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Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I find myself in an extraordinarily difficult position for numerous reasons that will become clear. I am, of course, the only male Conservative speaker in this debate, as well as being the only male Back Bench speaker and the only Conservative speaker. It is such a pity that our debates on Thursdays are not, as they were, on Wednesdays. What we tend to have on Thursdays is a mutual admiration society of the speakers speaking to themselves. In a debate it was always assumed that the speaker knew what he or she was talking about and other people would listen. My whole training in life has come from Wednesday debates. I would urge the Government to change things; if they could, it would be much appreciated.
There is something more embarrassing, as well. I have stayed to the end of every debate I have spoken in for 43 years, and had intended to do so today. Then I find suddenly that there is a Statement on agriculture
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that interests me, which intervenes. I had allowed three and a half hours, because I have to catch a plane and speak tonight. I hope the House will forgive me if I break a golden rule but it really was not my fault, and I had no idea until I arrived here that there would be this intervention.
I suffer from the problem in life that during the war I was exported at the age of twomy sister was under oneto the United States and Canada, and then, for various sad reasons, did not see my mother or father until after D-Day. When I returned, no one had bothered to tell me that my mother's name was Lady Selsdon while my and my sister's names were Malcolm and Gail Mitchell-Thomson. In a slightly Victorian England way we half shook hands as we arrived at some railway station with labels around our necks, and I swapped my label with Harrison because I wanted to make sure I got a good mother. I did not see my father until 1951.
Our parents did not tell us that we had a different name, so as children we had to work out: who were they? Who was my mother? Was I adopted, or was I illegitimate? Being fairly bright at the age of seven, I concluded that I was illegitimate. When I came to your Lordships' House and found it was difficult to prove my legitimacy, I was told I had to find two people who had known my mother and father when they were bachelor and spinster, both of whom had been over 21 at the time, but my mother got married at the age of 19. This gave me a permanent feeling of insecurity.
This is the greatest proportion of women who have ever spoken in a debate in your Lordships' House, and having a great admiration and affection for women, I feel humbled and fully supportive. However, I will try in my way to explain the difficulties of a whole-life operation. If, by an accident of birth, you have an appointment to this place, you feel you have to go, but if you have a full-time job your employers in general will say, "What are you doing sloping off to the House of Lords?". I encountered the same problem that applies to many people who wish to serve in public life: the system somehow means that if you leave your commercial world even for part of a day a week, you get sidetracked or downgraded. I believe that people should be able to contribute to public and private life. The outside experience that people can bring to this House is helpful, as well as the experience they take back. I repeat that I am for ever grateful for what I have learnt here.
We move on to another part of life: the boy crawling like a snail unwillingly to school. I believe strongly in the family unit. I do not believe there is any division between political parties. I believe in equality all round and in hard work, and I do not believe in long holidays. When you go to school these days, you are encouraged
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to stay there as long as possible. You have therefore lost a small part of your working life. If we look at the continent of Europe, which is down from a 40-hour week to a 35-hour weekand in Germany often a 28-hour weekwe find that the students feel they should work at universities without being paid but with full grants until the age of 27 or 28, and then expect immediately to have a job.
We have long lost the ability to provide people with early training or apprenticeships, and we are desperately short of people who think of something other than money. I am not talking about a consumer society, but it always shatters me to think that the future of the British economy depends on how many people you can cram into a mall or a shopping precinct on a Saturday, or even a Sunday morning.
What do people do when they are not working? I had the advantageor disadvantagefor six years to chair a body called the Greater London and South East Council for Sport and Recreation, responsible for the central planning of sport and recreation in Greater London, Surrey, Sussex and Kent. I had an executive committee of 152, including my motherwho happened to be the first woman Lord Mayor, which is where my support for women may partly come fromand a full committee of 352, appointed originally by Peter Shaw and then regurgitated by Michael Heseltine. In that midst, we found the bureaucracy that came with differences of political opinion, elitism or facilities. Despite the desire to promote more outside activity, ILEA was closing down playing fields and facilities were disappearing.
The sadness was that when I was dealing with ILEA it was deemed appropriate for me to be known as a Labour Peer; and in other places I was a Conservative Peer. That was often the advice of Tower Hamlets, Peter Shore's constituency. I used to speak to support him when he was being re-elected: I always thought that he could have been an excellent Prime Minister. I would say simply: "He appointed me. Vote for him. The Conservatives will get in anyway but we need a good Opposition". On this topic, there is no opposition.
During that period, I had quite a lot to do with Clive Jenkins whom noble Lords may remember. With his colleague, Berman, he wrote two books: The Collapse of Work and The Leisure Shock. Basically, they stated that people will work less and less and have more and more leisure and they will not be happy because they will not know what to do or how to manage their leisure time. I believe that that is a worrying aspect. We now see people not starting work until they are 27. However, we then have a major problem at the other end. They stop work earlier. They all announce that they would like to take premature or early retirement. When I was at Midland Bank my boss was the chief general manager. One day he said to me, "Malcolm, I am so pleased that I have managed to get the board to agree that the retirement age will come down from 65 to 60. What do you think?" He was called Malcolm, too. I said, "How old are you?" and he replied, "Oh my goodness, I'm 59½". I do not believe that retirement should be forced upon anybody but if you do not start
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work if you are professional or well trained until the age of 27 and you finish at 55 that brief period has to pay for the family growing up and for the elderly or, as they are now known in every language throughout Europe, the old timersand an old timer starts at 52.
So I have a proposition to put to the Minister, who is a very intelligent and sensible man. The claim is that not enough children are coming along and perhaps we have to "do a de Gaulle" and provide a grant to each family which has four children. The real answer is not to import more and more foreign labour but to look at our own resources and to get the young into part-time work as early as possible with the ability to continue part-time education. Where are the scientists? Where are the engineers? I found myself recently in Brussels with the Space Committee and secretary. Everyone said that there were no engineers. The Russians said, "We have plenty of them. We can lend them". So we often have people who train in a technical subject and then go into the City for more money.
As regards the older population, if the Government were prepared to say that anyone who has reached the age of retirement may work for x hours a week without paying tax and at no cost to the employerwhat is the point of social service payments and others at that age?I believe that we could go a long way towards solving the problem of retirement. Your Lordships, of course, never retire and I sit down with the knowledge that very shortly, after 43 years, I may just make the average age.
Wisdom in many of the developing countries which were developed long before uswhether it be Benin, or whereverwas based upon wise men. In your Lordships' House there are wise men and wise women. However, I wish that we could have our wisdom debates on a Wednesday. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. I look forward to the glamour. It is appropriate that today should be Ladies' Day in the House of Lords and Ladies' Day at Ascot.
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