HL Deb 21 July 1983 vol 443 cc1248-50

3.13 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to what they attribute the decline in their support in the recent general election, and what changes in policy they are proposing in consequence.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, I believe that the result of the recent general election represented a decisive vote of confidence in the policies being pursued by the Government. As we have made clear, we shall continue to pursue these policies, which we believe offer the best hope of ensuring continued security and economic recovery for this country.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that he won widespread respect in all parties for introducing proportional representation in Northern Ireland? Does he recall that the system which he chose, the single transferable vote—perhaps, for brevity, we might call it the Whitelaw system—meant that if a party had fewer votes it had fewer seats? Why has the noble Viscount now changed his mind, and why is he supporting a system which, as he saw at the election, enables a party to get three-quarters of a million fewer votes and yet many more seats?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I think it would be fair for me to reply to the noble Lord that things in Northern Ireland are not exactly the same as in other parts of the United Kingdom. In that respect it was for a local Assembly and not for a national Parliament, which I regard as being quite different.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount how he can possibly use the word "decisive" and say that the party in power had the "decisive" support of the electorate in this country when only 31 per cent, of the electorate voted for that party?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, having myself fought I think 11 general elections in my time, I have come to regard the number of people returned to the House of Commons as a decisive answer in a general election. On that basis, I should have thought that the result was very decisive.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, can the noble Viscount explain why it is that so many members of the Tory party are in favour of proportional representation?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I do not know that there are. If there are, it is their affair and not mine; and I am not in favour.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there were a number of members of the Tory Party who were at one time misguidedly in favour of proportional representation, including myself, but who had good reason to change their minds when they saw that there was no longer a danger to this country from the election of a Marxist or near-Marxist party, which had the support of only about 29 per cent, of the people?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I recognise the point made by my noble friend. I still maintain that a system of proportional representation would not be in the best interests of this country. That is what I believe, and I am sticking to my belief.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, could the Minister tell us the reason for the completely disastrous decline in Tory support in Scotland, where they lost two Ministers and gained about one-third of the seats? What effective change will this mean in the policy of the Government towards Scotland?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I appreciate the position in Scotland, but I think that the noble Lord and others wish Scotland to be part of the United Kingdom and, therefore, it is the result for the whole of the United Kingdom that really matters.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, does the noble Viscount's reply to his noble friend Lord Renton indicate that he approves of a position where the votes of the people should not represent the wishes of the people but should represent the wishes of another person? In other words, he said that he changed his mind when he found that there was no longer any danger. Does the noble Viscount believe that the votes of the people should not represent their wishes?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I do not think that that would be a construction to be placed on my remarks. My noble friend was giving his reasons for having changed his mind. I gave my reasons for not having changed my mind.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Question he is asked is: what changes of policy is he likely to recommend? Is he aware that the policy as announced has brought the credibility and the creditability of this country higher in the eyes of the world than they have been for a quarter of a century?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am always grateful for such comments from my noble friend.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, with regard to that supplementary question by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, would the noble Viscount agree that cuts in public expenditure of the magnitude which have been reported in the press and which the Cabinet are said to have discussed this morning will impose serious changes of policy which will affect the National Health Service, the education service and other aspects of the welfare state in this country?

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am surprised that the noble Lord, with his great experience of politics, should believe everything he reads in the press. I can assure him that the deductions he has reached are not accurate.