William Whitelaw, 1st Viscount Whitelaw

From Academic Kids

William Stephen Ian Whitelaw, 1st Viscount Whitelaw, KT, CH, MC, PC, DL (28 June 1918 - 1 July 1999), commonly known as Willie Whitelaw, was a British Conservative politician.

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The Rt Hon. William Whitelaw in 1974

Whitelaw attended Trinity College, Cambridge, then joined the British Army, earning the rank of Major in the Scots Guards; during the Second World War, he was awarded the Military Cross. He became MP for Penrith and the Border in 1955, and represented that constituency for 28 years. He became Opposition Chief Whip in 1964, and then Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons in 1970. He was also appointed to the Privy Council during this time.

He was the first British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland after the imposition of direct rule in March 1972 and he served in that capacity until November 1973. During his time in Northern Ireland he introduced 'special category' status for paramilitary prisoners. He also served as Secretary of State for Employment from 1973 to 1974; in the latter year, he became a Companion of Honour.

Soon after Harold Wilson took control of the government, Whitelaw became Deputy Leader of the Opposition, a position he held until Margaret Thatcher became prime minister. In 1979, he became Home Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister. Two days after the 1983 general election he received a hereditary peerage (the first created for 18 years) in order to become Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords. This sparked an immediate by-election.

Whitelaw faced many challenges in attempting to manage the House of Lords, facing a major defeat over abolition of the Greater London Council within a year of taking over. However, his patrician and moderate style appealed to Conservative peers and his tenure is considered a success.

During his period as Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Lords, Margaret Thatcher relied on Whitelaw heavily and famously announced that "every Prime Minister needs a Willie". It was Whitelaw who managed to dissuade Thatcher in 1980 from going to Leeds to take charge of the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry personally.

He was forced to resign by ill health in January 1988.

He was given a hereditary peerage by Margaret Thatcher. It was generally regarded that this was a tactical move by Thatcher to ensure that she could create hereditary peerages and baronetcies for others, notably the baronetcy (the only one created since 1965) she announced in her resignation honours list for her husband, Denis Thatcher, which could then pass to her beloved son. Some felt that she may have wanted to set the precedent for her successor to grant her a hereditary peerage when she retired as an MP, but her Barony of Thatcher, awarded by John Major, is a mere life peerage.


  • Burke's Peerage (

Template:Succession box two to two
Preceded by:
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Succeeded by:
Francis Pym
Preceded by:
Maurice Macmillan
Secretary of State for Employment
Succeeded by:
Michael Foot
Preceded by:
Merlyn Rees
Home Secretary
Succeeded by:
Leon Brittan
Preceded by:
John Biffen
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by:
John Wakeham
Preceded by:
Lady Young
Leader of the House of Lords
Succeeded by:
Lord Belstead

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Preceded by:
New Creation
Viscount Whitelaw
Succeeded by:

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