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Sir Peter Hordern of Horsham

Sir Peter Hordern

I was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1929. My earliest memories though are from India, where I was from the ages of four to six, and then I went to South Africa until I was eight.

My father was a soldier in the First World War, during which he was wounded and gassed, but he survived. He then worked in the motor industry, which at that time was growing rapidly. He was the Morris Motors representative in India and South Africa and later Australia.

We lived in Australia from when I was ten until 1947. I came to England at the age of 18. I did my national service and was lucky enough to get into my father’s regiment, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, now known as the Green Jackets.

I went to Christ Church, Oxford, and enjoyed that very much. My grandfather and uncle had been there, as did my brother and then my son so the family has a long association there.

My parents were not well off at all, so I went into the city. But I wasn’t at all happy there.  It was a place where business was done by people who knew each other – there were no professional pension funds or insurance
companies investing, except in Government stocks.

In the 1950s, that changed. Pension funds started investing in equities in this country and all over the world. This was an interesting time as I got to learn about business and industry by visiting companies around the country so I could show people what they should be investing in. Business grew and grew.

British businesses needed to modernise, but there was no incentive to do so. I felt that this was something that needed attending to and the only way it could be improved was for us to join a wider circle of countries in Europe.
I was a convinced European from 1957 when Germany, France and Italy signed the treaty to establish the European Economic Community.

These countries had been to war with one another. When I saw that going on, I thought that even though the city is enterprising and full of promise, this is something I wanted to get involved in. It would help make sure there is never another war in Europe and I felt it was something I ought to do. In order to get anywhere you had to get into Parliament.

I wasn’t particularly interested in politics when I was at University but I suppose I was a natural Conservative so joined the party and in 1961 fought a local council election in North Kensington. I set about looking for a seat and I heard that the member for Horsham was going to retire. Sussex had always been a particular interest for me – my grandfather (Hugh Maudslay Hordern) spent all his life in Sussex and was the Bishop of Lewes for many years.

I had fond memories of Sussex as I stayed with him as a child. I remember watching the Australians in 1938 and seeing a young Sussex batsman called Hugh Bartlett make 157. For a boy of nine this was magical! My  grandfather was a big influence in my life.

I got into Parliament as the MP for Horsham in 1964 and remained MP until 1997. Elizabeth and I married in 1964. She was interested in politics too – she worked at the Conservative central office, and nothing would have been possible without her.

Back then, the House of Commons was a pretty primitive place. The salary was £1,750 a year. There were no expenses, so if you had a secretary you were expected to pay for it yourself. You had a locker rather than a desk. It meant that all Members of Parliament had to have an outside living if they had a family.

That had its disadvantages but the one big advantage was that everybody had knowledge of what was happening in the outside world. This has changed significantly. On the whole, the changes made have been for the better but the thing that is missing now is that there are not so many MPs who have direct experience of the outside world. I think that shows sometimes.

In those days I was still working in the city, as well as being an MP. In1974, when I was a senior partner with a big firm, the constituency was extended to cover Crawley as well, so had become marginal. I had to choose business or politics, and I chose politics. I never regretted it.

I specialised on economic matters as I knew about that from my time in the city, and also of course European affairs. I was never a cabinet member. The reason really was that I wanted to be independent. I didn’t like (Edward) Heath’s economic policy - I thought it was very dangerous and would lead to inflation. It was embarrassing, because I’d been voted as the chairman of the finance committee and here I was opposing what the government was trying to do.  There was no way he was going to give me a job.

There was one occasion when I was asked if I would consider a job in Government, and we sat down as a family and worked out that the only way we could do it was if we sold the house. I could see the effect on my children. They hated the idea.

I was a Thatcherite before Margaret Thatcher. I strongly supported her economic policy but I did not agree with her on Europe. I did have some run-ins with Thatcher. She always had the better of them as she wouldn’t let one finish a sentence. But she knew where I stood on certain matters.

I began to get interesting jobs in a parliamentary sense. They made me chairman of the National Audit Office and we could look into every branch of government activity and see whether it was value for money. I was answerable to parliament, not the government. It was an independent post, which I liked very much. I’m not a natural follower.

There’s an awful lot of compromise when you’re in Government, whereas on the back benches you can speak your mind whilst being broadly in support. You can say if you don’t agree with things. My wife says that I’m not very good at taking instructions from other people and maybe there’s a little bit of truth in that.

I’m very happy to have been an MP for Horsham for many years. I enjoyed it enormously.

I had two sons and a daughter. We lost our eldest son Andrew two years ago after a very long illness. He was born a diabetic and he had a hypothermic attack, and we looked after him for 13 years. He couldn’t speak and was completely paralysed so we know intimately how the health service works.

The marvellous part was that after having thought Andrew would be unable to think and be a vegetable, he gradually came around and we realised after a time that he had all his mental faculties.

Andrew had many friends and was an outstanding young man. He was the president of the Oxford University
Conservatives. My daughter is a hospital consultant with three little children, and she works at the Royal Surrey and specialises in diabetes.

It is the most important thing in life – far more important than politics or anything else – to look after those in difficulty and distress. It was an enormously rewarding experience. Although it came to me late in life it was the best experience I ever had.