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Business of the House: Adjournment

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2007

My Lords, it now falls to me to move the adjournment of the House for the Christmas break. It has become traditional that we use the opportunity—by “we” I mean my colleagues, the other Chief Whips and the Convenor—to thank the members of staff in this House for the sterling work they do during the course of the year and to pay individual tribute to one or two people who have retired, particularly those who have retired after very long service. We have a long list of people who have retired after quite long service, so the four of us have divvied up the responsibility to make sure that they are all appropriately mentioned. Obviously we are collectively associated with all the tributes that are given.

I will mention one or two people, but also want to mention a particular department. I was prompted to do this because I have in the past paid tribute to the various departments that are fairly well known to us, whom we meet day in, day out. I will not repeat those today, although I am sure that others will. One particular group of people who have not been mentioned for the past few years as far as I know are those responsible for all the sound and broadcasting of our proceedings, which I am sure posterity will enjoy viewing over many years. They sit patiently listening to our debates, and I confess to being so committed to my work that during a Recess I have even been known in sad moments to watch the digital parliamentary channel. These things do not happen by accident. I know that they do not have colossal viewing figures in comparison with “EastEnders” or things of that sort, but they do a tremendous job for us. This House, of course, pioneered the televising of Parliament, and the other House followed suit a little while later. I pay tribute to all of them.

I turn to a number of individuals who require special mention. I shall concentrate on three members of staff; they have not been picked arbitrarily, it is just that each of them has individually served this House for longer than 25 years and, collectively, have served the House for 110 years. That is not a bad level of service to the place.

Paul Hayter, our Clerk who retired a little earlier this year, has already had tributes but I add my own. It goes without saying that he was an absolutely outstanding servant of this House. He worked here for 43 years. I can only say that when I arrived just a few years ago, any stereotype I might have had in mind of someone who was so institutionalised after that length of service that they would not be open to suggestions, however far fetched, could not have been further from the truth. He had that wonderful mixture of knowing what the House would take, knowing its traditions and, obviously, its procedures, and listening to new suggestions. He would occasionally give you the Sir Humphrey look and point out where you had gone wrong, but he was always open. I think that 43 years of service to this House is outstanding, and we owe him a great debt.

Another person I shall mention is June Russell, who sadly died a short while ago. She had given 41 years of service as a pastry chef in this House. She achieved great things during that time: she was involved in something like 40 State Openings; award-winning buffets with which many of us will be familiar; and more recently—if I can say that meaning “25 years ago”—for the past 25 years she was particularly involved in the preparation of the annual Children of Courage awards lunch, where she always had a theme to her work, much admired by many and particularly by the young people. Again, 41 years of service is outstanding. She died in service, and I am sure that all of us here would want to extend our thoughts to all her friends and relatives, particularly at this time of the year.

The third person I shall mention had slightly less service: a mere 28 years. Andrew Underwood is retiring a little early for the best of reasons, which I shall explain shortly. He has acted as the deputy director of the finance department. During that time he worked his way up from the coal face; he acquired all his qualifications while he was serving the House. He is now moving to spend the next few years of his life in France, which is certainly a change of venue. We wish him a long and happy retirement—if retirement it is—and thank him again for all his service.

It is not self-indulgent if, at this time, I mention two colleagues. This occasion is principally for the staff, but must also properly recognise people who have served this House wonderfully well and have stepped down this year. The first is the former Convenor of the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton. The Cross-Benchers will always say with acclamation what a tremendous job he has done for the Cross Benches, but I and the other Chief Whips can say that his work as a servant of this House has been terrific. It does not surprise me that he spent 10 years as the main man, but did lots of other jobs in the European Community. He has a great capacity for resolving the apparently irreconcilable. He brought all his diplomatic skills to the usual channels from time to time, and did so with great good humour. If he is available as a consultant to the usual channels, I am sure we could use his skills. He also had the tremendous skill of brevity. You knew that he did not, and does not, waste a word; I suppose that that comes from years of trying to understand six translations in Europe and getting them precisely right. We thank him very much indeed on behalf of the House for his service.

Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that the last name I want to mention is someone I have worked with for five years: the Opposition Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, who decided to stand down this year. I am sure it will not do his career any harm—it cannot, he has stood down—if I say that he was a delight to work with. He and I have been together in a number of difficult circumstances with sensitive issues. He always knows the procedure of this House extremely well and, of course, the procedure of the other House. I always thought that, in his case, it came from the fact that he was a Northern Ireland Minister in the 1980s. I would think that if you had been a Northern Ireland Minister in the 1980s, every other job you had must seem straightforward by comparison. That enabled him to bring both his ministerial and parliamentary skills to bear, but always with a sense of proportion which I massively appreciated.

The noble Lord is obviously a life-long and committed supporter of his own party, as I am of mine. I do not think either of us compromised in any way, but we did work extremely well together. His humour was never far beneath the surface; that is what you need more than anything else and it was always there, twinkling away not too far from a difficult problem.

Humour is a good way to end this. I suppose it is inappropriate to wish everyone a humorous Christmas, but I certainly hope that it is an enjoyable one. I also hope that, in giving these tributes to everyone, we remember how privileged we are to be able to work here and how indebted we are to those who give so much of their time.

My Lords, it is my pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms in paying tribute to all the staff of the House, both personally and on behalf of my colleagues on the Official Opposition’s Benches. As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has said, we are extremely well served in this House at all levels and the details he set out today are testament to that.

When, as new arrivals we make our maiden speeches—for me, a mere 11 years ago, which pales into insignificance against the achievements read out by the noble Lord—we put on record our thanks to the officers and doorkeepers for their patience and assistance as we get used to the ways of the House. Perhaps we do not always take the opportunity as often as we should to repeat those heartfelt thanks as the years progress.

This Adjournment Motion gives me the greatest pleasure, since I am able publicly to repeat those thanks on behalf of all my colleagues for year after year of assistance. In addition, it is important to record the work of the police and fire staff. All take great care to ensure our security. Some of us know very well that in the modern climate those are the most difficult jobs to do day after day, and we thank them all for keeping us safe.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has put on record the long service by many of those whom we see and value as they assist us during our work in the Chamber, but there are others who we see only perhaps if we are early arrivals or late stayers in the House. They are the ones who ensure that everything is in good order for our work. The housekeepers are the unseen but not, I hope, unsung heroines and heroes of this House. We have had remarkable service from Fadela Kharbach, housekeeper for almost 20 years, Elizabeth Buckley, senior housekeeper for nine years, Rose Fashoyin, housekeeper for seven years, Bill Manalo, housekeeper for seven years, and Madeline Cross, who served us so well for 12 years until her untimely death a year ago.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, referred to the contribution made to this House by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and my noble friend Lord Cope. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, has indeed had a remarkable record of achievement as Convenor of the Cross Benches. Their number and participation in the proceedings of this House have both increased significantly during his time as Convenor. He brought to his task all the skills that he honed in the Diplomatic Service and at the European Commission, and the whole House benefited as a result.

Here, I beg the indulgence of the House, and I turn to the record of service of my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley. It is every bit as impressive in real life as it is on paper. He held ministerial office for most of his time in another place, where he was a distinguished Member from 1974 to 1997. He served as Deputy Chief Whip, and he was appointed a Minister of State for Employment. As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, mentioned, he served in the Northern Ireland Office at a particularly difficult time. He also served as Paymaster-General.

In this House, we were fortunate to have his service as opposition spokesman for Northern Ireland and Home Affairs before he became our Chief Whip in 2001. His six years in office were ones of remarkable success. The highest praise is, however, given by those who have worked with him over a lifetime. The descriptions of him that I have most frequently heard expressed over recent months are that he is a decent man, that his word can be trusted, and that his judgment is one to be sought and acted upon. I know him to be a modest man, so he will be embarrassed by these plaudits, but it is marvellous that we can put them on the record today. His choice to return to the Back Benches is understandable after a lifetime of service on the Front Bench, but we are fortunate that he remains a very active Back-Bencher, from where I know he will gently but firmly assist the House to keep to the right course.

Finally, like the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I wish Members and staff every happiness over the festive season and into a very healthy 2008.

My Lords, I think that I will turn this upside down and start with “W”. It is a great pleasure to thank the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for his period of service as Convenor of the Cross Benches. Of course, he had an incredibly distinguished record in the European Union before he came here, but he took what I think is the most difficult political job in this House. Someone will say, “Is it a political job?”. Yes it is, because it is all about political decisions. He has had getting on for 200 disparate souls. His job was to get out the information, and I am pretty certain that he has done that. As part of that, I have given him odd snippets of information that he has had to weigh and then possibly pass on to others. He has had to operate on behalf of all the independent Cross-Benchers, and they have clearly had faith in him as being the person to act on their behalf. He cannot, because of their nature, be speaking for each and every one, but he has had to take that corporate view. We wish him well in his retirement from that job, but we know that there will be plenty for him to do in this place as the years go on.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, the Conservative Chief Whip, who has just retired from that role. I did not know how to cope with the job of chief whippery, but it is clear that it is important to try your best not to fall out with the other Chief Whips, because we have to make certain that business continues, even though there may be disagreements. I certainly did not fall out with him and I do not think that he fell out with me. I found him straight and honest, which is important. At times, particularly in the early days, I did not always understand the code. I do not know whether I should share this, but there was one occasion when I suggested that another vote could be taken on an amendment that I thought had great merit. He said to me, “I think we have inflicted enough damage on this Bill”. I understood the code. We thank him for his work and service here. As a fellow chartered accountant, I know that there will be other work for him to continue in this House.

We certainly thank the staff. I am constantly amazed at the way in which the culture stays as the staff change. It is wonderful how that carries on. It was interesting that the Chief Whip mentioned the broadcasting unit. There is a sense in which all of us are being watched, often by friends and relations who know whether you are here. It is because of that unit that we are in that position.

There are three members of staff who I would particularly like to mention. Paul Hayter was the head of service and was here for 43 years. Tributes have been made on a proper earlier occasion, but it is right that he is mentioned today. It shows that it is possible to start here, stay here, and put in and span 43 years. We thank him for his service. Chris Kerse leaves the House after 12 years as legal adviser to three successive chairmen of the EU Committee. His work there has been incredibly valuable. His departure is to take up a professorship at the University of Surrey in Guildford. We have a situation where someone has put in a dozen years and then moved on to do another piece of work. Finally, I refer to Michael Barram, the financial adviser who has retired after four years. Mentioning those three members of staff shows the span—what must be getting towards the maximum at 43 years to maybe not quite the minimum at four years. We thank people who come to do a specific piece of work, as he did in finance, and he has now retired and gone further.

In mentioning the two Members and three members of staff, I also wish to thank all Members and staff for their work during this year. I wish Members and staff a very happy Christmas and a successful 2008.

My Lords, this has to be one of the more pleasant tasks bequeathed to me by my noble friend Lord Williamson, a task distinct from the endless committees, which are obviously necessary but do not always gladden the heart. I have thanked my noble friend Lord Williamson on several occasions both public and private, but nothing beats a Hansard record of the affection and gratitude felt by all the Cross-Bench Peers for his patient, astute and caring stewardship of this fiercely independent grouping. It is entirely clear that my noble friend is regarded with great respect by all with whom he had contact. Although he bears his learning lightly, his long years as a senior civil servant in London and Brussels shine through in his wise eminence. I am personally indebted to him for the time that he is prepared to continue to give to me as a novice and, above all, for his humour. In fact, I often used to go to his office to have a good laugh, whether it was over the saga of his house sale or the fact that he had yet again won a tenner on the big lotto. One of the best aspects of his new-found freedom is his obvious demob delight, so much so that I wonder whether there are yet more onerous and even dark aspects of the job about which he has not yet briefed me.

I have not had the good fortune to work directly with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, but his reputation goes before him and I can only feel privileged to have witnessed his wisdom on the Front Bench. I wish him well in his retirement after a long and distinguished political career. While the former Defence Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, left to race cars, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will happily potter with a different and more appropriate class of cars; namely, Rollers and Bentleys.

I thank the doorkeepers, once described as having,

“astonishing dignity, humour and aplomb”,

and the attendants for their care of us: ever cheerful, ever helpful and often with avuncular concern. Even at the end of a long day of toing and froing, miraculously they are there again in the morning, as if by magic. During this Session, the doorkeepers and attendants have had opportunities to demonstrate that they are not just witty, forthright and conscientious but crucially competent in dealing with emergencies both within the Chamber and without it. This House would not function in their absence. I have noticed that during the long Summer Recess one begins to miss the courtesy and care when confronted with the brutal manners of the outside world: the failure to greet us with a smile, the forgetfulness in not allowing us to pass through the Tube gates first, the absence of good morning greetings. Then we all return in October and it is a very pleasant shock to re-enter this hallowed world in which the staff work to make our lives pleasant and trouble-free.

There have been many retirements during this Session, remembered in the tributes already paid and with which I am sure the independent Cross Benches would wish to be associated. I would just like to mention the long and devoted service of Helen McMurdo, office manager for the Law Lords, Geoffrey Embleton, deputy head of human resources, and Chris Kerse, legal adviser to the EU Committee. I would also wish to extend warm condolences to the families of Madeline Cross and June Russell, who have died during the past year.

So, to all who together make working here such a fruitful experience, my thanks and best wishes on behalf of the independent Cross-Bench Peers for a very happy and restful Christmas.

My Lords, I should like to thank my fellow members of the usual channels for their friendship and all their assistance while I was in office, and particularly for the flattering remarks that have been made today. But I have to point out to your Lordships that the flattering remarks were somewhat out of order. I would not wish them to detract from the thanks to the staff, which I entirely endorse.

House adjourned for the Christmas Recess at 2.22 pm until Monday 7 January 2008.