Queen's Speech — Debate (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:44 pm on 4th December 2008.

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Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative 5:44 pm, 4th December 2008

My Lords, it is extraordinarily difficult for me to speak today, because I feel that I am something of an interloper. Normally, the subjects of foreign affairs and defence would be in the first part of the Queen's Speech and that was why this day was chosen. I am not quite sure what I am going to say, and if I cause offence it is not intentional. I had intended to speak on identity cards, and was going to point out that that 12 noble Lords here are "of"s, and that if we follow the identity card rule, only the first part of the name will be on the card. The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, would become "Lord Wright of".

Identity cards are a complete waste of time, so I turn more to the question of what is missing. I had intended to speak on trade, so in the list of Ministers on 8 October and in the list today there is no mention of trade—which seems to be the lifeblood of the nation. I tried to ring the Department of Trade, but could not get through; so I rang someone who I knew there and asked if they could put me through. There was no one there who dealt with trade. Someone politely said, "No, we're called BERR now. It rhymes with something beginning with F, almost". We are not interested in trade.

I thought of an initiative; I was told that in life you had better be careful when you show initiative, you must be even more careful if you take initiative, but you must never initiate unless you can give someone else the credit. My noble friend Lady Park dropped me in it—she has a capability in life of dropping you in it and getting you out of it—by suddenly announcing that I was to speak at the big maritime dinner with 220 people with all the gold braid. I know that all my life I have been the Snopake speaker—you go to a dinner and you scratch the menu to see which chap you are replacing at the last minute. I could not find out who it was, but I gave certain undertakings to the audience that I would restore trade. I am going to take up those undertakings.

I was so pleased when we had the President of the Board of Trade here the other day; I hope that he comes often. I told him afterwards that I would get him the flag that he could put on the front starboard mudguard—I have a copy of the flag that he is entitled to have. I thought that I would introduce a Private Member's Bill to reconstitute the Board of Trade—I wanted to go into the Navy all my life. I had a short period of time in it, and was told then that we would never be east of Suez and that I should not join a declining industry. I then hoped that I might become First Lord of the Admiralty.

I thought that I would introduce a Green Paper. I was going to call it a "blue paper" about the maritime industry, but the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, a trustee of HMS "Warrior", said, "No, it's a Green Paper". I take noble Lords back to the year 1621, when King James gave an instruction to the Privy Council to,

"take into their consideration, the true causes of the decay of trade and scarcity of coyne ... and to consult the means for the removing of these inconveniences".

That is very appropriate today. It was later written that the economic confusion of the last three months of 1721 had perhaps no parallel in the history of England. I am sure that in January I will be able to write about the economy of the past three months. Later, in 1922, my grandfather was Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. Your Lordships will know that all great political leaders were either Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade or President of the Board of Trade—that included the Liberals. At that time, after the war, it was announced that the Department of Commerce would be concerned with the development of trade,

"with vigilance, with information, with the duty of thinking out and assisting national commercial and industrial policy".

This year, we will have a balance of payments deficit of £100 billion on manufactures. They say that you can make that up with what we used to call invisibles, which were later called financial services. That is going to pot, too. So we will have major balance of trade problems. Does it matter? My economist friends say, "No, as long as we have the revenue coming in, it does not matter". I made a terrible mistake. I kept thinking of trade as being exports. I forgot that throughout history we have been an importing nation and that in order protect our imports we rely upon the Royal Navy. Hence, most of my contribution will be related to the Navy.

What initiatives can we actually take? We import almost all of our manufactures. Our main trading partners are the United States and south-east Asia. As a noble Lord pointed out earlier, we have to be worldwide. In considering that I wondered what seven points I could make, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Jay. First, we should get together with the Commonwealth. That is perfectly easy. If one takes a map of the Commonwealth, you will find that the 53 nations called independent states have the bulk of the world's raw materials. The Commonwealth has the longest coastline in the world. At 44,000 kilometres, it is 720 kilometres longer than the former Soviet Union territories. That is the first initiative.

We then declare a 200 or 300-mile limit from all our Commonwealth territories and claim the seabed and all the rights therein. We then claim a limit of 50 per cent between our islands and the mainland. You will now see that very quickly we have dominated the sea, because the sea is perhaps two-thirds of the world.

If we think further and ask how we are going to protect our trade, we really do need the strength of the Navy. As regards piracy and the seas as a whole, you then say that the United Kingdom has certain advantages. We have the best possible maritime surveillance with hydrographics and so on. I should explain that I am the secretary to the Parliamentary Space Committee, which means that I can tell you that we have the ability to survey everything to do with piracy and to control things. My next suggestion is for the Minister to give the Navy responsibility for space and everything above the oceans of the earth.

Trade means exports and imports, and it used to be investment. Winston Churchill formed an organisation called Export Credit Guarantees Department to guarantee the financing of trade. That has almost disappeared into oblivion. Last year it financed only 1 per cent of British exports. One of our great advantages was to finance development in other countries, which had raw materials and natural assets, where there was the combination of finance and, you could call it, "take and pay". If you look at the natural resources of all the Commonwealth countries and of Africa and other parts of the world, often the poorest countries have the greatest natural resources.

I got involved in building a railway in Gabon. We were worried that we might be overrun. The suggestion was that we would ask the Grenadier Guards if they would guard the railway line. Out of that comes the feeling that when we are developing, one of the most important things is the defence of the environment in which the development is undertaken.

Sudan was pronounced the breadbasket of the Middle East. I spent a long time out there and it could be the breadbasket of the Middle East. The climate is perfect for growing dohra, and anybody would buy the end product. I have quite a lot of concern in these areas. The opportunities are still there.

I turn again to the map of the world; I put our territories, as I call them—this was 1911, the time of the British Empire—and the French Empire together and found that actually they covered over 50 per cent of the coastlines of the world. You ask why this is important. Is the sea with its oceans important? Of course the oceans are important—they carry our trade and the interruption of our trade. We are currently the biggest importing nation of the industrialised world. We are more reliant on imports than anybody else is. However, we always were—and that is where I had made a mistake.

Therefore, you look at the sort of thing that could happen when a Russian submarine surfaces in the Antarctic. Forty-six people are claiming territory there. Before it was only those who played rugby, such as Papua New Guinea. Actually, all the rugby-playing countries had claims there.

One of the worries is whether there will be wars about natural resources. I am not sure. In the new year, I shall be publishing my Green Paper, called "Shipping it Green". It will have the help of the various bodies. I will circulate it to your Lordships. Then I shall introduce a Bill suggesting that the Department of Trade should be reconstituted as the Board of Trade. That has a First Lord of the Admiralty, every Secretary of State and virtually everybody—the Archbishop of Canterbury —and all the ingredients we need. If we also bring in the Commonwealth, it would be worthier of our future. I propose that we should reconstitute the Board of Trade, and I should be grateful if the Minister would ask the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, if he would give his approval.


sara mckechnie
Posted on 5 Dec 2008 12:46 pm (Report this annotation)

Lord Selsdon has every idea in place, those who need should seek his advice even the poweful lords of this country.
God bless you