My Lords, it is customary at this time of the year when the House is due to rise for the Christmas Recess for me and my colleagues in the usual channels to pay tribute on behalf of the House to the staff who have facilitated our work during the year. Normally, that is done at the end of business when we move to adjourn the House. On this festive occasion, however, with the leave of the House, we propose to pay our tributes now before we proceed on to the next items of business.
This has been a difficult year for the House and not just for its Members. Staff at all levels have been on the front line in facing the scrutiny and criticism that the House and its Members have attracted over the course of the year. Their professionalism, discretion and composure in handling such attention has, I am sure all will agree, been consistently impressive. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying that we are deeply indebted to them all.
We recognise that it has been a demoralising time to be working for the House. The commitment and enthusiasm that staff at all times have and continue to display are of great credit to them. They have hugely assisted and encouraged us all. I know that my opposite numbers will in their tributes single out individual members of staff who have completed, or are shortly due to complete, their long service to the House. The former Black Rod, Lieutenant General Sir Michael Willcocks, and the staff of the House’s Judicial Office have been the subject of tributes earlier in the year, but I am sure that the House will wish to join me in reiterating our thanks to them.
On this occasion, I should like to begin by paying tribute to a member of staff who on 21 August this year, at the very young age of 37, lost her battle with cancer just under eight years after having joined the Committee Office. In 2001, Siobhan Conway began her career in the House as a personal secretary in the Committee Office. She was soon promoted to become an IT support officer. In that role, Siobhan played a crucial role in supporting Select Committees and their staff, notably in the preparation and publication of their reports at a time when the activity of the House’s Select Committees grew significantly. She was an inspiration. She was known, however, not only for her expertise, which was beyond question, but also for her warmth and sense of fun. I have it on good authority that Siobhan was the life and soul of every office party and, indeed, of the very corridor on which she worked. Her loss came as a great shock to her colleagues, many of whom were present at her funeral this summer. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in extending our sincere condolences to Siobhan’s family and friends.
I also want to focus on a member of staff who has been at the forefront of the trials and tribulations that we have experienced in the past year. Mary Morgan, a legend, was the House’s director of public information. She retired at the end of October after 13 years of service. Mary was no novice in handling politically sensitive issues of interest to the media. At a very early stage in the course of her career here, she had to address stories about the Lord Chancellor’s wallpaper and the Lying in State, to name but two, even before this year’s expenses became the hot political topic.
It is perhaps an indicator of how much the House has changed that her post was originally an experiment proposed by the then Finance and Staff Sub-Committee. Mary used her role as a platform from which to build the House’s well-reputed information service. She set up and developed the highly respected and valued range of publications which now actively promote the work of the House, including the Work of the House of Lords brochure and the annual House of Lords calendars, for which, I am told, there is a market on eBay. I am sure that all noble Lords will wish to join me in thanking Mary for her immense contribution to our work and in wishing her a long and happy retirement—I should add, with or without a subscription to the Sunday Times.
All that remains for me to do is to wish all staff and noble Lords a restful and enjoyable festive period and to give thanks to my colleagues in the usual channels, who, in a difficult and trying year, have been most helpful and co-operative at all times.
My Lords, it is a privilege and a pleasure to follow the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms in paying tribute to all staff of this House, both personally and on behalf of those on the Benches behind me—Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Naturally, I fully endorse all the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam.
I should like to put on record the remarkable service of Hedley Duncan, who retired as Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod this year after 10 years’ service to this House. He came to us after a long career in the Armed Forces, where he reached the rank of brigadier. His expertise was invaluable throughout his time. He, too, was involved in the arrangements for the Lying in State of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, when some 200,000 members of the public came to pay their respects.
I also commend the remarkable service of Dave Foley, our Redcoat in Black Rod’s Department, who served us memorably for 12 years. He joined us after a long and distinguished career as a flight sergeant in the Royal Air Force. Goodness, we knew it. We are kept in order by our officers here. His sense of loyalty and duty were evident daily, he was well liked by Peers and throughout the House he was known for his helpful approach.
All our staff, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, merit our special thanks this year, one that has been difficult for both Houses of Parliament. Politicians' reputations have been dented and some of the public confidence in our institutions of government undermined. Throughout all this, our staff and officers have been the public face of this House, day in and day out. It is they who meet and assist the public day after day. It is so often they who have to bear the brunt of critical comments. They always do so, as we ourselves see, with the utmost courtesy and distinction. They have a care for the reputation of this House, for which we are all most grateful.
I wish our officers, our staff, and all Members of this House a very happy Christmas Recess and a good return in the new year.
My Lords, I rise to add my words to these tributes. But before that, I return to the theme that has been with us for the year, and perhaps I may give another plug for the Lord Speaker’s Robing Room address of 9 December, and her stark sentence of four words. She said: “Parliamentarians are deeply demoralised”. We know, from our debates in recent days on our Code of Conduct and expenses, how that has deeply got to us. We know, when we meet other people, as we will do over Christmas at parties and pleasant events, that some friendly and some perhaps not-so-friendly comments will be made as quips, as we go about what we do at Christmas time. Perhaps we have broad enough shoulders to cope with those comments but they also get to the staff here, who share in some of that odium. They are asked, “Do you really work for those people?”, and they are entitled to be demoralised. However, they have persevered and kept going and we should all be grateful that, if they have attracted some of that odium, they have not shown any demoralisation.
My specific task is to thank two members of staff. One is Shirley Hutson, who retires later this week as Head Housekeeper in the Department of Facilities. It is a post that she has held since 2000, having joined the Lords as a housemaid and cleaner in Black Rod’s Department in 1990. Her personal commitment to the House and her high standard of professionalism have been noted over the years, and in her current role her firm but fair management style has been just what has been needed to secure the highest standards from her team. These qualities were reflected in Shirley’s appointment as an MBE in the New Year Honours List 2006, which colleagues across the department both recognised and appreciated. We wish her well in retirement.
I also refer to Peter Clark, a Senior Attendant in the Department of Facilities, who joined in June 1997 and retired in April this year. He joined as an attendant after a long career in the Metropolitan Police, including 11 years with the Palace police. For a lot of his time here, he was based at 1 Abbey Gardens, but he is currently a tour guide, so he has not left the building. He is a great cricket fan, a keen golfer and a very sociable colleague. We wish him well both in retirement and in his new work here.
It just remains for me to wish all members of staff and your Lordships a splendid and happy Christmas.
My Lords, we are at that happy time of the year once again when we all, but most of all the staff, take a well deserved break.
I thank all who serve us so well in this House—the doorkeepers, the attendants, the restaurant and cleaning staff, the House authorities, including Hansard and Library staff, as well as all those buried in offices on the second floor and in Tothill Street who beaver away on our behalf. Special thanks are due to the clerks and those in the Finance Department, who have had much to deal with during the year.
On behalf of the Cross Benches, I am truly grateful for their devoted service while remaining ever-helpful, ever-calm and ever-cheerful. It is still a wonder to behold the doorkeepers marshalling a crowded Peers’ Lobby to allow the Lord Speaker safe passage and the business of the House to continue its centuries-old tradition.
I also thank John Rhodes, who retires after 12 years of devoted service to this House. Originally, John was recruited as a Senior Clerical Officer in the Accountant’s Office. He then worked in the Judicial Office before being promoted to work in the Delegated Legislation Office. He was a founder member of staff of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, rapidly helping the committee to establish a strong reputation and earning the respect and affection of his colleagues and the members of the committee.
I also congratulate Stella Devadason on being appointed Redcoat and Jenny Banks on her splendid recovery, and I welcome John Dryden and Jackie Mouzouros as permanent doorkeepers in this House. I also send good wishes on his retirement and for the future to Dave Foley, who, as we know, retired this year.
I wish all these and any others whom I may have neglected to mention a very peaceful and restorative holiday break, if only because it will be a busy parliamentary year ahead. We shall arrive on Tuesday, 5 January—some of us a little before—bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to be looked after during another Session.
My Lords, I associate these Benches with all those tributes and wish all noble Lords a splendid celebration of Christmas, together perhaps with the lusty singing of Christmas carols this year, particularly, bearing in mind Monday’s debate, “Away in a Manger” with its line “No crib for a bed”.