The House of Lords has spent much of today debating a motion
“To call attention to the economic and cultural impacts of immigration in the United Kingdom; and to move for papers”.
This led to a serious discussion on the impact of the Government’s “cap” on immigration on the business community and on scientific research.
There was also a wonderful and surreal contribution from Lord James of Blackheath. It was definitely one of those House of Lords “stream of consciousness” moments.
This is what he said:
“My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, for procuring this debate. I have to say that those who follow me might wish to add a rider to their own congratulations, deploring the fact that she did not stop me speaking, because we had a conversation in advance in which I told her that I had absolutely nothing to contribute to this debate, given that I have no experience of immigration or multiculturalism. To demonstrate that, I told her an anecdote that she thought was good enough to be repeated today, and that is what noble Lords are about to get. You must blame it on her afterwards.
My story starts in the trenches of the Somme in 1916 with a Major Alexander Crombie, who came out alive but deeply scarred from the experience and decided that he wanted to make a contribution to world peace. He took what little fortune he had and created a small academic academy with the express purpose of bringing in boys from European nations whom he could then groom for the common entrance examination and place somewhere in the public school system in Britain. This establishment prospered through even the Second World War and had arrived in 1947 at a point at which it had some 25 boys—all bright and intelligent fellows.
In parallel with that, I had been having my own educational crisis which had resulted in my being classified as mentally defective by the London education authority and sent to a school for mental defectives. My father was unamused at this and decided that I had to be removed immediately from that school and that he had to find somewhere to send me. Someone suggested that he talk to Major Crombie, who was then quite an old man. Major Crombie said, “We can’t have this fellow in; he can’t read and could not even do the 11-plus”. My father said, “Never mind; that proves that he is a refugee from the London County Council, so you’ve got to have him”. Crombie looked at a list and said, “What did you say your name was? James? We have 25 boys here—one for every letter of the alphabet except J. We’ll take him”. So I got in.
We had an amazing roll call every morning. It began with Adybaya, Baptista, Chinchialla and Dukszta, and ended gloriously with Xyrus, Yballa and Zabialski. I used to think that if I could get through life and remember the entire roll call, I would know that Alzheimer’s had not yet reached me. After I had my stroke, I said this to my physician, who said, “No, old boy. You may remember all the other 25, but your trouble is when you cannot remember who the J was”. So far, so good—but not for long, I am sure.
This was a remarkable gathering. We had some really fine brains in the class, but we were all under the control of a former Coldstream Guard padre called the Reverend Wynn, who was one of the great men of my life. He decided that he would have no nonsense with us at all. He was going to have a morning service or gathering. When we said, “Father, we have 17 nationalities and eight religions here, so we cannot possibly have a religious gathering in the morning”, he said, “Of course you can. It does not matter which god you have—you are going to celebrate the glory of this world. Bring your god with you, whoever he is, and we will all celebrate the glory of the world together”. And we did. We could not have any readings from the Bible, the Koran or anything else. He formed a committee of us to find suitable prose or a poem every day which would celebrate something of beauty in the world.
There were to be no hymns sung, so he decided—very unwisely, as it turned out—that we could all, in rotation, sing our national anthems, to which we could write our own words of a non-jingoistic nature. The honour went first to the three British boys. We decided to use “Pomp and Circumstance” and rewrite the words to, “Land of cut the call-up, how do we dodge this nonsense?”. That did not get us any merit points. The situation completely fell to pieces when the two German Jewish refugee boys at the school decided to write their own version of “Deutschland Über Alles” and got their little bit of revenge on Germany in the process. They decided to devote the words to the most obscene account of Hermann Göring having sexual congress with a lady kangaroo, which ultimately proved fatal to him because it would not stop jumping. After that, the Reverend Wynn decided that there should be no more of that.
This extraordinary gathering of boys with huge talent had one great skill that united us. We had a lot of Eastern bloc boys among us with a huge capability at chess. We had one of the strongest chess teams that you could ever put into the field—even at the age of 11 or 12. After we got into the quarter finals of the London schools knock-out competition with a team of 12 year-olds in 1947, we asked the Reverend Wynn to issue a challenge invitation to Eton and Winchester. I do not know whether there are any Wykehamists or Etonians in this assembly, but if there are, I have to say, “Oh, what a bunch of wimps you were—you would not take the challenge”. I hope that you have that to your eternal shame, gentlemen.
The gathering continued very successfully and nearly everyone in the class got into one of the better public schools. We had a wonderful time together. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, is no longer present, because this is probably the antidote to his comments about multiculturalism. Oh, here he is. This is probably the noble Lord’s nightmare of multiculturalism gone wrong, but it was in fact brilliant. Of the 17 nations from which we came, about half had been trying to exterminate the other half during the previous five or six years, yet everyone got on so well together because we were completely without the preconceptions instilled by too much political correctness and preconditioning as to what we ought to think of each other and how we ought to react. We were the biggest bunch of mutual support people ever gathered together in one place. Today I cannot see what the problem is with the interracial problems of immigration. We did it fine. We were young, we just got on well with each other, and that was a natural instinct. If we stop dictating to and preconditioning people, it works very well.”