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Volume 808: debated on Thursday 17 December 2020


Moved by

My Lords, we do not have the Privy Seal, so I am afraid it is me. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure to await Royal Assent. We will announce when we will resume on the Annunciator in the usual way. While I know that the leaders of the three main parties paid their tributes to the staff of the House yesterday, this is the traditional opportunity for us to pay particular tribute to those members of staff who have left the House after long service.

I know that we are all enormously grateful to all the staff of the House for the work they have done this year. It has not been easy for any of them. We have all witnessed, day in and day out, the dedication and professionalism they have shown, not to mention the unprecedented amount of innovation and quick thinking that has enabled the House to continue working as effectively as it has—sometimes, perhaps, from the point of view of the Government Chief Whip, far too effectively.

First, I would like to say a few words about Simon Gough, a long-serving archives officer who died unexpectedly in March while still in the service of the House. Simon had worked here since 1990. He was a much-loved and valued member of the parliamentary archives team, and he was respected right across the House. He is remembered for his warmth, kindness, modesty and loyalty, as well as his mischievous sense of humour. He was at the heart of life in the archives, and his knowledge of the collections and, most especially, of his beloved railway plans was said to be unsurpassed. He was exceptionally generous and patient in sharing that expertise. I know that he is greatly missed. Our condolences and thoughts go to his family, friends and colleagues.

Michael Collon is retiring on New Year’s Eve, after more than five decades of public service, the last 16 years of which were spent as a clerk in the Committee Office. Michael served on what I am told was a dizzying number of Select Committees in that time—so many, in fact, that the Committee Office, when asked, had lost count. What did shine through was the esteem and affection in which he is held by his colleagues for his unfailing courtesy and renowned work rate, the unassuming support he provided to others, and for his kind mentoring of new colleagues. He is said to have set the gold standard. Before joining the service of the House, Michael had a distinguished career in the Civil Service, including a stint as Private Secretary to the Lord Chancellor, and served as Secretary of the Law Commission. He was awarded an OBE for parliamentary and public service in the 2018 New Year Honours. Michael’s work is not quite done: his final two committee reports will be published in the next few days. We wish him the very best in his well-earned retirement.

Mr Bennett retired after nine years as one of our doorkeepers, ending his service as Head Doorkeeper. Before he joined the House, he served in the Royal Air Force, and for the last nine years has also been one of the Her Majesty’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard. Many may not know this, but he is also a trained dog psychologist—undoubtedly useful in keeping us all in line. We wish him all the very best in his retirement with his wife and family in Lincolnshire.

If the House will indulge me for just a few more moments, there are a number of staff I would like to thank for their work since March. I thank Duncan Sagar for his work for the broadcasting team; Luke Hussey for his work on the remote voting system; Ayeesha Bhutta in the Clerk of the Parliaments office; and Lauren Coombs and Darren Atkinson and their colleagues in the broadcasting hub. Without their efficiency and dedication, much of what we have today would not work as smoothly as it does.

Lastly, I thank Victoria Warren and her staff in the Government Whips Office, together with our special advisers, who have worked miracles in getting the new hybrid House up and running, followed by remote voting. They have dealt with Members from all sides of the House, sometimes at moments of considerable tension, with tremendous professionalism. I can personally testify that any loss of cheerfulness has been only temporary. I am sure I speak for all in the House when I thank them very much for all their efforts.

My Lords, I associate our group with the comments made by the Government Chief Whip. We particularly send our condolences to the family of Simon Gough.

I am deputising for the Labour Chief Whip—my noble friend Lord McAvoy is in Scotland and is sorry that he cannot be here today. I shall pay tribute, first, to those members of staff who have left us this year and then to some existing staff, as did the Government Chief Whip.

We leave this year with a very different world to that which we came into at the beginning of the year. One of the most depressing and heartbreaking terms I have heard is when we talk about “the new normal”, as if we somehow accept the way things are at the moment. These things are forced on us. They are not the way we want to work and operate but the way we have to, and we look forward to when we are able to be here physically, in person, with colleagues, and work in the normal way—which is, I think, perhaps slightly quicker than the way we operate today. We all recall the days when Zoom was a summer ice lolly and Teams referred to the football teams that we support.

Despite all this, we have been able to continue our work, not in the way we enjoy but in the way we have managed That has been made possible by the extraordinary efforts, the talents, the skills, and the creativity and ingenuity at times, of many of the staff of this House. I do not think there has been a single Member of your Lordships’ House or member of staff who has been unaffected and had to work differently. I will thank those people at the end, but first, I want to pay tribute to those staff who have left us during this year, often after many years of service.

Joanna Gyamfi started work here back in 1998 and left in March this year. Many noble Lords will know her; she was a very popular member of the House of Lords housekeeping team. We remember her cheery early morning greetings as we came in. She worked in a number of different areas of the House of Lords estate, so got to know a number of Peers in the various offices they worked in. The last area in which she carried out her cleaning duties before her retirement was on the Principal Floor, West Front, including my own office. She retired so she could spend more time with her beloved family, and we hope that she is enjoying her retirement.

Another departure this year was Christian Addo-Asiedu from the catering and retail service. Christian was a long-standing porter in the catering team, starting here in January 1999. He was known to the team as “the weatherman”—I hope that was because he had a sunny disposition and personality. He was an outstanding team player and is remembered by his team for his very gentlemanly and kind manner. His friendship and good humour mean he is greatly missed by those he worked with.

A familiar face to many of us was Sue Delaney, who worked for the Hansard team. Many of us will have seen her in the Box, taking notes and trying to make sense of our sometimes incoherent ramblings, as Hansard do so much better than we can ourselves, on many occasions. Sue started her career as a parliamentary reporter with Commons Hansard, and then, with a colleague, came down the Corridor here to the Lords, where she worked for 17 years. She brought energy, good humour and, as some will know, fantastic cookery to the team. We miss her and we wish her and Cas well in the beautiful mill-house they have retired to in Gloucestershire.

It is also appropriate, in what has been an extraordinary year, to pay tribute to those staff who have remained with us and stuck with us through thick and thin. I pay tribute to the Clerk of the Parliaments and his team, the Table Office, the committee clerks and their staff, the Library staff, the broadcasters and, of course, the Parliamentary Digital Service, all of whose work has changed dramatically during this time. I also pay tribute to the doorkeepers, Black Rod’s office, the catering staff and our ever-cheerful cleaning staff. My office has never been so clear and tidy—I hope I have played my part in that as well. I join with the noble Lord’s tribute to the doorkeepers and Black Rod’s office, but also to the Government Whips Office staff, particularly Vic Warren and Ben Burgess, who have done a lot to help the work of the House run smoothly.

I also thank our own staff in our party office. I thank Ben Coffman, who is, I think, longing for recess more than perhaps most of us. I thank Jonathan Pearse, Ian Parker, Grace Wright, Dan Stevens, Dan Harris, Rhian Copple, Ben Wood, Catherine Johnson, Rob Newbery and Sarah McGuire, who does her best to organise my diary and me.

I also pay tribute to all Peers who have played their part and done so much to ensure that the work of the House has gone smoothly. Perhaps we could do so more briefly on occasion, but I really think the House has often shown itself at its best, and I am grateful to all staff and colleagues who have played their part in that.

I am pleased to join the Chief Whip and Leader of the Opposition in thanking all House staff for the great contribution and commitment they made in 2020, on behalf of these Benches. It has been a remarkable year, even if not one we will want to recall too often—although I suspect we will. Staff performance, under great difficulty, stress and worry, has been remarkable too. It is a great tribute to them, their adaptability and commitment that we have operated in these difficult circumstances, for so long.

I pay tribute to two members of staff, who retired in the last 18 months and exemplify everything that is good about our staff. Richard Gee retired in July 2019 after working in a variety of roles in the finance department for 24 years. His final position was head of Members’ finance—a critical position for Members of this House. Fortunately, he was very knowledgeable and probably knew far more about noble Lords than we would have liked. He provided very great service. We wish him well in his retirement, much of which he is dedicating to restoring a classic coach he owns and drives.

Sue Cooper retired in August 2019. She worked in the House for 35 years and eventually became the office manager for Hansard. She was renowned for her relentless pursuit of notes, briefs and information for reporters, and for pursuing them for proofreading. Her diligence was a keystone of Hansard’s ability to operate and gives a sense of its great reputation.

The House is fortunate to have so many loyal and dedicated people working for it. From these Benches, I wish every one of you a very happy Christmas and a much better year in 2021.

On behalf of the Cross Benches, I associate myself with the comments of the Government Chief Whip, the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham. I pay particular tribute to three members of our staff who retired this year.

The first is Robert Harrison, who worked in Parliament for over 30 years, including in the parliamentary archives, or records office as it was then known, and the journal office. He was responsible for the administration of every hereditary Peer by-election since they began—a unique contribution to the democratic process. Outside of his long service in Parliament, Robert’s greatest passion is heraldry. He is the chairman of the Heraldry Society. He used his expertise to help some grateful Members of the House to design their own coats of arms. He was also a devoted assistant secretary to the Association of Lord-Lieutenants and is devoted to his beloved motorcycle, which no doubt he used to escape from us when the pressure became too much, as it no doubt did on occasion.

Larry Blud retired in the summer from a long career in Parliament as a parliamentary reporter, and his unflappable nature—essential to that task—and charming presence will be sorely missed by his Hansard colleagues and the rest of us. He started working in the House of Commons, but felt more at home in the gentler atmosphere of this House, as he put it—a wise man indeed. The terrace will not be the same without his cigar smoke and genial humour. He is spending his retirement in both south London and Spain.

Finally, Peter Clark joined us from the Metropolitan Police in 2009, as events doorkeeper for catering and retail services. His smile and charm had event organisers requesting that he work their upcoming events. He is greatly missed by the whole team.

I thank each of them for their much-valued service to the House and wish them a long and happy retirement. The House depends on the dedication, skill and good humour of all our staff, and we are grateful to them.

Sitting suspended.