HC Deb 15 July 2004 vol 423 cc1543-6 12.31 pm
Mr. Speaker

I have a short statement to make to the House. I have received a letter from the Librarian, indicating her wish to retire at the end of this year. I will arrange for the text of the letter to be printed in the Official Report.

Miss Priscilla Baines has served the House for almost 37 years, the last five of them as our Librarian. During her stewardship, the Library has continued to develop and expand, and her team has risen to meet the challenges that new technology has presented. Miss Baines has faithfully served Members of the House of Commons since 1968 and I suspect all of us have cause to be grateful to her for her diligence and expertise in finding that piece of information that we have needed at one stage or another to complete our research on a particular point.

I know that all Members will join me in thanking Miss Baines for her unstinting and devoted service to the House. We wish her a long and happy retirement.

I should like to take this opportunity of expressing our thanks to members of her team in the Library who, with Miss Baines, have provided us with the excellent service that we enjoy.

Miss Baines will retire on 31 December 2004 and I am announcing to the House today that, after a rigorous competition and on the advice of a selection board, I have appointed Mr. John Pullinger to succeed her. Mr. Pullinger is currently executive director of the Office for National Statistics.

[Following is the letter:

I write to confirm my decision to retire on 31 December 2004.

By the end of this year I shall have served the House for almost thirty-seven years, the last five of them as Librarian. The Library that I shall leave will be very different in many respects from the one I joined early in 1968. The Members' Library in the Palace still looks remarkably similar to the magnificent set of rooms first occupied in 1852 and we are very fortunate that it is still in use for the purpose for which it was originally designed. Much else, has, however, changed, mainly as a result of the technology which now underlies most of our services to the House and to Members.

Exploiting that technology for the benefit of our users has been one of the Library's biggest challenges and I think we can be very proud of the many improvements that we have made in our services. Those improvements might well not have been possible without the technology but we could not provide any of our services without our staff. I have been very lucky to have so many able and committed colleagues, most of all in the Library but also throughout both Houses. I am very grateful for their support and friendship and I shall miss them a great deal .

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to serve the House, and Parliament, for so long. I have greatly enjoyed the opportunities to work for so many Members of Parliament and to be part of a department whose services have clearly been highly valued. I have every confidence that the challenges of the future will be met as they have been in the past.]

12.33 pm
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain)

Mr Speaker the whole House will want to join in the tribute that you have paid to Miss Baines. I know that she is held in great regard and much affection by Members and staff alike. Miss Baines has served the Library with considerable distinction and dedication. She is a recognised authority on parliamentary matters and has contributed to many publications, taking a leading role in the proceedings of the Study of Parliament group.

As Librarian, Miss Baines has fostered contacts with parliamentary libraries throughout the world. Throughout her career, Miss Baines has taken a very close interest in staffing matters, playing a major part in strengthening the trade union side.

Miss Baines has overseen the opening of the e-library and the development of the parliamentary information management system. I understand that this will be up and running for internal purposes by the end of the year. In the second stage, it will be an important tool, contributing to the way we deliver information to the public through a much more accessible parliamentary website.

Alongside the introduction of new technology, Miss Baines has taken forward a challenging change management programme aimed at modernising the way the Library Department delivers its services to users. This is a very significant legacy for what remains the finest parliamentary Library in the world.

I also understand that Miss Baines will be missed in the Commons gym, where she is a sprightly early-morning regular. I believe that the whole House will join me in expressing our thanks to her and in wishing her our best wishes on her retirement.

12.34 pm
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)

On behalf of the Opposition, I would like to associate myself fully with your remarks, Mr. Speaker, and with those of the Leader of the House.

The services offered by the Library have gone from strength to strength under Miss Baines' leadership. I note that last year a total of 75,000 requests for information and reference briefings were made by hon. Members on both sides of the House. That shows what an essential resource the Library is for Members. It is particularly so for the Opposition, who are very reliant on and grateful for the services provided.

It is also right to pay tribute to Miss Baines for significant innovations in recent years, such as the introduction of the debate packs, which have been very useful. Miss Baines deserves our thanks for all her work and our very best wishes for the future. Although I have never actually met her in the gym— [Interruption]—I know that she has a pleasant and approachable manner. We all want to wish her a long and happy retirement.

12.35 pm
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD)

May I add my thanks and appreciation to Miss Baines on behalf of the Liberal Democrats? Whatever party we come from, we accept that a fact in the House of Commons is often a fairly elastic concept, but that a fact from the Library is a fact which is underpinned by independent analysis, complete professionalism and integrity. An analysis from the House of Commons Library is accepted by all on both sides of the House.

It is worth noting that, before the announcement, we were discussing the reform of government and the introduction of major changes in back offices and IT. Much of it has already happened in the Library: it has been assimilated efficiently without fuss, which reflects great credit on the Librarian. We want to thank her and welcome her successor, John Pullinger.

12.36 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab)

Priscilla Baines has been in control of the Library during a most difficult and complicated period. She has seen a complete change in the way Library services are provided. Every one of us has relied on the Library—in my case, for more than 30 years. Library staff are not only imaginative, responsible and hard-working; under Priscilla Baines' leadership, they have transformed themselves into probably the most imaginative resource that could be provided to any Parliament anywhere. We owe Priscilla Baines an enormous debt, which we shall never be able to repay. I cannot understand why we are letting someone so young retire so early.

12.37 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con)

For 21 years, it has been my privilege to use the wonderful resources of the Library. Only in the last six months, as Chairman of the Select Committee on Information, have I begun to understand the complexity of our great Library. I have always known that it is the Library's staff who make it what it is. Working with our Librarian, I now know why it is so special.

Like a well ordered farm or a well stocked duck pond, the Library is always there in full working order with Members browsing contentedly through papers or computers. The reality is that, like ducks on a pond or stream, the staff are paddling furiously to keep the show on the road. There, mistress of all she surveys, is our swan—the Librarian.

The agricultural analogy is apt, for Priscilla Baines has a first degree in agriculture and a second degree in agricultural economics, both from Oxford. When she joined the Library in 1968, it was no surprise that when the then Leader of the House, Richard Crossman, first set up the short-lived agricultural and science committees, he turned to her as the expert to take forward an exciting and challenging innovation.

Priscilla Baines has been leading exciting and challenging projects ever since. The House owes her and her senior staff an enormous debt of gratitude for the leadership of that great project which loaned 15,000 of the House's best but least used books to the British Museum. There, they can now be seen by thousands of visitors to the wonderful Enlightenment gallery, formerly the King's library, which was established as part of the British Museum when Parliament first voted to create the first national museum in the world.

More recently, it has been Priscilla's vision and ambition to develop an entirely new information storage and retrieval system for Members and our staff, known as PIMS—parliamentary information management services. The management of change in any great institution is exceptionally difficult. Priscilla Baines knows more about information management than anyone. Her new project comes on stream later this year. She will have had a twinkle in her eye as she christened it PIMS, for her wisdom is combined with wit; her love of opera is enhanced by her pursuit of travel; and her renowned knowledge of food has been known to be washed down with a glass of the other kind of Pimms.

As hon. Members, we respect and admire Priscilla's achievements. She is not, perhaps, a conventional librarian, but that is precisely why she has been so successful. I know—because I have asked them—that her large staff are very fond of her. Only last week, I was told how a colleague, on her first day back from maternity leave, attended a meeting and was instantly greeted by Priscilla saying, "Oh good, you're back!" Another colleague described how they enjoyed socialising after work with a drink on the Terrace, and said, "She is really good fun."

And so say all of us. We will be sorry to say goodbye later this year. We will miss her. Her retirement will be richly deserved. Her legacy to the House is very substantial, and we are truly grateful to her.

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