Queen’s Speech — Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:53 pm on 15th May 2013.

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Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative 9:53 pm, 15th May 2013

My Lords, I must admit to finding myself a little emotionally confused. I have suddenly realised that this is my 50th Queen’s Speech. I have spoken on most of them. One year, I was minding my own business when the Leader of the House asked if I would see him. He asked, “Would you be kind enough to agree to reply to the Queen’s Speech?”. So I put my name down to vote, but I did not know that I would be grabbed and taken off to a dinner where the Chief Whip guarded the door. They then read the speech and I was meant to sit on a Bench and say something.

I was also told that I should wear naval uniform. Having been a sub-lieutenant, I had grown a bit. It was quite difficult to find one to fit, so we had to borrow an admiral’s and take a couple of stripes off it. Then I was given a sword, but I had never had a sword before and did not know what to do. I was seconding the reply to Lady Macleod, who was Iain Macleod’s widow. She was slightly disabled and had a walking stick, and as I stood up to speak I picked up her walking stick by mistake. I remember I was given a wonderful brief by bright young people in the Foreign Office who were twice my age. Everything was provided for me. I was told what to say and that I should possibly deliver some historic joke, so I looked something up and said that I remembered the words of that great admiral Jacky Fisher that the role of Army should be that of a projectile to be fired by the British Navy.

I shall try to work out why all the bits that used to be in the Queen’s Speech are not there. I shall treat the Speech like a Bill. There are 37 clauses. The first states that,

“my Government’s legislative programme will continue to focus on building a stronger economy so that the United Kingdom can compete and succeed in the world”.

As my noble friend Lord Howell mentioned, there is hardly anything in it about defence or anything at all.

We come to foreign affairs. Is the EU a foreign affair? Are members of the continent of Europe foreigners? Of course they are foreigners in the eyes of British subjects. They are not Europeans, and nor are we. I was told that I would be treasurer of the Conservative group for Europe to raise a lot of money and go around the country to persuade people to vote yes in the referendum. In that House, we had a great debate on entering the EU—the EEC as it was then called—and had the biggest majority, other than for the abolition of hanging. There was an enormous majority in the House of Commons, but suddenly people became anti something. I was asked and it was my job. I would go around the country, speak and raise money. I drove all around the country, not realising that the party was sufficiently intelligent to believe that I was young enough to be able to take the strain.

I was told that I was going at the last moment to Manchester and that it was a dinner jacket do. I did not really have a dinner jacket that fitted, but I put it on on the train and when I got there, a dinner-jacket chap came up to me and said, “Oh, thank goodness you’ve arrived. We thought you’d forgotten or you couldn’t get back in time”. I went to the dinner and sat there waiting to make the standard speech I had, slightly nervous, I am afraid, as I am now. The head man turned to me and said, “Well, Professor, if you’re ready, please deliver your address”. I said, “Excuse me?”. He said, “You are Professor McCluskey? You’ve just come back from Antarctica haven’t you?”, and I suddenly realised that I was at the wrong dinner.

People like me became known as the Snopake speakers. If the Minister was too tired to go, they would send a young blade who could hang himself. You would go and scratch the menu and the Snopake would come off and you would try to see what was underneath. It might say “law”, and you knew it was probably Willie Whitelaw.

I went round this great country of ours and realised to my surprise that there was a great opportunity. At that time, we coined the phrase: “Britain in Europe; it’s our business to be there”. It was business related, not politics related. I believe that is one of the problems at the moment: how do we divide it into two? How does the Labour Party, which flatly refused to send a delegation to the European Parliament in the beginning and we then had to fund Peter Kirk going, change around? If we look to moving towards a referendum, is there suddenly going to be a switch of attitude?

The world is a wonderfully large place. I have been privileged in recent months to have some remarkable briefs by bright people in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office and genuinely believe that we have a worldwide role. My noble friend Lord Howell pointed out that the Commonwealth has not been quite so widely mentioned, but if you look at the opportunities that exist, you must go back to why we went to places in the beginning. We went because they had raw materials and the ability to produce things.

I was put on to go to the francophone territories. I did not know what “phone” meant. I knew gramophone. When I was on the Council of Europe, I was in Paris and I was asked whether I would go and meet the Foreign Minister of Mauritania. I thought Mauritania was a ship; I did not know it was a country or that it was one of the biggest iron producers in the world. Until I went round all the French territories, I did not know that the sole reason why people had gone to them was to create added value for the natural resources, whether they were labour, water, agriculture or sun.

I really believe in the potential that we have with the Commonwealth these days, if we just get out our historical atlases and look at what we used to go there for. Then we look at the sea. Naturally, and I have raised this before, we look at the economic exclusion zones. You find the United Kingdom, her overseas territories and the Commonwealth occupy the biggest slot of the sea in the whole world. If you then, by chance, look at some other countries, such as France and its territories, you realise that the maritime world is the most important of all and you have a great opportunity.

I have spoken before on all aspects of trade, but I get quite excited now as I look at the potential that exists for alliances that we can pool. I really believe that foreign policy is one of the most important issues that we can address today, and who is going to decide with whom we are going to do what and when.