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Clerk of the Parliaments

Volume 695: debated on Monday 29 October 2007

rose to move to resolve that this House has received with sincere regret the announcement of the retirement of Sir Paul David Grenville Hayter KCB, LVO, from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments and thinks it right to record the just sense which it entertains of the zeal, ability, diligence, and integrity with which the said Sir Paul David Grenville Hayter has executed the important duties of his office.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this Motion, I wish to pay a wholehearted tribute to Sir Paul, who will retire at the end of this week, for the work that he has done in your Lordships’ House, which he joined in 1964. Noble Lords who have been in the House for longer than me may well be aware of the great work of Sir Paul’s early career in enhancing the work of the Select Committees of your Lordships’ House. Sir Paul clerked the Select Committee on Sport and Leisure in 1970 and 1971, which marked the start of a long process of reviving the tradition of Lords Select Committee scrutiny—a tradition that had lain moribund for most of the last century. Select Committees are now widely recognised as a credit to this House, and it is in no small part because of Sir Paul’s work that this is so, especially because he was Clerk of the Committees from 1977 to 1990. I should say that his enthusiasm for sport and leisure is captured by his keenness as a longbow archer. His retirement will give him ample time to prepare for 2012, should we need him.

I have witnessed at first hand Sir Paul’s negotiating skills and marvel at how, with simply a small facial expression, he can convey pleasure, displeasure, acceptance, concern or—dare I say?—impatience with some of my more interesting ideas. What must life have been like when he was Private Secretary to the Chief Whip and Leader from 1974 to 1977, a time that noble Lords will recall as a period when the Government majority in the Commons was very slender? What is clear from the record is that he provided the kind of support that Chief Whips in particular dream of: a steady hand, great knowledge and, no doubt, brilliance when required. His facial expressions would have been used to great effect in those days.

When Sir Paul became Clerk of the Parliaments, he set himself four objectives: to be responsive to Members’ wishes, to make the House a place in which the staff are proud and pleased to work, to ensure that the management structures of the House are effective, and to increase the e-delivery of services. In each area, I am sure noble Lords will agree that he has made great progress—not least in taking the unprecedented step of commissioning a Members’ survey and overseeing a large number of changes as a result of that survey. And, of course, he saw through the consequences of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, not least in the election of the Lord Speaker. He leaves behind a very different House from that which he arrived in 43 years ago. It is more professional, harder working and has greater expectations of its administration. He leaves it a better place for his dedication to it.

I have no doubt that Sir Paul will fill his time well, not least as a gifted painter—all the paintings in his office are his own; he is also a French horn player: a man truly of many talents. He says that his life in large measure rotates around the seasons in his garden, though concedes that his wife Deborah is the chief gardener. He is a man, in my view, for all the seasons of your Lordships’ House.

Moved, to resolve, That this House has received with sincere regret the announcement of the retirement of Sir Paul David Grenville Hayter, KCB, LVO, from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments and thinks it right to record the just sense which it entertains of the zeal, ability, diligence and integrity with which the said Sir Paul David Grenville Hayter has executed the important duties of his office.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

My Lords, I am delighted to wholly endorse the sentiments of the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in her characteristically elegant and generous remarks. In fact, I feel rather nervous in stepping forward. After all, when Sir Paul entered the service of the House, I was all of four years old. In the subsequent 43 years, I have progressed from a toddler to what someone very unfairly called a waddler. But I am told that Sir Paul carried himself with the same upright dignity in 1964 as he does today at 65 years young.

We all know that Sir Paul really does look the part, and he has played the part. He seems to have grown from the very fibre of the place. If Pugin had drawn the “Clericus Parliamentorum”, surely he would have looked exactly like Sir Paul.

Indeed, well over 70 per cent of the House will be unable to recall when he has not been one of the senior Clerks sitting at the Table; and not 70 per cent but 100 per cent of us, even the old stagers, will miss him. As a young Clerk, as the noble Baroness explained, he was in the Leader’s office in the days when your Lordships were resisting the nationalisation of the aircraft and shipbuilding industries. It seems now an entirely different world. But in this, as so often, we were ahead of the time and could see that nationalisation was not quite the coming thing. In fact, in the Sessions when Sir Paul was on watch in the Chief Whip’s office in the usual channels, there were 291 Divisions and the Government lost 267 of them—a success rate for Sir Paul of 9 per cent. So I say to the younger Clerks who have succeeded him in this role, don’t get too depressed.

Knowing Sir Paul to be a great enthusiast for modernisation, I turned to the internet for information on him. I was surprised, but not incredulous given his many interests, to discover that on the quiet and without telling your Lordships, a certain Paul G Hayter had recently filed an international patent for test strips for blood and urine samples. Biometric testing, no less. I had not known that he was listening so closely to our debates on the Identity Cards Bill, while musing on the commercial possibilities of retirement. Then I noticed that it was Paul G Hayter of Mountain View, California, not Paul G Hayter of Charlton, Oxfordshire.

But they are a talented lot, these Paul Hayters. After all, Sir Paul began his career, winning perhaps the most competitive scholarship of all, as a Kings’ scholar at Eton; and he has ended as one of Her Majesty’s foremost public servants.

On an occasion such as this we are reminded of the long service given by the Clerks to your Lordships’ House and that theirs is a career service requiring immense ability, professionalism and a high sense of duty, which Sir Paul has always displayed. He has always given crystal clear and well founded advice in a manner that we have instinctively trusted because he is a person that the House has felt it can absolutely trust. He has piloted the House through a period of considerable change, particularly in procedure. Not all of us have welcomed all of those changes but, all in all, the workings of our House have improved and that is greatly to his credit.

The Leader of the House has told us of Sir Paul’s remarkable range of interests; he is a man of many parts. He is an artist, a gardener, an archer and a musician, with a large instrument that I’m sure he plays with the greatest gusto. So he will not be twiddling his thumbs in what I hope will be long years of retirement. We wish him and Lady Hayter rich and rewarding years—and may they always be fun. I hope we will see him often back here in the years ahead. We thank him most sincerely for the years that are done.

My Lords, there are two dangers in contributing to tributes such as this. The first is that they can sound awfully like obituaries, and Sir Paul, wherever he is hiding, may now feel like Tom Sawyer listening to his own funeral service. The second danger is for me because, as number three on the list, everything worth saying about him will already have been said. That is why for the last month I have extended an open invitation to any member of the Lords’ staff to slip under my door a plain sheet of paper with any juicy titbit about Sir Paul that I could now reveal. Indeed, I had a fantasy that it might have been revealed that he was a closet Millwall fan and spent his Saturdays down at the New Den chanting, “You don’t like us but we don’t care”. Alas, no such information has come my way.

What we have, as noble Lords have heard, is a man with an enviably eclectic range of outside interests: painter; local historian; member of the parliamentary choir, as my noble friend Lord Wallace has asked me to emphasise; French horn player; expert with the longbow; and ruthless croquet player. The nearest thing I can produce to a shock revelation is to ask my noble friend the Earl of Glasgow to show again the excellent film he made in 1968 about the workings of the House of Lords. In that film a sequence shows the Clerks taking Questions. The star of that sequence is a distinctly hirsute future Clerk of the Parliaments.

The Lord President and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, have eloquently paid tribute to Sir Paul’s role as a reformer and innovator. I add my tribute. I have never seen Sir Paul as a barrier to change or a guardian of rules for rules’ sake. Rather, he has embodied and personified the skill of this House to know what needs to change and what needs to be retained. He has done so with a dignity that befits one of the oldest of our parliamentary offices, but always with a sense of humour and a total absence of pomposity. We on these Benches strongly support the Lord President’s Motion and wish Sir Paul and Lady Hayter many happy years in their garden, to which they depart with the thanks and good wishes of us all.

My Lords, I am pleased on behalf of the Cross-Benchers to join with those who have paid these well deserved tributes to Sir Paul on his retirement as Clerk of the Parliaments after 43 years here—I think I was a bit older than four at the time when he started—and for his four years, since 2003, as Clerk of the Parliaments.

For me and my Cross-Bench colleagues, Paul has been the fixed star when around us an enormous number of things have been changing: the departure of hereditary Peers, the arrival of the Lord Speaker on the Woolsack in place of the Lord Chancellor, the continuous discussion of potential changes that is always in the air. Paul has created an element of stability that we all welcome.

Most importantly for the Cross-Benchers, he has given us confidence that the interests of the House that he serves are defended and promoted, and that confidence has never been misplaced. I, like others, am sure that the House of Lords is stronger and more widely appreciated by the public now than when he first came into it and when he took over as Clerk of the Parliaments. That is a tribute that he deserves and which, when he has some time of his own to reflect on it, I think he will be pleased about.

Cross-Benchers, being bereft of Whips, hymn sheets, pagers and other political guidance, have to rely rather heavily on the services of Paul and his staff, and our satisfaction with all those services, including those that he has brought in himself such as the Table Office, reflects on his mastery and indicates how we are pleased by the way the services have developed.

Since I have had the pleasure—or misfortune—to serve as Convenor on a large number of administrative and practical committees of the House, I have also appreciated the large administrative charge that falls on the Clerk of the Parliaments as Accounting Officer, responsible for a substantial and diverse administration. The complexities increase, of course, as the building gets older, we buy Nos. 1 and 2 Millbank and our investment in security against terrorism becomes even more important and depressingly necessary. We thank Paul for all the work he has done on that.

All those tasks have been achieved with notable good humour and a manifest neutrality towards political and other differences. Indeed, I would say that, if he were not the Clerk of the Parliaments, he would be an ideal Cross-Bencher—and there is no better tribute than that which we can pay to Paul on his retirement from his high office.

My Lords, we on these Benches wish to be associated with all the comments that have been made in appreciation of Sir Paul’s work, and to say, following the previous comments, that he would be enormously welcome to join the Bishops as well. We need his talents.

We are sometimes tempted to believe that the excellence of the work of this House is due to our work, but I think that it is very much due to the work of those who serve us behind the scenes. We are conscious of what Sir Paul and his colleagues have done to ensure that this House is a contemporary, modern and lively place in which the business of Parliament can be pursued.

I am sure that I am not alone in this House in being conscious of how warm, generous and supportive all the staff are, and of how much that depends on the quality of leadership that they are given. We shall miss Sir Paul enormously. We on these Benches join those who have thanked him for all he has done for the House, for its staff and for us, and we wish him well for the future.

My Lords, before I put the Question perhaps I may add a couple of sentences of my own. As the Lord President said, Sir Paul had a special role in relation to the first Lord Speaker. Sixty Clerks of the Parliaments have advised more than 100 Lord Chancellors about their duties on the Woolsack, but only one has advised an incoming Lord Speaker and dealt with the challenges that that produced. As the House will not be surprised to hear, Sir Paul took on that role with a wonderful blend of good sense, good humour and authoritative knowledge of the House. In so far as the transition has been smooth, a great deal of the credit must go to him.

Over the past 15 months I have also come to appreciate Sir Paul’s person management skills. It was only about a year into the post that I realised that he has a particular technique which I call the “this-day-10-years’” rule. Whenever I put a suggestion to him that was particularly innovative and would have made other Clerks blanch or explode, he would do neither; he would simply look at me very gravely and say, “Well, Lord Speaker, I am certain that in 10 years’ time this is exactly the sort of thing that we will be considering”. The deal was done. He has been a tremendous servant to this House, and we all wish him and Lady Hayter a very full, and not too exhausting, retirement.

On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente.