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Volume 826: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2022

My Lords, shortly before Christmas each year, the usual channels rightly and duly pay tribute to the staff of the House who have retired or passed away in the last 12 months.

Before I turn to individual tributes, colleagues from the usual channels will want to join me in acknowledging the work of all those who work for your Lordships’ House. Their skill and dedication, already very well known to us, was shown to the world following the demise of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. From the tributes in the Chamber to the transformation of Westminster Hall and the management of the lying-in-state, all were made possible and delivered by staff of your Lordships’ House. All those who worked to make these events happen were, in my judgment, a living tribute to Her late Majesty. I know all noble Lords will join me in thanking all those who worked so tirelessly over those 10 days in September, and throughout the whole of the calendar year.

Our tributes start sadly. Lee Barnes passed away in May this year. He joined the House in 2017 as a print production assistant—one of those who work in the bowels of this place, ensuring that the papers on which we so rely appear like clockwork. I am told that Lee was the first to start any new work that came in, the first to volunteer for tasks, and diligent in ensuring that your Lordships’ papers were right and on time. Lee’s first passion was his five year-old daughter, Libby, who was a source of immense pride to him, as well as of daily updates to his colleagues. Lee’s love of football and music were also passed to those around him, whether the merits of Chelsea or Leatherhead FC, or waxing lyrical for hours about known and unknown gigs, artists and bands. At his funeral, all were asked to wear band T-shirts as a tribute. Lee’s sudden death was a terrible shock to his team, and he is greatly missed by many in this House.

John Vice, the Editor of Debates, retired just two weeks ago. The Hansard rooms at the top of this buildings are rarely visited by noble Lords—except perhaps by someone desperately wanting to correct the record—but Hansard’s output is integral to our work. John Vice was a Hansard lifer, joining the Commons Hansard team in 1987, moving to the Lords 14 years later, and rising to become Editor of Debates in 2013.

John was fascinated by the history, philosophy and art of Hansard. He could enthral listeners on how Hansard recognises “noises off” and on the subtleties of individual words, but John was also a deeply adaptable Editor. These were qualities seen most clearly in his leadership of his team through the Covid-19 pandemic, when all of us were removed from familiar spots in this Chamber to our homes. Many noble Lords struggled in making contributions over variable internet connections, and I certainly did as a newish Minister in my back room. Pity then the reporters straining to hear and faithfully record every word. John ensured that his team rose to the challenge.

John’s quiet, unassuming generosity to his colleagues extended beyond this place. He offered guidance to parliamentary reporters worldwide and he was president of the Commonwealth Hansard Editors Association. In retirement, I am told he will continue to spread his wings, and plans to cycle round Australia. There is quite a big desert over there, John. We wish him well.

Akua Konadu worked in the housekeeping team. She started this work in 2007 and retired earlier this year, after 15 years. Akua was a member of a team working in the early hours on the most high-profile and historic parts of this building, including the Library, Peers’ Lobby, the Royal Gallery and the Robing Room. She retires now to spend more time with her beloved family, and we are grateful she was part of our family too, for 15 years.

Julia Keddie had a 34-year career that spanned both Houses. She joined the House of Commons Library in 1988 and worked in a variety of roles, providing information to MPs and managing the decant of the Commons Library collections, which at that point were stored in the Palace basements. Her range extended to supporting committees, as well as digital projects. In the Lords, Julia was the collections project manager, managing the storage of the House of Lords Library’s extensive print collection, making sure it was conserved and preserved, as well as planning for the safeguarding of the collection in the event of a disaster. Julia developed strong links across many offices to do this, bringing expertise gathered across her varied career.

Clare Hook will be best known to noble Lords for her work in the Members’ finance team. During her 18 years in the House, Clare displayed an unending supply of enthusiasm and good humour, answering queries and making sure claims were paid accurately and promptly. She managed the Members’ finance scheme brilliantly. Clare cared deeply about her colleagues and, during the pandemic, their welfare was at the forefront, as she did a huge amount to keep spirits up and help the team manage the transition to working from home. To those around her, Clare seemed to know everyone. Her positivity, laughter and, I am told, supply of edible treats will be sorely missed.

Mark Cooper was a polymath, working across four different offices and more during a 37-year career in the House of Lords. In his early career, he worked in clerical roles in the Committee Office and Judicial Office, supporting the Law Lords, who were then—happy days—based in this House. Mark moved to working on legislation and, over nearly a decade, became a fount of wisdom for his colleagues across the House and in Whitehall. He ended his career in the specialised world of hybrid and private Bills, guiding the confused through the complexities of these sometimes arcane processes. Outside this list of jobs, Mark did much more, frequently taking on extra responsibilities, usually those that would support and assist the well-being of his team—any team. Indeed, as long-standing secretary to the Farmers Club, he supported my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. Finally, Mark was a self-taught calligrapher, and the exquisitely crafted humble Addresses for State Opening, jubilee and following the demise of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth were Mark’s work. He was, according to those who worked with him,

“one of the finest, most professional and most compassionate colleagues”.

We will miss him also.

Finally, before I sit down, I would not wish to leave without thanking the team in the Government Whips’ Office for their support, dedication and good humour through a turbulent year. They provide consummate service not just to my office but, in many ways, to the whole House. I wish them, all staff of the House, and all noble Lords a blessed and merry Christmas.

My Lords, I start where the Leader of the House finished: I join him in thanking all the staff of the House and wishing everybody a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

I am always conscious when I come into this House that there are people here before I arrive, such as the security staff and cleaners. They are here as I walk out the door in the evening as well, as I say goodbye to them. We thank all the staff for all the work they do. We also thank all the staff who work for Members here, and those staff in the usual channels and Whips’ Offices. I also thank the contracted staff: the people who work for Royal Mail and give us our postal services, and all of the contractors based here as well. Thank you all so much.

As the Leader said, the dedication and service of the House was on its finest display during the period of national mourning and the lying-in-state of her late Majesty, with our doorkeepers and Black Rod on television at key points throughout those two weeks. We thank them very much for their service then, as we do for all their service throughout the year.

Philippa Tudor retired in October with clerkly precision, exactly 40 years after her start date. She held several key roles in the administration, including positions on the management board as finance and HR director and, for the last 10 years, as Clerk of Committees. Philippa blazed a trail for others: until more recently, she was one of a few senior women in the administration. She led by example and broke new ground, and was the first woman to sit at the Table of the House.

Philippa was committed to improving the House as a place of work for everyone in it. As HR director, she steered the House to Investors in People accreditation for the first time. As Clerk of Committees, she will be missed by her staff team, whose well-being she was visibly committed to. Never was this more needed than during the pandemic, when she was able to oversee the innovative delivery of committee services without compromising colleagues’ health at any stage. She was a distinguished finance director, leading the finance team through a period of significant change.

Away from her career in the Lords, Philippa also held a senior role in the Scotland Office as the head of its parliamentary constitutional division, where she played a leading part in establishing the basis of the working relationship between the UK and Scottish Governments in operating the devolution settlements in the early 2000s. Outside work, she has for many years been a volunteer for the charity Facial Palsy UK, running its London support group and supporting those affected by the various forms of facial palsy. Since retiring, Philippa has volunteered at Pecan, a south London charity providing support to people in need, such as the long-term unemployed. Philippa is a talented and passionate historian, having just published an excellent book on Mrs Gustav Holst.

Elma Refuerzo started in the House of Lords in September 2000 and retired in September 2022. She was a valued member of staff, working for 20 years as an early housekeeper, cleaning high-profile areas of the House including the Chamber, the Lord Speaker’s Office, the Robing Room and the Norman Porch area. Elma retired to spend more time with her daughter and mother in the Philippines.

Lesley Linchis retired from House of Lords Hansard in March, after working here for 21 years. Her first encounter with Hansard was in the early 1980s, when she worked in the Commons as a freelance typist, having answered an advertisement in the Evening Standard asking for people who were prepared to work unusual hours. She then joined the Commons Hansard team officially, taking on various reporting roles before moving to the House of Lords in 2001, where she worked as a reporter and, finally, a managing editor. Her long career was marked by a combination of hard work and arcane film knowledge.

Janet Anderson started in August 2008 and retired in March 2022. She was a valued member of the early housekeeping team and worked for 16 years in the House cleaning its high-profile areas and outbuildings, including the Robing Room, the upper Chamber galleries, the Royal Gallery and the Lord Speaker’s offices. Janet was a hairdresser for many years and has now retired to spend time with her husband and children.

Karen Stokes started in the Palace of Westminster as a security officer in 2002, where she soon became known for her politeness and professionalism to everyone she met. After retiring as a security officer in 2016, she joined Black Rod’s department as a doorkeeper that year. She was able to transfer a lot of her skills and knowledge of the building from her previous role. She was a loyal and knowledgeable member of the team, respected by all who knew and worked with her. She will always be remembered for her infectious laugh, which could often be heard in the other place. Karen retired from Black Rod’s department in April and is currently working in the banqueting department.

Michael Stevenson started in the House of Lords in March 1986 as a second chef, and eventually became head chef. He was a well-liked member of the catering team and was always seen as supportive and a mentor to junior chefs. Kind and professional, Michael then had a second career in the House of Lords, moving across to property and office services in the Department of Facilities in 2013 as a facilities manager. Michael thrived in this role and took on management of the housekeeping team, among other duties. He was passionate about protecting the heritage of the Palace and took huge pride in the work of the housekeeping team, in particular preparing for the State Opening of Parliament.

One of Michael’s lasting achievements was to gain support and funding for the House of Lords heritage cleaning team—the first of its kind. It has become indispensable in providing specialist cleaning services to both Houses; it recently provided them in Westminster Hall for her late Majesty’s lying-in-state. Michael worked with many Members and staff across the House for many years. He was well thought of by all those who worked with him. Michael retired on 5 June 2022, looking to spend more time with his two children and watching Formula 1 and football, and to move out of London for a quieter life.

In conclusion, I wish all Members of the House a very Merry Christmas.

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord True, in thanking all the staff for their very considerable efforts on behalf of us all over what has been an unusual but certainly demanding year. Obviously, the work that was done in the aftermath of the death of the Queen by staff in your Lordships’ House was most impressive. I think all noble Lords really saw our staff at their best during that stressful period. I join the Leader in thanking the staff in the Government Whips’ Office for helping to make the usual channels work so smoothly, and indeed my staff, who try to make me work more smoothly also, with variable degrees of success.

Mark Simpson recently retired after a distinguished and varied career spanning 30 years. During this time, he built up an extraordinary depth of knowledge of Parliament and its proceedings, which he used to improve understanding among the public and colleagues alike. Mark had a number of roles, but it was his 20 years handling inquiries from the public in the Information Office, later the Communications Office, where he made his most telling and lasting contribution.

The inquiry service was one of the founding teams when the Information Office was created. At its inception the service comprised little more than a basic phone line, but over the ensuing years Mark steadily transformed it into one that its many customers rely on and value today. Although the inquiry service was primarily intended to serve the needs of the public, Mark’s reputation for being the fount of all knowledge on your Lordships’ House meant that his expertise has been regularly in demand from staff and Peers alike. He also developed an unrivalled knowledge of the nooks and crannies of the Palace of Westminster itself. His idiosyncratic, entertaining and fact-filled Friday afternoon tours for new joiners became the stuff of legend. Perhaps there is a retirement job for him here but, in any event, we wish him a long and happy retirement.

Frances Grey worked for the House for over 20 years, quickly developing an expertise in information compliance, and was instrumental in preparing the House for new information access legislation, such as the Freedom of Information Act, environmental regulations, GDPR and the Data Protection Act. Initially a team of one, as information compliance demands increased, she became the head of information compliance and data protection officer for the House. She has been the House’s lead on all information compliance-related work and provided authoritative advice to no fewer than six Clerks of the Parliaments. For many staff, Frances was a constant figure of advice and assurance, a model of discretion, tact and good sense, and always ready to provide constructive and practical advice, balancing the needs of the House with the public interest and transparency.

Barry Whitcombe had been with House of Lords Facilities for 16 years. After five years, he was made senior attendant. Barry was a well-liked member of the team and is missed by all his colleagues. He will, however, now have more time to devote to his great enthusiasms: following Saracens rugby team and travelling with his family.

Julie Darlington’s contribution to the House of Lords has spanned 14 years. She helped establish the learning and organisation development team, before promotion to the role of pensions manager for all staff of the House of Lords Administration. In this role, she promoted the pension scheme to great effect and personally delivered the extremely challenging move into the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme. Over the years, scores of people at every level in the organisation have benefited from her patient and empathetic explanation of their pension entitlement.

Richard Blake had a long career with the Ministry of Defence before joining the House of Lords in 2018 as director of the Parliamentary Procurement and Commercial Service. He had a unique perspective and a way of sharing his views with both humour and steel, the latter particularly when it came to compliance with regulations, for which we are extremely grateful. During his time in Parliament, arguably his greatest achievement was his invaluable work at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, leading the mammoth procurement at pace which enabled the virtual Parliament to operate in a compliant manner. He was also able to exercise the benefits that came from being head of procurement. Having a sweet tooth, he took a particular interest in all things food, especially cakes and pastries, and would try to be part of any form of cake-testing exercise. Richard is an ardent fan of rugby, real ales and red wine and a devoted father to two daughters. He was a respected leader and mentor to many in your Lordships’ House. We wish him and all other retiring staff the very best in their retirement.

My Lords, it is a privilege for me, on behalf of the Convenor, who very much wishes that he could be here, to associate myself and these Benches with the very well-earned tributes which have just been expressed across the House. Of course, we could not have achieved what we have achieved 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 very important that we pause for a moment at this time of year to express our gratitude. It is also a pleasure to hear the tributes that are paid in the maiden speeches of recently introduced Members to the kindness of the staff, thanking them for all the help they have given to them in coming to terms with their new surroundings. We know from our own experience that these words of thanks are not empty words. All these tributes are sincerely meant, so I think it is entirely right that we, on behalf of our various Benches, should take time to 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 five members of staff who have retired or are about to retire this year: Margaret Pieroni, Kath Kavanagh, Helen Egbe, Grahame Larkby and Nathan Mahesan.

Margaret Pieroni retired at the end of last month from the Human Resources Office as head of employment policy, pay and reward after 38 years of service to the House. During these years she made what can best be described as a sustained and enduring contribution to the work of every office our staff occupy. These included the Legislation Office and, perhaps most notably of all, in her chosen field of human resources. In the course of her long career, she developed a deep knowledge of the workings of the House and, more than that, a love for the work we do in this place. I am told that her resilience and conscientiousness won the respect of the many colleagues with whom she worked, and that she played a huge role in what the Human Resources Office has delivered for the Administration of the House of Lords.

Special mention must be made of the crucial part Margaret played, in her expert and quiet way, in Parliament’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her task was to advise on and advocate for the best possible employment practice to keep the show on the road, and to do whatever it took to maintain support from her colleagues across the estate. The whole House benefited greatly from what she did during that difficult period.

Then there is the part Margaret played as a member of the Control Room Team for what was called Operation Marquee, the arrangements for the lying-in-state of Her late Majesty the Queen Mother in 2002. Last but not least, there is the work she did as a key member of the team that introduced far-reaching and effective pay reform, which I am assured will stand the Administration in good stead for years to come. We have much to thank her for, and I am sure that the House will wish her a long and happy retirement.

Kath Kavanagh, who will retire at the end of this year as Clerk of the Printed Papers, has made a very significant contribution to the work of the House too. She completed a period of no less than 40 years of service last October, having entered service in October 1982, the same month as Philippa Tudor. She began in what was then the Refreshment Department, but then moved to the Finance Department before joining the Journal Office. It was while working there that she studied for and obtained a qualification as an accountant, which was of great value to us as it enhanced the quality of the work she was able to do on behalf of the Administration. Thereafter, she was one of the first members of staff to progress by internal promotion to become a clerk, taking on what are known as House duties, including until very recently in the Chamber.

Among the things for which Kath Kavanagh was responsible during her time as Clerk of the Printed Papers was the contract that supplied business papers to the House. She played a key role in renegotiating that contract in such a way that considerable sums of public money were saved. It was during her time too that the contract was terminated and the printing function brought in-house, with the result that further public money was saved. She played an important part in this change from the start by managing the reprographics unit and the contract for the printing equipment. She also had a leading role in the introduction of the electronic laying of government papers during the pandemic, ensuring the safety of staff during that difficult period. As a result of making this a permanent arrangement, we now have a much more efficient process.

Finally, mention must be made of the part Kath has played as a committee member of a workplace equality network for LGBT+ people in Parliament. She will spend her retirement with her partner Gail and her cat Oscar, whom she describes as grumpy. Perhaps he may be just a little less grumpy now that she is able to spend more time with him. She and her partner are planning to move house next year. For that, and for a well-deserved and long and happy retirement, we send our good wishes.

Helen Egbe, who retired as a housekeeper at the end of June this year, joined us over 20 years ago in July 2001. She was a much-valued member of the housekeeping team. She started her work in the outbuildings but then moved to cleaning what are referred to as some of the more “high-profile” areas in the Palace, such as Black Rod’s office and the offices occupied by Hansard.

I used to meet members of the housekeeping team still at work when I came in much earlier than I do now to start work in my office on the West Front as a Lord of Appeal. Joshua Rozenberg said of me that I came in while most people were just about to start their second piece of toast, so I can speak from my own experience to the dedication of our housekeepers, their friendliness and the pride they take in the work that they do for us. They also enjoy each other’s company. Helen used, in her spare moments, to sell Avon beauty and fashion products, with much enthusiasm, to other members of the team. We wish her well now that she has retired to spend more time with her husband, her children and other members of her family.

Grahame Larkby, who retired in May as an attendant, joined us 17 years ago in October 2005. He too started working around the outbuildings before ending up as an attendant within the Palace itself. He was always on hand, ready to assist. He particularly enjoyed State Openings, when he was one of those who assisted in the robing of Peers before they went into the Chamber. He will be much missed. He will now be able to give much more time to his hobbies of watching football—he is a supporter of Chelsea Football Club—and especially cricket; his focus is on Kent and, of course, England. He travels around the world to watch England play, but he is also very family orientated and loves to babysit for his grandson.

Nathan Mahesan, who retired in July from the finance department as a resource accountant, joined us 14 years ago in September 2008. His main role was helping to prepare the year-end financial accounts, something that he did very well. It was also his responsibility to ensure that the House had enough cash in the bank to pay its bills. More often than not, he found himself as the person who performed the vital task of pressing the button to make payments from the bank account to suppliers, staff and Members, so he really had to know what he was doing. He has a good sense of humour and was known for his courtesy, starting each day by asking of everyone, “Are you well?” He too is a keen cricket fan. This could give rise to some friendly rivalry, as he is from Sri Lanka, but I am assured that, so long as England is winning against someone else, he is England’s biggest fan. He plans to use his retirement by travelling, visiting members of his family around the world, and fine-tuning his lawn-bowling skills. To him, and to Grahame too, we extend our best wishes.

Finally, on behalf of these Benches, I add our thanks to all the staff who are still with us. We wish them, and all noble Lords, a very happy Christmas and a safe and peaceful New Year.

My Lords, I will not detain the House for long but, on behalf of the Lords spiritual, we thank all those extraordinary staff who, through their dedication, have served us so well. I am thinking of the clerks, the doorkeepers, and the catering, security and domestic staff. We really could not function without them and the extraordinary level of professionalism and dedication that they bring.

I will not go through a list of people, although I highlight—because she was a huge help to me— Philippa Tudor and her extraordinary competence and professionalism. We on these Benches also extend our best wishes to the family and friends of Lee Barnes. We offer all those who have been mentioned today our best wishes as they move either into retirement or on to new challenges, and we wish them a very happy Christmas.