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Sir Malcolm Jack KCB

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2011

I beg to move,

That Mr Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Malcolm Jack KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of this House, the House’s gratitude for his long and distinguished career, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedure of the House and to close understanding among the Parliaments of the Commonwealth, for his leadership and professionalism in the discharge of his duties as chief executive of the House, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members.

I hope that we will now move on to more consensual territory.

It is a pleasure to move the motion and lead the tributes today to Sir Malcolm Jack. A hundred years ago, my great-grandfather, Sir Courtenay Ilbert, was Clerk of the House. Among the tributes that were paid to him as he stood down in 1921—coincidentally, the last time the House applauded the services of an outgoing Clerk during a coalition Government—was this, from Asquith,:

“he has sat in that chair, the duties of which are more arduous, more responsible, and more delicate than the world outside knows, and I am sure that I am expressing the universal opinion of the House when I say that he has worthily maintained its great traditions”.—[Official Report, 15 March 1921; Vol. 139, c. 1258.]

Those words ring as true today as they did then.

Sir Malcolm was appointed Clerk and chief executive of the House in 2006 and has seen the House administration through a period of great change. The recommendations of Sir Kevin Tebbit’s review of the management and services of the House were challenging, but Sir Malcolm saw immediately that half measures would not do: the challenges had to be tackled immediately and it was his persuasion and energy that ensured that considerable structural change took place that streamlined the House’s governance, reduced the number of House Departments and resulted in a more efficient service for Members and indeed members of the public.

That reflected the administrative half of the twin responsibilities that we give the Clerk of the House. The ancient role of the Clerk is to be our principal constitutional adviser and our chief expert on all aspects of our business. I say “the ancient role”, but more recent events have shown the importance of the Clerk’s independence. Sir Malcolm’s grave warnings that provisions in the Parliamentary Standards Bill in 2009 might lead to judicial incursion into matters that are exclusively ours, and his measured advocacy of an alternative course, obliged the then Government to withdraw that whole part of the Bill.

“Parliamentary privilege” is an often misunderstood term but we all understand how important it is to our right of free speech. Sir Malcolm is acknowledged as a great authority on such matters and I have no doubt that his expertise in all the procedures of this House will be on show in the eagerly awaited 24th edition of “Erskine May”, of which he is the editor and which will be officially published tomorrow—yours, Mr Speaker, for just £267.

Sir Malcolm’s family and background have been cosmopolitan. He was educated in Hong Kong before university in the UK. He is one of the few of our Clerks who speak Cantonese. He cuts an elegant figure, no doubt partly attributable to the many lengths he swims almost every day at 4 Millbank. Indeed, when he was Clerk of the Agriculture Committee he was known as “the most elegant man ever to don Wellington boots”.

He has been a great champion of our links with overseas Parliaments, particularly within the Commonwealth and especially in Africa. He deserves our thanks for the links that he has nurtured with many African Parliaments and the support and guidance he has given them, which I know they have much appreciated, most recently in the seminars in Malawi last year and Tanzania earlier this year. About Sir Malcolm’s appearance in a Masai warrior’s robe at the Commonwealth parliamentary conference in Nairobi last year perhaps little should be said, but I am told that photographic proof is available for a modest fee.

By profession Sir Malcolm is a philosopher as well as a Clerk and has published learned books and articles on philosophical subjects. He has put this into practice here. When he was a Clerk in the Table Office, a Member trapped his hand in a filing cabinet. Others present in the room looked on with interest. “Can’t you do something?” the unfortunate Member asked, “I’m in physical pain.” Malcolm decided to be helpful, “Ah,” he said, “metaphysical pain is far worse.”

He is also credited with what his colleagues know as “Jack’s law”, which states that mentioning the name of a person ensures the appearance of that person and, moreover, the speed of the appearance is in direct proportion to how disparagingly the person has been described.

Sir Malcolm’s “Who’s Who” entry gives a remarkable list of recreations, including,

“thinking for oneself…empires adrift, Johnsoniana”—

Samuel, I think, rather than Boris—

“oriental ceramics, Africana, escaping southwards.”

We rejoice with Sir Malcolm that escaping southwards will soon be much easier. We thank him for his 44 years’ devoted service to the House, culminating in five years as Clerk of the House, and we send him and his partner Robert Borsje our warmest good wishes for the future.

It is with great pleasure that I rise to support this motion on behalf of the Opposition, although it is a pity that Sir Malcolm is not here, for obscure reasons of tradition, to savour our praise. Oppositions do, from time to time, create a bit of trouble for the Government of the day, and in doing so we are always very helpfully advised by the Clerk of the House, who equally helpfully advises the Government on how to avoid the trouble. That is the skill of the Clerk—to offer guidance without fear or favour in the interests of our democracy—and that is exactly what Sir Malcolm has done with resolute distinction and great wisdom.

In addition to the achievements that the Leader of the House has recalled, Sir Malcolm has seen this place in and through turmoil—no more so than two years ago, but however bad that was, some of his predecessors have had a much tougher time. At the end of the 1500s, the Clerk had his own expenses troubles: he was so out of pocket that Members had to pass round the hat to pay his salary. In 1723, Thomas Ward made some extremely disobliging comments about King George I and for his pains was whipped around Palace Yard—the ancient equivalent of appearing before one of our more vigorous Select Committees. Later that century, Lucas Kenn was attacked in Cornhill, losing his wig and hat in the process, by a group who had just given evidence to a House Committee and wanted their documents back. I am glad to say that since then the pen and the tongue have replaced the fist and the whip but they are just as sharp in their own way.

Having joined the Commons Clerks Department straight from university in 1967, Sir Malcolm has seen it all—from the Agriculture Committee, as we have just heard, to the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, and from Ways and Means to the House of Commons Commission. Sir Malcolm’s perspicacity and that watchful eye of his, peering over the table—that is what I will always recall—will have escaped few Members’ notice over the past 44 years. As we have heard, he has been very keen to share our experience with parliamentarians across the Commonwealth and the world, and to learn from them. His influence may be greater even than we suppose. I am advised that when attending the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Arusha in 2009, he was being driven by the Clerk of the Kenyan Parliament from Nairobi—an extremely gruelling journey—when in the middle of nowhere they had a flat tyre. While gloomily contemplating the problem, they were astonished by the sudden appearance of a priest, who had presumably been summoned telepathically by Sir Malcolm. As well as providing spiritual guidance, the priest managed to change the tyre and they continued their journey.

Throughout his career, as well as giving sound advice and service, Sir Malcolm has found time to write widely on subjects far removed from Parliament. He has written about the 18th-century politician and philosopher Bernard Mandeville, who first talked about the division of labour, and about Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who once wrote a political periodical entitled the “Nonsense of Common-Sense”, which I am sure Sir Malcolm will have heard from hon. Members of the House from time to time. Yet, from his seat at the desk he has offered quiet, wise and courageous advice—never more so than in the wake of the expenses crisis, as the Leader of the House has recalled. At that time, he reminded us all that our freedoms as a Parliament—for that is what privilege is for—should not be cast aside in haste. Those freedoms are far too precious for that. I hope that he will cast an eye over the draft Bill on parliamentary privilege when it finally makes its appearance.

In his letter informing the House of his intention to step down, Sir Malcolm said that

“members’...duties…will necessarily ruffle and disturb the peace of consensus”.

I hope that we will promise Sir Malcom that we will all do our best to heed that advice, aided and abetted by the new edition of “Erskine May” that we are all eagerly anticipating.

I am sure that the House will agree with what Sir Malcolm said recently:

“One of the best features of the job is that I never know exactly what the day will bring”.

That is one of the joys of this place, and I am sure that the same will be true of his retirement. It is with great and heartfelt thanks that, on behalf of the Opposition, I join the Leader of the House in offering our best wishes to Sir Malcolm and his partner, Robert Borsje, for their future.

I have had the honour of serving in this House for a high proportion of the years in which our retiring Clerk has served, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to attest to the enormous work that he has done at various levels, giving sagacious and good-humoured advice throughout. His knowledge of this place is such that we should perhaps hope that his memoirs will be confined to the next edition of “Erskine May”, rather than branching out into any other form.

I pay special tribute to Sir Malcolm for the devotion that he has shown to a matter beyond the immediate needs of the House: the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. To take up what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, Sir Malcolm has understood, during his time as Clerk, that Parliament is seen very much as a central feature of the whole Commonwealth parliamentary structure. He has put himself out at all times to ensure that the Clerks department and hon. Members are actively engaged in discussions and liaison with other parliamentary associations across the Commonwealth. That is an important part of parliamentary activity, though not, perhaps, the one most noticed by the public. He has played a great role in strengthening those parliamentary connections, and we should be grateful to him for that. It is fitting that towards the climax of his parliamentary career he will, alongside you, Mr Speaker, play a pivotal part in the centennial conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in London later this month.

I apologise to the House for departing as soon as I have spoken, but I am due to give the Gareth Williams memorial lecture in Gray’s Inn at 6 o’clock; I shall be late.

The Clerks of the House are the guardians of our procedure and—with you, Mr Speaker—our rights and privileges. Happily, we take the work of the Clerks for granted, their encyclopaedic knowledge as a given, and their efficiency as the norm. We would, however, soon notice the difference if the Clerks did not excel at their work. None has excelled more in his dedication, commitment and skill than Sir Malcolm Jack, Clerk since 2006, to whom we pay tribute this afternoon.

I have been in this place for long enough, but Malcolm had been a Clerk for 12 years before I arrived. In the 32 years in which our services have coincided, I have come to know Malcolm well, and to regard him as a friend. The Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House were sensitive enough not to mention which fool was Sir Malcolm’s adversary over the Parliamentary Standards Bill in 2009, but it was I. I had, in good faith, judged necessary a modest little provision putting a gloss on that most sacred of rights, parliamentary privilege, to ensure that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority could work better. As many will recall, Malcolm weighed in tenaciously with objections. Even with the usual assistance available to Ministers to enable them to take the intellectual high ground in debate—heavy whipping, arm-twisting, promises to recalcitrants of overseas trips—my task was doomed to failure. To every argument that I advanced from the Dispatch Box, the advice of the Clerk of the House was quoted back at me as holy writ. It was a hopeless task. The result of the Division was Straw, Jack 247; Jack, Malcolm 250. He won, I lost and the Bill, it must be said, was much better for it. If ever Malcolm had needed, which he did not, an expression of complete confidence in him by the House, that was it.

I know, too, from my many friends among the staff in the House that Malcolm is held in enormous respect and affection by them. He has carried his duties with a light touch and ready humour. I have great pleasure in endorsing the motion of gratitude to Sir Malcolm, and I offer him my deep personal thanks and every good wish in his retirement.

It is a pleasure to offer, from the Liberal Democrat Benches, support for the motion in recognition of the work of Sir Malcolm Jack. Forty-four years is an extraordinarily long time in the service of the House. I always find it worrying when people who have been here longer than I have leave, for one reason or another. Like policemen getting younger, it is a reminder of things one does not want to know about.

Sir Malcolm arrived here from a background which was, in those days, not conventional, and all the better for that. He had been educated at school in Hong Kong and attended Liverpool university where he got a first- class degree. It is a model not sufficiently followed, perhaps, even in subsequent years and one to which we should return to draw a wide breadth of talent into the service of the House. It was certainly not a mistake to recruit that Liverpool university graduate—quite the contrary. It was a very wise move.

In the course of Sir Malcolm’s time here, it has been a pleasure to be able to talk to a scholar of achievement and repute, which marks him out, and that has been of great benefit to us. But the line in the motion that most appeals to me is the reference to his “courteous and helpful advice”. If the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) self-deprecatingly described himself as the fool who started the argument with Sir Malcolm Jack, I was the slightly wiser man who sought his advice. It was the Justice Committee which asked the Clerk of the House to give us evidence, took that evidence from him, published it in a report and made it available to the House so that it had a powerful effect on the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. I think we all acknowledge how important it was to protect the rights of our constituents that are embodied in that unhelpful phrase, “parliamentary privilege”, a subject on which he has a surpassing knowledge.

While supplying that “courteous and helpful advice” and doing the things that Clerks traditionally do, Sir Malcolm was continuing a process by which the Clerk of the House became the chief executive of the House—a pretty challenging process and one in which he has helped us significantly. It is a process that will continue under his distinguished successor, and its difficulties and challenges must not be underestimated. The fact that Sir Malcolm coped well with those is a mark of the respect in which we now hold him and is a further and particularly compelling reason why we should thank him for his service to the House and wish him much happiness, enjoyment and scholarship in the future.

I am grateful for the opportunity to follow the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who was a member of the House of Commons Commission for 17 years. I did not get anywhere near his record. I served only 10 years on the Commission.

It is a pleasure to catch the Speaker’s eye because this is a parliamentary occasion, as well as a memorable occasion. It is memorable because Sir Malcolm Jack has served 44 years in the House and by my reckoning he has served through seven Prime Ministers, one of them, Harold Wilson, being a retread. As was touched on by the Leader of the House, Sir Malcolm also served as Clerk to the Agriculture Committee—wellingtons and all—for eight years. If anything shows assiduity, devotion to duty and attachment to the House, it is serving that Committee for such a lengthy period. He moved on to become Clerk of Supply and Clerk of Standing Committees. He also served the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform from 2002 to 2003. If he believes in déjà vu, he has only to close his eyes, open them again and see that House of Lords abolition or reform, however one wants to describe it, is back on the agenda.

Sir Malcolm has managed to combine his duties in the House with being a philosopher, a scholar and a writer, whose books had not only to be written but to be researched. I surmise that the research was as arduous as the writing. One of his works which will be worth looking at is the saga, “Corruption and Progress: the eighteenth-century debate”. It should be read again by all the cognoscenti in our present era. They may find that, if I may quote French, plus ça change, plus ça reste le même: the more it changes, the more it stays the same. Many of those in the news at present might have a good look at that. Sir Malcolm would understand more than anyone that progress and change are not the same.

On reading the various publications of Sir Malcolm, I came across a book entitled “The Turkish Embassy Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu”. My ears pricked up and, I went chasing down to the Library. I thought journalists from the tabloid newspapers might have got there before me, but I am happy to say that they did not. The book is a very interesting account of what went on at the end of the 1600s and into the 1700s and is well worth the read.

That book mentions Sir Malcolm’s vocation as an independent scholar. His book on Lisbon published in 2007 is certainly also worth a read for those who love Portugal, as he does, and its beautiful capital city. I note, as did the Leader of the House, that in “Who’s Who” one of Sir Malcolm’s recreations is listed as “escaping southwards”. I imagine there are many in the fourth estate who might look to him for advice on how they might make an early escape southwards.

Forty-four years of service. Can one understand that? Sir Malcolm was in the House under the Speakership of Horace Maybray King, who was in the Chair when I first came to the House in the 1950s. Sir Malcolm sat on the House of Commons Commission for almost five years. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to the fact that Sir Malcolm moved from Clerk of the House to become its first chief executive. He understood that the Commission is an intrinsic part of the workings of Parliament under your chairmanship, Mr Speaker. Its work is, for the most part, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will understand, unsung and unnoticed, but none the less invaluable.

As the Leader of the House said, Sir Malcolm saw the need for the changes recommended by Sir Kevin Tebbit and he brought them about. His work might have been unnoticed until the famous expenses scandal. As a member of the Commission he became a focal point for us all. He gave us his advice wisely and discreetly. He saw the House through turbulent times and as the Leader of the House said, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) graciously recalled, Sir Malcolm played a major part in steering the House away from losing its privileges under the Parliamentary Standards Bill. With Sir Malcolm’s help, the Leader of the House and I hijacked the Bill and made it a better Bill in the interests of Parliament. So he used that time of crisis as a time of opportunity.

Sir Malcolm was also accounting officer with overall responsibility for the House’s finances, resource accounting and internal controls. All these had a great impact on this sovereign Parliament for a sovereign nation.

In the letter that Sir Malcolm wrote to the Speaker, which was mentioned by the shadow Leader of the House, he stated:

“Unwarranted and unfounded criticism from whatever quarter should not deflect Members from their duties which will necessarily ruffle and disturb the peace of consensus.”

Sir Malcolm was one of those unsung Officers serving the House of Commons Commission who was instrumental in assisting the House to make a much-needed transition.

While talking about transition, I hope that you, Mr Speaker, will not mind my saying that Sir Malcolm had to lead the transition from one Speaker to another mid-Session. I can testify from my own experience and observation to the friendship and camaraderie he extended to you, Sir, and the advice he offered on so many new areas, which I am sure you appreciated and valued. That is an important and significant point that ought to be made. The Leader of the House referred to the 24th edition of “Erskine May”. Although it is to be published tomorrow, a copy is already available in the Library and has been read many times by many Members in the short time it has been there.

I will end my remarks with a quotation from the famous poet Andrew Marvell, though it might be out of context:

“He nothing common did or mean

Upon that memorable scene”.

We should make it “this memorable scene”. Sir Malcolm retires from the House with his honours thick upon him, and deservedly so. I salute him, as does the House and Parliament, and as should the nation.

I hope that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) will imitate the quality of “Erskine May”, a copy of which he is clutching, but I feel modestly confident that he will not seek to equal its length.

I am extremely grateful, Mr Speaker, and note that the latest edition of “Erskine May”, the 24th, produced by Sir Malcolm Jack, is dedicated to you:

“To The Right Honourable John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, and to the Lord Speaker, Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth Parliaments, on whom fall the great responsibilities of guardianship of the parliamentary system.”

In the words of Maine’s “Ancient Law”, justice is to be found in the interstices of procedure, so it is a proper reflection on your role that Sir Malcolm makes that dedication in this excellent book, which I am glad to point out is somewhat shorter than previous editions. I have had occasion in the past to read out certain passages, for example in relation to the Maastricht treaty, to remind Members exactly of their responsibilities, but I do not need to do so on this auspicious occasion, nor would I wish to.

The remarks that have been made about Sir Malcolm, whom I have known since I first became involved in the processes of the House in 1967, are that he is a man of enormous integrity, a great scholar and a purveyor of the wisest advice, based on his knowledge of philosophy and history. He has been a remarkable Clerk and has been in our service. One thing I recall most specifically about his great career is the fact that he has been a persistent defender of the sovereignty of this House. The case mentioned by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) in his fulsome tribute occurred in adversarial circumstances but demonstrates that those involved realised upon reflection that the advice Sir Malcolm gave was of such quality that it needed to be followed by a successful vote, which shows that we owe him a great debt. Questions of parliamentary privilege are not merely esoteric—the expression is greatly misunderstood—but relate, as others have said, to the defence of the rights of those whom we represent.

Furthermore, Back Benchers rely heavily on the advice of the Clerk, and I have had reason to be deeply grateful for the wise and impartial advice that Sir Malcolm has given periodically on great matters of parliamentary and constitutional importance. I have no doubt whatever that his successor, Mr Robert Rogers, will follow in his footsteps and that we will have the advantage of his wise advice as well.

In conclusion, I want to put on record my appreciation—shared no doubt by many other Back Benchers—for the tremendous work that Sir Malcolm has done. It is enormously important that we, as Back Benchers, have access to impartial and wise advice, particularly against the blandishments, manoeuvrings and machinations of the usual channels, the Whips. I have experienced more than my reasonable share of that in the 27 years for which I have had the honour of being in this place, but I have always had the most tremendous help from those like Sir Malcolm, and from him in particular.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to add my thoughts on Sir Malcolm Jack and his career to those that have already been expressed. Like many Members, when I arrived in this place I had no idea who was who or how it was run, and I stayed that way for many years, but Malcolm Jack always stood out as someone I recognised. The Leader of the House has referred to his dignified bearing, and I first became aware of him as a much younger Clerk, when I was an even younger Member. He clearly stood out as someone of importance, even though I did not know what position he held; that was the impression he gave. I got to know him much better when I became Chair of the Administration Committee and, subsequently, a member of the House of Commons Commission. This place produces many exceptional people, but Malcolm Jack is particularly exceptional. Many colleagues have commented on the advice he has given regularly to the Commission, often in difficult circumstances, and how valuable it is.

In trying to pull together a picture of Malcolm Jack, I picked up one or two things from various political websites. I found an interesting description in a column following an appearance Dr Jack made before the Liaison Committee last year. He was described as

‘the grandest panjandrum in the palace. He is so clever that he makes David “Two Brains” Willetts look like a village simpleton. Friends call him “Three Brains”, or at least they should. Dr Jack appeared in his full outfit, including a tailcoat and gigantic comedy white tie. He looked like a brilliant scientist winkled out of his lab in order to accept a Nobel prize.’

I see that philosopher’s frown every time he is thinking, particularly when chewing over the difficult issues that might have led that reporter to think that of him.

I want to concentrate on two aspects of Malcolm Jack that stand out in my experiences of him. The first is that he has always been available, as many have said, and not just to Members or important commissioners and holders of grand positions, but to his staff. I had many discussions with him through the crisis that we all dealt with. I know of no Clerk, with the exception of those in the 1500s who could be flayed in New Palace Yard if they got things wrong, as the shadow Leader of the House mentioned, who has had to deal with such challenges. In virtually every discussion I had with him one of his key concerns was the effect that the crisis was having on the morale of the staff. He protected his staff, many of whom are paid much less than they would be outside this building, and was always available to them as much as he was to anyone else. He understood the loyalty they felt to this place and that they were severely damaged by the crisis. We thought that we were the ones who were damaged, but many others were damaged in that process. His concern about the impact on the staff was extremely important, and he knew that the reputation of the House was extremely important to them.

The second area where I think he distinguished himself, and which has also been highlighted by the Leader of the House, is in his attempt to modernise this place, which I think has been very important. The Leader of the House mentioned the Tebbit report. I remember asking a senior Officer of the House, shortly after becoming Chair of the Administration Committee, how decisions were made about repairs and improvement to the building. To summarise, the answer was basically, “It’s what your Committee wants, Sir.” There is a culture of deference in this place, although I think it has reduced over the past four or five years. It is important that it reduces, because we do not make the right decisions when deference is the motivation behind the advice that is given to Committees and others in this place. In the conversations that I have had with Malcolm Jack, he recognised that.

Malcolm Jack was not the initiator of the Tebbit report—the Commission had ordered it before his appointment—but he made sure, as the Leader of the House pointed out, that it was implemented very speedily. This House is a better place for that. It is much more structured; there is planning. For example, six or seven years ago there was no long-term strategy for the maintenance of this building; now there is a 25-year strategy with five-yearly reviews. Simple things like that make a difference to this place, and Malcolm Jack has been responsible for seeing that through.

I had a brief discussion with Malcolm when I heard about his retirement—he may not thank me for saying this—and we were talking about his successor. I believe quite strongly that one day the position of the Clerk and that of the chief executive will be separated and we will see much more outside influence. Malcolm is probably the exception to the rule, but 44 years in one place is not the best training to run that place. One needs outside influences and to know what is happening in the outside world. I think he understands that. He may be a bridge between the old-style Clerk and the new-style chief executive of the future.

There are lots of things that I wanted to say, but what we all want to do is to offer him and his partner all best wishes for the future. I know that he has a lot of plans to do more writing; “Erskine May” is not the limit of the opportunities that he sees for himself. I add my congratulations to him on the service that he has provided to this House and wish him and his partner all the best for the future.

Sir Malcolm Jack is proof that the United Kingdom’s largely unwritten constitution is not only unwritten but living. The mark that he leaves on his office and on the institution of the Clerks in this House is perhaps, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Mr Doran) suggested, a lessening of their deference, not only to Members but in relation to their position in the British constitution. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), referred to the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which challenged the supremacy and privileges of this House. I believe that Sir Malcolm was innovative in his approach in taking on a more public role than his predecessors by being a less deferential part of the British constitution.

That is a reminder of the fact that this House and Parliament does not just depend on what we say about ourselves, and on what judges say about us and the laws that we make; we depend, as an institution, for our sovereignty, on the institution of the Clerks themselves. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North say that the role of chief executive should be separated from that of Clerk of the House. Part of the strength of the institution of the Clerks is that they combine the two elements. Every aspect of this House is subordinate to the work that the House does, which is supervised by the person who ensures that our procedures are fit for purpose.

I pay tribute to Sir Malcolm for the innovations that he has brought to the British constitution and for the way that he has strengthened this House throughout a very difficult period.

As the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) is leaving the Chamber, I want to say that I am very pleased that he has a new copy of “Erskine May”. On our occasional bus journeys in the morning, I look forward to him to reading out what will no doubt by then be a heavily annotated version of his copy of “Erskine May” to the general enlightenment of myself and the other passengers on the bus. That volume will indeed be a continuing tribute to the Clerk of the House, Sir Malcolm Jack.

A great deal has been said about Sir Malcolm Jack and the public role that he has played in shaping the way that this House has operated in recent years. I certainly endorse all of that. The quality that he had was also, at the same time, an old-fashioned one, in that he was always available to provide very wise advice to any Member who wanted to use the procedures of the House for a good purpose. I am personally grateful to him for having done so on many occasions—in a quiet way, but guiding one through the procedures as they applied in the particular circumstances. I like to think that the wisdom and great scholarship that has been attested to is a testament to the time that he spent at Liverpool university; so many people who went to that university share those qualities.

Let me conclude by saying that I hope that he and his partner enjoy a long, happy and fulfilling retirement.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, nemine contradicente,

That Mr Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Malcolm Jack KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of this House, the House’s gratitude for his long and distinguished career, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedure of the House and to close understanding among the Parliaments of the Commonwealth, for his leadership and professionalism in the discharge of his duties as chief executive of the House, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I rise to seek your guidance on an incident that occurred in Westminster Hall earlier today. We were in the middle of a debate discussing poverty and housing dereliction, and the Minister, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), described the contributions of hon. Members as bringing sob stories to the debate. Interestingly, we queried it at the time. We have a Hansard copy of the debate in which the word “sob” has been removed. Clearly, that is very politically sensitive, because we felt that it was somewhat insulting. Is there any way, Mr Speaker, that you or your good offices could check whether we had misheard the Minister? Having watched back the video, I have to say that it does not look like he mispronounced any word. If so, how do we find out how that word was removed and who authorised its removal, because clearly the record would appear not to be factually correct?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The reality, as some Members will be aware, is that the Editor of Hansard does have some discretion in the compilation of the Official Report, and marginal adjustments can be made, although ordinarily one does not expect adjustments to be made which change the meaning of what has been said. I think the safest thing that I can say to the hon. Lady on this occasion is that I will look into the matter and revert to her when I have done so.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Sports Grounds Safety Authority Act 2011

Estates of Deceased Persons (Forfeiture Rule and Law of Succession) Act 2011

Wreck Removal Convention Act 2011

Police (Detention and Bail) Act 2011