Adjournment

– in the House of Lords at 12:58 pm on 21st December 2004.

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Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords) 12:58 pm, 21st December 2004

My Lords, in moving the adjournment of the House, which I now do, I shall take the opportunity, which has become customary, of offering thanks to numerous people who deserve them for serving us so well during the year 2004. In doing so, I shall be very respectful of the injunctions that I frequently give the House—that is, to be brief. I am acutely mindful that the greatest service we can give to all servants of the House is to do what they all want to do—that is, to go home as quickly as possible when this debate concludes.

In a way, my job has been made easier this year because, as the House will know, there has been an investigation and report into Members' attitudes towards the services provided by the House. Rarely can a report have given such a glowing vote of thanks to those who serve us so well. So it is not only the instinct of the three Chief Whips and the Convenor that we shall be hearing about this evening; it is the scientific assessment of the views of the House, which has been presented for us all to see. It is a glowing report of all the departments.

It would be silly of me to try to go through them all but all the departments are mentioned at various stages in the report: the Hansard writers—enough said; we all know how good a job they do in improving our speeches; the research department of the Library; and the ones that work behind the scenes—the Computer Office, the Accountant's Office and all other departments. If I miss one out, that does not mean that I ignore it. As is always the case on occasions such as this, one is forced to be invidious and to make one or two specific references. I do so randomly, which perhaps I am allowed to do in the hope that other speakers will refer to one or two that I have not mentioned.

I pay tribute today to one group of workers who, because of the nature of their job, are less frequently seen by noble Lords. They deserve a certain accolade. They look after the fabric of this building and keep it clean; they are here before most of us arrive in the morning. In my judgment, we are privileged to work in such a beautiful building and the people who keep the fabric secure and undertake all the attendant duties need to be congratulated and thanked.

I need to thank another, more obvious group. They were kind enough to invite me to their annual dinner last Thursday, so I thank them for that. They are the Doorkeepers of the House whose skills are legendary. A condition of my accepting the invitation to their dinner was that I referred to them today and I do so gladly. Among their many skills is what I can describe only as their phenomenal capacity for communication of which I can give the simplest illustration. I only have to whisper within earshot of any member of their fraternity the group of amendments on which we are likely to complete the day's play for that message to be transmitted right round the building at a speed which makes the speed of light seem lethargic. People in all parts of the building appear to know the information and act upon it in their various ways. On behalf of the House I give genuine thanks to the Doorkeepers.

I also want to mention the Refreshment Department. It has had a difficult year for all kinds of reasons. Many noble Lords know Rupert Ellwood, who is moving on. We thank him and all who work there.

On a significantly more serious matter, I refer to those responsible for the security of our House. I want to mention two names in that regard. One is Chief Superintendent Gregory Roylance, who is retiring this year as head of security after eight years' service to the House and after 30 years' experience with the police, which is a fine record of service. Our thanks certainly go to him and we send him our very best wishes for his retirement.

On a far more sombre and serious note, as many Members of the House will know, a popular and well liked security officer, Mark Peters, was tragically killed in a road accident earlier this month. Although many Members of the House individually will have signified their thoughts and sent their condolences, this is an opportunity for me, on behalf of absolutely everyone, to pass on our most sincere condolences to the wife of Mark Peters, Bernadette, and to the rest of his family.

The House as a whole has been awarded the Investors in People accolade, which brings a modest smile to those at the Clerks' Table. According to the accolade, it means that this is a good place to work and one where people are looked after and given opportunities to develop. So that has to be a good thing. That applies to everyone who works here. With becoming modesty on my part, a separate award was given to the Government Whips' Office, which also received an Investors in People award. That shows that the Whips' Office has a caring and compassionate side to its nature as well as the better known characteristics of Whips' activities. That shows that this is a popular and likeable place to work and we are enormously grateful to people in all departments who work for us.

Although regrettably only one noble Lord is here to listen to this, in the light of the job that I have to do day in and day out, it would be remiss of me not to give a particular thanks to the 29 per cent of the Members of this House who find it in their hearts day in and day out to vote for the Government. It defies all known laws of mathematics that the Government get their legislative programme through, but I am deeply grateful to those who help me to do that because it keeps me in employment—at least for another hazardous year. I give my gratitude and thanks to them.

Finally, I simply wish all staff, who I am sure are even keener than I am to get home at the end of this untimed contribution from me, the very best for this holiday period. And I wish all Members of this House a very happy new year, and one where the hallmark of all contributions will be brevity and succinctness.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Chief Whip, Parliament, Chief Whip, Whips

My Lords, I am delighted to associate myself with the sentiments of the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, both on a personal basis and on behalf of the members of my party. As he said, we are exceptionally well served by all the staff in your Lordships' House and we thank them all. The staff are one of the special aspects of this place.

During this year we have had a large influx of new Peers. It is noticeable that so many maiden speakers remark on the helpfulness and courtesy of the staff. It is one of the things that strikes all newcomers when they come here, and, for that matter, visitors too. I just hope that we Peers are as courteous and thoughtful to the staff as they are to us. I include all the staff in that.

Special mention has already been made of Chief Superintendent Roylance who is retiring after so many years. We certainly thank him. The changes and increased difficulties that he and his staff of police, security officers and civilian staff have had to deal with in the past few months and years needs no emphasis from me. Their job gets more and more difficult. We continue to rely on their vigilance day after day and night after night. Sometimes they are not the easiest jobs and we are not the easiest people to handle in this respect. So we thank them.

I certainly join in expressing sympathy to the young family of security officer Mark Peters who, as the Chief Whip said, was a popular member of the force. Christmas will be a most difficult time for them.

The Principal Doorkeeper, the Second Principal Doorkeeper and all the Doorkeepers are an important part of the security of this House and are our face to the visitors who come to the galleries and so on and to meet us. We appreciate them. Had the Chief Whip not mentioned it, I was going to emphasise the contribution of the cleaners and the maintenance men. However, he has done so, and we do appreciate them.

The Clerks and their staff keep us organised with the aid of ever more sophisticated management methods, which we do our best to keep up with, as these new documents succeed one another. I congratulate everybody concerned in the Investors in People award, which has been achieved very deservedly as far as I can tell. But they also of course keep us on the straight and narrow procedurally, which has not always been easy these past few weeks. We need that too.

The Library and the information staff keep us informed and, indeed, keep the world informed to a considerable degree of our proceedings through the information section. Of course they also keep us very efficiently in computers and other electronic devices which are improving all the time.

The Refreshment Department had a particularly difficult time with the alterations and so on going on, but you would never have known it as its first-class services continued throughout.

I should also like to thank all the members of my party who have supported us during the year, particularly those Peers who serve the House in various ways—those who sit on the Woolsack, those who chair committees and those who do all the other jobs which the Chief Whips probably know more about than do most of the members—to keep the place running smoothly. So I thank all of them and wish all Members of all parties and all the staff a very happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Photo of Lord Roper Lord Roper Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

My Lords, it is certainly one of the most pleasant tasks as a Chief Whip to support the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms and the noble Lord, Lord Cope, this afternoon on behalf of those on these Benches in thanking those who make it such a pleasant thing to work in this building. I thank them and also the two Convenors whom we have had this year, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and now the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, who together have ensured that, on the whole, the usual channels have got things done. If your Lordships have not noticed them going wrong, it suggests that we have not done too bad a job of it on this occasion.

We are able to do that because of the hard work not only of the Government Whips' Office but the offices of each of the parties and of the Convenor, who help to support us. The Government Chief Whips' Office is certainly essential for our smooth and efficient running and Andrew Makower has certainly maintained the high standard expected of the private secretary of the Government Chief Whip. He has been well supported this year by his two principal personal assistants, first, Chloë Mawson, who was his principal deputy until Easter, and now Rebecca Neal, who herself will be leaving before too long. We are fortunate that they have been able to make those contributions. I was therefore very pleased to see that not only the parliamentary offices but the Government Chief Whips' Office received the Investors in People award.

As my colleagues have said, it is impossible tonight to refer to each department in any detail, so I shall concentrate on just two or three, although, as has been said, I am very much aware of all those who, collectively, make our life here so effective and agreeable. It is the parts of the Refreshment Department that we do not see that have to carry the brunt of the work: those who work down below in the kitchens, who have been going through such a major overhaul—and not only during the past 12 months; we are in the middle year of three years. They have had to put in a considerable extra effort and I am sure that they are looking forward to the completion of that work in 2005.

The other group to whom reference has already been made is those who have had additional tasks in recent years because of our security in our changed and more difficult situation. Led by Black Rod and his staff, the Doorkeepers and Attendants, the Metropolitan Police and its security officers, they have had no easy task and have done extremely well. Reference has already been made to the tragic death in a road accident two weeks ago of Mark Peters, who had served for six years, primarily in Black Rod's Garden, monitoring vehicles coming in and out. As others have said, our thoughts certainly go out to his young wife and his two boys, aged six and three, who will be having a rather different Christmas from the one they would have expected.

Reference was also made to the fact that the Palace of Westminster as a whole has just lost the services of Chief Superintendent Gregory Roylance. I saw a certain amount of his work serving for the past four years on the Security Committee and it is certainly true that his quiet efficiency in systematically improving security will be remembered. I am sure that he will take the good wishes of Parliament as a whole with him for a long and happy retirement.

I also pay tribute to my colleagues, who have as usual been active on these Benches during the past year, not always pleasing those on other Benches but none the less contributing usefully, I hope, to the work of the House.

This House can work only because of the many contributions of so many people who support us in so many ways. They are all part of the larger family of this House and I certainly join my colleagues in wishing them, as well as Peers, a very happy Christmas and a very successful 2005.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, in the six years that I have been in this House, there have been many changes, but one thing that has not changed is the universal appreciation of the efficiency, courtesy and good humour of all those staff who keep this Parliament on track. That is why I consider it a privilege for the first time as Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers to join those colleagues who have already spoken in thanking the staff of the House for their work on our behalf.

As a new Convenor, I try to keep my ear to the ground; I haunt the corridors, learning what is afoot, and I try to have close contacts with the Cross Benchers, whether they are age 90 or over or the newest Members of the House. They all appreciate greatly the service that they receive from the staff here: in Black Rod's Department, the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments, the Library, Hansard, the Refreshment Department and so on.

If I refer briefly to some groups of staff, it is only because the Cross Benchers and I have more contact with them. Of course, first, there are the Doorkeepers and attendants. We see them every day and they usually cheer us up. Secondly, there are those who have been affected by the huge volume of work, which has increased, and particularly those who have been affected by the changes that we have made in procedures. The number of amendments to Bills has risen every time that I look at the figures. For those who deal with Questions, I recall that we first increased the number, then decreased them, then changed the number of topical Questions and so on. The work of the Committee Office has also increased. I know that because I caused some of it myself.

Some members of staff have had to deal with the consequences of the new building in the Palace, the works that we have had, and security. As other noble Lords have said, the Refreshment Department took rather the brunt of that, but the quality of the food and drinks service is as good as ever. I always remember which is the "Content" Lobby because it is nearest to the bars and refreshment services. That is the easiest way to remember it; it is a very justified association.

Black Rod's Department has brought on-stream Abingdon House—it is not a new building but it has a new name—which the Cross Benchers grade "triple A", so it is much appreciated. As for the security service, I join those who thank Gregory Roylance for the work that he has done here over many years. Like other noble Lords, I pass on my sympathy to the family of security officer Mark Peters, killed in a road accident.

Finally, I add my personal thanks to the offices of the Leader of the House and the Chief Whips for making my life as a Convenor not only tolerable but also enjoyable. Last of all, I wish a happy Christmas and New Year to all the staff of this House.

House adjourned at eight minutes past five o'clock until Monday 10 January at half-past two o'clock.