My Lords, before I begin, I apologise to everyone, and specifically to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for failing to turn up for the opening address, as I should have done. It was to do with the cyber problem that we had and the fact that when I arrived in my office the speech that I had transmitted was not there and I had to travel back to my flat; hence, I was late. I apologise and thank those responsible for the discipline of this House for their understanding.
During my 34 years in Parliament, and subsequent to 12 years’ service as an officer in the Ulster Defence Regiment, I have never been as anxious about the state of our nation as I am today. I had looked forward to Brexit, hopeful that we would restore our Britishness and free our nation from the gross bureaucratic diktat that undermines our parliamentary democracy, and which has eroded our nation’s sense of commitment and loyalty to whom and to what we are to what we could and should be.
Sadly, we have become victim to catchphrases—can I call them that?—that are being perverted on a daily basis: terms such as “liberal” and “equality”. I was never ashamed to be labelled a “liberal unionist”, even when that was not fashionable, or to argue for equal opportunity. Those who worked with me since pre-1970 know my record over almost 50 years. However, we are now witnessing equality being relegated to little more than a cliché. It becomes “inequality”, where every small faction or clique can demand, collectively, virtual control over traditional resources and rights that are totally out of proportion to their numbers. I refer to those who seek privilege calling it equality, while ignoring any responsibility obligation. We see it in Northern Ireland, where our public services, not least health, are being held to ransom by those who will prevent the Northern Ireland Assembly getting up and running unless their dictated brand on democracy is delivered as they wish. I urge that if and when Secretary of State Brokenshire is forced to reintroduce direct rule, he does not allow that to become but a variation of the ongoing week-by-week chaos, but that it is firmly established on the basis of potential for productivity, be that for at least 12 months at a time, perhaps even for the lifetime of this Parliament at Westminster.
One thing in particular worried me over the course of the general election campaign, and that was the outrageous hectoring and bullying by BBC commentators. From when I was a lad during the Second World War, I had come to expect an informative output from our national news medium, but that has changed beyond recognition. A stranger could now be excused for concluding that the BBC was a party-political participant and, bluntly, was openly hostile to our Prime Minister. Just in case anyone should think that they gain from this, it is a tactic, perhaps a strategy, that will come back to bite us if we do not deal with it now. It is based on provocation and confrontation rather than sound analysis. We have experienced it over the past weeks in the most tragic circumstances, with our broadcasters openly provoking and promoting an antagonistic backlash. The simple deceit is that Prime Minister May was no more responsible than any of us here for the cladding on Grenfell tower block—no more than she or any of us could be deemed responsible for the Flood or the black plague. So catch yourself on, BBC; your role is to inform, not to outrageously, unfairly and provocatively incite mob reaction, as you now clearly seek to do. Be clear, BBC, as to what this nation expects, demands and pays for.
Should noble Lords think that I am being too critical of the BBC, be assured that I have not missed those crude indiscretions nearer to home—the crass rudeness and envy of George Osborne or the exaggerated onus of corporate murder that John McDonnell MP sees fit to lay at the feet of society as a whole. Grenfell Tower dates back to 1974. There are somewhere in the region of 4,000 such structures in existence here in the United Kingdom. Those awful recent problems did not simply spring up during the premiership of Mrs May.
My allocated time is fast running out, so I will sum up by making the following points. While we need a principled and intelligent approach to Brexit, we cannot negotiate effectively if we pre-empt every tactic and strategy with superficial, bad-mannered public debate. The nation’s interest lies with the necessity for government to properly execute their business through protocols that are well established, if sometimes neglected, within this place.
Finally, we must as a nation grasp and exploit the opportunity to devise and implement what has been missing since the 1980s, if not longer—a coherent and strategic United Kingdom foreign and commonwealth policy. Why has one seen us abandon our erstwhile allies in the TRNC to the wiles of the inheritors and successors of EOKA and EOKA-B—an attitude that has recently inspired new and petty UK flight restrictions and controls on those who wish to travel to and from Ercan airport in the north of Cyprus? Let us prioritise our democratic responsibility. Let us implement our moral strategies. Let us, simply, “get a grip”.