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Volume 787: debated on Thursday 21 December 2017


Moved by

My Lords, it is the custom of this House before we adjourn for the Christmas break that the usual channels have an opportunity to pay tribute to the staff who support the work of this House with such dedication. With so many supporting us every day, it always seems invidious to single out particular individuals, but we can rightly pay tribute to some of the more long-standing staff who have reached the end of their careers during the year.

Most noble Lords will know enough about the first retired member of staff of whom I speak to be sure that he would not want to be singled out, but I am afraid that he has no choice in the matter. I refer to Brendan Keith, who retired as Registrar of Lords’ Interests in April after 44 years of service as a House of Lords clerk. Brendan insisted on retiring with such little fanfare that it was tantamount to the sort of secrecy that my noble friend has had to employ in presenting her order.

As noble Lords know, Brendan dealt with a number of cases for this House. He had a long and illustrious career in all the main clerkly offices. In 2002, he became Clerk of the Judicial Office and the House’s second ever Registrar of Lords’ Interests, responsible for advising on our code of conduct. In the former capacity, his role was of historic significance, but I will not dwell on that because the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, observed his work in that regard at very close quarters and is much better qualified than I am to comment on it. I will leave it to him to do so.

In my view, it is Brendan’s work as registrar for which this House owes him its greatest debt. It was Brendan who led the work on investigating Members alleged to have been willing to misuse their position in the House in return for payment. He dealt similarly with the cases of alleged wrongful expenses claims. In both instances, the House had to break new ground in order to deal effectively with these allegations. In this, Brendan’s intellectual rigour, fair-mindedness and work ethic were central to ensuring that these cases were dealt with appropriately by the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and the Committee for Privileges and Conduct.

Brendan’s demanding work in these high-profile cases went alongside his more discreet role in advising Members on their compliance with the Code of Conduct. I know how much noble Lords valued the quality and pragmatism of his advice. The Code of Conduct that we have today owes more to Brendan Keith than to any other person. We wish him, and his wife Catherine, who has a similarly distinguished career of public service, a long and happy retirement.

Another Member of House staff noble Lords will have seen on a regular basis is Tara Dawarka, whom we always went to see when we had to settle up as we left the Peers’ Dining Room. Noble Lords may not know, but she loved to do a great deal of travelling in her spare time, and was on one of Concorde’s last flights to New York. She is looking forward to—and here noble Lords will be jealous—spending much of her retirement in Mauritius, perhaps even enjoying a sunny Christmas. We wish her a long and happy retirement.

I close by saying a word about the staff who support us more widely, in particular in keeping us safe. It seems longer ago than nine months since that Wednesday in March when the Estate was attacked as part of a terrorist incident. But we will never forget the commitment and professionalism of the staff of both Houses, the security officers and of course the emergency services in responding to that attack. We wish all of them a peaceful and happy Christmas. In doing so, we reflect on the families of those who died in the attack, including the family of PC Keith Palmer, who gave up his life preventing the attacker from entering the Palace. Our thoughts are with all their families and friends at a difficult time of year.

Much of this House is like a theatre. Those of us with speaking parts on the stage, even if perhaps only occasionally, are supported by many, many people working to make this House an effective Second Chamber. We think of them at Christmas and thank them for all they do for us.

My Lords, it falls to me to follow the Chief Whip, and I am very grateful to him for his very kind, warm and generous words about our staff. He was quite right to draw attention to the bravery of PC Palmer and all the staff who were involved in resolving that incident. They did their very best for this House and our Parliament in extremely trying and difficult circumstances. Our staff serve us very well indeed.

It is perhaps appropriate that my tributes this year go to two of our esteemed doorkeepers who have chosen to draw their time in our service to a close. Most colleagues will, I am sure, remember Mr Michael Pinchen, who began his service to the country by serving seven years in the Royal Marines, for which he still writes articles and publications. On leaving the Marines, he joined the London Fire Brigade and served a full and fulfilling career in that service. He rose to the position of station officer. Michael Pinchen, better known to his friends and colleagues as Mick, joined the doorkeepers in May 2005 and became a Senior Doorkeeper before retiring last summer.

I well recall spending an enjoyable half hour in Mick’s company because we share an interest in the Arts and Crafts movement. He told me on that occasion that he was preparing a history of public buildings in London focusing on the impact of the Arts and Crafts movement on things such as school buildings and, in particular, fire stations. We mused delightfully on the terrific Arts and Crafts example of the fire station along the Euston Road, which I am sure colleagues will be familiar with. Mr Pinchen has retired and he now lives in Chislehurst with his wife Sheila. A lot of his time is spent looking after his grandchildren. I am told that they exhaust him.

The other notable retirement this year was Mr Phipps. Mr Dave Phipps was the first non-military person to join the doorkeepers. At the time he saw the advertisement, I am told that he was repairing Royal Mail vans, so we could say that it was something of a complete change of career—from making sure that the wheels do not come off to making sure that the wheels do not come off. Mr Phipps joined the doorkeepers in 2003. He soon settled in and became one of the team. I recall that nothing was ever too much trouble for him. He would often go out of his way to assist your Lordships and I know that many Peers have missed him since his retirement in the summer due to health problems.

Colleagues will know that we had at one point two Mr Phipps on the staff. I well recall having a conversation with Dave Phipps about the difficulties of mistaken identity. He told me on that occasion that there was never a problem between him and the other Mr Phipps because he was the tall, handsome one. Today, I spoke to Mr Keith Phipps. He assured me that there was never a problem with mistaken identity because he was the short, handsome one. They really have to talk to each other. Now Mr Phipps lives in Bromley with his wife Shani and he spends his time walking his dogs and riding his motorbike. Many colleagues who saw him striding in in full kit wondered how long it would take him to prepare to do the job of the day.

In paying tribute to these esteemed doorkeepers, I also thank the other staff who support us—the Hansard staff, the clerks, the admin staff, cleaners and kitchen staff all do a fantastic job on our behalf. They keep us fed, watered, happy and content and, more importantly, safe and secure.

This will be my last tribute-making speech in your Lordships’ House because I plan to stand down from my post in the new year, for reasons that will be well known to most colleagues here. I hope noble Lords do not mind if I indulge myself a fraction and pay thanks to some of those colleagues who are here present and others who are not. I thank my colleague the Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach—John—for his friendship and role in making this House work. I have enjoyed my time working with him, as I did his predecessor. Our Chief Whip does a great job on our behalf collectively and it has been a pleasure to work with him over many years. I also thank for her friendship the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness Lady Evans of Bowes Park—Natalie—who is again a very good example of the best of politicians on our Front Benches.

It has been a delight to work with two terrific Leaders on the Labour side, my noble friend Lady Royall—Jan—and my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon—Angela—who are excellent in their roles and have been for a long time. They have shown great leadership skills and talents. In recent times, I have been well supported by Denis Tunnicliffe and Tommy McAvoy, as Deputy Chief Whips. I wish them both well for Christmas and the new year.

I want to pay tribute to the staff team that has supported me during my long term in office and on the Front Bench, particularly Ben Coffman, Catherine Johnson, Ian Parker, Jonathan Pearse, Molly Critchley, Dan Stevens, Grace Wright, Hannah Lazell, Nicola Jayawickreme, Rob Newbery, Sarah McGuire, Byron Orme, Gary Klaukka, Melissa Chinna, Sarah Owen, Sophie Davis, Helen Williams, Jessica Levy, the lovely Muna Abbas, and Beth Gardiner-Smith. They have all been amazingly helpful, kind and generous to me and extraordinarily supportive in the work that I have undertaken. It has been a pleasure to work with such a crack team.

It is nearly time for Christmas. I wish everyone well for Christmas and all the best in the new year.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to join my colleagues in the usual channels in thanking staff before Christmas. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Taylor and Lord Bassam, for reminding us of the incident in March and the family of PC Palmer. I join noble Lords in thinking of them.

I pay tribute to three members of staff: Tom Mohan, Sandra Creegan and Linda Brown. Tom Mohan had a long and varied career in the service of this House. Latterly his most senior posts were clerk of the European Union Committee, where he served from 1996 to 2002, Clerk of Public and Private Bills, from 2002 to 2011, and human resources director from 2011 to 2017. Earlier in his career, he was clerk to various committees of the House, including the influential ad hoc committee on murder law.

Many members of your Lordships’ House will have worked closely with Tom during his tenure as Clerk of Public and Private Bills. All of the staff in the Public Bills Office are invaluable to Members in helping this House to fulfil its important role of scrutinising and revising legislation; under Tom’s leadership, new and innovative technology was brought into the office at that time. Tom’s personal dedication to the role and the House was perhaps most evident during the long session of ping-pong on the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, when the House sat continuously to discuss the Bill across two days at 11.30 am, 10.15 pm, 5 am, 11.40 am and 6.30 pm. During this long, protracted sitting, Tom and his staff were constantly on hand to provide advice, support and guidance to individual Peers and the wider House. That stands as a testament to Tom’s commitment and loyalty to this House.

For the last six years of his career, Tom was human resources director and will have been less visible to Members other than those involved in the governance of the House. In that period, he was performing a role that is crucial to the running of the House in ways Members tend not to see, other than in their reflection in the committed, talented and effective teams of staff who support every strand of its work. As HR director, Tom was a driving force on the management board for modernising and rationalising the Administration as a place to work. His efforts supported the Clerk of the Parliaments in embedding the diversity and inclusion agenda and fostering better career development for staff at different grades across the House, including the creation of a new management development programme. Tom also masterminded the first complete overhaul of the Administration’s pay system in two decades—a very risky operation, in my career experience. He also oversaw significant modernisation of HR services.

Tom is a very talented musician. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, tells me he could have been a professional. Instead, we can count ourselves very fortunate that he joined your Lordships’ House. His love of music did not diminish though, and here Tom also made a valuable and lasting contribution away from his day job, through his work as custodian of the magnificent organ in the crypt Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. Tom, himself a skilled organist, played an important role in acquiring and installing the organ; we are delighted to find out that he will continue to take an active role in its stewardship in his retirement from the House. We wish Tom, and his wife Johanna, a long and happy retirement.

Sandra Creegan worked as a housekeeper in the Department of Facilities for 17 years before retiring in March 2017. In her time there she worked in most parts of the House estate. She was originally based in the outbuildings in Old Palace Yard and Fielden House, before transferring to the Palace of Westminster in 2013 with the rest of her small team. Before she retired Sandra had the responsibility for cleaning a number of Members’ offices in the South East Return, as well as the Royal Gallery and Sovereign’s Robing Room. She was always a very conscientious and diligent housekeeper who took great pride in working for the House. She had very mixed emotions when she decided to retire, but she is now enjoying her time looking after her grandchildren and travelling with her family. We wish her well for her retirement.

Anyone who had reason to be in the House of Lords from 7 am every morning would have remembered and recognised Linda Brown, housekeeper team leader. Linda was always a very bubbly, larger-than-life character who loved to share her thoughts with all her colleagues. She joined the House of Lords in the late 1990s in what was then Black Rod’s Department. Such was her familiarity with the Palace and its occupants, she was always the first person that newcomers went to if they needed to know anything about an office or short cut to another part of the building. During her time as a housekeeper, Linda had cleaned most of the offices in the House of Lords. She gained promotion to team leader and always took an interest in the welfare of her team. She retired from the House in July 2017 so that she could spend more time with her family. We wish Linda and her family all the best for a very happy retirement.

Finally, in wishing everybody a very happy Christmas, may I, with the encouragement of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, thank all the staff, particularly at Peers’ Entrance, for their thoughtfulness and understanding for the help they give, particularly to disabled and frail elderly Peers? All of the staff around the House are very caring to all who need help. We are extremely grateful for all that you do. Thank you.

My Lords, it is a privilege for me, as Convenor, to associate myself on behalf of these Benches with the very well-earned tributes that have just been expressed from across the House. I will add a personal word of thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Taylor, Lord Bassam and Lord Stoneham, for all the help that they have given me during these past 12 months. It has been a real pleasure for me to work together with them all in seeking to do the best we can to ensure that everything in this House works as smoothly as possible.

Of course, we could not have achieved what we have without the support of the many members of staff who have supported us in so many ways and in so many places over so many years. That is why it is so important that we should pause for a moment at this time of year to express our gratitude. It is always a pleasure to hear the tributes that are paid in the maiden speeches of recently introduced Members, of which there have been two today from the Cross Benches, to the kindness of the staff and all the help that they have given them in coming to terms with their new surroundings. We know from our own experience that these words of thanks are not empty, and that all the tributes are sincerely meant and very well deserved. We really are very fortunate, and it is entirely appropriate that we should recognise what the staff do for us.

It is a particular pleasure for me to have been invited to add a few words to the tribute that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, paid to the work done by Brendan Keith. I so much agree with the noble Lord that he was somebody who would not want to be singled out at all—but it is quite right that we do, whatever he thinks. He not only retired from his position as the clerk in charge of the Register of Lords Interests but was previously, to give him his full title, the Fourth Clerk at the Table and Clerk of the Judicial Office. I worked with him very closely as one of the Law Lords throughout his time in that office. I was already a member of the Appellate Committee when he began in 2002 and I was still there when his time came to an end as the appellate jurisdiction of the House was transferred to the UK Supreme Court in the summer of 2009.

I recall the meticulous way in which he ran the Judicial Office. But, above all, I recall the selfless way in which he worked with me as we struggled to react positively to the sudden announcement in June 2003 that the Law Lords were to be removed from the House and that there was to be a new Supreme Court—of which neither of us had ever heard. He had had every reason to expect to complete his career in this House as Clerk of the Judicial Office. Now his entire future was thrown into doubt, especially as it became clear that it would not be possible under Civil Service rules for him to move over to the Supreme Court with the rest of us. Nevertheless, with admirable commitment to his responsibilities as our clerk, he continued to run our business to his own exacting standards to the very end. He also played a significant role in the planning for the transfer of that business to its new home. The object was to achieve a seamless transfer. The fact that this was achieved when the time came owed everything to his guidance and attention to detail.

However, our time together was not without compensations. In April 2005, we travelled together to Bahrain to represent the House of Lords at the opening of its newly constituted constitutional court. We were taken to our cars on our arrival at the airport. We were each ushered, at our hosts’ insistence and despite our protestations, to our own personal Mercedes limousine, each with its own Arab-costumed driver. So it was that, in that unaccustomed style, Brendan was driven around the city for the entirety of his visit with his own car and his own driver.

Two-and-a-half years later, we were together in the Caribbean at the invitation of the Government of the Bahamas. We were at a resort on the island of San Salvador, resting after our transatlantic flight before a week’s sitting in Nassau of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. We took the opportunity together to go on a two-and-a half hour bike ride to explore the island. At the furthest distance from the resort, the chain suddenly came off Brendan’s bicycle. As I helped him to put it on again, trying to recall skills not practised since childhood, we reflected on the fact that we were faced with a very long and very boring walk if we had to go back to the resort on foot. Then, a year later, he was with us at a resort in Mauritius, making preparations for the first visit of the Judicial Committee to that island. Like the rest of us, he must have found it very difficult to persuade those at home that, as in the case of our visit the Bahamas, we were there to work and not to enjoy ourselves.

Even though the later stages of Brendan’s time were more than tinged with sadness at the cutting short of his career with the Law Lords, there were moments of real pleasure and enjoyment which, in view of all he did for us, he so much deserved. I know that I speak for all the Lords of Appeal whose judicial business he so carefully organised over those years in wishing him and his wife, Catherine, a long and happy retirement. For our part, we are reminded of him every time we go into Committee Room 1, where he so often worked. We can admire the painting on the wall behind the chair. There he is, seated at the table in the Chamber in wig and gown, as the Law Lords delivered their last judgment in July 2009. That painting would not have been complete without him.

I should like to 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.

House adjourned at 5.18 pm.