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5.05 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, it is now my duty to move the adjournment of the House for the last time this year. It is a pleasant duty, and tradition has it that we take this opportunity to pay tribute to people who have retired during the course of the year and thank the staff of this House for the tremendous service that they give us. I am happy to do that. The House will be excited to hear that as well as me emerging from the shadows to do this, so will my fellow members of the usual channels and the Convenor. We shall then revert to the shadows until this time next year, which suits us fine.

It is a good time of the year for me. The prospect of a Recess is always a pleasant one for me, and the thought of being reasonably confident that I can go for
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two and a half weeks without any government defeats enables me to sleep more easily. Before I pay tribute generally to the people who serve us, there are one or two names that I want to mention. I have put them in order of length of service, which I think is fair enough, starting with the longest-serving among those who have retired, or are imminently about to.

I begin with Priscilla Hungerford, who has given no less than 37 years of service to this House, which is pretty phenomenal. I think it spans six Prime Ministers. She has fulfilled a number of roles, most recently one familiar to the House, that of visits co-ordinator. We all thank her collectively for that incredible length of service.

The next person I would like to mention is David Jones, the Librarian, who will soon be retiring. In his case, it is after 28 years of service. I am not only thanking him but, on behalf of all of us, acknowledging the incredible service that we get from the Library and its research staff. Many a time I have made a speech, and I am sure this goes for all of us, where, if someone had cried "Author" at the end of it, I would have had to have said "The Library". It provides a wonderful service to all of us. Our very best wishes to David Jones.

I must mention, as is almost customary on these occasions—especially as they are standing ominously around the Chamber—the Doorkeepers. There are two to salute. One has, in part, been saluted already: John Kirtley, our Principal Doorkeeper who retired a couple of weeks ago. He had given 19 years of service, was held in great affection by this House, I know, and he held the House in great affection. We do indeed wish him a long and happy retirement, and our thanks for all that he has done.

His colleague, also well known to many of us, Jack Blood, was the deputy Principal Doorkeeper, with, coincidentally, 19 years of service. He retired a little earlier, but I would like that to be recorded in Hansard. Our thanks to him as well. He had service over many years, but it was almost hereditary in his case—appropriately for this House, I suppose—in that his father was the Principal Doorkeeper in the Commons for quite some time. We salute and thank Jack Blood.

I should also thank the former Editor of Debates. I include our intrepid Hansard writers in our thanks to Jackie Bradshaw, who had 20 years of service, first in the Commons and then here. Just as the librarians and researchers write our speeches, it is the Hansard writers who ensure that they are grammatical, even if they were not when we delivered them. They perform a tremendous function.

A couple of other names are also worthy of our thanks. I have noticed in the past that we tend to pay tribute to those who are constantly at the forefront of our attention because, obviously, we meet them day in, day out. There are many other people who service the House behind the scenes, however. That is the nature of the job.
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One in particular comes to mind who has given great service. John Rankine is retiring after a relatively short period here but a long period beforehand in the Civil Service. He has played a key role in giving advice on the expansion of the number of staff who serve us. Although this has happened behind the scenes, this has been as extremely important job and we salute the work that he has done.

There are a couple of other tributes that I would like to pay before I sit down. One is unusual—well, not unusual for me but unusual for me in my role as Chief Whip of this House—in that it is a party political tribute. I shall leave it to the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, as it is his principal responsibility. But we should recognise the fact that Celia Thomas will shortly be leaving her present role in the House. She has given tremendous support to the Liberal Benches over many years. Service to a political party is a noble service. It may not be fashionable but service to one particular party is a particularly noble service. My consensual mode will prevent me from mentioning which party that is. No doubt most noble Lords will acknowledge that, whatever bad press we get from time to time, political parties are a vital part of our democracy and a noble calling. We wish Celia a happy retirement—if that is the right word.

Finally to departments. The one that we must acknowledge has been working under the greatest difficulty and pressure for obvious and good reasons due to the major rebuilding is the refreshment department. How they have continued to serve us with the difficulties that they have experienced in the rebuilding of the kitchens has been phenomenal. Collectively I thank them on behalf of the House.

Let us conclude by mentioning all the departments of the House. It is a privilege in more ways than one to be able to speak in this Chamber and be a Member of this House, but it becomes a pleasure and a privilege when the people who help, serve, guide and inform us in various ways are always unfailingly helpful and supportive.

I wish all of them and all noble Lords in the Chamber a very happy Christmas and a splendid New Year.

5.12 pm

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, your Lordships all know that the usual channels work very closely together and occasionally we are seen to work closely together. This is one such occasion.

I am delighted to support the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms in thanking all the staff of the House. We have a splendid staff. We are very well served by all of them. Beneath the patina and polish of the public face of the House of Lords, there is an amazingly efficient and surprisingly modern set of systems and staff working for us. That is nowhere better demonstrated than in the changes that have taken place in the Library during the time that David Jones has been Librarian. He has been Librarian for 15 years, though he worked in the Library previously as assistant Librarian. During this time the Library has
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"gone electronic". The changes are startling to those of us who have been in this building for some time. All libraries—but particularly our Library here—have changed with the introduction of computers and electronic records. He has overseen that work extremely well here and had a distinguished time in doing so.

Other changes have affected Hansard in recent years. Jackie Bradshaw has been Editor of Debates, as has been mentioned. The great rise in Grand Committees doubles the work of Hansard for large parts of the day. The Grand Committee is still sitting now and will still be sitting after the Chamber has risen. Changes of that sort have taken place and Jackie Bradshaw has been at the forefront of those in her department.

John Rankine has been mentioned in connection with advising on staff and so on. He also had to help us to deal with all kinds of changed regulations, and to ensure that we used our staff to best effect and that they are looked after.

The most long-serving of those mentioned is Priscilla Hungerford. We have seen her not only in her official duties in the House but quite often in her voluntary duty as one of the stewards of the Abbey, helping to sort us all out when we go to parliamentary occasions at St Margaret's, Westminster. I hope that we shall continue to see her in that capacity and I pay tribute to her role.

More obvious, as the noble Lord mentioned, are John Kirtley and the other doorkeepers. John Kirtley was the Principal Doorkeeper and did a first-class job. Jack Blood, who retired in October, was a regimental sergeant major in the Coldstream Guards. During my national service I was subject to the ministrations—if that is the right word—of regimental sergeant majors in the Coldstream Guards. I have to say they were not quite the same. One did not get quite the same view of them as we do here, where they serve us extremely well. Jack Blood's ancestor came to some prominence at the Tower of London in the time of King Charles II, but perhaps we ought to draw a veil over that for the moment.

But, as the noble Lord hinted, many other people serve us in all capacities—the Clerks, Hansard, Black Rod's Department and the Works Department. Sometimes we are in danger of tripping over things because of the work which is being done. It is a very difficult building to look after, improve and modernise, which members of the Works Department do all the time, helped of course by the cleaners and so on.

The Refreshment Department has already been especially mentioned. Its members have had a very difficult year but have served us well. I pay tribute to the staff of the Computer Office, the Library, the Record Office and the staff of our own Whips Offices, too. Celia Thomas was particularly mentioned and I support what was said about her. Like members of the usual channels, who you see in evidence today, they also work closely together in the interests of the House, as do all the people I have mentioned.
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So, on behalf of Her Majesty's Official Opposition in the House of Lords, I am delighted to support everything that has been said and to thank our staff. I wish them a happy Christmas and I wish all of us a very good 2006.

5.18 pm

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