International Trade Opportunities - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:47 pm on 7th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative 12:47 pm, 7th July 2016

My Lords, it is with a certain nervousness that I stand here before your Lordships, recognising that I have been in this House for 52 years, but I stand with pride knowing that my noble friend Lord Lyell has been here a year longer. During this time, I have been drip-fed by numerous political parties and others and, often out of my depth, talking and failing to understand how you spell things, but liking the object of trade.

I came here only after my father suddenly died accidentally and, before I knew it, I was told that I should go to see Lord Jellicoe, for whom I had a lot of time. He asked if I could give up part of my job to come to the House of Lords. I said that I would ask my boss, who immediately said no, but that he could put me on part-time work as a consultant. Then I was introduced to Lord Shackleton, and it was these two Lords who gave me my interest in trade. Before, a lot of the work that I did was trade research, but these two wonderful men, who were themselves great friends—and competitors—opened up the world for me.

I was told to do some research and to decide what I thought I could do in the House of Lords, so I went off and researched the history of trade. I read most of the volumes—with the help of the Library—of the original council of trade of Queen Elizabeth I. I suggest that your Lordships read the rules and regulations there, because I think that they are slightly better than those that we are trying to introduce today. They were very patriotic indeed, because they were looking at inward investment as well.

In that period of time with my two noble friends, I wondered what I could do. They said, “Why don’t you get involved in trade, as you are doing trade research?”. Lord Shackleton said, “You’d better come to Moscow with me. You’ll find that it is going to have a different future—there are going to be all sorts of changes with the Russians”. We went to the embassy in Moscow and had to go down into the basement. We then found that some strange mouse, or some strange human, had put a microphone into the wall in order to learn what I might be prepared to say. I thought it very complimentary.

It was suggested that I should look at the socialist world because it would change and we, the British, could probably be their best friends and help to put them in order. It was also suggested that I should get involved in trade, not just the Board of Trade; I found myself on the East European Trade Council, under Lord Shackleton, and was quite a lot younger than the others. With Lord Jellicoe, I suddenly found myself almost on the Board of Trade. I went off to Cuba; I was told to deal with the more difficult countries because, when things changed, I would probably the only one alive who had had certain experience.

With Lord Walston, I went to Havana. When we got there on a British plane, we wondered how we could get to where we needed to go. In fact, we had gone to Miami, but I thought we had arrived in Havana. When we did arrive at that end, we were greeted by Raúl Castro, Castro’s brother, and shown around, but Lord Walston seemed to know everybody. A party was given at the embassy, which was quite nice. A rather strange incident had taken place the week before, when the wife of the Foreign Minister, dressed up to the nines, had walked in—head held high with pride—and, not noticing the swimming pool, which looked like the marble surrounding it, walked straight into it. I gather that her husband asked whether anyone had a walking stick or a golf club because her extra hairpiece had come off and had to be picked out.

We were shown all around Havana. I said, “I hope to be alive when relations get better. Is there anything you could sell us?” Someone said, “Well, we’ve got pretty good fruit, particularly pink grapefruit”. I have to say that I did not know what a pink grapefruit was. He asked, “Have you got anyone who could buy them?” I asked whether they had a telephone, and they said yes. I asked whether it worked internationally. They said, “Oh, of course. Our telephones can get anywhere in the world”. I rang Marks & Spencer, which said down the telephone, “Tell him to fill up his biggest ship and we’ll take the lot”. That was my first trade deal with Havana. I have learned that some of our old relationships with other nations are quite important.

Having been involved in such things, I rapidly found myself president of the British Exporters Association and dealing with all sorts of activities. My real wish, however, was to see whether we could get foreign investment into the United Kingdom, because our manufacturing industry had been declining for quite a long period. I then went out as a banker to ask people to come in. One of the first was the Italian white goods group called Merloni Ariston; “ariston” is the Greek for best. It was a family business that used to make weighing machines. Before we knew it—we had been sitting down with Arnold Weinstock—everyone in England wanted to get out of white goods. I said to Merloni, “If they want to get out and you’re so good, why don’t we buy them out?” They said, “We don’t have that sort of money.” Before I knew it, however, they had managed to buy a large section of the white goods industry. The Italians were playing everything off the front foot.

In fact, that led to my being asked to go on the British Overseas Trade Board—I was already on the East European Trade Council—and I was then made chairman of the Committee for Middle East Trade, dealing with the Arab world and others. They wanted someone who would be alive when important things happened. From my own background, I knew that in the Middle East and the Arab world, the guest is always the most important person and is always protected, so I had no fear.

I went to Jordan first, and then moved to Iraq for the first time on my own. I waited for someone to arrive, and when people asked what I wanted, I said, “I want to reopen trade relationships. Have you got any oil you could sell?” Before I knew it, I was seeing the Oil Minister. He was sitting in his office, with a mirror showing a whole lot of people negotiating transactions. This all led to my believing that it would be a good idea to have a close relationship with Iraq. I was chairman of the Committee for Middle East Trade, so it seemed to come under me, and I asked the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry so that I did not put my foot in it.

Having looked at the history of our trade relationships with Iraq, I got to know Tariq Aziz who was a very nice man indeed. I had been a wicket-keeper, which is why I had to have new knees to walk, and found that Tariq Aziz had also been a wicket-keeper in Wales, so we had a quite intriguing relationship. After my Iraq trips, which were many, I went to see the key man who was doing the evaluation and it was deemed that what I knew was irrelevant at that time.

If we look at the world, in a way the British are best at dealing with the more difficult countries, where the competition is least. We know too, if we look at inward investment, that a lot of British businesses which would like more business may be in a position to be acquired by foreign or international interests. Our own balance of payments is not particularly strong but the quality of the people we have here and the desire for others to come into the United Kingdom makes it very interesting. Instead of trading, maybe we should look at which companies and institutions within the EU we might join in partnership investments, as we look at different parts of the world.

Into all this work that I got involved in would come the nice, exciting bits which you could not understand. I was asked to deal with exclusion zones. I then raised in your Lordships’ House the issue that British influence includes the 200-mile limit, which gives us an economic exclusion zone that makes up 20% of the world. If that is put together with the French zone, it comes to nearly 30%. Into the blue, when I asked about this it was brought to my attention that the largest ever sea chase after a fishery, for the Patagonian toothfish, took place in the South Atlantic. The Patagonian toothfish’s importance is that it was apparently much loved for eating among the American mafia. Out of that came a new world of calamari—the squid. I was given some aerial photographs to show the importance of squid fishing. It was done by North Korean fishing boats, effectively using sticks to catch the calamari or squid that now adorn the tables of much of England.

It is nice to know about the EU—in the bank, they made me an EU adviser for a time, when my job was not to get anything done but to go and get the money back. I have a great hope that we have to be global and I regard the EU as just a small part of the global initiative.