HC Deb 29 July 1982 vol 28 cc1237-9 3.52 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I beg to move, That this House acknowledges the exemplary manner in which Sir Peter Francis Thorne, KCVO, CBE, has discharged the duties of the Office of Serjeant at Arms, expresses its gratitude for his devoted service to the House and extends to him its best wishes for his retirement. Sir Peter Thorne has been in the service of the House since 1948. He was Deputy Serjeant at Arms for 19 years and he has been Serjeant at Arms since 1976. Throughout that time he has upheld with the greatest distinction the best traditions of his office. The many private tributes which have already been paid to him on his impending retirement have shown the universal regard and affection in which he is held by all the Departments of the House and throughout the Palace of Westminster.

Today's motion enables hon. Members to give formal and public expression to the deep gratitude that is felt on both sides of the House for the work that he has done. During his years of office, Sir Peter, aided by a remarkable memory, has built up an unrivalled knowledge of every aspect of the work of his Department. He has used his literary skill and authority to put at least some of this experience and historical research on record for the guidance of his successors. This knowledge has always been applied in the most practical way to the day-to-day problems of the House.

Accommodation in the House is not always all that many hon. Members would wish. That it is as good as it is owes a great deal to the personal energies and ingenuity of the Serjeant at Arms. More sombrely, hazards to security have greatly added to the responsibilities of the Serjeant at Arms in recent years.

Whenever threats have arisen, Sir Peter has always been found at the point of danger, every ready to apply his experience and versatility and to take the lead in finding practical solutions. He has carried out his many responsibilities here with dignity, self-effacing courtesy and unfailing kindness.

On behalf of the House, I express our profound gratitude and affectionate best wishes for the future to Sir Peter and Lady Anne, and extend a very warm welcome to his successor, Major Victor Le Fanu.

3.54 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

I believe that it has sometimes been the custom for motions of this character thanking the Serjeant at Arms for his services to be signed by the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. On this occasion a number of other names appear on the Order Paper. I have been asked by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) to add their congratulations to those which have been offered by the Leader of the House and which I wish to offer on behalf of the official Opposition, and I am glad to do so.

We are glad to agree with the motion that the Leader of the House has placed on the Order Paper. The services of Sir Peter Thorne have been of an exceptional character. All of us in many different parts of the House can pay our own individual tribute to the courtesy, kindness, consideration and unfailing persistence with which he has performed his duties in the House.

The Leader of the House has referred to the exceptional circumstances in some respects that have prevailed over recent years. Sir Peter has contributed to the convenience of hon. Members and to their safety. It is of very great importance that the safety of hon. Members should not interfere with the proper conduct of our business in every way. That takes considerable provision and forethought and has involved the anxiety of the officials and servants of the House. We all discover very soon after our arrival in this place that without the servants of the House it would be impossible for hon. Members to discharge their duties properly. All who have known him will say that the House has never had a more faithful servant than Sir Peter Thorne. The Opposition are glad to support the motion.

3.56 pm
Mr. Roy Jenkins (Glasgow, Hillhead)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends in both the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, I wish to add our words of appreciation for what Sir Peter Thorne has done. I do so with particular pleasure because it so happens that Colonel Thorne, as he then was, arrived as Assistant Serjeant at Arms in 1948 within a very few months of my first arrival in the House. Over the years he has occupied a more permanent seat than myself, especially in the past few months, and he has occupied it consistently in a way that has benefited enormously the service of the House. He has done this and discharged his other duties with a unique combination of courtesy, efficiency, friendliness, and distinction. We thank him warmly, and we wish him well for the future.

3.58 pm
Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

I think that I am the only ranker present who was in this place before Colonel Thorne arrived as Assistant Serjeant at Arms. I have been pleased to know him personally. It is unusual for rankers to get the opportunities that are enjoyed by military officers. Being a military man before he came here—once a military man always a military man—I think that Colonel Thorne will welcome a word of appreciation from the rankers, the Back Benchers. We do not often have the privileges that are extended to Privy Councillors, who walk in to make their speeches, walk out and never make a reappearance. There are one or two honourable exceptions, and I note that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) is in his place.

I have known previous Serjeants at Arms and I am able to make comparisons. Colonel Thorne, as I always refer to him, was always kind, courteous and helpful, especially to Back Benchers. With great respect to you, Mr. Speaker, I am not much concerned about Privy Councillors—they are well looked after—but Colonel Thorne treated each Member of the House alike. If one went to him and he could not do something immediately, he would go out of his way to do it. Often he failed because of the non-co-operation of the Establishment, and especially of hon. Members. He innovated the excellent precept of reserving car park spaces for disabled persons, but many hon. Members ignored that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, and then they came to the House and made speeches about helping the stricken and the disabled and said that we should all go out of our way to help them. Then we find their cars parked in spaces reserved for the disabled. Colonel Thorne tried to put right such matters.

I have never known Colonel Thorne to lose his temper—

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The hon. Gentleman has provoked him enough.

Mr. Lewis

I accept that I am not a "Yes" man. I will have a go at anyone, as I probably have at Colonel Thorne, but there are no hard feelings on my part and I know that there are none on his. As an hon. Member who will also retire one day—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—may I say to Colonel Thorne, who I hope is listening in his reserved box upstairs, that I hope that he has a long retirement and that we can both discuss, being of the same retirement age, the comments that I have made on behalf of all Back Benchers. I speak now as the most senior other ranker present.

Mr. Speaker

Before I put the Question, I beg leave of the House to make a statement on behalf of the Deputy Speakers and myself.

I have never heard warmer and more sincere tributes paid to a servant of this House than those to which we have just listened. It has been a great privilege for those of us in the Chair to work with Colonel Sir Peter Thorne, who has been a friend to us, who has shown loyalty and who has never complained at any duty that he has been invited to undertake. The House is the richer for his having served among us, and we wish him well.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House acknowledges the exemplary manner in which Sir Peter Francis Thorne, KCVO, CBE, has discharged the duties of the Office of Serjeant at Arms, expresses its gratitude for his devoted service to the House and extends to him its best wishes for his retirement.

Mr. Speaker

May I say to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) that it would be a great favour to me if someone would make him a Privy Councillor!