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Tributes to Mr Keith Phipps

Volume 800: debated on Tuesday 5 November 2019

My Lords, before we move on to the rest of our business, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a loyal servant of the House, our Principal Doorkeeper, Mr Phipps. I know that the whole House will join me in thanking him for his 25 years of outstanding service.

A dedicated public servant, Mr Phipps left school at 18 and joined the Coldstream Guards. He served in the Army for 22 years and in December 2000 enlisted as a Yeoman of the Queen’s Bodyguard. In 1994, Mr Phipps joined the House as a Doorkeeper and was promoted to Principal Doorkeeper in 2005. As he rose in seniority, he consistently served Members of the House with his characteristic charm, good nature and unfailing politeness. He handles colleagues with the utmost courtesy, while at the same time making it clear that there is an underlying message of authority, along the lines of, “Don’t mess with me”—some might say, the original strong and stable. Over the years he has provided Members, long-standing and new, with his wise counsel, as my noble friend Lord Robathan attested in his maiden speech. During their time in the Army in Hong Kong and Northern Ireland, my noble friend found that Company Sergeant-Major Phipps was right about most matters and could be relied upon to steer his company commander in the right direction. Many noble Lords will recognise that description of Mr Phipps, who has been a source of wisdom on procedure and custom, helping to steer us all in the right direction; and of course, his commanding presence made him the ideal candidate to act as the master of ceremonies during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee lunch, which hosted Her Majesty the Queen and 700 guests in Westminster Hall.

When I joined this House in 2014, Mr Phipps and his team made me feel very welcome. He has always been willing to help out and on several occasions has taken pity on my poor guests, who invariably get the most uninformative tour of this place, taking over as tour guide with panache and more anecdotes than I could ever remember. His generosity and good humour are, I am sure, valued by all noble Lords.

Our remarks today come earlier than expected. Mr Phipps officially leaves on 13 December, but today is our last day with him as our Principal Doorkeeper. As the season’s festivities get under way in the coming month, I am sure that the Cirencester Salvation Army will want to seize the opportunity to sign him up for a starring role as Joseph in the nativity play, a role that I understand he played successfully some years ago.

Mr Phipps, on behalf of the whole House, thank you for your incredible service to us. We wish you and Sue all the very best for the future; enjoy your well-deserved retirement.

My Lords, this feels a bit like the end of an era, because Mr Phipps has become a bit of a legend in your Lordships’ House. As we have heard, his journey from the Coldstream Guards to the longest-serving Principal Doorkeeper is one in which he can take immense pride. Much of his work will exist in fond memories—his own, ours and those of the many colleagues with whom he has served. It was also captured when he played a starring role in the 2017 “Meet the Lords” mini-series, an appearance—or should that be performance—that has earned him his own personal entry and credit on the IMDb website, which prides itself on being,

“the world’s most popular and authoritative source for information on movies, TV shows, and celebrities”.

Today we say farewell to a celebrity in our midst.

I first met Mr Phipps when I was a fairly new MP in the other place and had a group of constituents visiting from the men’s group at one of our local churches in Basildon. He will not remember this, but I remember it very clearly. I walked through the Peers’ Lobby with some trepidation and approached the imposing-looking gentleman in a white tie. Very politely, I asked, “Would it possible for my guests to sit below the Bar to get a better view of the Lords’ proceedings?” In rather imposing tones, he asked, “Are they all wearing ties?” Then, spying one member at the back of the group, he pointed and said, “He’s not wearing a tie; he won’t be able to get in”. Embarrassed and a little puzzled, I looked around at my guests and spotted the offender. I said, “But, Mr Phipps, he’s the vicar and he’s wearing a clerical collar”. He let him in. For a few years now, just to be on the safe side, one of our staff in the Labour Lords office, Rob Newbery, has kept a drawer full of ties to provide for any Peer or Peer’s guest who requires one.

We are here to serve.

In all the years he has been in your Lordships’ House, we have appreciated Mr Phipps’s company, efficiency and natural authority. We have always known who is really in charge. I hope he has enjoyed his time with us as much as we have. I had to smile at the comments of his late father, Ken, when he reflected in 2012:

“He enjoys his job I think—he has a little moan every now and then, but who doesn’t?”.

On a more serious note, it is both an honour and a pleasure to thank him on behalf of these Benches for his dedicated and unparalleled service to your Lordships’ House. There is no doubt that he has made his mark in the most positive way, for which we are extremely grateful.

Keith, we are going to miss you. We wish you and Sue, your wife, a very long and happy retirement. There is only one thing left to say: thank you and goodbye, Mr Phipps.

My Lords, I have seen Mr Phipps in two guises: as a doorkeeper here in your Lordships’ House and as a member of the Queen’s Bodyguard when I was captain of that august body. His attitude in both environments was that of an experienced NCO having to deal with a blundering second lieutenant who did not even know how to salute properly. He knew how it was done. I certainly did not, and I am sure that new Members of your Lordships’ House have felt similarly at sea when they first tried to work out how we do things here. But he has done that with everybody with an avuncular friendliness and firmness that has been extremely impressive.

At a time when the atmosphere in Parliament has sometimes been extremely fractious, he has helped to ensure that the ethos of your Lordships’ House reflects the tolerance and civility that, I am sure, we all believe should characterise the operations of a Parliament. We will miss him and the qualities he has brought to his roles, and I am sure we will all do our best to uphold the values he has brought to his work and our proceedings. We wish him and his wife a long and enjoyable retirement.

My Lords, on behalf of the Cross-Benchers, I enthusiastically support what has already been said. But the three words I want to use have not been used: “Salubritas Et Industria”. For the benefit of the Cross-Benchers, that is Latin. It is the motto of Swindon Town Football Club. I say this with feeling, because the most important game in Swindon Town’s football history was a 4-3 win in a playoff for promotion to the Premier League in 1993. It was one of the greatest games ever played at Wembley. Swindon scored three goals by half-time; they were home and dry. The opposition scored three goals, so it was 3-3. Then the ref gave a penalty to Swindon Town. The opposition team was Leicester City—my team since I was a boy. I have always had my doubts about that penalty, but for today I will say, as Mr Ranieri once said, “If the ref says is a penalty, is a penalty”. The result was that Swindon went up to the Premier League, and within a very few months, on the wings of that great triumph, Mr Phipps came here. Here he has stayed.

Industria et salubritas. Looking at my own translation, “industria”, as we are all well aware, means work. We have had nothing but work from him, whenever it has been needed. “Salubritas” means health; as we wish him a diminution in his work, we on the Cross Benches wish him all possible good health and a serene, peaceful retirement.

My Lords, on behalf on these Benches I join in the tributes that others have paid. Each of us coming into the House has been greeted and welcomed. We have been guided, led in right directions and stopped from going in wrong ones, always with firmness and kindness. It is that kindness for which I thank Mr Phipps as I, like others, wish him a long, happy, healthy retirement.

My Lords, I am distressed today, and your Lordships should be as well, for the following reason. For some two years Keith Phipps looked after me as a company commander. He kept me out of trouble and on the straight and narrow. He supported me when he conceivably may not have agreed with everything I wanted to do—quite a lot that I wanted to do, actually—and since I have been here he has similarly kept me on the straight and narrow and out of trouble. If he is leaving, who will do that task? Your Lordships should all be worried.

He has shown as Principal Doorkeeper the values and behaviour we would wish for in such an esteemed position, exactly the same as he showed in the Army. He has supported this House as he supported the Army and has shown authority and dignity. I salute him. We have been friends, I hope, for some time. His wife Sue, I, my wife and he have dinner together from time to time. I hope as he goes, we can remain friends and shall continue to have dinner.

My Lords, I conclude very briefly by placing on record my personal thanks to Mr Phipps for the assistance he has provided to me and my two predecessors as Lord Speaker, which has been fantastic. I know from what has been said, and from my short time in the Army, that service in the Coldstream Guards means that he is made of very tough stuff. He will have developed a resilience to many things, including serving under the noble Lord, Lord Robathan. There is an apocryphal tale about the noble Lord marching his platoon to a cliff edge. Nothing was said and they went further and further, when Mr Phipps suddenly intervened to say, “Say something, sir, if it’s only goodbye”.

Mr Phipps’s service to the House has been exemplary, very much in the highest tradition of public service. I know I speak for the whole House when I convey to him our deep gratitude and, above all, our very best wishes for the future.