Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:29 pm on 18th December 2008.

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Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords) 5:29 pm, 18th December 2008

My Lords, as we are at the end of business for the day, and indeed for the calendar year, it falls to me to move the Adjournment of the House for the Christmas break. Before I do so, however, as is traditional, my colleagues in the usual channels and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hard-working staff of the House: the clerks, the doorkeepers, the attendants, the Hansard writers and those whom we do not see who work below stairs, if you like—the cleaners, the cooks, the chefs—all those who keep this House working and enable us to do the job that we do. I pay tribute to them, as I am sure everyone in the House does.

This is not always an easy place in which to work, with its sometimes long and unpredictable hours. The staff must be flexible and committed, and I am constantly impressed by the qualities that they all display. Everyone who works here provides a world-class service, for which we should all be truly grateful. We should be particularly grateful that many members of staff are prepared to invest their whole careers here, building up incredible expertise in the work of the House and a terrific rapport with its Members.

I know that my opposite numbers in the other parties will pay tribute to some outstanding individuals, but I should like to focus on just one—Mr Stephen Ellison, who recently retired as Clerk of the Records, the head of the Parliamentary Archives. As Clerk of the Records from 1999, he instigated a major programme to modernise the Parliamentary Archives, which was done with great sensitivity. He can be proud that he transformed it into its present shape, which is used by everyone from Peers of the realm to family historians in Australia. During his time, among other things he managed the refurbishment of Victoria Tower to modern standards, the creation of an online catalogue and some spectacular exhibitions, including those on the Gunpowder Plot and the Act of Union, which many noble Lords, including me, were fascinated by and will remember for a long time.

Stephen also steered through the development of a records management service for both Houses. As a relative newcomer, I know how difficult it can be to make real change happen in this place, so his were very real, long-awaited and genuine achievements. Stephen joined the House of Lords Record Office, as it was known then, almost four decades ago, in 1969—I think that I was doing my O-levels—at the tender age of 18, so he really was here man and boy. But it started even earlier than that: as a baby he demonstrated an attraction to Parliament, eliciting a kiss from Winston Churchill in the 1951 general election campaign. No lasting damage was obviously done.

Stephen's career in this House is a shining example to us all. He joined the House as a clerical officer and rose through the ranks to become the Clerk of the Records, in the process breaking through the glass ceiling that was undoubtedly present in the early years of his career. He combined this success with his love of skiing. His willingness to be more reckless with himself than he was with both Houses' historic records and papers left him with an injury or two. He also made a lot of very good friends, as do we all, both personally and in the archive profession.

I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in wishing Stephen and his wife, Susie, whom he met while they were both working here—a House romance—a long and happy retirement. All that it remains for me to do is to wish all staff and all noble Lords, regardless of their politics, a well deserved break and a restful and enjoyable festive period.