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Deputy Chairmen of Committees

Volume 698: debated on Monday 28 January 2008

My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Baroness Royall of Blaisdon be appointed a member of the panel of Deputy Chairmen of Committees, in place of Lord Grocott.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

My Lords, Thursday’s announcement that my noble friend Lord Grocott was retiring must have come as a great surprise to all noble Lords, but I assure your Lordships that the greatest surprise was mine. My noble friend Lord Grocott has been an extraordinary Chief Whip. He is supremely efficient and effective, and always cool, calm and collected. He has a fine quality, which I think Chief Whips are not supposed to have: he is universally popular.

My noble friend is a very difficult act to follow. He is a fine teacher. I have learnt all that I know about whipping from him. However, any gaps in my knowledge that become apparent in the coming weeks are my responsibility, not his. I know that I can continue to count on his support, his advice and, of course, his vote. From these Benches we wish him well in his retirement. We know that he will have more time now to spend with his beloved Sally, his grandchildren and his football—although, when it comes to Stoke, I am not sure whether I have got that order correct. However, with the upcoming business—I have been looking at the forthcoming schedules—I am confident that from now until the summer we will see an awful lot of my noble friend. We wish him well.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on her appointment as Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms and government Chief Whip. I look forward to working with her in the busy times ahead.

I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on a remarkable six years as government Chief Whip in this House. It was my privilege and honour to work with him, albeit as a very new Chief Whip, on these Benches for only four months of those six years. I saw his calibre at first hand when perhaps I was more than a nuisance than I should have been as Conservative home affairs spokesperson, when I called quite a few Divisions that he had to bear.

I quickly realised that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, like all those who make a highly successful transition from another place to this House, has a real and abiding grasp of the day-to-day political realities of this House, which are so different from those of another place. He knows how this House works. He knows what makes it special and different from another place. He is approachable and reasonable; he is a man of his word and he makes it clear to all of us that he enjoys the company of his colleagues and of those on other Benches. No wonder that he is and has always been held in such high regard in this House. We on these Benches wish him well for the future.

My Lords, the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, came as a surprising knock-on effect of Peter Hain’s departure. Perhaps it was intended all along; we do not know. The noble Lord has been unflappable and straight in his dealing, which I think is important for a Chief Whip. It has been a pleasure to deal with him as a Chief Whip; I am told that I am now the most senior and the only man in this job. After six years, we will find out more now of the real Lord Grocott, once the zip has come from his mouth and he is able to involve himself in other activities of this House. I only hope that his good and trusty friend the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, has found him new quarters. We thank him very much for his service. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, to her new role and I look forward to working with her.

My Lords, I add my warm thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on behalf of the independent Cross-Bench Peers. I have not worked for long with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, but what time I have had has been extremely pleasant and useful. I cannot help but be impressed with his ability to appear calm and unhurried—and even unworried—at all times. It is perhaps a rare combination to be a Chief Whip and, as has been said, to be so universally liked. The added bonus for me is that now I will be able to hear for the first time the views of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on issues dealt with in this House, as he will no longer be bound by the convention of neutrality and silence. I trust that he will also now have more opportunity for his other passions, which I gather include India, football and, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, the good people of Telford.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will be a very hard act to follow. However, it will be entirely within her competence. She has had a short but enormously exacting apprenticeship during which it seems that she has covered almost everything from health to foreign affairs via prisons and carers. I congratulate her warmly and look forward very much to working with her.

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I add our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, for his fairness and care and his courtesy and wisdom whenever we have had to approach him about the sometimes opaque processes of this House. I am also grateful for that other innovation, which ensures that we normally finish business by 10 o’clock. This gives us a lot more time to write our sermons. I thank him for that.

I add my congratulations from these Benches to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, as she begins to undertake her new and demanding role. At a personal level, as the only person in this House besides the noble Baroness to have been born and grown up in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, I offer her those personal best wishes from a fellow forester. If any Members would like training in the unique dialect and the linguistic richness of the Forest of Dean in order to approach the new Chief Whip more effectively, I would be very happy to provide it.

My Lords, the tributes have genuinely been completely unexpected and overwhelming, particularly from the opposition Benches. Had I still been in the other place, those tributes would have destroyed my political career. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, that it is a pleasure to be in a position to speak one’s mind. I feel free to do that and am prepared to start now by saying for the record that the Government are doing a tremendous job. It goes without saying that I give my unqualified and wholehearted support to my old friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, whom I have known for many, many years. It has been an enormous privilege to have been Chief Whip for six years in this House. I can say only that my sense of the sunlit uplands of free evenings means that the thought of not being Chief Whip is an even greater privilege at the moment. I look forward to being an active Member of this House for, I hope, a long time to come.

If I am allowed briefly to be partisan, I must say that the greatest personal privilege is to have worked with a Labour group that, of all the Labour groups that I have worked with—including in local government, the other place and here—has given the most good humour, support, warmth and friendship, and has managed to achieve the miracle of getting 100 per cent of the legislative programme through with 30 per cent of the votes, in defiance of normal arithmetic. I give my thanks to the whole House for the privilege that I have been given.

My Lords, I associate myself with the words of tribute paid to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. I must say what a pleasure it was to work with him on various committees, particularly those mentioned in the second Motion if not so much those mentioned in the first Motion. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on her appointment as Chief Whip.

On Question, Motion agreed to.