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I beg to move,
That this House requests Mr. Speaker to convey to Sir Charles Gordon KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of the House, its deep gratitude for all his devoted work in the service of the House throughout a long and distinguished career.
A motion such as this, Mr. Speaker, is the traditional way in which the thanks of the House are expressed to those who have for many years served in the highest posts in the Departments of the House.
Hon. Members will have learned with great regret that the present Clerk of the House, Sir Charles Gordon, will be retiring from the public service at the end of this month. He has spent 37 years in the service of the House, and has served as Clerk of the House since 1979.
The traditional qualities demanded of Clerks of the House have included authority in the knowledge of our practices and procedures; personal independence and integrity; impartiality as between parties and Members; and total devotion to the interests of Parliament.
Sir Charles Gordon has, throughout his career, admirably upheld those traditions. I am sure that many hon. Members, in the course of business, will have personal recollections of his fairness and courtesy.
After notable and hazardous service in the Fleet Air Arm, Sir Charles was particularly associated in the earlier years of his service here with the work of the Select Committee on Public Accounts. He also did much to establish and maintain valued links with Commonwealth and other Parliaments. Later he was closely concerned, along with many other procedural matters, with comprehensive reviews of our Question Time arrangements. More recently he has supervised the general revision of Standing Orders. He is the latest Editor of "Erskine May".
Since becoming Clerk of the House, Sir Charles has been much involved with the changes in the administrative structure of the Departments of the House that have resulted from the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978. That was the first legislation of its kind for over 150 years. Its implementation has inevitably placed considerable new burdens on the Clerk of the House in his position as Chairman of the Board of Management. The experienced leadership which Sir Charles has given as Chairman of that board, and as adviser to the House of Commons Commission, has greatly helped in establishing the new arrangements.
All Sir Charles' friends here will hope that there will be a full and happy retirement ahead for him and Lady Gordon. I am sure that his enjoyment of that retirement will be all the greater because it will be in the recollection of a job well done, and in the knowledge of the gratitude of the House of Commons.
I am happy to join the Leader of the House and others in supporting the motion. I am sure that Labour Members would wish to acknowledge the great services that Sir Charles has rendered to the House and the way in which he has performed them.
One of the first things that hon. Members discover when they arrive in the House, particularly Back-Bench Members, is how much they rely on the Clerk of the House and those who uphold his services. As one who has spent most of his parliamentary life on the Back Benches, and who proposes to spend a considerable further spell there, I have a right to say that as much as anybody. Back Benchers would not be able to perform their functions with anything like the skill and success that they do if it were not for their discovery within a matter of a few weeks that the Clerks serve the whole House. They serve the Speaker, but they also serve the rest of the House, and they serve Back Benchers even more than Members of the Treasury or the Opposition Front Bench.
My hon. Friend is experienced in the ways of the House. I know that he does not always need advice but there may come a time in the history of the House of Commons when advice may add to the brilliant skills that he brings to bear. Despite my hon. Friend's protests, I am sure that he too has relied on the advice that Sir Charles and others have given him in order to enable him to discharge his duties.
All hon. Members can go to the office of the Clerk of the House, ask for advice and receive it. The Clerks of the House are responsible for conducting that business and also for ensuring that that service is maintained. Sir Charles has certainly done it, not only during the four years that he has performed his service as Clerk of the House, but also in his service since 1946.
I was interested to see a reply of Sir Charles reported in "The House Magazine" when he was asked what advice he would give to the benefit of staff and Members alike. He said:
Don't be put off by criticisms of the House. It is not getting worse and worse"—;
I must say that he said that before he saw the present House of Commons, but that is a different matter—;
as people sometimes say it is. When I first joined in '46, there were scenes of equal liveliness in that Parliament.
As one who arrived here in 1945, the year before Sir Charles, I can confirm what he says. He went on:
When I commented on this to a very senior colleague, he merely shook his head and said 'Ah, but you weren't here at the time of Lloyd George's budget'.
They used to have some riotous times in that period as well.
I conclude as I began. I am sure that I speak for all Labour Members in thanking Sir Charles for his services. He has helped to sustain the traditions of the House of Commons. We shall have to wait to see what happens in the new Parliament. Each new Parliament behaves differently from its predecessor, but what Sir Charles said in that last statement to the House can also be of service to us in ensuring that the traditions of the House are sustained.
I should like to add a word of appreciation for Sir Charles Gordon and to express good wishes on his retirement on behalf not only of my right hon. and hon. Friends but of the other minority parties, including the Ulster Unionists and the nationalist parties.
The Leader of the Opposition pointed out that it is the task of the Clerk to advise all hon. Members—;BackBench Members as much as Front-Bench Members. In the past two Parliaments it has been the lot of the Clerk to advise a series of parties and not simply the Government and the official Opposition. An important task that Sir Charles has carried out and sought to uphold in the work of his Department is that the Clerks serve not the Government but the House and the various groups of individuals within the House. We must always maintain that tradition and I pay tribute to him for maintaining it.
As the Leader of the House said, Sir Charles has had to carry responsibilities for management and administration which go far beyond those of Clerks in times past. It is not often realised in the House, let alone outside, how much the job of the Clerk of the House has changed in recent years. Sir Charles' work with the House of Commons Commission, of which he has been a faithful and devoted servant, deserves record and appreciation.