Serjeant at Arms

Bill Presented — Immigration Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:54 am on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:54 am, 17th September 2015

I beg to move,

That this House
expresses its appreciation to Lawrence Ward for his distinguished service to this House, including three years as Serjeant at Arms, and extends to him its best wishes for the future.

I would like to place on the record my sincerest thanks to Lawrence on behalf of myself, the Liberal Democrats, and the House as a whole. He has served this place with great distinction for the past three years as Serjeant at Arms, and the Commons is a great deal better for it. Lawrence began working in the House in 1997 and has served this place in a number of different roles. His skill, dedication and professionalism have always marked him out, and provide a model for all those who are to succeed him.

The year 2015 marks the 600th anniversary of the role of Serjeant at Arms. At this time when parliamentary politics is being vigorously challenged and is under ever greater scrutiny, it is essential that the House remains open and more relevant to the people we serve. The modern-day role of the Serjeant at Arms and his duty to balance the safety of Members and staff with public access is vital in achieving this. In the summer, the parliamentary educational centre, a project that the Serjeant at Arms presided over, opened. It is a fine legacy and one that will serve this place and the public well. It will provide a valuable tool in connecting our democratic work with the public at large.

I wish Lawrence all the very best in his new role outside Parliament.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 11:56 am, 17th September 2015

This is a happy exchange. It is a great pleasure to speak to this motion expressing the House’s gratitude to Lawrence Ward for his service to the House of Commons, particularly as Serjeant at Arms since 2012. As Tom Brake said, it is an ancient position, 600 years old. Lawrence is thought to be the 40th Serjeant at Arms. He has had a long and distinguished service in this place. He spent a brief spell as Deputy Serjeant at Arms in 2011 before being appointed Serjeant at Arms in 2012.

It is worth remembering that besides the many hours that Lawrence has spent in the Serjeant’s chair in this Chamber, he has also been very prominent in the role of overseeing the arrangements for the reception of many distinguished visitors to this place, often greeting them personally on arrival. In this context he has met presidents, princes and prelates—even, as Pete Wishart said earlier, the Pope—as well as the Dalai Llama and numerous foreign statesmen and women. On one momentous occasion, he personally oversaw the arrangements in the Terrace pavilion for a performance by Fat Boy Slim. I am sure that many hon. Members are grateful to Lawrence and his team for facilitating access to meetings and events.

Lawrence is leaving the service of this House tomorrow to pursue a career in the private sector. I am sure that everyone would wish to express their very great thanks to him for the work he has done and all the contributions he has made here, and to wish him all the best for his future career.

As you know, Mr Speaker, a recruitment exercise to appoint a new Serjeant at Arms will commence shortly. In the meantime, Robert Twigger, until recently secretary to the House of Commons Commission, will be the acting Serjeant at Arms.

Lawrence has my thanks and my good wishes.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 11:57 am, 17th September 2015

It is a delight to be thirding, if there is such a thing—I know there is not—this motion.

The Serjeant at Arms role is rather a curiosity in the way we do our business. It is something that we have exported around the world to many other parliamentary democracies based on the British system. One of the previous Serjeants at Arms was a regicide, and one of the jobs of his successor was to gather up all the bodies from the previous regicide, chop them up into pieces, and display them in Westminster Hall. Lawrence never had to gather up bodies, though perhaps he knows where the bodies are.

I was once at a dinner party in Islington—this is obviously now mandatory for all Labour MPs—where somebody asked Malcolm Jack, the former Clerk of the House, exactly what the Serjeant at Arms’ job was. I remember very clearly that he said, “Well, he is the chap who dresses up in black silk stockings and patent leather pumps to chase MPs out of the toilets in the Division Lobby with his silver sword.” There are elements of our parliamentary system that do perhaps need a little reform, I gently suggest. Perhaps we should not limit our search to people who like wearing black silk stockings and patent leather pumps.

I am not sure what training is required for the job, but it is interesting that the last two Serjeants at Arms have come not from the traditional cadre, which has always been military or naval, but from very different forms of service and not necessarily through the almost hereditary process of the past.

There are several jobs in politics that have to be done with good grace, such as Leader of the House and a Conservative Secretary of State for Wales. Another is Serjeant at Arms, and Lawrence has done it abundantly well.

I want to make one apology to him, though. I cannot tell all of this story, I am afraid, because you would rule me out of order, Mr Speaker. On 27 March 2010, thanks to your good offices, it was possible for me and Jared Cranney to get married in the Members’ Dining Room. We are not allowed in the Chapel yet, but who knows? Maybe one day. Lawrence was then the Deputy Serjeant at Arms and he made himself and his team fully available to all of my guests. It was the first time it had ever happened in the building and he was absolutely charming. Unfortunately our guests were not allowed to pass through Westminster Hall itself, and I cannot tell you for why, but I shouted, ranted and raved at him at the time, for which I apologise. With that, I wish him all the best in his new job.

Photo of Paul Beresford Paul Beresford Chair, Administration Committee 12:01 pm, 17th September 2015

As a co-signatory of the motion, I want to be succinct in adding to the points that have already been made. I am afraid—or perhaps fortunately—I do not have a colourful story such as the last one.

As a member of the House of Commons Commission, I certainly respect—as I think you do, too, Mr Speaker—the advice Lawrence has given us. It is unseen and not reported, but it has been extensive and extremely useful. Most of us see him only in his role of sitting in the chair with the sword and stockings. I am a bit disturbed at the preoccupation of some speakers—one in particular—with stockings. What we do not recognise is how much Lawrence has been involved in the protection of the House while at the same time enabling the public to come in and see us in action. That has been successful. It is also interesting that, having had some interesting and unusual requests from me for slight changes and a bending of the rules, he was extremely polite to me, even if at the end of the day he gave an emphatic and definite no.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Leader of the House of Commons), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 12:02 pm, 17th September 2015

It is a pleasure to follow the other tributes to Lawrence. SNP Members thank him for the services he has fulfilled as Serjeant at Arms. He has discharged his responsibilities in a courteous, good natured and thoroughly professional way, to the extent that he has become good friends with many Members across the House. My colleagues in particular want to express their gratitude for the way in which he has accommodated them as new Members.

Others have referred to the 600-year tradition of the role of Serjeant at Arms. Lawrence was there when Fatboy Slim famously appeared on the Terrace. He was also there for a performance by MP4 when we played to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the role of Serjeant at Arms. Serjeants at Arms from all over the Commonwealth were present that evening to celebrate, and who was at the front? I would not say he was rocking his funky stuff, but it was Lawrence and he certainly appreciated that lovely evening.

We wish Lawrence all the best for the future. I know he will be a regular visitor to the House of Commons as the years go by. I never learned whether he could actually use the sword he wielded by his side, but perhaps he could take up sword lessons and come back to show us how it should be wielded and how the stockings should be put on. We wish him all the best.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 12:03 pm, 17th September 2015

We miss Lawrence and he has not even gone yet, which just shows how popular he has been in the role of Serjeant at Arms. He had a number of duties and I worked closely with him when I was a Deputy Speaker. Like you, Mr Speaker, I got to see him on a daily basis. As has been said, his role is much more than just sitting in that chair with a sword. From time to time, I had to call on him to go into one of the Lobbies and find out why a vote was delayed. He is much more than the armed wing of your office, Mr Speaker: he is a human being who has been seen widely around all parts of the House and who always has time to chat with people to see how they are doing.

I had a close relationship with Lawrence in ensuring the speedy entrance into our building of ambassadors and high commissioners whenever they came to Parliament. During my personal trauma, he was somebody whom I looked to, and he gave me some wonderful advice. He told me that his door was always open, and he extended the hand of friendship. I will miss him dearly. I hope that he will not be a stranger—his retirement gives us all hope that there is life after this place—and that he will come back to visit us often.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons 12:05 pm, 17th September 2015

In 2012, the director general of resources, Andrew Walker, chaired a selection panel to find a successor to the retiring Serjeant at Arms, Jill Pay, and the panel produced a shortlist of two candidates. I was proud to choose Lawrence Ward from that shortlist of two as the Serjeant at Arms. I have to tell the House I had absolute confidence that Lawrence would prove an exceptional holder of the office, and I feel entirely vindicated in that view. I have never had reason to regret the choice.

Colleagues have spoken warmly and with a quite fitting generosity of spirit about the contribution that Lawrence has made. For my part, having worked with him very closely, especially during the past three and a half years, two things strike me more than anything else: Lawrence Ward has quite outstanding organisational skills and, as I think colleagues can testify, he has wonderful interpersonal skills. He is totally unstuffy, and he can get on with everybody. Whenever there was a challenge, a problem or an issue, his mindset was “How are we going to sort this?” His mindset was not on all the negatives and what could not be done, but on what could be done to ensure that the wishes of Members in particular were fulfilled.

I am hugely grateful to Lawrence. If I may, I want to mention two other things. First, in the management of the Doorkeepers team—this is not always acknowledged, and I am not sure that it has been stated in the House—Lawrence has brought about much greater diversity, in terms both of gender and of ethnicity, than has previously been achieved. What he has accomplished, without making a huge song and dance about it, but just delivering it, is perhaps a great example or model that could usefully be followed elsewhere in the House.

Secondly, I have an example of his “can do” attitude. Colleagues will know that I am a fanatical enthusiast for tennis. I wanted, in concert with the Lawn Tennis Association, to find an opportunity to showcase tennis within the Palace of Westminster and, in particular, to bring in children from state schools to have the chance to learn about the game with a bit of tuition. If memory serves, on the first occasion the tuition was given by Greg Rusedski, and subsequently—this year—by Judy Murray, among others. I asked Lawrence, “Where in the Palace of Westminster could I pick a venue that would not require me to have to go through a long process of securing agreement from all sorts of other people?” Lawrence said, “The answer is New Palace Yard, Mr Speaker. There is nothing to stop you having a tennis event there. It is within your bailiwick.” I decided to go ahead, and we have had that event every year. Lawrence has always overseen its organisation, which has been done outstandingly. He has also overseen, for the benefit of all of us, the clockwork organisation of the new year’s eve party on the terrace, which many colleagues find it pleasurable to attend.

In short, you ask Lawrence to deliver—and he delivers. As Tom Brake rightly observed, he took a key role, along with a good many other people, in translating the House of Commons Commission’s ambition to establish a parliamentary education centre into reality. He has done a wonderful job and provided great service to this House. I really do thank colleagues for what they have said and the way in which they have said it by way of tribute to him, which I know Lawrence and his family will hold dear. We wish him well in the important and challenging new role in the private sector to which he now moves.

Question put and agreed to.