My Lords, it is the custom of this House before we adjourn for the Christmas break that the usual channels have the opportunity to pay tribute to the staff who support the work of this House with such dedication, with 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-serving staff who have reached the end of their careers during the course of the year.
I start with Alistair Leaper, because many noble Lords will have used the services of the Barry Room and will know that it is a room I frequently attend. Anyone who has been there will have met Alistair, because he joined the House in 1996, serving Members in the Home, Reid and Attlee Rooms until moving to the Barry Room in 2004. He was there when I arrived in this House in 2006.
He has seen a great deal of change in the service and the standard of catering in this House in that time. The Barry Room, from being Members only, as it was originally, now has House-wide—indeed, Parliament-wide—acclaim. He has continued to provide a friendly—well, sort of friendly, because he is a very friendly chap, but is very much in charge of the restaurant—welcome, with his individual style of managing the restaurant, retaining the most professional approach to his role as manager of the Barry Room. He also leads a team of staff who embody his ethos—warm and friendly with Members—for which he must be largely given credit. As a Barry Room regular, it gives me particular pleasure to wish him well in his retirement, when he will spend more time with his family and plan a little bit of travel for the future.
The next member of staff did not want a fuss when she retired, so I do not intend to stray too far from her wishes. However, we should still pay tribute to Malika Aithaj. Many noble Lords will remember her welcoming approach in the Bishops’ Bar, the Peers’ Guest Room and other catering outlets. She worked here for just over 16 years and retired from the House without any fuss, as she wished, in September.
I close my thanks by saying a word about the staff who support us more widely: the doorkeepers, Hansard, attendants, the Printed Paper Office, the Table Office and catering, night and day keeping us going, those who keep the House safe and secure, the clerks and others who support the work of Select Committees and the day-to-day running of the domestic arrangements in the House of Lords.
Lastly, I thank my staff in the Government Whips’ Office and the Leader’s staff in the Leader’s Office, who support us. They are a superb team. My colleagues in the Whips’ Office are a team family. I know that other Members will have used their services over the past year, because they are here to serve us all. They are an invaluable team. I must also extend those thanks to those who support the other Members of the usual channels. The work of the usual channels is not an easy task, so I appreciate how teams within it support each other and work so well together. I think that noble Lords will be aware of the degree to which this House runs as it does because of that co-operation.
It has been a busy year, in and outside this place, and the beginning of next year will not see an easing of the pace. We know, from what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has said, the expectations that he has of what we will be doing. I think that none of us is in any doubt that the next few months will be extremely exacting. I take this opportunity to wish all noble Lords a restful—and well-earned—break over the next two weeks.
My Lords, I echo the broad sentiments of the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip. This House is well served by staff, from the most junior of catering staff, long-serving cleaning or security staff, who ensure that we are kept fed, clean and safe, to the more senior staff who keep the Chamber business running, or the Hansard reporters, who have the unenviable task of making us sound more articulate than perhaps we always are. These are just examples of those to whom I pay tribute and wish well for Christmas and the new year.
It is my honour to pay tribute to two individuals who have retired from the service of your Lordships’ House this year. When Chris Bolton retired in January this year, she had been working in the House of Lords for over 46 years. Chris joined the House in late 1971 and worked in what was then called the Registry, where all the procedural material and records of the then 1,200 Members were kept. She produced the first information sheets for the growing number of Members giving talks. In 1974, when computers arrived in the Lords, Chris was invited to be involved from the outset. She eventually became the computer services officer—a one-woman parliamentary digital service in addition to her day job. She balanced information, computers and office supplies until 1999, when she transferred to the Private Bill Office, where she acted as Examiner of Private Acts. By the time she had retired, Chris had signed off 46 Private Acts. Private Bill procedure is a particularly opaque aspect of parliamentary procedure. Chris became the procedural expert that everyone involved in Private Bills would turn to. Her knowledge was unsurpassed, as was her patience and understanding when offering advice and explanations to petitioners, for whom the petitioning procedure must have felt like entering the twilight zone. Since retiring, Chris has spent a good part of the year embracing the freedom to travel outside of parliamentary recesses and school holidays. This is a first in over 60 years for her. She has also been indulging her love of craft, whether crochet, embroidery, knitting or making a Windsor armchair from scratch. She also volunteers occasionally at the Bluebell Railway in Sussex.
Christopher Nicholls—Chris to his many friends—started his House of Lords career in June 1979. He retires at the end of December this year after more than 39 years with the administration, having done lots of good for his colleagues and his employer. Chris started out in a clerical post in the House of Lords Library, later working in both the Journal Office and the then Judicial Office. Moving to what is now the House of Lords Human Resources Office in 1994, Chris’s career progressed as he became the HR manager for catering and retail services at the Lords. As we all know, this is a very important department and the largest in the administration. Ultimately, Chris was promoted to the post of head of learning and development, overseeing staff training and appraisal. He became a fellow of his professional body, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Very much practising what he preached as a trainer, he then gained a degree in psychology and a master’s degree in human resources management, all while working full-time.
Heading up the learning and development team, Chris saw through the administration’s first electronic appraisal system. He also designed and introduced the current management development programme in the House of Lords and played his part in working together with the House of Commons service to create a parliamentary induction experience for all new staff, whether they were joining the Lords, the Commons or the Parliamentary Digital Service. Chris’s colleagues will remember him for all this and as a seasoned professional in his field. But, more than that, they will remember him as a colleague of quiet wisdom and a reliable source of advice and support when they really needed it. He will be much missed by his colleagues. I am sure I speak for your Lordships’ House in wishing him a well-deserved and enjoyable retirement.
I would like to echo the words of the Government Chief Whip in paying tribute to the Official Opposition staff; like the Government’s staff, they have a working relationship and both work together for the good of the House. I appreciate them greatly. I wish all your Lordships a happy Christmas, Hogmanay and new year.
My Lords, I join my colleagues in the usual channels by thanking all the staff for their support this year. I have two members of staff to talk about in particular.
Maria Rojas has been a House of Lords housekeeper since April 2006. One of the first areas that she was tasked to work in was 2 Millbank House. In her early years, she was one of the floating housekeepers who were called on to cover any team absences. In her 11 years working for the House of Lords, she has been able to work in Fielden House, Victoria Tower and many of the patches in the Palace. She finishes as a housekeeper working in the Lord Speaker’s residence areas and the River Room, maintaining very high standards and reporting any issues. Maria did not show any signs of slowing down as she got closer to her retirement date and still cycled to work every day. She has had many bicycles in her time; some were unfortunately stolen, while others wore out, but that has not deterred her from her cycling. Now that she is retiring, Maria will continue with her healthy pursuits by finding more time for her Latin American dancing. She also plans to take some time out to travel to Colombia and Europe with her husband and son.
Jackie Dixon worked for Hansard for more than 30 years, retiring in March. Her rock-steady reliability, quiet humour and unstinting diligence were a great asset to the team. Jackie has a great love of the environment and the natural world, and used to fill recesses by travelling the world far and wide with her husband, birdwatching and butterfly-spotting. They even went on a walking holiday searching out rare orchids. It is a mark of her generous spirit that, when she retired, she asked for the money from her collection present to be donated to a woodland charity that plants trees worldwide. While working full-time in Hansard, Jackie also completed a degree in humanities with the Open University and travelled Europe visiting art galleries. Her impeccable standards and calm presence are greatly missed by her friends in Hansard, and we wish her well in this new chapter of her life.
I join my colleagues in wishing both these members of staff a very happy and healthy retirement and, on behalf of these Benches, I wish all your Lordships a very happy Christmas and a successful new year.
My Lords, there are one or two happy occasions when, contrary to usual practice, I am counted as part of the usual channels. This is one of them, so I have the privilege of associating myself and my noble friends, on behalf of these Benches, with the well-earned tributes that have been expressed.
Of course, as the Government Chief Whip has been explaining, we could not have achieved what we have achieved without the many members of staff who have supported us in so many ways and in so many places during the past year. It is always a pleasure to hear in the maiden speeches of recently introduced Members the tributes paid to the kindness of the staff who have helped them in their introduction to the House. We know from our own experience that these words of thanks are not empty words. All these tributes are indeed sincerely meant. We really are very fortunate, and it is entirely appropriate that we should recognise what the staff do for us in our own words this afternoon.
I have been invited to pay tribute to the work done by two people: David Jones, who retired in August of this year, and Paul Bristow, who will retire in January next year.
Dave Jones worked in and around Parliament for over 25 years before he retired. He was first here as a police officer and continued for over 10 years in that capacity. Then he joined our staff as an attendant in the Department of Facilities, later rising to the position of senior attendant during his 15 years with us. His job title might seem rather unexciting, but in truth it was a remarkable occupation that found him working in parts of our estate that many of us never see. It gave him a fund of knowledge of how this place is laid out, which meant that he was very well equipped to act as a tour guide when his help was required in that capacity.
His main responsibility, however, was to manage our stores. The many items for which he and his team were responsible included such day-to-day items as our stationery, much used throughout the House, and printer toners, which are so important for us who use printers. If you were in search of crested stationery or prepaid envelopes or needed new toner, it was to his team you would go.
But he also had the responsibility of managing robes, and of robing Peers, for ceremonial events. This meant that he was one of the first people to meet new Peers on the day of their introduction. He was always careful to see that the robes in which they were attired were the appropriate length. I recall him helping me during the robing of the Commissions of which I was a member when the last Parliament was prorogued, and again at the start of this one when our duty was to ask Members of the House of Commons to elect their Speaker.
This was one of the extraordinary occasions when we had to wear hats as well as robes, and I recall that Dave Jones was particularly careful to see not only that our robes were not too long but that our hats were neither too small nor too large. I remember him as a very conscientious and diligent member of the attendants’ team who took great pride in working for the House. He is planning to learn to play the guitar and also to paint in his spare time. We hope that he is now up to speed with these skills and we wish him well in his retirement.
Paul Bristow joined the staff of the House in November 2003. He was recruited as one of two advisers to the newly established Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments, which we now call the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. He was very well qualified for that position, as he had spent 20 years, from 1976 to 1996, as a policy civil servant in what was then known as the Department of the Environment, and was also a member of the secretariat to the Institute of Actuaries.
During his 15 years with us he has worked mainly on secondary legislation, but for three years, from 2009 to 2012, he was clerk to one of the sub-committees of the European Union Committee—the Environment Sub-Committee as it then was. He then returned to work as a much-valued member of the advisory staff to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Those who are well placed to say so have assured me that his understanding and knowledge of secondary legislation is almost without rival. When he retires, he will be much missed by officials in government departments with whom he has worked, and by the officials and Members of the House who have benefited so much from his work here.
To some, a lifetime dedicated to secondary legislation might seem a little dull but there is nothing dull about Paul Bristow. He revels in puns, which he bestows on his colleagues with unbounded generosity, and he has a more serious hobby—he is an author. He has published several novels, which are the product of his interest in the politics and society of France. To call them novels is a bit of an understatement. They are better described as thrillers. Two of them are set in the time of Napoleon Bonaparte and the third is a modern political thriller set in France at the start of this century.
Perhaps I can say on his behalf that you can find out all about these books on easily researched websites. We understand that he plans in his retirement to write a fourth, set in the France of the 1850s and 1860s, during the second empire of Napoleon III. He also hopes to spend more time with his two young granddaughters in Devon and, as Voltaire might have put it, to help his wife cultivate their garden. We wish him much happiness in what promises to be a busy retirement.
Finally, I add my own thanks to all the staff who are still with us, particularly those who have helped me so much in the Convenor’s Office. I wish them, and all noble Lords, a very happy Christmas and a safe and peaceful new year.
My Lords, before I put the Question, on behalf of the Lord Speaker and all the Deputies, we too would like to wish everybody in the Palace of Westminster a very happy Christmas.
House adjourned at 5.54 pm.