointed Home Secretary. He was Shadow Home Secretary, 1979-1981 and Opposition spokesman on energy, 1981-1983. In 1982, he served on the Falkland Islands Review Committee (Franks Committee). In 1987, he joined a deputation with Cardinal Basil Hume, Lord Devlin, Lord Scarman, and Roy Jenkins to campaign for the release of the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven. In 1992, he was created a life peer as Baron Merlyn-Rees. He died in London on 5 January 2006.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers relating to Lord Merlyn-Rees' political career, 1949-2002, concerning his role as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Among the papers are: transcripts of Merlyn Rees' taped diary, 1972-1976. These are a very useful insight into Rees' contemporary views on politics and events in Northern Ireland. Included are accounts of: the Ulster Workers' Strike; the collapse of the power sharing executive; the Constitutional Convention; meetings with politicians; parliamentary proceedings; and, security matters such as internment and special category status for paramilitary prisoners. The diaries also contain comments on UK politics generally (MERLYN-REES/1); articles, lectures and speeches by Lord Merlyn-Rees, 1965-2002, including speeches made while he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Home Secretary (MERLYN-REES/2); drafts of 'Northern Ireland: a personal perspective' (MERLYN-REES/3); correspondence, timetables and other papers regarding visits to Northern Ireland by Merlyn Rees and Colleen Rees, mainly 1972-1976 (MERLYN-REES/4); official papers, mainly 1974-1976 (MERLYN-REES/5); Northern Ireland Office press notices, 1974-1976 (MERLYN-REES/6); correspondence files, 1971-1997 (MERLYN-REES/7); subject files relating to Northern Ireland, including correspondence, official memoranda (including memos from Roger Darlington, political adviser/researcher), articles, press cuttings and other papers. These have been arranged by the archivist in a number of series: legislation (MERLYN-REES/8); media (MERLYN-REES/9); political (MERLYN-REES/10); religion, culture and parades (MERLYN-REES/11); security (MERLYN-REES/12); social and economic (MERLYN-REES/13); organisations (MERLYN-REES/14); people (MERLYN-REES/15); general (MERLYN-REES/16); papers regarding the campaign for the release of the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven, and papers regarding the Birmingham Six case (MERLYN-REES/17); papers regarding allegations of a 'dirty tricks' campaign by elements of the security forces during the 1970s. Merlyn Rees was one of the people who was smeared during the campaign (MERLYN-REES/18); subject files (except Northern Ireland), including papers on crime, the Falklands War, media, the miners' strike and policing (MERLYN-REES/19); photographs (MERLYN-REES/20).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Arranged in sections as detailed above.

Conditions governing access:

Mainly open; some items closed.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Most items can be photocopied, subject to handling and copyright restrictions. No material may be published without the prior permission of both the copyright holder and the Library. All applications for publication must be made to the Archivist in the first instance, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user.

Finding aids:

Online catalogue available.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited by the family in 2006.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Papers of the Festival of Labour are held at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre, Manchester.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Copied from LSE Archives CALM database by Anna Towlson.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Apr 2008

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