Many were determined to be seen being driven around in high-profile Jaguar cars while carrying out their government duties — including one minister who even paid for his own luxury limousine, preferring it to a more mainstream Austin Montego.
Alan Clark, the UK minister for trade, struck an agreement in 1987 to fork out his own money for the privilege of being transported around in a Jaguar despite the fact his Cabinet status required for him to be driven in a lesser motoring marque, according to confidential government papers held by the National Archives and only made available on Friday, December 29.
The move was opposed by a senior government civil servant, Sir Robert Armstrong, who argued the minister should be seen promoting the British-built Austin Montego instead of being ferried around in the up-market Jaguar, even though that too was made in the UK.
UK Finance Minister Wanted a Jaguar
The documents belonging to the Government Car Service reveal that in 1988 the prime minister agreed the then Chancellor Nigel Lawson be given an official Jaguar car — a second-hand model previously used by the House of Commons speaker, who was being given a brand new one.
At that time Cabinet ministers normally had Rover 827s, except those who needed bulletproof cars such as the prime minister, defense secretary, foreign secretary, Northern Ireland secretary and home secretary because of the threat of terrorist attacks, mainly by the IRA.
The papers reveal the chancellor managed to persuade the prime minister to replace his ageing model with a brand new Jaguar after it started to break down while on official duties.
He was presented with a new £21,000 (US$28,000) vehicle instead of a Rover costing £5,000 (US$6,000) less.
Citing comfort and status, Mr. Lawson — whose daughter Nigella later became a famous TV chef — was assisted in his demand following a distorted report in a downmarket tabloid newspaper after he lost his official government house in the country.
Fearing headlines suggesting he was about to lose his perk of being driven in a Jaguar, the prime minister quickly agreed to sanction the move.
Government Spent US$9.4Mln on Cars
The documents show the government spent around £7 million (US$9.4 million) a year on its fleet of official vehicles during 1979 to 1989 with the Government Car Service employing around 200 people, mostly official drivers.
It ran a total of 185 vehicles, with three of them specifically designated for the prime minister with another held in reserve for emergency duties, all paid for out of the No.10 Downing Street budget.
During the reign of John Major as the UK's prime minister, strict controls were kept on transport costs including providing a vehicle for his own wife Norma.
Although entitled to a car to travel to functions in London and to Chequers, the PM's country retreat, any unofficial or Conservative party duties had to be paid for at a cost of 12p (16 cents) per mile, the papers show.