Two big hitters of the submarine world formally introduced Barrow’s ex-MP into the House of Lords today.
Lord Walney donned traditional ermine-clad red robes to enter the upper house in parliament for the first time, sponsored by former NATO secretary-general and Labour defence secretary Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield.
Since his time as head of the NATO nuclear alliance as George Robertson, Lord Robertson has been among the most influential proponents of the UK‘s deterrent which is maintained by Barrow-built submarines.
Lord Hennessy is an esteemed historian, academic and journalist who wrote an authoritative history of the UK Submarine Service, titled The Silent Deep. He is among only a handful of civilians without a direct operational role to be given the honour of accompanying a deterrent submarine crew on active deployment to the Arctic circle.
John was visibly moved as his Letters patent from the Queen were read in parliament as he took his oath to serve in the Lords.
Afterwards, he said: “That was only a short ceremony but I am so relieved it went okay. I thought I never got nervous anymore after ten years of public speaking as an MP but the enormity and honour of the whole thing almost got the better of me. I had to do extra rehearsals because I kept screwing up!”
He added: “It is hard for me to describe how much it meant to have Lord Robertson and Lord Hennessy as my supporters on the day. Time and again, they came to Barrow’s aid behind the scenes as we fought to win the argument on getting what eventually became the submarine programme approved over the last decade.
“They are the finest allies our town could have, I am proud to know them and even prouder to count them as my friends.”
Lord Hennessy carried out his role from home because of the adaptations in House of Lords procedure that allows peers, who are often elderly, to protect themselves by staying away from the chamber.
Lord Robertson was present but did not wear ermine in the pared-down introduction ceremony as would usually be required.
The Labour grandee was a regular visitor to Barrow shipyard in his role as Labour’s first defence secretary under Tony Blair. His wife, Sandra Robertson, was given the honour naming HMS Vengeance as she entered service and retains a connection to the boat, the fourth of the Vanguard-class deterrent submarines that will eventually be replaced by the Dreadnought-class currently being built in Barrow and across the UK.
The Scot is a member of the illustrious Order of the Thistle – the Scottish equivalent of England’s Knights of the Garter – granted by the Queen in recognition of his contribution to defending the nation.
Peter Hennessy was made a cross-bench, non party political, peer in 2010 in recognition of decades of renowned analysis of the British State and its machinery of government.
His work took him into detailed study of submarine history, resulting in the widely-acclaimed Silent Deep biography , co-authored with James Jinks.
Lord Hennessy addressed the Barrow branch of the Royal Society of St George at the invitation of society president Lord Cavendish.
Also observing, from the gallery was Simon Fell MP, the current MP for Barrow and Furness. He tweeted his congratulations to Lord Walney shortly after the ceremony.
John was granted the honour of taking Walney Island as his title rather than the expected Lord Woodcock.
He made Walney his home when he first moved to Barrow before he became its MP, and has pledged to keep speaking up for the area from the House of Lords.
Lord Walney will sit as a non-aligned peer having left the Labour Party to become an independent in 2018.