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Volume 706: debated on Thursday 18 December 2008

Motion to Adjourn

Moved by

My Lords, as we are at the end of business for the day, and indeed for the calendar year, it falls to me to move the Adjournment of the House for the Christmas break. Before I do so, however, as is traditional, my colleagues in the usual channels and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hard-working staff of the House: the clerks, the doorkeepers, the attendants, the Hansard writers and those whom we do not see who work below stairs, if you like—the cleaners, the cooks, the chefs—all those who keep this House working and enable us to do the job that we do. I pay tribute to them, as I am sure everyone in the House does.

This is not always an easy place in which to work, with its sometimes long and unpredictable hours. The staff must be flexible and committed, and I am constantly impressed by the qualities that they all display. Everyone who works here provides a world-class service, for which we should all be truly grateful. We should be particularly grateful that many members of staff are prepared to invest their whole careers here, building up incredible expertise in the work of the House and a terrific rapport with its Members.

I know that my opposite numbers in the other parties will pay tribute to some outstanding individuals, but I should like to focus on just one—Mr Stephen Ellison, who recently retired as Clerk of the Records, the head of the Parliamentary Archives. As Clerk of the Records from 1999, he instigated a major programme to modernise the Parliamentary Archives, which was done with great sensitivity. He can be proud that he transformed it into its present shape, which is used by everyone from Peers of the realm to family historians in Australia. During his time, among other things he managed the refurbishment of Victoria Tower to modern standards, the creation of an online catalogue and some spectacular exhibitions, including those on the Gunpowder Plot and the Act of Union, which many noble Lords, including me, were fascinated by and will remember for a long time.

Stephen also steered through the development of a records management service for both Houses. As a relative newcomer, I know how difficult it can be to make real change happen in this place, so his were very real, long-awaited and genuine achievements. Stephen joined the House of Lords Record Office, as it was known then, almost four decades ago, in 1969—I think that I was doing my O-levels—at the tender age of 18, so he really was here man and boy. But it started even earlier than that: as a baby he demonstrated an attraction to Parliament, eliciting a kiss from Winston Churchill in the 1951 general election campaign. No lasting damage was obviously done.

Stephen’s career in this House is a shining example to us all. He joined the House as a clerical officer and rose through the ranks to become the Clerk of the Records, in the process breaking through the glass ceiling that was undoubtedly present in the early years of his career. He combined this success with his love of skiing. His willingness to be more reckless with himself than he was with both Houses’ historic records and papers left him with an injury or two. He also made a lot of very good friends, as do we all, both personally and in the archive profession.

I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in wishing Stephen and his wife, Susie, whom he met while they were both working here—a House romance—a long and happy retirement. All that it remains for me to do is to wish all staff and all noble Lords, regardless of their politics, a well deserved break and a restful and enjoyable festive period.

My Lords, it is my pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentleman-at-Arms in paying tribute to all staff of this House, both personally and on behalf of my colleagues on the Benches of Her Majesty’s Opposition. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said, we are extremely well served in this House at all levels. The details that he set out today are evidence of that across the board. I thank wholeheartedly the officers and doorkeepers for their patience, courtesy and assistance, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said, often through very long and unpredictable days and nights. In addition, it is important to record the work of the police and fire staff, who all take great care to ensure our security. In the modern climate, that is a most difficult job to do day after day. We thank them all for keeping us safe. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has put on record the remarkable service of Mr Stephen Ellison, who recently retired as Clerk of the Records. I add my congratulations to his.

I should like to put on record today the remarkable service to this House of Mr Peter Davies, who retired as our Deputy Librarian on 16 September. Without superb Library staff, the quality of work carried out by Peers would suffer incalculable damage. We are fortunate indeed to have the first-class service of our staff in the Library. They respond to the varied and exacting requests of Peers with unfailing professionalism and expertise. Even when asked to produce the impossible by yesterday, they manage it.

The standard of service in the Library has been developed and maintained to meet the demands of the modern information technology age by the work of Mr Davies over the past 30 years. After completing a PhD at the London School of Economics, Peter joined the House of Lords in 1978 as a Senior Library Clerk, one of a team of just two in those days to answer Members’ research inquiries. Peter was appointed Deputy Librarian in 1991. He managed the Reader and Technical Services teams, the Library budget and business plans, all crucial work to ensure the provision of an effective service to Members. He played a lead role in strategic planning for the Library itself, ensuring that the standard of service for Members and other users is of the highest quality. He also represented the Library and the House as the public face of our work to external audiences. These activities brought him into direct contact with the House of Commons and a wide range of partner organisations such as those represented in the European Centre for Parliamentary Research and Documentation. I have been made aware that Mr Davies’s quiet dedication to the service of the House is already much missed.

Finally, like the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, I wish Members and all staff every happiness for the festive season, and health and happiness for the new year.

My Lords, I join both noble Lords in wishing the staff who run this building a happy festive season, and thank them for all their support. I always like to say something about the Hansard staff before I turn to individuals, for the simple reason that I am not sure whether I am a hindrance or a help to them because I do not use notes. But the fact is that they usually manage to make sense of what I say and apparently people read my speeches and enjoy them, so full credit to them.

I also pay tribute to the doorkeepers. On one occasion last year I forgot that I had some visitors coming to the House. I received the most polite but thorough reprimand that I have ever experienced in my life. I thank that sterling body of men and women who help us so much, and of course I thank all the rest of the staff.

I want to thank in particular Yvonne Williams, who started work in the catering department on 29 September 1973. If an army marches on its stomach, Parliament, shall we say, pontificates on its stomach. Anyone who has kept the people in this building fed for that many years has given sterling service. Yvonne was known universally as “Mum”, and someone who could generate that degree of affection deserves the respect of all. I hope that she enjoys her retirement, that she has a particularly good festive season, and that she goes on to do many interesting things in her retirement.

My Lords, it is that very happy time of the year again and I add my personal tributes and those of the Cross-Benchers to all those that have been paid today. I find that I tend to use the staff of the House rather more than anyone else. I am for ever asking things such as, “Who is speaking?” “How long will they speak?” “When will the vote come?” “When will the House be up?” “Have you found my lost brooch?” “Is there any way in which you can accommodate below Bar my newly arrived friend from New York?”. Nearly always the answer is yes. It is wonderful. I truly thank the staff around the House for their courtesy and generally good cheer in providing such a service for us.

In particular, I should like to mention two more retirees this year: Celia Choudri, who began work in 1995 as a general assistant and who more recently worked in the Peers’ Dining Room—many noble Lords will remember her—and Barbara Beadon, who began work in 1996 as a housekeeper and was promoted to team leader in 1999. She retires to Australia with her family. We wish them a very happy and well deserved retirement. On behalf of the Cross Benches, I wish them and all staff—including the Library staff, Hansard, doorkeepers, attendants, police, cleaners and the restaurant staff—a truly happy Christmas and a very good new year.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.39 pm.