Lords’ maiden speeches: Malcolm Bruce: the importance of tackling conflict and building stability overseas

We’re publishing our new Lords’ maiden speeches. Here’s Malcolm Bruce’s in a debate on the defence and security review recently. His main interest is in international development and he wanted to make the point that we need to focus on resolving conflict and building stability overseas.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, a very distinguished former First Minister of Scotland. I agreed with much of what he said.

When I stood in the October 1974 election, came fourth and lost my deposit, I never dreamed that I would rise today as a Member of your Lordships’ House. I want to thank everyone who has made my arrival here in the last few weeks such an enjoyable experience. I am genuinely grateful for all the guidance and help I have received at all levels and from my sponsors, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. The doorkeepers, attendants and catering staff are incessantly cheerful, helpful and friendly—not just to me but to my friends and family, my demanding children and grandchildren.

I had the honour to represent the constituency of Gordon for 32 years. Gordon is not a place; it is the heartland of the Gordon family, historically headed by the Dukes of Gordon, including General Gordon of Khartoum and the 18th-century Duchess who recruited soldiers into the Gordon Highlanders with a kiss. It also produced a Prime Minister, Lord Aberdeen, who appointed Gladstone to his Cabinet. Lord Aberdeen’s family seat was Haddo House where, until fairly recently, June, the late Dowager Marchioness of Aberdeen, presided over many musical and cultural activities. She endeared herself to me when, after one election, she said: “Malcolm, I am so pleased you got back. I worried you might lose. I was so worried, in fact, I very nearly voted for you.”

A colleague said to me that if you are going to be a long-serving MP you need to reinvent yourself from time to time. I certainly have carried out many different roles, including leading my party in Scotland and working with Donald Dewar and others in the Constitutional Convention to lay the foundations for the restoration of the Scottish Parliament. I am more committed than ever to the case for a federal United Kingdom that can secure the wishes of the majority of the people of Scotland to be self-governing within the UK, rather than leaving it.

I am particularly proud of the role with which I was entrusted by the House of Commons for 10 years, as chair of the International Development Committee. That gave me a privileged and unique insight into the work of the UK’s aid and development activities— by government, by world-class development and humanitarian NGOs and by charities and international and global players. It is on the basis of this experience that I choose to make my short intervention in this debate.

I understand the Government’s aim of demonstrating how our official development assistance directly serves the national interest but it has to be done while conforming to the OECD Development Advisory Committee guidelines. I am pleased that the aid review continues to highlight the focus on poverty reduction as a key objective, as it must be if the post-MDG objective of eliminating absolute poverty by 2030 is to be realised. I also note the interesting report of this House’s Committee on Soft Power and reassert my own view that tackling the challenges of poverty, humanitarian disasters, migration and conflict requires the whole of Government’s engagement. I can only echo the committee when it said,

“soft power can only deliver tangible and measurable results over time, and with patience and dedication”.

I would express caution that, while we retain flexibility, we do not chop and change priorities too quickly and too often. In particular, in our desire to address the current refugee crisis—and I have visited refugees in Lebanon and Jordan—we should not divert funding from vulnerable communities in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.

I welcome the fact that the Government’s national security strategy and strategic defence review maintain the commitment to tackling conflict and building stability overseas. I will watch with interest how the increase in the fund from £1 billion to £1.3 billion will be prioritised and in what ways the Government will deliver annually 50% of DfID’s budget in fragile states and regions.

I hope I shall have further opportunities to address this House on these matters and that, from my past experience and continuing engagement, I shall be able to contribute usefully to the deliberations of your Lordships’ House.

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  • Good to see that . another welcome addition to the Lords .We should not lose sight of the excellent calibre there , in our correct desire to have an elected , or mainly elected Lords or second chamber. I often visit the websites of Peers , I admire , Baroness Benjamin , or Lord Avebury , for example , recently , and am very glad we have such people. We are a party that sees the individual, I see individuals there , who do , often , make a real contribution. Lord Bruce will.

  • @ Lorenzo ” I see individuals there , who do , often , make a real contribution. Lord Bruce will”

    Yes, he made a major contribution to liver failure by campaigning for the removal of the spirits escalator in last year’s budget.

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