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Volume 817: debated on Thursday 16 December 2021


My Lords, before we depart for the Recess, it is traditional for the usual channels to take an opportunity to pay particular tribute to those members of staff who have left the House after long and distinguished service. I know I speak for the whole House in saying that we are hugely grateful to all the staff of the House for the work they have done this year, in some of the most challenging times we can remember.

We have all witnessed how hard they have worked in these unprecedented times, involving multiple changes to the working environment. Their resilience, innovation and patience have enabled the House to carry out its functions virtually, in person and in a combination of both, to the highest of standards.

First, I will say a few words about Helena Valencia Cruz, a long-standing early morning housekeeper, who sadly passed away in May while still in the service of the House. Helena worked on many of our floors since 2007 and always took pride in her job, ensuring that everything she did was of the highest quality. Helena will be particularly remembered for her flexibility during the pandemic and maintenance of high-quality work across the House of Lords at such a crucial time.

Nigel Sully, the former director of human resources, retired at the end of last year. In his time at the House of Lords, Nigel transformed and modernised the human resources function. He was the first professional HR director for the House. He also played a pivotal role in the Covid-19 response from day one of the first lockdown, leading the change to remote working. Nigel is remembered by his colleagues as being passionate about making the House an inclusive place for all who work here. He has continued to combine that passion with his other love as a member of the Inclusion Advisory Group at the Wiltshire Football Association and as a county-level football referee.

Barbara Rougvie was an early-morning housekeeping team leader who retired in January after working in the House for 24 years. She was responsible for cleaning many of the offices on the Principal Floors, including mine. She was exceptionally committed to her work and will be remembered especially for her care of her team and their work to ensure that they were safe during the Covid restrictions.

Lastly, I thank the officials and special advisers in the Government Whips Office for their dedication to supporting me and the whole House through all the changes over the last year. They have done so with great calmness and almost never-ending humour. I particularly thank Victoria Warren, Ben Burgess and Anishaa Aubeeluck, who sadly left the office in the course of this year, although I am pleased to say that they have not gone far—Victoria and Ben to the House of Commons and Anishaa to DCMS. Their legacy in the Government Whips Office will remain for a long time.

I wish them, the staff and Members of the House a healthy and peaceful Recess and a very happy Christmas.

My Lords, I join the Government Chief Whip in paying tribute to all the staff of the House. We are all grateful for their service in the most challenging of times.

I pay particular tribute to three members of staff. Abiodun Aina was a housekeeper in the book team. Abi started work in the Victoria Tower in January 2012. She was a conscientious worker who cleaned the books, parchments, bookshelves and floors on the 12 floors of repositories. Abi was a team player who, during Covid, would change her shift pattern and help the early housekeeping team to complete their sanitising duties. Sadly, Abi passed away in July this year.

Caroline Bradford and Gill Reding retired from Hansard earlier this year. Caroline joined the Hansard team a decade ago. When she applied for her reporter post, she was asked in the interview what she thought her role was. She replied that she saw herself partly as everyone’s mother and partly as the class clown. This made the interview panel laugh. She got the job and in the following decade was true to her word. The office is a quieter place without her, and her warmth and energy are sorely missed. We hope that her retirement has not been too full of grandmotherly babysitting duties and that she has plenty of time to enjoy herself.

Gill retired from the Hansard team after more than 30 years’ service. Through her humour, the outstanding quality of her work and the open, honest and respectful way in which she related to everyone, she earned the respect of the whole Hansard team. Her whispered comments at the Hansard table will be sorely missed—although now it will be easier to keep a straight face when sitting there. The whole Hansard team wish her and her husband Jonathan well and the very best for her retirement.

I also join the Government Chief Whip in paying tribute to the staff in the Whips Office. They are always respectful when dealing with me and my colleagues in the Labour group, and we thank them very much for that. I worked closely with Victoria and Ben over many years. They are missed and we wish them well in their new roles.

I also thank all the staff who work in the Labour Whips Office. They managed to keep me on my feet and briefed, as well as all my colleagues. We would not be able to do our jobs without them. We thank them very much.

It is always a privilege to be in this House, and we would not be here if it were not for all the staff who serve us in every job they do. We thank them all and wish them and all Members here a happy and peaceful Christmas, and a good and happy new year.

My Lords, I join in the tributes to all the staff who have kept us going this year, which has been exceptionally difficult. I would like to pay tribute to three members of staff.

I start with Pat Young, someone important to Peers. For 10 years she was the Members’ finance clerk, well known to Peers for courtesy, good service, efficiency and a very happy nature. We are missing her greatly, particularly at the moment. She had special skills and a love for shopping. She was always able to find things for her colleagues, particularly those difficult-to-find and popular items. She worked quickly and had an extraordinary sense of humour, which was possibly necessary when dealing with us. She has retired to spend time with her family and grandchildren, support Chelsea Football Club and enjoy holidays in the sunshine.

Martin Lake joined the House in November 1998 as part of a new deal placement introduced by the new Labour Government at the time. He worked in the House for 23 year, being part of the Black Rod’s Department and there at the start of the new Department of Facilities. He became a principal attendant in April 2012, reaching the top of the attendants’ tree. He was very professional and always very well respected by his team and Peers.

Belinda Franzmann retired as a Hansard reporter this year after 34 years’ service. She had an endless capacity for hard work and, over the years, must have reported many thousands of speeches with a characteristic passion for language. She was regarded as a very supportive and valued colleague who everybody in the Hansard department misses. They wish her well on her retirement. We wish all three and all the other members of staff who have retired in the past year well in a happy and healthy retirement.

I also join in the thanks to the Government Whips Office, particularly to Ben and Victoria who have moved on to greater things in the Commons. We wish them well and have greatly appreciated all the support and help they have given us. I also thank my office team and, more importantly, all staff members who have supported us through what has been a very difficult year.

On behalf of our group, I wish everybody a very happy Christmas and, hopefully, a much easier year ahead.

My Lords, I want to highlight three members of staff who are retiring.

Patronilha Ramos came to this country from Cape Verde in 1979 and worked in the National Health Service before she came to the House of Lords 15 years ago. Since then, she has worked predominantly in the River Room. Indeed, she was one of the first members of staff to work in the River Restaurant in its current location next to the Lords Terrace. She was a well-liked and respected member of the Catering and Retail Services team. Reports on her say she was a very positive person who was regarded as a loyal and hard worker. Just in case noble Lords all think that is dull, she could also be the life and soul of the party. Her ambition on retirement is to spend some quality time with her grandson, as well as visiting her 92 year-old mother in Cape Verde. Great-granny will have a lovely time when she goes.

Sally Nicholas was a Members’ finance clerk. She is remembered for her special talent as a walking thesaurus and dictionary, which is a wonderful attribute. I wish I had that myself. She worked here for 14 years. Her bright and sunny disposition was evidenced by her habit, which must on occasions have been slightly disconcerting, of bursting into song while still at work and bringing cheer to the office by finding an appropriate song for any occasion and conversation. If anybody wishes to start singing now, I will defer to them. No? I will not defer, then. She was also characterised with that great quality, which so many members of our staff have, of staggering quickly—staggering under the burden but getting on with it.

The only thing I can say against her, which I will, is that she is a supporter of Chelsea Football Club. As a Leicester City supporter myself, we have in common a liking for a blue jersey. She will be greatly missed by her colleagues in the finance team but they know that she will enjoy her retirement—even if she is following Chelsea.

Donald McPherson was a kitchen porter for 11 years. He started working with us in 2010 and will finish tomorrow, on 17 December. He has worked in all of the Lords catering departments and is described by his colleagues as a man of a very friendly disposition who is always willing to help the team, and will be much missed.

I join in the general recognition, already paid by all the Whips, to the staff throughout the House, including those whom we will see, I hope, on 5 January when we come back. They have had a rough time but they have done wonderfully well. I thank them particularly for their patience in dealing with Members of this House who have occasionally failed to realise what huge pressures they have been working under.

I also thank the retiring people in the Chief Whip’s Office—indeed, in all the Whips’ offices. I do so with great pleasure because, sitting where I do, I realise how much of the business that goes on in this House and the ease with which it does, at least most of the time, is the result of careful work along that Corridor. I also hasten to point out on behalf of the Cross Benches that we do not have any Whips. We do not need them: we have Kate Long, who is worth anybody’s office. I thank her and everybody who has helped.