ISSUE 1, April 2002

MQ Interview: HRH the Duke of Kent
Grand Lodge: Quarterly Communication
Masonic Charities
Grand Lodge: General News
Architecture: Freemasons' Hall: Art Deco in the Shadow of Covent Garden
Gardener's Diary: Springing into Action
Book Reviews

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In due course you retired from the army and became the vice-chairman of the Overseas Trade Board, and in that role you represented British industry on missions abroad and provided encouragement at home. How did you see that role?

One of the principal tasks of the Overseas Trade Board was promoting our exports. I attempted to further that objective by visiting many countries around the world, talking to their authorities and to British companies working overseas. At the same time I visited firms in the UK to see how they were tackling export business, or even to encourage them to take up exporting if they were not already doing so. I am not in a position to say whether my own efforts were at all effective, but I hope they had some effect. I certainly found it intensely interesting to see the really big change that occurred in the 25 years or so that I did that sort of work. From a perhaps slight complacency - one could generalise - that one found in the early 1970s there was a very much more determined and professional approach that developed in subsequent years. During that time, the UK did succeed in substantially increasing its exports, overseas and inwards investments, so the trends did move quite favourably.

In the past several decades the balance between the manufacturing and the service sector has changed in favour of the latter. Do you think that matters?

Yes, it's true that the total share of our economy and therefore of our exports taken by manufactured goods has been quite steadily falling over a long period. There is always arguments as to how much this matters. I don't like to see it declining, but I think that economic pressures make this largely inevitable. There is a constant movement of manufacturers to be based where costs are lower, say in the Far East or Eastern Europe. You can't prevent this happening, but you can try and create the best possible climate for manufacturing in the UK. You can also ensure that you do the things that really demand skill and brain power, as opposed to simply cheap labour, and this is something that we can still manage to do. We may find the things that require intensive brainpower and really seriously high qualifications are something that we can retain here, but we have, as you said, been developing our services sector and we do have a very strong position, especially in financial services. London is one of the great financial centres of the world, so there are pluses and minuses and one has to look at it as a whole.

Do you think London will remain for the foreseeable future the premier financial centre in Europe?

At present it certainly is, but I don't think one should be complacent about this. More banks and more investment houses seem to want to come and be established here. Partly it's a sort of rolling stone effect: because so many of the big American companies and banks and brokerage houses are here, others feel they must be here too. I hope that will continue, but we have to keep working at it and not assume that it will always be the case; that would be very dangerous and unwise.

Whilst you were travelling, either as Vice-Chairman of the Overseas Trade Board, or when you were in the military, were you able to visit lodges abroad and meet other Freemasons, particularly members of the English lodges abroad?

Whenever I could, yes I did. Sometimes simply by getting together with a group of them at a social occasion, other times by visiting their Grand Lodges. The English constitution exists in many other countries, and we need to show our support and encouragement for them throughout the world. The only time that I've attended a lodge meeting, I think, was in Gibraltar some years ago, when I went to the bicentenary of the Royal Lodge of Friendship there.

Do your duties as Grand Master take you abroad?

They have not taken me abroad specifically except, I think, for that one occasion in Gibraltar. But I've been fortunate to have been able to call on successive Pro Grand Masters and indeed other senior Masons over the years to represent me, and they've been very good and very active in doing that all over the world. All my Pro Grand Masters have been ready to travel to Africa, to India or Australia, usually to install other Grand Masters or senior figures. This maintains the connection and it shows our interest and faith in those lodges.

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