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Volume 777: debated on Wednesday 21 December 2016


Moved by

My Lords, someone has to follow that. On this, the shortest day of the year, we have the opportunity to look back on the year that has gone and to look forward to the year to come. As we look back on this year, we will reflect that it has been a momentous one. It is almost exactly six months since the British people voted on 23 June to leave the European Union. Politically, the result has been akin to a general election, but the House has coped with the transition that has resulted in its inimitable seamless way.

There have been changes in the Front Bench teams. In particular, my noble friend and former Leader Lady Stowell of Beeston has been replaced by our new Leader, my noble friend Lady Evans of Bowes Park. There have been moves elsewhere too, with the former Deputy Leader of the House and leader of the Liberal Democrats, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, who is not in his place, being replaced by the man who served as my deputy in the coalition and who has moved from being the Liberal Democrats’ Chief Whip to their leader, the noble Lord, Lord Newby.

We have also welcomed a new Lord Speaker: the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. It is a testament to his years of experience in this House and the other place that he has taken to his new role with ease and professionalism.

Throughout these somewhat tumultuous changes, the usual channels have continued to work effectively and, by working together, this House has continued to perform its proper function as a House of scrutiny and revision. There is self-interest here, of course. Let me be clear that no one has more acute awareness of the need for co-operation and trust in this House than the Government Chief Whip who has only 30% of the votes of the House on his Benches. Fortunately, the leaders of the parties find it easy and natural to work together, too, and so do my fellow Chief Whips. I am very grateful to them and I think that the House should be, too, because it enables us all to concentrate on the issues that really matter and to prove the relevance of this House to the parliamentary process of which we are part.

Of course, there is much more to this House than those of us who have the privilege of sitting on its Benches. It works so well because of the staff who support us—our private office staff, advisers and researchers, as well as the clerks, who ensure that the House functions so seamlessly. But we also have a wider support team whose dedication and commitment to this House ensures that it continues to operate effectively. They include the catering staff, the cleaners, the librarians, the doorkeepers and security. I thank each and every one of them for their contribution to the work of this House.

At this time of year, it is customary to recognise and give thanks to those who have left the House over the past year. At the end of January, James Griffin— Jim—retired as a doorkeeper after 12 years of service. I know that many noble Lords will be aware that he sadly died in April before he and his wife, Lorraine, could enjoy his retirement. They were planning to do so much, and I know that he is much missed by his family and friends. We send his family the very best of wishes at this time of the year.

Those noble Lords present at the close of business yesterday will have noticed that Jeff Baldock, who has been a doorkeeper for almost 19 years, carried out the Mace. Before joining the doorkeepers in 1998, he served a full career in the Royal Engineers. He was promoted to senior doorkeeper in 2005 and retired yesterday. Jeff and his wife, Michelle, live in Rainham. He is looking forward to spending more time with his family and particularly his grandchildren.

Yvonne Cumberbatch was a long-serving member of the catering staff who retired at the beginning of the year. She is much missed by her colleagues. Noble Lords will also miss Franco Galeota, who has been a member of the catering department for the past 16 years. Franco has done much to enable noble Lords to feel at home in this House as they enjoy good food and fellowship in the Barry Room in the evening. Regulars at the Long Table in the Barry Room have already paid tribute to Franco.

I know that Franco has two great loves, his wife and three daughters, and Inter Milan—which seems odd for someone who comes from Matera in Basilicata, which is right in the instep of the far south of Italy. Franco will continue to live here with his wife and family, who are eagerly anticipating the arrival of their first grandchild. I have no doubt that his time looking after noble Lords will be fantastic preparation for catering for his first grandchild’s needs. Franco has worked tirelessly and courteously throughout his service, and he has certainly earned a well-deserved retirement.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all noble Lords and colleagues for the way in which the House has worked together over this past year. As we look ahead, we are all too aware that there will be plenty to challenge us, but I have no doubt that the ethos of this place provided by noble Lords and those who support us will enable us to do justice to the traditions of this House. I wish you and your families a very happy Christmas and offer every good wish for 2017.

My Lords, try following that—the Government Chief Whip following the noble Lord, Lord Freud. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, has quite rightly mentioned the staff of the House. It falls to me to speak on behalf of these Benches due to absence of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who had a long-standing commitment which he was unable to change. However, he has sent his best wishes to the whole House and to the people whom I am about to mention.

Jenny Mitchley, of the Clerk of the Parliaments’ Office, served from 9 June 1975 to 31 March 2016. One of her first jobs in 1975 was to work for a certain David Beamish, who joined the same year. She put together the rota of Deputy Chairmen for many years. She was very fondly regarded by the deputies, many of whom regarded her as a good friend. Consequently, it was sometimes hard for colleagues to get in to see Jenny, being forced to wait in a queue of several deputies seeking her audience. She worked for a number of Chairmen of Committees, serving them well and adapting to their styles, although I am reliably informed that it was always clear that Jenny was in charge. She regularly played the piano for lunchtime services in the Crypt Chapel. I am again reliably informed that she is greatly enjoying her retirement, going on long walks with friends, spending time in her garden and visiting her favourite holiday destination, Salcombe in Devon.

Geoff Newsome served the House from 16 July 1984 to 31 March 2016. He joined Black Rod’s office as an attendant in 1984 and in 1988 moved on promotion to the Printed Paper Office, where he served for 10 years. A further promotion to senior clerical officer took him to the Committee Office, where he worked for more than 16 years, with a further period working in the Printed Paper Office. Geoff wore his long-service badge with pride and is much missed in the Committee Office. I am again reliably informed that he regularly returns to meet up with colleagues and now has time to enjoy daily walks, often in Dulwich Park.

Peter Milledge, of the Legislation Office, served the House from 4 April 2005 to 30 November 2016. Peter joined the House from the Department for Work and Pensions in 2005 as deputy counsel and became Counsel to the Chairman of Committees in 2013. He enjoys the great outdoors, whether gardening or walking with his wife, Jenny, and their two collies in the area around where they live in north-west Essex. I am further reliably informed that Peter is unlikely to miss his 5 am starts for the commute into London.

On behalf of the whole House, we give thanks to these loyal servants of the House as an indication of how much we value the service of all those who look after us.

My Lords, as a new boy to the usual channels, I join my colleagues in thanking all the staff for the work they do in the House, especially during the past year. They do vital work in keeping the show on the road and provide a very important service to all of us. I have the task of paying tribute to four members of staff who have retired during this year.

Graeme Quin worked for 32 years in the service of the House, joining in 1984. He worked in the accounts department, in Hansard and, most memorably, in the Printed Paper Office. My own group staff always regarded him as an extremely friendly and helpful member of staff and are missing him hugely. In 1987, Graeme was involved in an accident on the way home from late-night duty in Hansard, resulting in serious injuries during which he lost a knee. Determined to return to work, he always expressed extreme gratitude to the Administration for the help and support that he received following his accident. Graeme’s passion is photography. He has often been seen around the House taking photographs of events such as the State Opening. He hopes to return as a visitor for State Openings and to continue with his photography.

Rolando Olivares was a housekeeper and served 12 years in the House from January 2004. He worked for many years cleaning offices for Members and staff in the House of Lords outbuildings and in the Palace. He was a very valued and helpful colleague who had a genuine affection for working in such a heritage-rich environment. His appreciation of our buildings was helped by having worked in similar positions in a number of London museums. He displayed an appreciation of the history of the Palace of Westminster. His retirement plans will mainly revolve around his family here in England and his extended family in Chile and Sierra Leone.

Toto Dje was a housekeeper with nearly 12 years’ service to the House, starting in 2004. He worked in Fielden House and then in a number of areas of the House of Lords. He was a very diligent member of the team, with a keen eye for detail and also an appreciation of the heritage rooms he was tasked with keeping clean. A very popular and friendly colleague, he is now enjoying a well-deserved retirement.

Finally, Jacqueline Wheatley was a housekeeper with eight years’ service from 2008, a well-respected and very hard-working member of staff who kept high standards and whose work was appreciated by the many people whose rooms she cleaned. Jacqueline’s cleaning patch was the second floor west front. She took much pride in ensuring her rooms were always presented to the highest standards. She has a number of priorities for her retirement: free time with her family; to get out and travel more; and, particularly, caring for other family members. She would like to spend time practising T’ai Chi and she also volunteers at St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney.

We thank all of them for their loyal and dedicated service and wish all noble Lords and staff members a very happy, healthy and good New Year. It will certainly be a challenging one.

My Lords, it is a real privilege for me as Convenor to associate myself on behalf of these Benches with the well-earned tributes—and the welcomes, too—expressed across the House. I will add a personal word of thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Stoneham of Droxford—and his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Newby—for all the help they have given me during the past 12 months. It has been a real pleasure to work with all of them in seeking to do the best we can to ensure that everything in this House works as smoothly as possible. As seen from the Cross Benches, this has been a good year. The expertise to be found on these Benches has manifested itself in so many ways. As a group, we have been able to contribute in full measure to the work done here, in both the Chamber and the committees. For your Lordships’ part in that, I am most grateful.

Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, we could not have achieved what we have this year without the support of the many members of staff who have looked after us in so many ways in so many places over so many years. That is why it is important that we pause for a moment at this time of year to express our gratitude. It is always a pleasure to hear the tributes paid in the maiden speeches of recently introduced Members to the kindness of the staff and all the help that they have given in coming to terms with the new surroundings. We know from our own experience that these are not empty words of thanks and that all these tributes are sincerely meant. We are very fortunate and it is entirely appropriate that we recognise what the staff do for us in our own words this afternoon.

I have on my list two people who, although less visible than the doorkeepers, made a significant contribution to our work. I will mention first Catherine Vivian, who joined Hansard as a reporter in December 2002. There was a time when Hansard writers were very visible to us because they sat at a table just in front of the Cross Benches. This position was not without its hazards, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, reminded us last year. He told us how Lord Denning demonstrated what was involved in the crime of battery by—if the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, will forgive me—putting his hand, without any warning, on the shoulder of the Hansard writer sitting right in front of him. The place where Hansard writers sit had been moved to its new position below the Bar by the time Catherine arrived, so she was at least spared the risk of the taking of liberties of that kind.

However, that is not to say that there were no opportunities for her to meet at least some noble Lords as she travelled to and from Hansard’s offices on the second and third floors. I tend to leave the Chamber by the small corridor that leads to the Not-Contents Lobby, so I quite often brush shoulders with them there or in the passage outside the Moses Room. The lift to the third floor, which is used by those who, for understandable reasons, choose to go up to that floor by lift rather than clambering up the staircase, is just beside my room. It is my usual route to the outside world, so I find myself in the Hansard writers’ company there, too.

Sad to say, I am not conscious of ever having met Catherine Vivian. This is because, as the Hansard writers work anonymously when performing the task that we all value so very much, their names are never revealed to us. My chances of meeting her have now gone, as she retired from the House of Lords last January. I am told that she was proud of the fact that she always worked for what she called “grand institutions”. They included Harrods and the BBC, where she worked on the “Today” programme with Brian Redhead and Robert Robinson, whom we all remember from the 1990s. Then she came to this House—another grand institution—where, due to her warm and generous personality, she quickly became a popular and valued member of the team. Now that she has retired, she has had more time for her love of travel. This has included a trip to Vietnam to visit her son. Perhaps there will be time for music, too, as she was a promising violinist in her youth. She is much missed, and we wish her well wherever she may travel to in the future.

I am happy to pay a very warm tribute, too, to Dr Elizabeth Hallam Smith, who became our first Director of Information Services when she joined the House in 2006. She, happily, is someone whom I did meet. We were already in the process of planning for the removal of the Law Lords to the Middlesex Guildhall by the time she arrived. The challenges that this gave rise to were something that she had to face early on in her time here, as plans had to be made for what was to be done with the very extensive law library, which had been built up over many decades to service the work of the Appellate Committee. Any idea that we as Law Lords might have had that we could simply take the library away with us was soon dispelled by her insistence that there were good reasons why the bulk of the collection should remain here. It was a wise and far-sighted decision, the soundness of which I can appreciate now that I am back here on my retirement from the Supreme Court.

Dr Hallam Smith had previously pursued a successful career at the National Archives at Kew. When she took on her new role, she brought together in one what had previously been three separate functions: the Library, the Information Office and the Parliamentary Archives. She led the way in undertaking a modernisation of the Library and the Archives. She also oversaw the development of a number of services which we now share with the House of Commons, including education, visitor services, outreach, the web and intranet services, and broadcasting. She was committed throughout her time here to generating a greater public understanding of and engagement with this House. Among the innovations for which she was responsible were the annual Lords Chamber event, Lords of the Blog, the Lords Digital Chamber and the House’s presence on social media. She has perhaps done more than anyone else to create a place for us in the modern world of cyberspace. For that, she has our lasting admiration and gratitude.

Dr Hallam Smith is a medieval historian at heart. She saw the opportunity to use history to engage the public with Parliament. She championed Parliament’s celebration of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta. It was she who organised the reunification of the four original 1215 Magna Cartas in the Robing Room last year. She has now returned to her first love, historical research. But we have not lost contact with her entirely as she is acting in a voluntary capacity as a research adviser on architecture and heritage to Parliament’s Strategic Estates team, at what may well be a very critical time for us as we look ahead. We have much to thank her for.

I end by adding my own thanks to all the staff who are still with us and wishing them, and all noble Lords, a very happy Christmas and a safe and peaceful new year.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 3.29 pm.