My Lords, we often talk in this House of the debt we owe to the staff. Today we have the opportunity to pay tribute to one who served us with great distinction for more than 38 years, Rhodri Walters—or perhaps I should say, using that well known phrase from our Letters Patent, our trusty and well beloved Dr Rhodri Havard Walters. Over those 38 years Rhodri served the House in many senior roles, including as private secretary to the Viscount Whitelaw; as Establishment Officer—now less elegantly known as Director of Human Resources; and as Clerk of Committees. He has also overseen the recruitment and development of many of the younger clerks in this House, a task which I know he much enjoyed. But he is perhaps best known to most of us as the Reading Clerk who so beautifully read out our punctuation-free Letters Patent as we were each introduced to the House. It was in this guise that he was described by a parliamentary sketch writer as the,
“master of ceremonies … A figure almost from Dickens. With his wig and spectacles and parchment voice, he was the learned town mouse, nose twitching as he waited”.
Dickensian, perhaps, but how reassuring to us as we stood there nervously.
Beyond the House, Rhodri has many interests, including rowing, skiing—indeed, he is on the slopes of St Anton as we speak—singing, gardening and his native Wales, where he has a house at which he will now be able to spend more time. I know the whole
House will want to join me in thanking him for his long and loyal service and in wishing him a very happy retirement.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I thank and pay tribute to Rhodri Walters for his excellent and indefatigable work throughout his career communicating the work of Parliament to a wider audience. He has led in the delivery of learning materials for the parliamentary studies module, an innovative educational partnership between the Houses of Parliament and universities which was launched in 2012. As many noble Lords will know, he was the author, together with Sir Robert Rogers, of How Parliament Works, a uniquely authoritative yet accessible account of how Parliament works. The seventh edition, I can tell noble Lords, will be available in all good bookshops soon. The sixth edition, labelled a “a rare treat” by one commentator, was described by Andrew Marr as,
“clear, elegant, invaluable, bang up-to-date and full of dry wit”.
I can think of no better way of describing one of its authors, Rhodri Walters, and I wish him well in his retirement.
My Lords, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats I wish to associate myself with the words of the Leader of the House and of the Leader of the Opposition in thanking Rhodri Walters for his long and distinguished service to the House, not just as Reading Clerk but in the many offices that he held in the House.
As the Leader of the House said, we have all become very familiar with Rhodri Walters reading out the Letters Patent. After a bit of research, I discovered that I was possibly the first Life Peer whose Letters Patent he read out when I was introduced in November 2007. I once asked him whether he could do that blindfolded after all the times he had done it. He replied that he probably could but would never dare try.
We should also recognise the many different roles that the Reading Clerk plays. One of Rhodri’s roles was as Clerk of the Overseas Office, where he helped the first two Lord Speakers build their roles as the House’s ambassadors overseas. He also helped the House to deepen its ties with Commonwealth Parliaments and to forge new links elsewhere, most notably with Russia, having organised a very successful visit to Westminster of the President of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation.
Rhodri Walters was also instrumental in the House’s engagement with Parliaments of European Union member states, culminating in organising a very successful meeting of the Association of European Senates last year, when this House played host to the Speakers of 15 European upper Chambers.
Reference has also been made to Rhodri’s recreation. I am told by a former member of his staff—it is right to say that those who worked for him held him in highest regard—that he was able to jump, both feet together, from a floor on to a table. For the past six and a half years, his feet were very firmly under the table except when he was standing up reading. For his loyal service we are very grateful and we wish him well in his retirement.
My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues in the Cross-Bench group I associate myself with the warm and very well deserved tributes already paid to Rhodri Walters. Throughout his career Rhodri displayed a quite remarkable understanding and knowledge of Parliament. Among his many responsibilities he was the clerk to a number of Select Committees. They were far too many to record but I mention just two of what might be called rather controversial Bills. The first became the Constitutional Reform Act, which, among other things, created the role of the Lord Speaker. The second, and more recent, was the Joint Committee on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill. Neither task could possibly be described as being straightforward. The House liked to give Rhodri a real challenge.
Rhodri was a real professional in all that he did, and one who was solidly committed to the service of this House. He can be rightly proud of what he achieved. He takes with him our warmest good wishes and our warm and sincere thanks.
My Lords, I want to associate these Benches with all the remarks made so far. I think that Rhodri Walters introduced more than 200 Members into the House, including the rare distinction of introducing the Archbishop of Canterbury twice—first as Bishop of Durham and then as Archbishop of Canterbury. He may have been able to deal with the Letters Patent in his sleep, except that when a Bishop comes along he is liable to trip up the Reading Clerk as it is a different form of words.
Perfectionist that Rhodri was, three or four weeks ago, when the first of the current flood of new Bishops arrived, he said to me, with a fallen face, “I don’t think I have got it quite right”. I do not think that anyone else had noticed anything other than perfection because he was a perfectionist—a perfectionist in the parliamentary choir and in every aspect of his life. There was always a particular resonance between the Bishops and Rhodri because he is used to looking after bishops as he is a church warden of one of the parishes here in London. As a good church warden, he forgave us our sins when we did not do exactly as we were told.
Motion agreed nemine dissentiente.