Black Rod — Retirement of Sir Freddie Viggers and introduction of Lieutenant General David Leakey

– in the House of Lords at 2:40 pm on 1st February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 2:40 pm, 1st February 2011

My Lords, I have to inform the House that Her Majesty has appointed Lieutenant General David Leakey, CMG, CBE, to be Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, in succession to Sir Frederick Viggers, KCB, CMG, MBE, and that he is at the Door, ready to receive your Lordships' commands.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

My Lords, it is the custom of the House to pay tribute to the outgoing Black Rod on the day that his successor assumes the office. Sir Freddie Viggers held the office of Black Rod for less than two years, and yet he is as firmly lodged in the House's affection and esteem as any of his equally accomplished predecessors. That feat alone almost says it all, but with the leave of the House, I will elaborate just a little.

Sir Freddie assumed the office of Black Rod in April 2009 following a distinguished career in the Army. He had served in Bosnia as part of the NATO implementation force in the 1990s and as senior British military representative in Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the conflict there in 2003. In the final years of his career, he was appointed Adjutant General.

Upon assuming the office of Black Rod he could have rested on his laurels, but that was not his way. Colleagues describe Sir Freddie as full of energy. Better still, he liked to "get things moving", said the Yeoman Usher, in whose lexicon this surely counts as the most fervent of tributes.

Although he held a grand and historic office, Sir Freddie had time for everyone-Members and staff, senior and junior. To paraphrase, he could walk with the Clerk of the Parliaments and not lose the common touch.

Sir Freddie's appointment coincided with the establishment of the new Department of Facilities, headed by the Director of Facilities, Carl Woodall. He and Mr Woodall worked closely and effectively to make a success of the new structures. The fact that they can now be taken for granted by his successor will be one of Sir Freddie's lasting legacies to this House.

I know I speak for the whole House when I say that Sir Freddie's sudden and serious illness last year was a great shock to us all.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Lord Strathclyde Lord Strathclyde Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

His recovery has been impressive, not least thanks to the resolve which we have come to admire in him, and to the dedicated support of his wife Jane, to whom we also extend our regards.

Sir Freddie's decision to retire last autumn was no doubt a difficult one to reach. It merits our respect, much as it may be tinged with sadness that such a promising period of service to the House has been cut short. We wish him the very best for his continued recovery.

Your Lordships will be aware that in the months since Sir Freddie was taken ill, the Yeoman Usher, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Lloyd-Jukes, has stepped in to serve tirelessly and effectively as acting Black Rod. Ably supported by the team in Black Rod's Office-Joanne Fuller, Nicola Rivis and Paul Murphy-he took on the challenge of the ceremonies of the opening of Parliament and the State Opening at very short notice, and ensured their success. He also played a major role in ensuring that the visit to Parliament by His Holiness the Pope in September last year, held magnificently in Westminster Hall, was so memorable. He did all this while continuing to perform his own duties as Yeoman Usher and taking part in countless introduction ceremonies for new Peers. We are greatly indebted to him and are in a position to ensure that the new Black Rod-lest he were in any doubt-will have a formidable team at his disposal.

It only remains for me to welcome Lieutenant General David Leakey to the House, and to reiterate our thanks to the outgoing Black Rod, Sir Freddie Viggers, for the outstanding service that he has given to this House, to its Members and to Parliament as a whole.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

My Lords, days like this are always a mixture of sadness and pleasure-sadness at taking leave of an excellent servant of your Lordships' House, and pleasure at welcoming a successor who will, I am confident, give service to this House of the same order.

Before I speak of either the retiring Black Rod or the new Black Rod, I too should like to join the tribute to the acting Black Rod, the Yeoman Usher, who has carried out the duties of Black Rod extremely well in the interim period, which concludes today, and stepped into the breach when circumstances required it. This House has greatly benefited from the way that he picked up the torch and not only got on with the job but did so in a way that was clear, courteous and comprehensive. Of course, he will probably also go down in history as having the world record in introductions. He deserves our warm thanks for all that he has done, and our thanks, too, for carrying it out now, with his interrupted work as an excellent Yeoman Usher.

Today we formally lose Sir Freddie Viggers as Black Rod. We are all thankful that the medical problems that took him away from your Lordships' House have been addressed. He is, very sensibly, retiring. Following the remarks by the Leader of the House, I want to touch primarily on two points: first, on Sir Freddie's ceremonial duties; and, secondly, his help to this House during the difficult times that we have come through.

Ceremony is what the public mostly see about the work of Black Rod. Each year-although not this year-with the slow progression to the other House and the striking of the door to the House of Commons, the State Opening of Parliament is a key part of the work of Black Rod. Although Sir Freddie was responsible for just one State Opening of Parliament in his tenure in the role, his enactment of his role and the lead that he gave in the planning and preparation for the 2009 event was entirely in line with the faultless way that such events are carried out in your Lordships' House. That was, of course, my last State Opening as Leader, so for us both it was a very special occasion.

State Openings are a point in our calendars when the hidden wiring of the way in which these things are done in our country is both more apparent but at the same time entirely unseen. However, they are not the only ceremonial work for Black Rod. In his time in his role, Sir Freddie also organised with precision and great success the visit of Her Majesty the Queen to the Royal Gallery for the unveiling of the bust by Oscar Nemon.

In that kind of work, Black Rod is visibly in the centre of our ceremonial duties, but Sir Freddie has also been invaluable behind the scenes. This House has had to carry out some difficult duties over the past couple of years, including the suspension of Members of this House. The role of Black Rod is unsung in these matters, and no doubt it needs to remain that way. However, the way in which these things are done if they have to be done-the practicalities and the specifics-is enormously important. The sensitive and considerate way in which they have been done in this House has hugely benefited from the wisdom and the care that Sir Freddie brought to bear upon them. Indeed, across his role, Sir Freddie has brought to the job that impressive and admirable mixture of decisiveness and consideration, courteousness and care, wisdom and judgment, great effort and good humour, not to mention that wonderful twinkling of the eye. The fact that he has done all these things at the same time, and with unfailing cheerfulness, is both astounding and entirely like him.

He is a very hard act to follow; but I know that the leadership of the House, across all sides of the House, is wholly confident that in Lieutenant General David Leakey we have someone who will rise to that challenge and for whom the House, when it gets to know him, will have an equally warm regard. We welcome him to his new post as Black Rod. We are sad to let his predecessor go, but the House has, and will, benefit from the services of both.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I should like to associate these Benches with the tributes paid to Sir Freddie Viggers. I endorse everything that has been said by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the House, and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon. Despite the many differences that have surfaced during the past few weeks, there is unanimity in your Lordships' House about our feelings for Sir Freddie. It is tragic that such a promising start to his role as Black Rod should be cut short by his illness. We wish him a speedy recovery so that he can enjoy his retirement for years to come.

Sir Freddie and I had one thing in common: both of us were often vertically challenged. However, hand on heart, I can say that, unlike many noble Lords, we could chat face to face. Although he performed ceremonial duties, he reflected a warm and friendly personality and a great sense of humour.

We take many issues for granted, including the sense of security felt by Members of your Lordships' House. Sir Freddie not only built sound relationships with the Serjeant at Arms and the Metropolitan Police but he also negotiated the security contract. We thank him for that. Sir Freddie also helped to resolve matters relating to parliamentary passes for MEPs and more liberal filming guidelines. We thank him for his service and he will long remain a friend to many of us for years to come.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has already said, we have both sad and not so sad business before us today. The sad business is saying goodbye to Sir Freddie Viggers who, in a relatively short span of time, endeared himself to us all. His cheery, smiling presence along the corridors, always good tempered and ready for a chat, quickly made him very popular with all of us. That brought added burdens, as we all felt that we could talk to him-we did so, sometimes at great length-and he never forgot the smallest query. All too often, he would pop his head round my office corner to tell me that he had arranged a pass in double-quick time or magicked seats for unexpected visitors or even bent the rules ever so slightly to allow refreshments in the Moses Room.

We have had an anxious year and I know it is with some relief, mixed with great regret, that Freddie has now decided to retire and to continue with his remarkable recovery. Our tributes would, as has been shown, be incomplete without mentioning the constant support, encouragement and warmth that his family has shown and I too would like to add my own special tribute to Jane.

We now have an entirely happy story: the Yeoman Usher, who was catapulted into the Black Rodship, has done such a wonderful job. Utterly conscientious, always there, and undertaking hefty responsibilities, such as the last State Opening, apparently in his stride and with the greatest success. I understand that he spent several years as a logistics expert. In my small experience, logistics really means getting the right people, with the right stuff, to the right place at the right time. I certainly think he excelled in doing that in this House.

I know that Ted's office has had to deal with a huge and sudden onslaught of work and I pay tribute to the dedication of his staff; namely, Joanne Fuller and Nicola Rivis, not forgetting Paul Murphy who spent a significant amount of time in the office of the acting Black Rod. To these three, and most of all to Ted, I offer my profound thanks on behalf of the Cross Benches and so hope that Ted can now relax and enjoy some untrammeled leisure.

Photo of The Bishop of Guildford The Bishop of Guildford Bishop

My Lords, from the Bench of Bishops, I wish to add our expression of gratitude to Sir Freddie Viggers and to express that gratitude in terms of his ministry to us. I use the word "ministry" rather consciously.

At a time of many introductions to your Lordships' House, I want to express my own gratitude for the way in which Sir Freddie prepared those of us who were coming into the House for the first time. The time and effort he took over that was quite remarkable: patient, quality time with those about to go through their introduction. In my case, that was only three days before State Opening and the illness which struck him down. You would have thought that he had nothing on his mind about security or parliamentary procedures as he gave time to a neophyte bishop. We are all in his very considerable debt.

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Labour

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I pay tribute from the Back Benches to Lieutenant General Sir Freddie Viggers. I endorse all the qualities that have been referred to, but the memory that will stay with me always is the way that he spoke to, listened to and worked with everyone in your Lordships' House as an equal. I know that all the staff, be they cleaners or noble and gallant Lords, experienced that quality. I did not believe, after he was so tragically taken ill, that that would continue, but Ted Lloyd-Jukes continued that high standard. In welcoming his successor, I say that it will be a hard act to follow but I am certain that that can be achieved. To Sir Freddie and Ted, all the best for the future.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Lord Speaker

My Lords, before we move to next business, perhaps I may add a personal word of welcome to David Leakey, of gratitude to the Yeoman Usher and his team, who rose to the occasion in exemplary fashion when the House needed them, and of tribute to Sir Freddie Viggers. I worked very closely with him on issues of security. What made that such a pleasure, even in the most difficult times, was that, from the moment he entered the House, he showed not only a deep affection for the House but an understanding of the need to balance his responsibilities for the safety of everybody on the Parliamentary Estate with Parliament's own commitment to keeping the institution open and accessible to the public whom we serve. It was because he understood those two dynamics that he was so exceptionally good at his job. Of course, like others, I wish him and Jane well and very much hope that we may have the opportunity to welcome him into the House again to say some personal and more informal thanks to him.

Noble Lords:

Hear, hear.