Letters

Letters

A selection of Lord Lexden's letters this year to The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The New Statesman and The Spectator.

25/02/17 - Bercow
The Spectator

Sir: If senior Tories in Buckingham had had their way, John Bercow’s career as Speaker could have been over long before he had a chance to make any   ‘spectacularly ill-judged’ remarks(Politics, 18 February).At the 2010 election an impressive local Tory was keen to prevent the new Labour-supported Speaker retaining the seat where the party had had an 18,000 majority in 2005. Conservative headquarters insisted that Buckingham must abide by the long-standing convention that the Speaker is returned unopposed. The local Tories should have gone ahead; there is no such convention. All ten Speakers since the war have faced opposition. Six, including Bercow, have faced independents or minor parties. Four, all from the Tory ranks, had official Labour and/or Liberal candidates against them. If the Conservatives had taken a leaf out of their opponents’ book, they could have dislodged a Speaker who had moved sharply to the left in order to get his high office.

Yours faithfully
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

15/02/17 - The Commons Speaker and contested elections
London Evening Standard

Dear Sir

When John Bercow last stood as a Tory in his Buckingham constituency in 2005, he had a majority of over 18,000. Prominent local Tories wanted to put up a candidate against him at the 2010 election after he had become Speaker thanks to the support of Labour MPs. Conservative headquarters told them to respect the convention that the Speaker is always returned unopposed. The convention is a myth. All ten serving Speakers since the Second World War have faced contests. In Buckingham Bercow has been opposed by UKIP and independents. Four of his predecessors from the Tory benches had candidates from the other main parties against them. If the Buckingham Conservatives had followed these precedents, the historic office of Speaker would not have been demeaned by a vain attention-seeker.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

03/02/17 - Reclaiming lost titles
The Telegraph

SIR---Maurice Logan-Salton (Letter, January 30) makes a futile plea for the repeal of the Titles Deprivation Act 1917.  

Parliament will never make time for such a superfluous measure. The heirs of the two dukes who sided with the Kaiser can petition the Privy Council for the restoration of the forfeited titles if they want them back. 

A speedy decision is assured since so little work is available for the Privy Council, which is now larger than the House of Commons, David Cameron’s profligate creations having added 179 to the total membership.

They might well be sympathetic to a request from Prince Hubert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to become Duke of Albany; the poor man cannot have his German ducal title because he is the product of a morganatic marriage.

But would they find in favour of Prince Ernst August of Hanover if he asked to become Duke of Cumberland? The widely publicised photographs of him urinating in public would not help his cause. There might also be a reluctance to revive a title blackened by Highland butchery and the scandalous life of a later Duke who was widely suspected of incest and murder in the early nineteenth century.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

25/01/17 - Parliament and Article 50
London Evening Standard

It is essential that the legislation enabling the Government to invoke Article 50 goes through both the House of Commons and House of Lords quickly and without amendment.

We now know the Government’s Brexit objectives; the Prime Minister spelled them clearly last week. The Conservative Party has a manifesto commitment to give effect to the wishes of the people expressed in the referendum. We will have much work to do in Parliament as the results of the negotiations emerge.

It will be our constitutional duty to scrutinise them in detail. It may be that, at that stage, we can help the Government to get the best possible terms for the country as a whole. But any attempt to bind theGovernment’s hands in the negotiations themselves would be wholly improper. The Liberal Democrats and others in the Lords who take a different view are making a grave error.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

20/01/17 - Slimming down The Lords
The Times

Sir, MPs rather enjoyed their war-time evacuation to the plush red benches, though Churchill --who had called for the abolition of the Lords as a young radical firebrand-- never felt entirely at ease. The Speaker’s procession through Central Lobby was introduced for the first time. Where would modern tourism be without it? Peers were far from keen on the Royal Robing Room into which they were pitched. They were reminded of past misdeeds. It is next to the Royal Gallery where a peer had been tried for manslaughter as recently as 1935. The temperature was freezing. They could, however, fit into the space with comfort. Average daily attendance was around a hundred; now it is nearly five hundred. Discussions, chaired by the Lord Speaker, have just started to find a way of slimming down in response to widespread criticism of our current size. Could a return to our war-time home be just what is needed to get a speedy conclusion?

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

13/01/17 - The Duchess of windsor's lover
TLS: The Times Literary Supplement

Sir, In her unrelentingly venomous review of Mary Lovell’s The Riviera Set (January 6), Lisa Hilton professes disdainful indifference “to the question of whether or not the Duchess [of Windsor] had an affair with a certain Jimmy Donohue”( Donahue is the correct spelling). There is no question about it. The former king’s adored wife had a four-year sexual relationship with this gay wastrel scion of the Woolworth family. The full story is told in Christopher Wilson’s book, Dancing with the Devil: The Windsors and Jimmy Donahue (2000). The worthless Donahue did one fine thing in his life: he pissed profusely from a hotel balcony in Rome on a fascist crowd celebrating Mussolini’s conquest of Ethiopia in 1935.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords

06/01/17 - New Royal Yacht - a 30 year old pledge
The Times

SIR--It is now exactly 20 years since John Major’s government, having foolishly decided two years earlier to decommission Britanniaannounced that a new royal yacht would be built and presented to the Queen in 2002 as a gift from the nation on her Golden Jubilee. In January 1997, it declared proudly that the vessel would be built in Britain, with the £ 60 million cost being met from public funds. “It will be a symbol of the Crown, the Kingdom and its maritime traditions”.

History and tradition meant nothing to New Labour, and Tony Blair scrapped the plans. Is this not a fitting moment for Mrs May to redeem that firm Tory pledge? Surely we have not declined so far in the intervening period that public funds are inadequate to meet the cost.  There is overwhelming support for the original plan of making a new yacht a gift from us all to a beloved sovereign.

Brexit makes an initiative by Mrs May even more appropriate. There is at the moment a deep longing for decisive, practical action which shows that we are confident about our capacity to shape a new national destiny. It is hard to think of anything that would hearten our country more than the revival of our neglected maritime traditions which a new royal yacht would symbolise.

Lord Lexden
London SW1

05/01/17 - Royal Archives - Fairness for historians
The Times

Sir, Jack Malvern’s article (“Saucy royal quip they tried to censor”, Jan.4) will strike a chord with many historians. Favoured authors likely  to deal indulgently with royal reputations can expect to be treated with great kindness by the archivists at Windsor. For the rest of us it is often a different story. Years ago I was refused access to Queen Victoria’s journal in the course of research on the first Home Rule crisis of 1886. I am not inclined to be sweet-natured in assessing reputations.

Are these archives purely private property to be inspected on terms that their owners decree? They should surely be regarded in the same way as the royal palaces or pictures, things of vital national significance held in trust for the country as a whole. The public has access to them on terms that are the same for everyone. We must have clear, objective criteria for access to the Royal Archives without any attempt to censor publication of material that illuminates history.   I shall be pressing in the Lords for the introduction of clear protocols to achieve just that.

Lord Lexden
House of Lords

05/01/17 - Down with Section 40
London Evening Standard

Melanie McDonagh is right to castigate the enemies of press freedom in the House of Lords(“Karen Bradley needs to stand up to the threat to the press”, Comment, January 3). Our great newspapers must not be put under pressure to join a state-approved regulatory body which the overwhelming majority of them oppose. The alternative to it, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), chaired without fear or favour by the former appeal court judge Sir Alan Moses, deserves our full confidence. A recent independent review by Sir Joseph Pilling found that it is working effectively .When we debated press regulation recently a number of speakers—of whom I was one—condemned the proposals designed to subvert IPSO by forcing nearly all our papers which have signed up with it to pay the costs of the losing side in a libel action.  Do not think just of national titles, I said, but of regional and local newspapers which would suffer severely at a time when many are already struggling financially to survive. In Northern Ireland things would be different. What is now being proposed would not apply there. One country, two different laws for the press: how could that be right?

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords