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Local Government: Provisional Finance Settlement

Volume 741: debated on Wednesday 19 December 2012


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I would like to repeat an oral Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Statement is as follows:

“I should like to make a Statement on finance for English local authorities for 2013-14 and 2014-15.

The autumn Statement sets out how the coalition Government are putting our public finances back on track after the catastrophic deficit left us by the last Labour Government. Local government has shown great skill in reducing its budgets. Committed local authorities have protected front line services. Little wonder, then, that at a time of retrenchment, satisfaction in council services has gone up. This year’s settlement will see council expenditure fall in a controlled way. English local government accounts for £1 of every £4 spent on public services; it spends £114 billion, which is twice the defence budget and more than the National Health Service. So this settlement recognises the responsibility of local government to find sensible savings and make better use of its resources.

It marks a new settlement for local government, based on self-determination and financial independence, a move from the begging bowl to pride in locality. It begins the biggest shake-up of local finance in a generation. We are shifting power from Whitehall direct to the town hall. From April, authorities will directly retain nearly £11 billion of business rates instead of returning them to the Treasury. Striving councils will benefit by doing the right thing by their communities; if they bring in jobs and business they will be rewarded. Similarly, the new homes bonus remunerates councils for building more homes. Next year, the bonus will be worth more than £650 million and more than that in 2014-15.

Under our reforms, an estimated 70% of local authority income will be raised locally, compared to a little over half under the current formula grant system—a giant step for localism. The start-up funding assessment, which gives each council a share of the funding, confirmed in the Chancellor’s autumn Statement, will see £26 billion shared between councils across the country, with the smallest reductions for councils most reliant on government funding. We consulted local authorities on the settlement over the summer, and we have listened to what they told us. They told us that there should be less money held back from the settlement, so we have reduced the amounts that we are setting aside for new homes bonus, for the safety net and for academies funding. In total, that means an additional £1.9 billion for local authorities upfront in 2013-14.

Local authorities also told us that they wanted a stronger growth incentive. We were happy to respond, so we have made the scheme more generous, ensuring that at least 25 pence in every pound of business rate growth will be retained locally. The settlement leaves councils with considerable total spending power. The overall reduction in spending power next year is just 1.7%. A small number of authorities will require larger savings to be made, but no councils face a loss of more than 8.8% in their spending power, thanks to a new efficiency support grant. As the name implies, to qualify, councils will have to improve services. It is unfair on the rest of local government to expect them to subsidise other councils’ failure to embrace modernity. But this settlement is not about what councils can take—it is about what they can make. The settlement continues protecting fire and rescue as a blue light emergency service. Today, we have announced £140 million of capital grant money to fire authorities.

Predictably, the doom-mongers have been consulting their Mayan calendars, issuing dire warnings of the end of the world as we know it on Friday—a billion pound black hole in the local budgets. Some have shamefully predicted riots on the streets. Nostradamus need not worry, because all those Malthusian predictions have come to naught. Concerns that the poorest councils or those in the north would suffer disproportionately are well wide of the mark. The spending power for places in the north compares well to those in the south. For example, Newcastle has a spending power per household of £2,522, which is more than £700 more than the £1,814 per household in Wokingham. We have also maintained the system of damping, whereby government sets a floor below which council funding will not fall. This year’s average grant reduction for the most dependent upper tier authorities will be less than 3%, compared to 8% for the wealthiest. That is more support and protection than last year.

I can also confirm today that local authorities will be able to use the receipts from assets sales raised from 2012-13 onwards to fund outstanding equal pay claims. On top of what I have announced today, the Secretary of State for Health will in due course be confirming public health funding for local councils. In his autumn Statement, the Chancellor recognised that the sector has risen to the challenge. That is why, unlike most of central government, local government was exempted from the 1% top slice next year, worth approximately £240 million to councils. But as we look to 2014 and beyond, local government needs to continue finding better, more efficient, ways of doing things. There remains scope for sensible savings; with the exception of a handful of authorities, nobody has got to grips with procurement. More can also be done to share offices and services, cut fraud and provide more for less.

I have also asked the outgoing chief fire and rescue adviser, Sir Ken Knight, to pinpoint practical ways in which to help fire and rescue authorities to save money and protect the quality and breadth of frontline fire services. It is disappointing that the shadow fire Minister has signalled his opposition. That has been noted.

Today, true to my Yorkshire roots, I have published 50 Ways to Save, setting out practical ways for councils to save money, big and small. But it all adds up. If councils merged their back offices, like the tri-borough initiative in London, they could save £2 billion. Procurement fraud costs taxpayers almost a billion a year. Councils are sitting on £16 billion of reserves. Councils are not collecting more than £2 billion of council tax. Better property management could save £7 billion a year.

We have also announced today that further savings will be made by the abolition of pensions for councillors. Councillors should be champions of the people, not the salaried staff of the town hall state. Today’s guide gives more power to the elbow of the public to challenge crude cuts and champion sensible savings. Next year’s exemption will give local authorities time to put their house in order, but let us remind ourselves what this is all about. It is about safeguarding vital public services; protecting families and pensioners; and ending the something-for-nothing culture. That is why, despite financial pressures, we will continue to support, for the third year running, those who insulate residents from further council tax hikes. We have set aside an extra £550 million for local authorities to support council tax: £450 million over the next two years for the freeze and £100 million for council tax support will be available in the new year.

All councils have a moral duty to freeze council tax. It doubled under Labour. It became unsustainable; we have cut it in real terms. Just to be clear, this year’s freeze grant goes into base for the spending review period and has the same status as every other item in base. Those who would prefer to carry on with increases and see residents miss out should be ready to answer to their local taxpayers and not dodge them by setting the increase just below the threshold. For next year, we have set the referendum threshold at 2%. I will also introduce flexibility to support small district, police and fire authorities that have kept council tax low for years. My right honourable friend the Local Government Minister has set out the details in a Written Ministerial Statement. This is democracy in action: if you want to hike taxes, put it to the people. I would contrast the action we have taken to freeze council tax with the new housing tax being introduced in the Republic of Ireland. Tackling the deficit helps to keep taxes down. If you deny the deficit, taxes on everyday families will rise.

To those who want to play the politics of division, let me say this. This is a fair settlement, fair to north and south, rural and urban, shire and metropolitan England. But this settlement is also a watershed moment. For the first time in a generation, striving councils now have licence to go full steam ahead and grab a share of the wealth for their local areas—to stand tall, and seize the opportunities of enterprise, growth and prosperity.

I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. From my perspective, its credibility was undermined almost from the start by the assertion that:

“The Autumn Statement sets out how the coalition Government are putting our public finances back on track”.

If “back on track” is an environment of little growth, increasing debt and the IFS suggesting another £27 billion of so far unspecified cuts, I wonder how much of the cuts will come from local government—a worry indeed. I detected more than a few smiles around your Lordships’ House with the assertion that the Government are,

“shifting power from Whitehall direct to the town hall”.

We shall remind the Minister of that when we debate the Growth and Infrastructure Bill in just a couple of weeks. As ever, with this Statement, the devil will be in the detail, which we have yet to peruse in depth. We ought also to have the opportunity to have a full debate here when we have gone through the detailed figures. The Statement covers details of funding under the new system of business rate retention, and we will need in particular to examine the impact on council tax baselines, tariffs and top-ups, business rate holdbacks, the treatment of the early intervention grant, the topslicing for academies as well as public health funding—although I understand that this is outwith the Statement—and the RSG settlement itself.

As for the latter, for 2013-14 this will presumably utilise the whole of the central business rate share—and more. Can the Minister confirm that? The noble Baroness will recall debates during the Local Government Finance Bill about updating data used in the revenue support grant. Can she say what, if any, are the key changes to the methodology and data sets used in comparison with preceding years? This is particularly important because it is understood that the data will remain fixed between resets of the business rate retention scheme. Can the Minister confirm this? In anticipating this Statement, we should remind ourselves of the recent past and, indeed, the present. The Government have already imposed swingeing cuts on councils of 28%, with central Government grant reduced over the current spending review period.

This is all part of passing responsibility for cuts to services to local authorities and communities. We will have to see how much more is cut as a result of today’s announcement, but the LGA estimated a further £1 billion for next year. Is it right? The Autumn Statement, of course, announced a further reduction of £445 million for 2014-15. Many local authorities have been pushed to the brink, with their long-term viability in question. We know that the poorest areas are shouldering the greatest reductions. Between 2010-11 and 2012-13, the 10 most deprived local authorities are having their spending power reduced per head of population by eight times as much as the 10 least deprived authorities in England. Will the Minister reassure the House that this ratio has gone down, not up, following today’s announcement? The 50 councils worst affected by government cuts will receive reductions of £160 per head on average, despite having on average a third of children living in poverty. By contrast, the 50 least affected councils received a £16 per head cut on average, despite child poverty rates of 10%.

Although the Prime Minister described local government as officially the most efficient part of the public sector, this Government have made bigger and earlier cuts to councils than any other part of the public sector. This front-loading of cuts has made it harder for councils to cope and has hit front-line services hard. The LGA forecasts a rising funding gap, starting this year and growing to over £16 billion by 2019-20. What is the Government’s assessment for this period and how will that gap be closed? This year, we enter new territory with local council tax schemes, business rate retention, top-ups and tariffs. We hear the Secretary of State’s strictures about councils’ responsibility to keep council tax bills down, but the reality is that hundreds of thousands of people—working families on the lowest incomes—will be brought within the scope of that tax, possibly for the first time. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, it will be a “poll tax mark 2”.

If the 10% cut in council tax benefit support is to be endured, it must surely be right that the 10% reflects actual costs. Will the Minister say on what basis the grant has been allocated? Is it the case that, although at national level the total grant has been made available on the basis of the latest data, with claims having gone down nationally, the allocation to individual authorities is to be based on 2011-12 out-turn data, which for some will have gone up? Why is there this approach, other than because it advantages the Treasury at the particular expense of deprived areas? How much of the transitional grant—the pot of £100 million—is not initially expected to be called on by local authorities? Will the Government commit to recycling any balance to local authorities, especially those whose claim levels have increased during 2012-13?

Another issue which we debated extensively both during the Welfare Reform Bill and the Local Government Finance Bill was the demise of the discretionary Social Fund and the transfer of responsibility—but with no formal duties—to local authorities for provision otherwise met through community care grants and crisis loans. How much has been included in the proposed settlement for this and on what basis will this be communicated to local authorities? Under the Local Government Finance Act 2012, there is a requirement on the Secretary of State to specify the basis on which relevant authorities will make or receive payments under the tariff or top- up provisions. What is the basis of this calculation?

Today’s Statement brings little festive cheer to local authorities and to the individuals, families and communities they seek to serve. Local authorities will continue to innovate, address the awful choices that this Government impose upon them and play their part in fostering growth when the Government have vacated the field. Frankly, local authorities deserve better.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his response. Having been in his position, I appreciate that it is quite a task to respond quickly to a Statement after it has been made. The noble Lord addressed a huge number of detailed questions, with some of which I shall try to deal, but because I do not have in my head the figures he asked for, I shall make sure that questions I cannot answer now are dealt with.

It would be fair to say at the outset that while there is great questioning, particularly from the other side, about the reduction in grant, if the noble Lord’s party had been in power, it would have done exactly the same. We know that when the previous Government were coming to an end, they had already made provision for a substantial cut in local government grant for precisely the same reason. They were going to have to deal with the deficit they had generated but responsibility has now passed to this Government in their place. Therefore, I think it would be better if we could get that on to a more equitable plane.

The Government are shifting the responsibility for running local affairs on to local authorities. However, they are shifting not only power but also resources. I do not think that the noble Lord made any acknowledgment of that. Local government has asked for a long time to be able to retain the business rate. Although I appreciate that it cannot retain all of it, it will certainly be given the opportunity to retain at least 50% of it. That will be an encouragement to generate business and business activity because the more business local government has, the more it can grow and the more business rate it has to retain locally.

I was asked about the updating of data between resets. Data never stand still entirely so while the resets, the tariff and top-ups will remain, there will be some adjustments to data, but not such as to upset the resets that have been laid down this year.

The noble Lord referred to swingeing cuts. Local authorities hold this very much in their own hands now. As I said in the Statement, we have pointed to a number of ways in which local authorities can still make savings, including coming together and pooling resources and making adjustments in that way. Therefore, they should not be faced with having to make enormous cuts to services. We have also prevented any of the reductions in grant exceeding 8.8%. There is considerable variety across the country as regards the formula and the amount of spending power that each local authority has.

I know that we will discuss this matter further and more detailed questions will come up, but the Local Government Finance Act laid down the basis for tariffs and top-ups, which the noble Lord asked me about. Top-ups are based on a 92.5% level of finance, so local authorities expecting more than a 7.5% figure automatically get a top-up. The tariffs will be set against those councils that have more than the expected allocation of resources.

To go back to the data, the data updates will include population, so they will be changed if that varies. A range of data updates were set out in this summer’s technical consultation, which I am sure the noble Lord has read closely.

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement in this House. Perhaps I should thank the noble Lord for enabling her to do so. This is the first time that I can recall this happening for many years, so we must thank the Opposition for this very welcome Christmas present.

I declare my interest as a councillor in the London borough of Sutton. I gather that I must now declare an additional interest as a member of its pension scheme which I joined at the age of 60, by which time I had more than 30 years’ council service which did not count towards the pension.

I also thank the Minister, and through her the Secretary of State, for the very welcome recognition of all that local government has achieved in reducing its budgets, and that it is, indeed, the most efficient and effective part of the public sector. In view of that, does the Minister agree that local authorities would be much better advised to learn from each others’ good practice than to take any notice at all of the Secretary of State’s 50 top tips from the TaxPayers’ Alliance?

Will the Minister say a little more about the new efficiency support grant and the criteria that local authorities will have to meet to qualify for money from that grant? What sort of money we are talking about?

Finally, can she give any indication of when the Secretary of State for Health will announce the public health funding, which is crucial to many local authorities in finally setting their budgets?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his contribution. I also thank him for acknowledging that we recognise that local government is efficient—at least most of it is, although some is not. As regards the 50 areas of good practice that my right honourable friend in the other place has produced, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is correct: local authorities can learn from each others’ good practice, and there is good practice. There is good practice already across the piece where people are sharing services, chief executives and back office services and are procuring together. However, this applies to by no means all local authorities. This is where they need to learn from each other.

The Local Government Association has in its midst councils that are doing this and organisations within councils that are setting these good examples. I agree that local authorities can do good practice, but what they need to do is to bring it together and work together as much as they can.

The new efficiency support grant affects a very small number of councils above the 8.8%. I will let the noble Lord know the exact amount of it, but it is there to help them bring down their expenditure. Regarding public health announcements, we are still waiting for those but I cannot tell my noble friend when they are going to be announced.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Newcastle City Council not in receipt of a council pension. I ask the noble Baroness, the Minister to explain the relevance of the comparison of Wokingham to Newcastle, given that, for example, the rate of unemployment in Newcastle is four times that of Wokingham. Does she not consider that there may well be a greater spending need in Newcastle and authorities like it than in councils in the Royal County of Berkshire, such as Wokingham, Windsor and Maidenhead, which has also been adduced in support of the Government’s position?

Secondly, given that the Secretary of State is so exercised about reserves, what are the Government proposing to say to the Greater London Authority which has added 60% to its reserves—£585 million in the past year—while at the same time receiving £27 million of damping grant? What will she say to Surrey County Council, which has received £40 million of damping grant, which it put into its reserves and added further amounts to it? Is this a matter of concern, and if so what will the Government do about it?

I have two other questions, the first of which is: will the Government reconsider their position on the cost of appeals against rating valuations for business rates, which at the moment they propose not to finance, even in respect of appeals relating to the period before the new business rate regime comes in. The Government, having had the money, apparently do not intend to contribute to the cost of any successful appeals. What is the logic behind that?

Finally, in relation to council tax benefit and the grant that is to go to local authorities, why have the Government chosen to ignore the most recent figures of benefit claims for the current year with the result that, in Newcastle for example, an anticipated 10% reduction will probably translate into more than 14% because of the failure to use the most recent figures. If it is too late to alter that figure for this year, and I hope it is not, will the Government at least use the most up-to-date figures for the remaining years of the settlement?

My Lords, let us start with the reserves. The Government have a very firm position on this. They recognise that local authorities need reserves; indeed, in the current economic situation, they may have to call on reserves to help them deal with some of their finances. However, there are local authorities that are sitting on enormous unallocated reserves, and those are the ones that the Secretary of State believes ought to be challenged. Where local authorities are sitting on vast sums, they should be looking at how best they can use them to support their expenditure.

Regarding the cost of appeals, within the business rate retention scheme an allowance will be made for appeals that are already in the pipeline. Those that will come subsequently are a different matter and they will have to be dealt with at that time. The 10% reduction in council tax benefit is there to help with efficiency; to ensure that local authorities administer this in the best way that they possibly can; and to ensure that any system they set up can, if necessary, be supported by other reductions within their council tax budgets.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement by my noble friend and the fact that it places a great emphasis on getting the housing building market going. Has my noble friend seen the statistics produced by the National House-Building Council in the past week, which suggest that new housing starts in the north-east of England, for example, are at 3,048 for the first nine months of this year? This represents an increase of 25% on the same period last year, and an increase of some 47% on the same period in 2009. Will this not funnel through the new homes bonus programme to provide important additional revenue streams to councils in the north-east? In the past few days, the House Builders Federation has said that planning applications and planning permission granted for new homes have increased by 36% on the previous quarter. For further clarification, has my noble friend’s estimate of the £650 million that will be provided through the new homes bonus next year taken account of that welcome news?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for pointing out good news relating to the housing figures. We have been very aware—everybody else in the House will be aware—that a lot of the economy needs a boost and much of that boost will come from housing and housing construction. I am very pleased about the figures in the north-east, which is perhaps one area in the country where we particularly need to see new housing—not only to ensure that there is housing but because it will stimulate the economy even more in that part of the world.

The new homes bonus is part of the funding stream. It is not ring-fenced but it does relate to the number of houses that are being built and so would add to local authorities’ revenue. If the number of planning permissions has increased in the north-east as well, that is good, as there has been a lot of criticism that planning permissions are somewhat slow in being granted. Therefore, I thank my noble friend for those points.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Statement, although it did not give me much comfort. Can she tell the House what advice she has for the London fire authority? I think that potentially up to 17 fire stations in London could close, and up to six of those would be in south London—Woolwich, Downham, New Cross, Southwark, Peckham and Clapham. As a south London resident, I wonder where a fire engine would come from if you needed the fire services in the future. What words of comfort does the Minister have for the fire authority and what are we going to do about this?

My Lords, the fire authorities are in the same position as everybody else in that they are having to make economies, but they have been pretty well supported. The noble Lord will know that the fire authorities have benefited from the protection in the formula used to set the base line, which used an existing adjustment to provide top-ups for the fire and rescue relative needs formula. That helps in the rural areas. The metropolitan fire and rescue authorities overall, which of course do not include London, are seeing grant reductions of 7.2%, but London has had a reduction and the noble Lord has to make up his own mind about how to deal with that. As I pointed out in the Statement, a review by the retiring chief officer is taking place, and I am sure that that will produce something useful.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as a recipient of a small local government pension.

I should like to raise two issues with the Minister. The first concerns the tri-borough initiative in London and the basis for the statement that if councils merged their back offices, as in the tri-borough initiative, they could save £2 billion. Can the Minister circulate further details of that calculation? It is extremely important. In Tyne and Wear, where the number of residents amounts to just a little over 1% of the population, that would imply a saving of more than £20 million, which could be spent on, for example, keeping libraries open and improving services. Therefore, any information as to how that might be achieved would be helpful.

Secondly, I support the comments from other noble Lords concerning the council tax support grant distribution and the fact that the DCLG is not taking account of benefit caseload changes since the end of the 2011-12 year. I suggest that there is a case for using the unallocated transitional grant to assist councils that have faced higher caseload and cost figures in recent months, and I believe that there is a very strong case for using final outturn caseload figures for 2012-13 in the grant figure for 2014-15.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend. I am very happy to ask the councils involved in the tri-borough initiative to let us have full details of the savings they hope to make. I suppose that I ought to declare an interest as having been a member of at least part of that tri-borough arrangement many years ago. However, they are very clear that they have made tremendous efficiency savings and, more than that, that they are much more efficient. As a resident of that tri-borough, I can say that they certainly demonstrate that. I shall certainly see that my noble friend receives those details.

I believe that the benefit caseload for this year is based on the figures for 2010-11 but I shall let my noble friend know if that is not correct. I shall need to write to him regarding the final outturn for council tax.

I thank the Minister for her Statement, although I realise that she is not responsible for the rodomontade contained within it. Does she appreciate that the word “need” does not appear once in the Statement? Would she also like to comment on the word “grab”, which does appear? However, there is no reference to the fact that 800,000 working people are going to be worse off under the council tax benefit arrangements or that, at the same time, better paid people—although it is not, strictly speaking, her departmental responsibility—will experience a tax cut. Would the Minister like to comment on the fact that the Statement may contain some of the truth but not all the truth?

My Lords, as I gave the Statement to the House I must accept responsibility for it. I therefore take responsibility for the word “need” not appearing and the word “grab” appearing once or twice; whether this would be my way of putting it I am not sure. The noble Baroness makes the point about the 800,000 people; again, those are the figures that appear in the Statement and I am afraid I cannot comment on them further.

My Lords, I am not entirely sure that Malthus would be happy to be coupled with Nostradamus. To follow the previous question, it is quite clear there can be savings if local authorities combine. What precisely are the Government doing to encourage the sharing of facilities and resources to provide better services and save money at the same time? Have the Government done a detailed study on this and could we have some facts and figures in the Library?

My Lords, the Government have been espousing this situation for several years and discussing it with the Local Government Association. I have addressed various elements of local government on the need to make efficiency savings and had discussions with groups of local authorities, which are already coming together to see what can be done. I am not sure there are any helpful figures I can give my noble friend. The only thing I can do is reassure him that this is very much government policy which has been promulgated to local government and that many areas of local government are already carrying it out and demonstrating that it is a valuable way of making efficiencies.

My Lords, can the Minister say when she thinks Sir Ken Knight will report on his chief fire officer review?

My Lords, he has been asked to do it and I suspect I can provide the noble Lord with the date the inquiry is to start.

My Lords, as no one else has, can I thank my noble friend for the transfer of the business rate to local authorities? We debated the matter in this House and many of us feel that it needs to go further. This is however a very important reform for which I thank the Minister. Will she restrain her right honourable friend in some of his remarks about reserves? For many of us reserves are the schools of the future and this issue needs to be looked at carefully. As one who joined local government when no allowances were paid, I would ask whether there will be legislation on this announcement about pensions for councillors, many of whom surrender work—sometimes all work—in order to fulfil a public function. Will that legislation cover other forms of elected representative?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments. He will know that we discussed in the Local Government Finance Bill that, as the economy improves, we hope to extend the percentage of revenue that can be maintained by local authorities as a result of the business rate retention scheme. We have touched on reserves already and I accept, as does my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, that reserves in moderation are an important aspect of local government. Where reserves are allocated against particular projects, that is acceptable, but there are a number of local authorities sitting on very substantial sums of money which they could use to support their revenue responsibilities without having to say they do not have any money. Local government pensions were dealt with in a Written Ministerial Statement that came out a couple of days ago. I suspect it will need secondary legislation but I need to confirm that.

Motion to Adjourn

Moved by

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn. That is something that is said every day that the House sits, but it is very special at this time of year. It is customary, and my privilege, to pay tribute to our staff on behalf of the whole House. The staff have supported us throughout the year. They do so with great professionalism and dedication, which I know is recognised and appreciated by us all.

This is also an opportunity to put on record our particular thanks to long-serving members of the staff who have recently retired or who are about to do so. I would like to begin by acknowledging the work of Mr Allan Roberts, who retires as Counsel to the Chairman of Committees at the end of next month. His office goes back more than 200 years and was originally established to provide legal support for the Lord Chairman’s responsibilities for private legislation. We now see few private Bills compared with those early days when the construction of canals, turnpikes and railways was at its peak. In modern times, the House’s need for legal services in other areas has continued to grow. We have seen much of that quite recently. Mr Roberts now leads a team of three lawyers which, as well as dealing with private business, also provides advice to the Clerk of the Parliaments and other parts of the House administration and to committees on very diverse topics such as statutory instruments, ecclesiastical measures, delegated powers and Bills.

I know that the House will miss not only his considerable professional skills, but also his sound judgment and his quiet dedication to supporting us in our legislative work. The respect in which we all—both Opposition, Cross Bench and the Government—hold the Delegated Powers Committee has, for many years, been in large part due to Mr Roberts’s measured legal advice. We wish him well in his retirement, which I understand should afford him the chance to follow even more closely the fortunes of—this is a football club I do not usually make reference to but I will this time—Tottenham Hotspur Football Club in which he takes a keen interest.

I would also like to thank Rosemary Mannering, who is retiring after 25 years working in the House. Rosemary started work in the Public Bill Office in 1987, but for the past 15 years she has worked as a committee assistant, supporting the Justice, Institutions and Consumer Protection Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee. The Committee Office has had a particularly busy year supporting our increased committee activity and we owe a great debt of gratitude to all those who work, usually of course behind the scenes, to make all that possible. Our Select Committees are so rightly praised as the jewel in the crown of the work of this House. Rosemary is regarded with much affection by all those who have worked with her and I understand that many clerks and chairmen have had particular cause to thank her for her scrupulous attention to detail and thorough proof reading, something which I cannot do. That has prevented such infelicities as “daft legislation”. Hey ho. Good luck to those who will continue her dutiful work. I am sure that the House will wish to join me in wishing Rosemary all the best for her retirement, which will certainly be starting in the right way with a visit to the Tate’s excellent pre-Raphaelite exhibition.

Finally, I would most warmly like to thank Peggy Vega Byatt whose friendly service in the various bars around the House—that sounds awful but we know what we mean—will be familiar and welcome to all of us. What may be less well known is that Peggy started working in Peers’ Dining Room in 1974, which means that she has clocked up a very impressive 38 years of service. I understand, therefore, that in the case of many hereditary Peers, she has served multiple holders of the title in the family along the way. I am sure she has trained them well and I am sure we wish her all the very best in her retirement and in her relocation to Spain with her husband. I understand that she plans to visit when she returns to the country on holiday, and we look forward to seeing her back around the House, I hope, before too long. She really is a very special person in this House, and I know that many Peers have taken the opportunity over the past weeks and months to make a personal statement to her of how much they have appreciated what she has done and how we really will miss her.

All that remains for me to do is to wish all Members and staff of this House a most restful and enjoyable Christmas. Before this House adjourns, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, the Opposition Chief Whip, will wish to speak, and that the deputy Convenor of the Liberal Democrat Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the Convenor, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will also wish to make their contributions.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Government Chief Whip for enabling us all to pass on our good wishes to our staff and our thanks for their long and active service in your Lordships’ House. At this time I always like to put on record my thanks to our catering staff, cleaners, conservators, police, secretarial support, librarians, and maintenance and security staff, because I know that they work very long hours on our behalf and do a fantastic job.

I, too, want to make particular reference at this time to three members of staff for their long service. The first is Elaine Morgan, who was a committee assistant in the Committee Office, and was also formerly a higher personal secretary to the Law Lords Office. Elaine had 23 years of service and has retired this year. She initially worked in the House of Commons—the other place—joining the Parliament Office in 1989. In 1998 she was promoted to higher personal secretary in the Committee Office. In January 2002 she was transferred to the Judicial Office, electing to return to the Committee Office in 2009, when the Supreme Court was established. She was highly regarded by all of her colleagues in the Committee Office, who miss her conscientious attitude to her work and her kindly and supportive manner. Elaine was one of the pioneers of flexible working among House of Lords staff and for a while worked on a week on, week off basis. She plans to start her retirement apparently with some home improvements—well, good luck to her; it is a very noble cause—but is also looking forward to having more time to pursue her hobbies of sailing, cycling and walking. She also hopes to do some voluntary work for local organisations in and around Chichester harbour in the very fine county of Sussex.

The second member of staff I want to pay tribute to is Simon Jones, who has been an executive officer in the Printed Paper Office for much of the past 30 years that he has worked here, and he has only recently retired. He joined the House of Lords in 1982 as a clerical officer in what was then the Record Office and is now, of course, the very well regarded Parliamentary Archives. On promotion to executive officer, he moved to the Printed Paper Office in 1990, where he covered the front desk, which he enjoyed very much. In 1992 he was one of three staff on a small team assisting the staff adviser to check the grading of staff right across the House’s employ. In 1996 he transferred from the Printed Paper Office to the Law Lords Library, and in 1999 he moved back to the Printed Paper Office, this time to deal with office supplies, photocopiers and the mechanics of making the office function well. That post was transferred to the Facilities Department in April of this year, and Simon retired on 27 October. Outside work, Simon’s interests include film-making, photography and art. He plans an extended break in New Zealand during 2013. Colleagues commenting on Simon’s hard work said that he was always helpful, unfailingly polite and an incredibly helpful and courteous colleague, and I am sure that all Members of the House who came across Simon would agree with that.

The third person I want to make reference to is Richard Jacques. This is a rather sad one because Richard passed away this year very unexpectedly. He was a doorkeeper and joined the staff here in 2003 following a very long career in the RAF. Doorkeepers tell me that he was very watchful and mindful of the health of colleagues in the House, particularly Members of the House. During his time in the RAF, Mr Jacques was highly trained in the field of medicine, and his final years in the RAF were spent at RAF Lyneham as part of a tactical medical team flying all over the world to bring casualties back to the United Kingdom —no easy task.

Sadly, Mr Jacques was found dead at his home in Lyneham at the end of September. I know that everyone in the House who knew Mr Jacques was saddened by that, especially his colleagues.

I know that three other Doorkeepers are leaving the employ of the House; Mr Duff, Mr Benny and Mr Dryden. They are all formerly Metropolitan Police officers. It is not my intention to go on at length about their great service here, but I know that we will all miss them. Their good humour, their wit and careful and watchful eye keeps us all in good order and ensures that the House functions as it should.

It remains to me, too, to say a word of thanks to all Members of the House for their tireless work and to pay tribute to the Government Chief Whip for the courteous way in which she conducts business. I pay tribute to her work in the usual channels. I wish everyone else in the House a happy Christmas and all the best for the new year.

My Lords, we on the Liberal Democrat Benches wish to associate ourselves with the tributes paid to staff. This is one of the few occasions on which we all come together and speak with one voice. Visitors marvel at the courtesy, help and often humour they receive from the time they enter Peers’ Entrance to the time they leave. We thank our staff for the service that they provide throughout the year.

Many will continue in their role for years to come. Others may retire after a long service and, in some cases, sadness prevails for those who die unexpectedly while in service. I pick out two individuals among many. We remember Latifa Zounagui, our Senior Housekeeper in the Department of Facilities. Latifa joined the House of Lords as a housekeeper in February 1986. She was promoted to Senior Housekeeper and given the area of the Principal Floor that included the offices of Black Rod, the Chairman of Committees and the Director of Facilities. This high profile area demanded keen attention to detail and the team led by Latifa proved itself to be up to the job and highly professional.

Latifa worked at many State Openings providing assistance in the Peeresses Retiring Room with many and varied requests. Latterly, at her request, she became the team leader at Fielden House where she continued to lead a highly motivated team providing excellent services to Members and staff alike. She retired from the House of Lords in March 2012 after 26 years of service. We wish her a very happy retirement.

The other person, who unexpectedly died earlier this year, is Steve Chamberlain. Mr Chamberlain was the Reprographic Officer in the Parliamentary Archives Department. He joined the staff of this House in 1985. He died suddenly in service in July. He had been a digital imaging technician in the Parliamentary Archives since 1984. His job was to create copies of historic records for use by the public, staff and Members—an essential part of any research service.

Cheery and modest, Steve took great pride in his work and moved from paper and microfilm to digital photography during the course of his career as technology changed. He was always willing to help other colleagues or advise the public on their record-copying needs in the archives search room and his genial presence and contribution to the office life are very much missed by his colleagues in the archives. We join his family and friends in this sad loss.

We say to all our staff that we appreciate what you do to enhance the reputation of your Lordships' House. Thank you and we wish you all a very happy Christmas.

My Lords, on behalf of colleagues in the Cross-Bench Group, I am very pleased to be associated with all that has been said in the well-deserved tributes to the staff of this House. There are many customs in the House of Lords, but surely none is more worthwhile than occasions such as this when we have the opportunity to thank the staff for the part they play week in, week out in the service of this House.

The staff constantly demonstrate a commitment to the success of this House. Their hard work is matched by their thoughtfulness, professionalism and great courtesy; and, whether we meet them day by day or they work behind the scenes, they should know that their help and support is always of immense value to us all. Put simply, we are most fortunate in the quality and dedication of our staff and it is right that we should take every opportunity to acknowledge this and to thank them for what they do.

I am pleased to have the honour of making special mention of three former members of staff who served this House over many years—each with a job of great importance, but which may not have brought them into contact very often with your Lordships. The first one is, I fear, a source of great sadness. Desmond Asiedu, who very sadly passed away only last week, was an enormously popular kitchen porter. He was very highly thought of by everyone in catering and retail services. Throughout his years in the House he was known for his impeccable manners and good nature, as well as his excellent standard of work. He was very conscientious in all his duties and was always willing to carry out any task asked of him. In 2009, in recognition of his contribution to the catering department, Desmond was rightly voted employee of the Session, which was testament to his dedication and the very high regard in which he was held by all his colleagues. He will be greatly missed and we pass sincere condolences to his wife and daughters for their sad loss.

Next I refer to George Newton. He started working for the House in July 1990 as a senior general assistant and was promoted to head storekeeper in 2001. He was a very popular and hard-working member of the catering staff. He also thoroughly enjoyed his free time—I am told that he lived life to the full—and he has now retired to Yorkshire to be with his family and friends. We thank him and wish him a long and happy retirement.

Then there is Mohammed Zounagui who started in June 1992 and worked as an assistant chef for many years before being promoted. He worked in the main kitchen and latterly in the River Restaurant, where he started work each morning at 6.30 to prepare and cook the breakfasts that are most popular with pass-holders from all over the Parliamentary EstateI see them often but at a much later hour. He retired in October to be with his family and friends. As with others, we wish him a long and happy retirement.

All that remains for me is to add my own personal thanks to the staff as a whole and to Members of this House for the courtesy that they show towards me and the help they give me throughout the year. I wish you, and them, a very happy Christmas.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 3.54 pm.