Westland affair

Westland affair
(1986)
   The Westland helicopter company ran into serious financial difficulties between late 1985 and early 1986 and was unable to continue operations. Because of its importance to the defence industry, ministers had an interest in any rescue package concerning its future ownership. Most of them (including the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Leon Brittan) favoured an American buy-out by the Sikorski company (as eventually happened), whereas Michael Heseltine (the Secretary of State for Defence) preferred to see a European consortium in charge.
   The significance of the episode was twofold. There was firstly dispute over whether Britain should generally commit itself to a more European future, befitting a member of the European Union. Secondly, the handling of the controversy ignited a major discussion concerning the downgrading of the Cabinet in modern government. Heseltine claimed that Cabinet discussion was being discouraged by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and he was unwilling to accept collective ministerial responsibility for a policy he could not support. He dramatically walked out of a Cabinet meeting and resigned. Brittan found himself under intense media scrutiny for his attempts to discredit Heseltine’s position and resigned in response to adverse comment about his handling of the issue.
   For a short time, Thatcher felt her own position to be in jeopardy, but in a later Commons vote of confidence she secured the unanimous backing of Conservative Members of Parliament – including that of Michael Heseltine. West Lothian question The name given to the anomaly detected by the then Member of Parliament (MP) for West Lothian Tam Dalyell in Labour’s devolution proposals of the late 1970s. Subsequently taken up by Conservative and other critics of devolution, the question posed is why Scottish MPs cannot vote on, say, Scottish education decided north of the border but can vote on English education. Dalyell actually asked: ‘Why should Scottish MPs at Westminster continue to vote on purely English matters whereas English MPs will not be able to vote on purely Scottish matters?’ William Hague, former leader of the Conservative Party, has urged that there should be only ‘English votes on English laws’. There is a difficulty that cannot be easily answered. It derives from piecemeal devolution in the United Kingdom (UK), by which different countries are treated distinctly. If all four component elements of the UK had an assembly with similar powers as part of a federal devolution, the question would not arise. The issue was not seen as important in the days when Northern Ireland sent MPs to Westminster at the same time that there was an administration running the province in Stormont, prior to direct rule. If devolved government is re-established in the province, it will be the case that Northern Irish MPs can influence discussion of and legislation on purely English issues, whereas English MPs will be unable to so influence policy in the province. However, it is the Scottish issue that gains more attention, perhaps because Scotland sends 59 (72 prior to the 2005 election) MPs to the House of Commons, a significant addition to Labour’s majority.

Glossary of UK Government and Politics . 2013.

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