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Librarian (Retirement)

3.31 pm

Madam Speaker: I have some information to give the House. I have received a letter from the Librarian indicating her wish to retire at the end of the year. I will arrange for the text of the letter to be printed in the Official Report.

Miss Jennifer Tanfield has worked in the Library for 36 years, the last six as our Librarian. During that time, of course, the Library has greatly expanded its services to meet the requirements of Members, and has been through a period of great technological change and development, as I am sure all of us know and appreciate. I know that Members of all parties will join me in thankingMiss Tanfield for her long and devoted service to the House. We wish her a long and happy retirement. I take this opportunity also of expressing our appreciation of the assistance provided to us by the Library as a whole.

Miss Tanfield will retire on 31 December, and I would like to announce to the House today that I have appointed Miss Priscilla Baines, currently the Library's Director of Human Resources and Deputy Librarian, to succeed her. Following is the Librarian's letter:

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): I know, Madam Speaker, that the whole House will want to join in the tribute that you have paid to Miss Tanfield, who has given the House such long and devoted service. Indeed, it is my understanding that there are only about eight Members who were Members before she arrived here. She has also seen 17 Leaders of the House come and go, and I am delighted to be the one who is able to pay tribute to her on her own departure.

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I know that we are all grateful for the professionalism of the Librarian and of all her colleagues, particularly given the large influx of new Members of all parties in May 1997. That is something which deserves a specific mention. We are all grateful, too, for the research papers that the Library produces, on which so many Members rely in providing an effective service.

There have been enormous changes during Miss Tanfield's tenure of office, with which she and her staff have coped admirably. I am sure that the entire House wishes her a very long and happy retirement.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): On behalf of the Opposition, I associate myself, Madam Speaker, with your remarks and those of the Leader of the House. Opposition parties have particular reason to be grateful for the services provided by the Library. Indeed, they were used only a few moments ago.

The development of the standard notes, putting more information on the intranet, and training Members to use Library services more efficiently have all been welcome initiatives introduced under the leadership of Miss Tanfield. The Library has coped with a dramatic explosion in demands on its services. It receives about 60,000 inquiries a year. We pay tribute to the work of Miss Tanfield and of the Library and we wish her a long and happy retirement.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): As Chair of the Select Committee on Information, I should like to express the Committee's sincere thanks and appreciation to Jennifer Tanfield for her work for the Committee and the House since 1993. She has successfully overseen a time of great change in the Library and placed it firmly at the forefront of developing new technology for the House and the wider public. The Library has done a great deal to provide information to the citizens of the country.

As well as being a repository of books and papers, the Library is a major research organisation and provider of information on the intranet. That is all done in a helpful and friendly way, so that those who still have panic attacks at the thought of programming videos can nevertheless receive an efficient, effective and helpful service from our Library staff. As a measure of the success of Miss Tanfield's stewardship, in a recent survey hon. Members gave the Library 8.9 out of 10 as a rating of their satisfaction with the Library services.

Jenny Tanfield leaves the Library in excellent shape, and we on the Information Committee look forward to working with her successor, Priscilla Baines.

I make these comments also on behalf of my colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): May I briefly add my appreciation of the work of Jennifer Tanfield, on behalf of all the Members who have used the Library over many, many years? She has been an outstanding Librarian and custodian of the collective experience of the human race.

Libraries represent the one natural resource that is expanding all the time. Oil and coal decline, but knowledge expands. Visiting the Victoria tower, as I have done, and seeing the scrolls written on parchment with quill pens, which are part of the history of Parliament, we are reminded that if we do not know our history, we do not know where we came from or where we are going.

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Anyone who has been up the Victoria tower will appreciate that so much has changed, but so little has changed, too.

I look forward to the Freedom of Information Act, as I am one of the Members who do not see why I should have to wait 30 years to discover what is going on. If the Freedom of Information Act were introduced, the Library would have access to more recent information.

May I express my deep appreciation to Jennifer Tanfield who, not only in the Library, but as chair of the librarians of the Parliaments of the world, has made such an outstanding contribution to the work of the House?

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): It would be remiss of the House not to express our appreciation of Jennifer Tanfield's work. I know of her work both in the House and outside. As a fellow graduate of the London School of Economics, I know that she has been active in a different cause.

Jennifer Tanfield has turned our Library into the leading-edge library of all European Parliaments through the way in which it has progressed the use of information technology for Members and many others, including scholars.

You, Madam Speaker, as I hope the House remembers, were our first woman Speaker. Jennifer Tanfield was our first woman Librarian.

Madam Speaker: I appointed her.

Mr. Sheerman: Indeed. I am delighted that Miss Tanfield's successor will be a good woman, too.

21 Jul 1999 : Column 1194

Points of Order

3.38 pm

Madam Speaker: Before I deal with today's points of order, I shall deal with one other matter. I need to respond to points of order made to me yesterday.

I regret that there appears to be continuing confusion in the minds of some hon. Members about the effect of the motion relating to the Railways Bill that was passed on Monday night by the House.

The motion before us that night was debated and agreed to, and the Bill was referred to the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. It is now for that Committee, which I understand met this morning, to consider the provisions of the Bill. The Committee may make recommendations about the content of the Bill. It does not, however, have the power to make amendments to the Bill.

What may or may not become of the Bill after the Committee completes its work is certainly not a matter for me. That is a matter for the Government. Hon. Members who wish to pursue the further handling of the Bill should do so through the usual channels or through business questions.

Now that I have clarified the situation once more--not for the first time, but once more--I hope that hon. Members will not seek to draw the Chair into what is essentially a political dispute about the handling of legislation. May I say to those hon. Members who may remain dissatisfied with the procedures of the House that they are at liberty to make representations to the Select Committee on Procedure or to the Select Committee on Modernisation?

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