HC Deb 18 December 1997 vol 303 cc488-94 3.38 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)

I beg to move, That Madam Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Donald William Limon KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of this House, the House's gratitude for his long and distinguished career, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedure of the House, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members. I am sure that, in moving this motion, I can unite the House, and that hon. Members on both sides will support it—from those few hon. Members whose experiences range to the days before Donald Limon joined the Clerks Department to those hon. Members who were elected earlier this year and who, for the first time, had the advantage of one of the changes introduced by Sir Donald: induction for new Members.

Sir Donald has worked in the House since 1956, which means that more than 100 Members were not even born when he first came here. Not surprisingly, his career has witnessed remarkable and sweeping changes, including—some new Members may not realise this—changes to the procedures and workings of the House.

Sir Donald has not only witnessed change; he has been a key figure in promoting change. As Clerk to the European Select Committee and to the Select Committee on the Treasury, in the early stages of their development, he made an important contribution to the successful development of the present Select Committee system. He was the first secretary to the Public Accounts Commission when the National Audit Office was set up in its present form in 1983, and he was the first secretary to the House of Commons Commission.

In 1990, when Sir Robin Ibbs was asked by the House of Commons Commission to review the provision to Members of the services of the House, Sir Donald was a member of the team that made wide-ranging recommendations, from the structure of domestic Committees to the introduction of comprehensive financial management systems within the House.

As Clerk of the House, Sir Donald has done much to ensure that the Departments of the House actively co-operate with one another. He and his wife, Joyce, have received much praise from the staff of the House for helping to break down barriers in that area.

A Clerk of the House must have a thorough knowledge of our procedures, and the House is indebted to Sir Donald for his editorial skills in the production of the 22nd edition of "Erskine May", which appeared a few weeks ago, and which I am sure every Member has studied carefully.

The Clerks of the House must possess knowledge of our procedures, have the temperament to manage to remain calm in the Chamber and be able to be patient with Members whose familiarity with the details of "Erskine May" is not quite as great as their own. I know that Sir Donald will not mind me using this occasion to praise not only himself but his team for all the work that they do, and to express our thanks to the Clerks of the House as a whole.

Sir Donald's qualities of combining great knowledge of our procedures with a practical approach to problems that arise from time to time—his approachability, combined with his complete impartiality—have made him an outstanding asset to the House. We are grateful to Sir Donald, and he and Lady Limon will carry with them into retirement our appreciation, our thanks and our best wishes.

3.42 pm
Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk)

On behalf of the Opposition, I am delighted to associate those of us on the Opposition Benches with the tribute paid to Sir Donald Limon by the Leader of the House. The whole House will wish to give warm support to the motion of gratitude to Sir Donald for his more than 40 years of distinguished service—latterly, of course, as Clerk of the House.

As the House will have heard, Sir Donald joined the Clerks Department in 1956. Since then he has been closely involved with the many changes, both institutional and procedural, that the House has introduced over that time. His career illustrates the evolutionary spirit of change that characterises our parliamentary democracy.

As the Leader of the House has said, it would be impossible to overstate the debt that the whole House owes the Clerks for their knowledge, their commitment, their experience and their dedication to the House and what that represents. Sir Donald, in his many years of service, personifies that knowledge, that experience, and that dedication as well as a great deal of patience and courtesy, along with the ability, on occasions, to keep a straight face.

Since the general election, with so many new Members on both sides of the House and with the dramatic change of role for all existing Members, the skills and knowledge of the Clerk of the House have been much in demand, as many hon. Members wrestle with procedures and customs, some of which may seem curious, but all of which have their origins in the protection of the House, its role in our parliamentary democracy, and the interests and rights of Members and their constituents.

Sir Donald has applied wisdom, tact and practical common sense to these and all matters throughout his long and distinguished career. I wish him and Lady Limon a long, happy and fruitful retirement. They will carry with them the gratitude and affection of us all.

3.44 pm
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I wish to associate the Liberal Democrats with what has been said by the Leader of the House and by the right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), the shadow Leader of the House, and to express our own gratitude and best wishes to Sir Donald and Lady Limon.

We particularly appreciate the way in which Sir Donald has been prepared to help individual Back Benchers and smaller parties—I no longer include the Liberal Democrats in that category—and the way in which, under his leadership, his Department dedicates itself to the whole House in a pluralistic, political way. His formidable knowledge and talents have been made available to us all, and we are truly grateful to him for that.

From my experience outside the House, when somebody retires, the most formidable contribution that he or she has to make is to ensure that no gap is left, and that the team that is left behind is as formidable and dedicated to the task. That is certainly true in Sir Donald's case, and we appreciate that. The skill, dedication and calibre of the team he leaves is a tribute to his leadership.

I shall underline just one other point—the way in which the Clerks, under Sir Donald's leadership, have been prepared to tackle difficult changes and respond to the challenges that the House has thrown at them. His Department has dedicated itself to that, not just for the good of the House but for the nation.

3.46 pm
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I am delighted to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the motion.

The motion refers to Sir Donald Limon's distinguished career. It is perfectly clear that that is not an empty phrase. It has indeed been a very distinguished career. He has made a significant contribution to the House and to the evolution and change of its procedures.

All of us in the House are heavily dependent on the Clerks. Perhaps those parties that are still small are even more dependent on the Clerks for their help and guidance, which has always been given to us unstintingly and very helpfully, and as Clerk of the House, Sir Donald has the titular responsibility for that. It is therefore quite appropriate that we take opportunities such as this to express our appreciation and gratitude to the Clerks generally, and particularly to Sir Donald and his wife for what they have done for the House and for hon. Members.

I hope that Sir Donald and Lady Limon will have a good and rewarding retirement. It is clear he has many interests that he can pursue during his retirement. We wish him well as he leaves the House.

3.47 pm
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

I very much appreciate this opportunity, on behalf of my colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party, to wish Sir Donald and Lady Limon a very happy retirement. I should like to be associated with the very erudite expressions of appreciation that have already been made, to which I would not aspire, except to say that, on behalf of my colleagues, I wish Sir Donald and Lady Limon the peace of Christmas, and health in the new year. I hope that the attributes of peace and health will be with them for the many years of their lives that I hope that they have in front of them.

3.48 pm
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

I, too, am delighted to associate myself with the remarks that have been expressed in connection with Sir Donald's retirement. I wish him well.

Those of us who represent smaller parties, such as Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party, sometimes try to punch above our weight, yet whenever we have approached Sir Donald—or any other members of his staff—in connection with the sometimes labyrinthine procedures of the House, we have never been met with anything other than courtesy and the greatest assistance.

I wish Sir Donald and Lady Limon a very long and happy retirement. I am sure that he will watch with interest the development of procedures in the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. If he has any advice to offer, we will welcome it. I can assure him of a very warm welcome any time that he visits those establishments.

3.49 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

I, too, associate myself with the remarks made by those who have gone before me. Representing, as I do, one of the smallest parties in the House, I should like to say that we have always found the Clerks of the House, especially Sir Donald, most willing to help, encourage and instruct.

I look upon the Clerks as a guiding star. I learned in another place, which was a replica of this place, that, when the Speaker, or the occupant of the Chair, leaned forward to talk to the Clerks, I was on good ground, because the Speaker was not sure whether to call me to order or not. But when the Clerk turned round and initiated a discussion with the Speaker, I knew that I was in for trouble. Therefore, the Clerks have always been my guiding star, and I hope to keep my eye on who comes next.

3.50 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

The House has been blessed in its senior Clerks, and Donald Limon is one of the most distinguished of that line. Of the many good works that he has carried out, not only for the House, one should particularly mention the job that he has done in relation to other Commonwealth Parliaments.

Sir Donald has gone out of his way to assist Commonwealth Clerks and Commonwealth Parliaments generally. I had the honour of serving with him on a seminar in Africa, which I thoroughly enjoyed. One particularly indignant Commonwealth Clerk was holding forth, giving the opinion that no Member of Parliament should be able to serve unless he or she knew the Standing Orders back to front. The next questioner then asked me whether I thought that that was correct, and I said, "Well, yes, except that it would rule out perhaps half the House of Commons." I do not know who it was, but a little voice alongside me was heard to mutter, "Two thirds."

We will miss the wit, intelligence and commitment of Donald Limon, and not just because he has served every Member of the House with great charm and understanding of how individual and awkward Members of Parliament can be. Above all, we shall miss Donald Limon the man. We shall miss his particular personality; his ability to make us all laugh with an absolutely straight face, something which he has succeeded in passing on to all his colleagues in the Clerks Department.

We shall miss a man who understood that his commitment was to the House of Commons, and that democracy needs people with that breadth of vision, and who has kept us firmly on the path that ensures that the mother of Parliaments will remain of importance everywhere in the world.

I shall miss Donald Limon a great deal. I send him and Joyce my very warmest regards and my great appreciation as a small and totally unimportant part, not only of a small party but of a virtually non-existent one—all Back Benchers.

3.52 pm
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

I, too, wish to add my comments to those already made about the great distinction, discretion and integrity of Donald Limon. It has been my privilege for many years to be his Member of Parliament. It is a source of regret that, upon his forthcoming retirement, he will move out of the area. At least, he assured me that that was the reason, as opposed to any lack of quality in the local representation.

I am delighted that Sir Donald has remained a distinguished office holder of the Churt cricket club, and I shall in future seek to attend more of its functions on a more regular basis.

3.53 pm
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central)

As a longstanding member of the Procedure Committee, I associate myself with the warm tributes that have been paid to Sir Donald this afternoon and with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in relation to Sir Donald's work with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I wish Sir Donald and Lady Limon a long and happy retirement.

3.54 pm
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

It would not normally fall to a new Member to speak in such a debate, and I cannot match the long recollections of other Members. What I can say is that I was especially taken both by the warm welcome and by the enormous courtesy that Sir Donald extended to new Members.

Sir Donald and his wife are now constituents of mine—very welcome ones—in Kingsdon, a quiet and tranquil village whose tranquillity is broken only by a flock of geese in the middle of the village. They are frequently noisy and disputatious and rarely make a lot of sense, so when Sir Donald feels a hankering after old times, he is welcome to walk down into the centre of the village.

I know that Sir Donald's friends in Somerset, as well as his friends in the House, will wish him and his wife a long and happy retirement.

3.55 pm
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

As a middle ranker, from the middle range too, I join in the congratulations. I echo the views of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), especially about the range of activities that Sir Donald undertook within the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Delegates who came here, especially for the seminars, valued the work that he did there. On the level of personal friendship, too, he was delightful.

In one sense, Madam Speaker, you might miss Sir Donald, because the Speaker's ear will have gone—but I am sure that there will be another ear. Anyway, there is always that blessedness of those in positions of authority—learning to turn a deaf ear.

Another aspect that I noticed in the record of Sir Donald's achievement was the fact that he learned manual labour in removing the hunting boots to allow another Speaker to move into the Chair. At a time when hunting has become a debatable question, it is a delight to know that Sir Donald can move to an easier chair himself.

Not only will the House miss Sir Donald, but Members and our spouses will also miss the presence of Lady Limon. We give both of them our good wishes in retirement.

3.56 pm
Mr. Tony Colman (Putney)

I associate myself with all that has been said already. As a new Member, I must say how much we needed the training and help that we received when we first entered the House in May. I especially want to speak about Lady Limon, because I remember the day in June when my assistant, Emma Thorogood, and I approached the formidable front door on the fifth floor of Norman Shaw South, and knocked on it for some advice. We were welcomed in effusively, as I am sure many Members have been before.

Over the six months since then, Lady Limon has welcomed many researchers, assistants and secretaries to meet her and take tea, and has helped in their induction into Parliament. I join in what has already been said in wishing Sir Donald and Lady Limon a long and happy retirement.

Madam Speaker

Before I put the Question, I want to add my own tribute to Donald Limon. As we have heard, he has served the House with distinction for more than 40 years. His support and wise counsel, afforded to me both as a Deputy Speaker and more recently as Speaker, has been effective and unstinting. With the admirable support of his wife Joyce, he has done much to sustain the morale and commitment of staff of the House at all levels. He takes with him into retirement our grateful thanks and the knowledge that his career has fulfilled his many talents. I shall miss both the Limons very much indeed.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That Madam Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Donald William Limon KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of this House, the House's gratitude for his long and distinguished career, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedure of the House, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members.