HC Deb 19 December 1961 vol 651 cc1151-9

4.14 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)

I beg to move, That Mr. Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Edward Abdy Fellowes, K.C.B., C.M.G., M.C., on his retirement from the Office of Clerk of this House, an expression of Members' deep appreciation of the service which he has rendered to this House for forty-two years, their admiration for his profound knowledge of its procedure and practice, their gratitude for the help constantly and readily given to them, and their recognition of the great work he has done in spreading in and beyond the Commonwealth knowledge and understanding of the traditions of the British Parliament. It is very pleasant, Mr. Speaker, to turn aside for a moment—in a day that has already seen a good deal of controversy, and before we take up a Bill that is admittedly controversial—briefly to propose a Motion that is sure of universal acceptance by the House.

Sir Edward Fellowes will go down in history as one of the great Clerks of this House of Commons. He succeeded a great man, and that is always a particularly difficult thing to do, but he has won his own place in our estimation by his outstanding ability, by his devoted service and—and this, perhaps, we will remember most—by his courtesy and friendliness to us all.

I do not propose to rehearse the details of a remarkably varied career but, instead, just to mention two or three highlights. He entered the service of this House in 1919—forty-two years ago; or, to put it in another way, before about half of the Members of this House were born. For twenty-five years he has been at the Table. If I pick out just one of the tremendous changes those years have seen it is the one referred to in the last words of the Motion, the evolution of an Empire into a Commonwealth, during which time he has been adviser to many Commonwealth countries in which national Parliaments were emerging.

Sir Edward Fellowes has been a prominent figure in the Inter-Parliamentary Union. From 1956 to 1960 he was President of that world trade union of clerks, the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments. In Europe, too, his influence has been felt in the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Assembly of Western European Union.

One final point I should like to mention. Sir Edward Fellowes' services to this country have been as distinguished in war time as in peace. During the First World War he was awarded the Military Cross. During the Second World War he commanded perhaps the most remarkable unit in the country—the Westminster Company of the Home Guard. I believe that the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) was his second in command. Members of bath Houses served in many different ranks. It really must have been a splendid company to belong to and, if I may say so, it must have required a great deal of tact to command. I am told that the last entry in its official record, made by its commander, reads: We were jolly good. Fellowes. By this Motion, we, old Members and new Members alike, of all parties in this House, join in our thanks to Sir Edward, but, beyond these personal tributes, I think that we should like to say, representing as we do, between us, the people of the country, that the Clerk of the House has served his country and ours nobly in peace and in war, and that we wish him and Lady Fellowes a long and happy life.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell (Leeds, South)

I have great pleasure in supporting the Motion which has been moved in such felicitous terms by the Leader of the House.

It was a shock to me when, quite recently, in the course of a conversation, Sir Edward Fellowes told me of his impending retirement. It had not occurred to me that he had reached that point. He still looks, I am glad to say, extremely well and very healthy, and he still has all the intellectual vigour which we have so often seen displayed over these years. But the years pass, and these things have to happen.

When I was first elected as a Member of this House, Mr. Fellowes, as he then was, used to sit on the left-hand or Opposition side of the House. Over the years, he has moved over to the right-hand or Government side of the House, while, unhappily, we have moved over from the Government side to the Opposition side. But I do not wish to suggest that this has ever affected his impartiality as between the two sides.

Nor has another connection which Sir Edward. Fellowes has with the Government Front Bench. I understand that he and the Home Secretary were at school together, but that Sir Edward was a prefect while the Home Secretary was a very junior figure indeed. Sir Edward has never told us what he thinks of his junior now; if he were not the discreet man that he is I should be looking forward to reading this in his memoirs.

The relations between the Clerks of the House and the Members of this House have always been extraordinarily good. It is one of the remarkable features of this assembly. Sometimes we criticise even the Chair, sometimes we criticise the Chairman of Ways and Means—but I cannot recollect an occasion when any Member of the House has had any friction with any Clerk of the House; not since I have been here, at any rate.

In the case of Sir Edward Fellowes, however, hon. Members will agree that there was something more. We really did look upon him as a personal friend, and there were several reasons for this. He was always a most accessible man; one never had any difficulty in finding him. He was always willing to give advice, however inconvenient the occasion might be to himself. He was immensely courteous to those of us who were somewhat ignorant of the rules of procedure; he never gave the impression of having superior knowledge. He was very fair-minded, and was basically very full of common sense. He was decisive and he was genial. All these things made up a man for whom we have a great affection.

It is one thing to give advice on the rules of procedure; it is another to contribute to their improvement. Sir Edward Fellowes displayed both those qualities abundantly. Apart from the normal functions he performed in the House, I would especially like to refer to the evidence he gave on a number of occasions to the Committee of Privileges. It was of great value to us, and of very great interest. On the question of innovations, we can recall the "Fellowes Schedule" as it is called, whereby a single debate in Committee of Supply can now range over many different Departments.

I suppose, though, that Sir Edward is better known for his evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure, in 1958. There, in a very far-reaching and imaginative series of proposals, he sketched out how he thought our procedure should be changed. Much of what he then suggested proved to be too radical for the Committee, but there have been occasions when Clerks of the House have made suggestions which have been rejected at the time, but which, in later years, have been adopted. This may well prove to be the case with the evidence that Sir Edward gave to that Committee.

Be that as it may, one of the most attractive features of Sir Edward Fellowes has been the freshness of mind which he has always brought to bear upon our problems. He was not a dull bureaucrat in any conceivable sense of the word, but a man, as I have said, full of common sense, intelligence and experience, and one who was always willing to see what could be done to bring about improvements.

The Leader of the House has referred to Sir Edward's notable services with the Commonwealth, and I do not doubt that in a great many Commonwealth countries, both Speakers and Clerks must feel that they owe a great deal to him. Perhaps I might be allowed to refer to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's annual courses, which take place here, and to which Sir Edward Fellowes contributed so much.

It only remains for me now, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, to express our regret that Sir Edward Fellowes is leaving us, but to wish him very good health and great happiness with Lady Fellowes in his years of retirement.

4.20 p.m.

Sir Robert Grimston (Westbury)

I do not think that this occasion should pass without a word from the back benches in appreciation of all that Sir Edward Fellowes has done over the years. I have personally known him since he first appeared at that Table as Second Clerk Assistant. My experience has been, and I know that it has been that of all hon. Members on both sides of the House, that whenever we went to him for advice and help he gave it, as the Leader of the Opposition has just said, most courteously, without making one feel in any way as if one were receiving a privilege.

During the course of his remarks, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House mentioned that Sir Edward Fellowes was Commander of the Parliamentary Home Guard. That reminds me of an incident, because I had the privilege at one time of having him as my second in command. Perhaps one of the recollections that he will have is that of taking possession of your dining room, Mr. Speaker, and shooting North-over projectors through your window at a dummy tank approaching over Westminster Bridge. I think that the exercise taught us that, in the event of anything really happening, we would be more likely to damage the bridge than the tank.

I want to say on behalf, I know, of all hon. Members who sit on the back benches in this House that when we return after Christmas we shall miss Sir Edward Fellowes. I should like to join in the words expressed by my right hon. Friend and by the Leader of the Opposition, that we shall wish him long life and good health in which to enjoy his honoured retirement.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I, too, should like to be associated with what has been said by right hon. and hon. Members in moving and supporting this Motion. I have often thought that the public do not appreciate to what extent the House of Commons depends upon its Clerk. I sometimes wonder what would happen if six or seven servants of the House all got influenza on the same day—I think that we should have to adjourn.

I agree, also, with the hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston), that while we all owe a great debt to Sir Edward and his fellow Clerks, this debt is particularly heavy on the back benchers, and also on all hon. Members of minority parties, particularly those which are more apt to be opposing rather than supporting the Government. One of the most delicate but important duties which Sir Edward has carried out with conspicuous success is to teach hon. Members, such as myself, how to remain in order while perhaps proceeding gently to embarrass the Government. Without this service, too, I do not think that Parliamentary democracy could be carried on.

I should like to thank Sir Edward very warmly for all the kindness and help that he has given and also to join in wishing him and Lady Fellowes a very long and happy retirement.

4.23 p.m.

Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)

I should like to say a word or two as I think I am the only remaining ex-occupant of the Chair in the House of Commons.

Sir Edward Fellowes, in his letter to you, Mr. Speaker, expressed his gratitude for the support and encouragement which he had received from all the occupants of the Chair. I am quite certain that you will agree with me that the occupant of the Chair is much more in the debt of Sir Edward than he ever was to the Speaker or Deputy-Speaker.

I am very glad that in the Government's Motion there is a phrase which expresses the gratitude of hon. Members of the House to Sir Edward Fellowes for the kindly way in which he has always given advice to hon. Members. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) will agree with this, but my recollection of earlier conversations with older Members of Parliament was that that kindly approach from the Table really originated when Sir Edward became the Second Clerk Assistant.

Before that, from what I have heard from old colleagues who have now passed on, there was not anything like the kindly attitude shown by Sir Edward. There was a great deal more brusqueness, "We cannot help hon. Members. You must find things out for yourselves." That kind of thing died when Sir Edward became Second Clerk Assistant. For that reason, we are very grateful to the Government for putting that phrase in the Motion.

Reference has been made to the fact that during the war Sir Edward Fellowes became a major, in charge of the Palace of Westminster Home Guard. I was a private in the Home Guard; in fact, I was a private in both World Wars, unlike a great number of people. But we had a great deal of work to do. We guarded this building night after night. I am not quite certain what the hon. Member for Westbury meant, but I remember quite well that in the early mornings, probably Sundays, we used to put tank traps on Westminster Bridge, probably because in those days hon. Members had failed to hit the tank when coming over. We were always glad to know, however well we did our work, that on the north of the square there were the Scots Guards, on the east side the Welsh Guards, on the west side the Grenadier Guards, and on the south side the Coldstream Guards. We were very glad that they were there to save us.

Being a Member of Parliament or an Officer of the House clearly interferes greatly with one's home, family and social life. We all know that. I feel that in view of the great number of years—forty-two—that Sir Edward has been serving this House it is about time that he had a little more time for the social enjoyment of life, and it is in that spirit that I, on behalf, I think, of every hon. Member, wish him good health in a long and happy retirement.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I wish to associate myself with all the tributes which have been paid to Sir Edward Fellowes, and in doing so I know very well that I give expression to the thoughts of many who are no longer Members of the House of Commons. From conversations with them which I recall, I know that they held Sir Edward in very high esteem.

Sir Edward Fellowes is leaving behind him a legacy which will be a monument to his life's work. I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). As a working-class young man coming into the House of Commons, I experienced at Sir Edward's hands the treatment to which my hon. Friend referred. Sir Edward has been one of the most competent and conscientious officials ever to do his duty in the public service of this country.

It is because I have personal recollections of how, throughout my association with him, he has treated me and every elected Member that I wish so much to be associated with the thanks and good wishes which are going out to him today. Sir Edward treated every elected Member in the same way, no matter what his rank or position. Each one of us has received from him the maximum courtesy and the best possible advice.

When the Germans demolished our Chamber and we had to meet in the House of Lords and in Church House, Sir Edward and his colleagues maintained the same high standard in every possible respect. We all owe a great deal to him. Younger Members particularly, especially those of my sort, owe him a special debt. I hope that the legacy of high standards which he leaves behind will continue as a monument to his work and will assist and facilitate the business of the House of Commons in the years to come. I warmly associate myself with all that has been said.

4.32 p.m.

Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

If Sir Edward Fellowes does read HANSARD—perhaps he will read it tomorrow morning—I should be very grieved if my name was not among the names of those who had paid tribute to him, to his character, his integrity, his courtesy and his kindness. For thirty-six years he has been a mentor and friend to me in the various capacities in which we have been associated, and never once has he given me anything but wise and good advice. I only wish to goodness that I had followed it more regularly and consistently.

I am very glad, Mr. Speaker, that I have been allowed to add my tribute and wish him good health, good friends and good fortune during his years of retirement.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, nemine contradicente That Mr. Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Edward Abdy Fellowes, K.C.B., C.M.G., M.C., on his retirement from the Office of Clerk of this House, an expression of Members' deep appreciation of the service which he has rendered to this House for forty-two years, their admiration for his profound knowledge of its procedure and practice, their gratitude for the help constantly and readily given to them, and their recognition of the great work he has done in spreading in and beyond the Commonwealth knowledge and understanding of the traditions of the British Parliament.