Letters

A selection of Lord Lexden's letters this year to The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The New StatesmanThe Spectator and others. You can read letters from previous years in the menu to the left.

17/03/20 - Exonerate Heath
The Spectator

Sir: An independent report by the former high-court judge Sir Richard Henriques into the Metropolitan Police documents in horrifying detail the malpractices which meant that ‘the names of Leon Brittan, Lord Bramall and others were dragged through the mud’ (‘Trial and error’, 29 February). Though Sir Edward Heath was also cruelly traduced, the government has rejected the calls I have made in the Lords, in association with Lord Armstrong of Ilminster and Lord Butler of Brockwell, former cabinet secretaries who were his close confidants, with unanimous support across the House for an independent review of Operation Conifer, the widely criticised investigation by the Wiltshire police into the allegations against him.

The biased chief constable, Mike Veale, who was ‘120 per cent’ certain of Heath’s guilt, was only mildly censured by an internal review before moving to Cleveland police, from which he was forced to resign a few months later. The Home Office, which paid most of the £1.5 million cost of Operation Conifer, has the power to establish an inquiry.

It is needed to scrutinise the seven allegations left open at the end of the investigation, almost certainly to save the face of the police. The taint has been removed from the reputations of other leading figures. Sir Edward Heath KG should not be left under any lingering suspicion.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

09/03/20 - A lion's docile cubs
The Times

Sir, Maharajah Ranjit Singh, voted the greatest leader (report, Mar 5, and letter, Mar 6), conspicuously failed to instil martial prowess within his family. His son, Duleep Singh, became a Norfolk landowner and a member of the Carlton Club but was thwarted in his ambition to stand as a Tory candidate against one of Gladstone’s sons. His granddaughter was a leading suffragette. The Lion of the Punjab would have been astounded.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

02/03/20 - How King George VI helped fool the Nazis before D-Day
The Daily Telegraph

SIR - MI5 rightly drew attention during the Queen’s visit to its headquarters (report, February 26) to George VI’s “central role” in misleading the Nazis over plans for D-Day.

His involvement began when two MI5 officers called on the King’s private secretary, Sir Alan Lascelles, on 3 March 1944. In his diary he wrote that they “explained how the King’s visits in the next few months could assist the elaborate cover scheme to bamboozle the German intelligence over the time and place for Overlord”.

Much press publicity was given to visits to troops in the South East to help strengthen the Nazi suspicion that Calais, not Normandy, would be the scene of Allied invasion, and earlier than the actual date in June.

What seemed to be a huge oil-storage complex near Dover also received a royal visit, as M15 has now revealed. It was in fact a complete fake, designed by Basil Spence and built by Shepperton Studios.

An element of the elaborate deception plans to which MI5 did not refer took the KIng to Scapa Flow. There he inspected the fleet at length during a three-day visit in May. Prominent press reports indicated that he had “taken leave” of his fleet in “cold and lonely northern waters” as it prepared for battle. The prospect of a Scandinavian attack was created to deter Nazi troop movement to reinforce northern France.

It is right that this  contribution to D-Day’s success made by the Queen’s father, who meant so much to her, should at last be fully acknowledged.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

27/02/20 - Wrangling over the Elgin Marbles
Evening Standard

Discussion of the Elgin Marbles needs the kind of historical perspective that Nico Makris provides (The Reader,  February 24). It is important to remember that over the years even senior Conservative politicians have questioned have their British custodianship. 

Visiting Athens in 1869, Sir Stafford Northcote, a classical scholar and future Tory leader, referred angrily in his diary to Elgin’s “robbery of the Parthenon”. Another Tory diarist, Lord Crawford, who was a trustee of the British Museum, recorded in 1938 that the marbles “have been dangerously overcleaned by using unauthorised methods and instruments”.

Now is the time to give full and open consideration to arrangements that will best secure the future of the marbles.

Alistair Lexden

10/02/20 - Airey Neave's murder
The Times

Sir, Your obituary of Sir Michael Cummins (Feb 6) asserts that the bomb that killed Airey Neave in 1979 was planted in the Palace of Westminster’s car park by the so-called Irish National Liberation Army. That was the claim made by the terrorists. The Metropolitan Police had no doubt that the bomb was put in place while Neave’s car stood outside his nearby flat during the night with a tilting device that caused the explosion as he drove up the ramp from the car park the following day.

Lord Lexden
Political adviser to Airey Neave,1977-79

10/02/20 - Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale Queen Victoria
The Daily Telegraph

SIR - The exhibition on Florence Nightingale’s later life (report, February 3) should give prominence to Queen Victoria’s deep and lasting admiration of her.

“I envy her being able to do so much good,” Victoria wrote during the Crimean War. The pair met in 1856. Expecting to encounter a battleaxe, the Queen was enchanted to find the now famous nurse was modest and demure, “refusing all public acclaim”. The sorrowing monarch roused herself from her widow’s seclusion in 1868 to open St Thomas’s Hospital in London “ for Miss Nightingale”.

The bond between them was further strengthened when, a few days later, news arrived that two nurses trained by Nightingale and sent to Sydney Infirmary had ensured the recovery of the Queen’s favourite son, Prince Alfred, after an assassination attempt in Australia. 

Recalling her indebtedness to the Lady with the Lamp, the Queen insisted that money sent to her by the public for her Golden Jubilee in 1887 should be used to establish the Queen’s Jubilee Nursing Institute, the world’s first professional nursing organisation. 

She would have been appalled by the refusal of her successor, Edward VII, to include the legendary figure in the new Order of Merit which he created in 1902. “ Women are not eligible,” he insisted. He eventually gave way in 1907 after the prime minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, had lectured him about “ the revolution which her services and example effected.” It was as Florence Nightingale 0M that she died in 1910.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

16/01/20 - Another Duke of Sussex who went his own way
The Times

Sir, Prince Harry’s Hanoverian predecessor as Duke of Sussex, Prince Augustus, loved breaking the rules. He is the only royal to marry twice without the monarch’s consent required under the Royal Marriages Act. After the death of Lady Augusta Murray (“History repeats itself as the Sussexes fall out of favour”, Jan 13), he married Lady Cecilia Buggin, widow of a London Alderman, in 1831. The match won widespread public support, enhanced by the duke’s endorsement of parliamentary reform and the enfranchisement of Jews to the horror of his right-wing family. Though Lord Melbourne, the prime minister, thought “it would be very ridiculous” to grant the illegal wife any public recognition, in 1840 Queen Victoria created her Duchess of Inverness “as long as she did not go out or take place before any other duchess”. A rebel to the last, her husband rejected in his will a burial at Windsor in favour of Kensal Green cemetery, proving his piety by accumulating some 1,000 editions of the Bible.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

08/01/20 - George III - a most conscientious king
The Daily Telegraph

SIR - It is very good that George III is to be the subject of an exhibition that will “seek to redefine what is known about the monarch” (report, January 3).

That should include his remarkable stamina and devotion to state affairs. It was his habit to rise at six in the morning to deal with ministerial papers that had arrived overnight. After a morning ride, breakfast and divine service, he worked until eight-thirty in the evening, with a break in the afternoon for public occasions such as receptions for ministers and courtiers. He wrote all his own letters and policy papers until 1805 when failing eyesight compelled him to use a secretary. He was the only Hanoverian monarch to keep up such a strict daily routine, playing the flute, harpsichord or piano in the evenings for recreation.

A leading authority on the period, Professor Peter Jupp, concluded that “ by the end of the 1770s he was probably the best-informed statesman of his time on the full range pf policy issues.” Sadly, mastery of detail was not always rewarded by political success.

Lord Lexden
London SW1