Maiden Speech

My Lords, Tories above all love traditions. A new Member of this House, deeply conscious of the privilege of entering it, immediately encounters one of its most agreeable traditions. I refer of course to the immense warmth of the welcome given to the new arrival by noble Lords on all sides and by the ever-helpful officials who provide a kindly answer to every question. I am deeply grateful.

Sir Lewis Namier, the great historian of the pre-1832 unreformed Parliament, once declared with playful and light-hearted exaggeration that,

"In the eighteenth century peers made their tutors under-secretaries; in the twentieth under-secretaries make their tutors peers".

I wish that Namier was still around to make a merry quip about the fact that in the 21st century a Prime Minister has elevated someone who acted as his political tutor, if only in a minor respect. I stress the word "minor" because my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, with his instinctive grasp of politics, needed little guidance as he passed through the Conservative Research Department, which I helped to run in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Conservative Research Department, now as then, is refreshingly free from ideological fervour, as every true Tory institution should be. That has enabled it to supply recruits for the Labour, as well as the Tory, Benches in this House. It nurtured the late Lord Longford, and 30 years ago the Conservative Research Department was adorned by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. Two former members who did not defect, my kind and noble friends Lord Cope of Berkeley and Lord Black of Brentwood, have guided my prentice steps in this House as my sponsors.

I have lived my life thus far as Alistair Cooke. Long shadows have fallen on me, cast first by the world-famous writer and broadcaster and now by a fine England batsman. Re-emerging as Lord Lexden, I am liberated from what could have been a lifetime's sense of inferiority.

Lexden, on the outskirts of Colchester in Essex, was where I was born and brought up. My father, a much loved GP for some 40 years, took a deep interest in the welfare of all children, but particularly of those with diabetes.

Lexden was the scene of a notable engagement between the Roman invaders and the ancient Britons. Every day on my way to school, I passed the earthen defences that the Romans had overwhelmed before making Colchester one of the principal centres of their power. This was the genesis of the historical interests that have always mattered to me more than anything else.

One other place is never far from my thoughts: Northern Ireland. I taught for some years at Queen's University in Belfast before becoming political adviser to Airey Neave in 1977. At that time, Britain often gave the impression of wanting to wash its hands of Ulster altogether. Today there is a lesser, but still grave, danger: indifference. The Province has a devolved Government. Why not leave it entirely to its own devices? I believe strongly that progress in Ulster will be greatly assisted if its affairs feature in a wider British context rather than being relegated entirely to a purely local one. I hope to play a part in achieving this.

The subject of today's debate illustrates the point. The recent formation of an all-party diabetes group in the Northern Ireland Assembly creates a new focus on the issue there, while the highly regarded national organisation, Diabetes UK, embraces Northern Ireland within its work. One complements the other.

There are today some 20,000 children of school age in the United Kingdom with diabetes, of whom around 1,000 live in Northern Ireland. During my time as general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, in the course of which I visited many excellent Ulster schools, such as the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and St Malachy's College in Belfast, I had numerous opportunities to admire the resilience and determination with which such children strive to reach high standards and so lay the basis for success in their subsequent careers. I have always been greatly struck by the indomitable spirit shown by children with diabetes as they make their way through the various rounds of the Northern Ireland Schools Debating Competition, of which I have the honour to be president.

Children with diabetes and their families have in Diabetes UK a formidable champion of their interests. Naturally, its overall aim is to encourage all schools to follow the practice of the best, where, every day, children with diabetes enjoy a full school life because they receive the support they need. But in some schools there are undoubtedly problems to be overcome, as the detailed surveys and inquiries conducted by Diabetes UK show-the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, referred graphically to them. Staff are sometimes reluctant to help with insulin injections, a point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred. That undoubtedly adds to the great burden on families. In a Diabetes UK survey in 2009, 35 per cent of the young people who responded said their parents either had to give up work or reduce their hours of work to support them with their diabetes in school. This is a matter of particular concern to the Northern Ireland representatives of Diabetes UK.

The problems could often be swiftly alleviated if schools followed the advice that Diabetes UK has provided in its excellent publications. Perhaps the most important is the admirably succinct Children with Diabetes at School: What All Staff Need to Know. It lives up to its title. To ensure that staff indeed know, governors and heads need to establish and enforce arrangements that are appropriate for their individual schools. In this, they face a particularly urgent challenge that emerges in so many areas of school life today: to reverse the intense pressure that teachers have felt for far too long to keep their distance from their pupils in case a close association is misunderstood. That simple, yet profound, factor has impeded progress in our school system. The Government have recently made clear their support for change to overturn this harmful trend. That would do an immense service to children with diabetes who, along with others suffering from serious health problems, need a close association with dedicated and sympathetic teachers.

I hope that this important debate in the House will assist the start of that urgently needed process. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, who initiated this debate, for giving me this opportunity to address the House for the first time.