HL Deb 20 January 1959 vol 213 cc551-60

2.36 p.m.

Order of the Day read for the consideration of the letter from Sir Francis William Lascelles, K.C.B., M.C., announcing the resignation of his office of Clerk of the Parliaments, as from December 31, 1958.


My Lords, I beg to move that the letter be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, as your Lordships are probably aware, my noble friend the Leader of the House is on his way to Malaya. It therefore falls to my own lot to perform the pleasant if, in some ways, melancholy duty of moving the two Motions which stand in his name. But before I do so, I should like to tell your Lordships, at his direction and request, how sorry he is not to be able to be here personally to pay his own tribute to Sir Francis Lascelles, upon whose judgment he often so securely leaned, and upon whose help and assistance he, like his predecessors, drew so heavily. I am glad to see present below the gangway my noble friend Lord Salisbury, who held the position of Leader of the House for so long and who was in close association with Sir Francis, and I hope that he will be able to give just that intimate touch which my noble friend Lord Home could have given had he been personally present. I therefore beg to move the first of these Motions: That this House received with sincere concern the announcement of the retirement of Sir Francis William Lascelles, K.C.B., M.C., from the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments, and thinks it right to record the just sense which it entertains of the zeal, ability, diligence and integrity with which the said Sir Francis William Lascelles executed the important duties of his Office. My Lords, the letter to which the Motion refers marks the end—symbolised fittingly by the emptiness of the chair he so long occupied—of a long and distinguished career in the service of your Lordships' House, which culminated in the tenure during the last five years of the historic Office of Clerk of the Parliaments. Your Lordships will remember that on December 2 my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack read to the House the letter which he had received from Sir Francis announcing the resignation of his office, which would take effect from the first day of the present New Year. Your Lordships then decided to pay the tribute of the House to Sir Francis on the day we were due to reassemble after the Christmas Recess—this being today, the first sitting day after the date on which his retirement took effect.

Compared with that enjoyed by many—perhaps most—of your Lordships, my own life in this House has been, so far, a brief one. Many of your Lordships have far longer memories and experience of Sir Francis's services than I have, for I came here only after he had already achieved the highest position open to him in this House. I have in my day met many officials of different degrees of fallibility and judgment, but in my acquaintance, short as it has been, with Sir Francis I have found him to be an adviser who, in his own particular field, if he had not attained infallibility completely, must certainly have come within measurable distance of it.

Forty years of diligent industry have given Sir Francis an unrivalled knowledge of the history and procedure of this House. Perhaps I may adapt one of the sayings of the first Lord Birkenhead: Precedents are like lamp posts, set there to guide our way and not to support our instability. Sir Francis, like a true master of his craft, knew his precedents, and yet, because he knew also the reasons that had guided those who had made them, was not slavishly bound by them in any pedantic or literal sense. For though, very rightly, he preferred the known to the unknown way, he also recognised that precedent could not always be applied and that new cases sometimes called for new remedies. We have all, I think—or certainly nearly all—experienced his unvarying courtesy and infinite patience. Some of us (and here I can speak for myself, since I had the pleasure of serving with the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, on his Committee some two years ago) have been lucky enough to be in a position to testify to the invaluable advice and information he always made available to the Committees of the House, as well as to its entire membership.

It would be wrong, I think, were we to pass from this Motion without a word of welcome to his successor. Mr. Goodman has everything to recommend him—personality, knowledge and experience. But whoever succeeds Sir Francis, and whatever his merits be, the retirement of one gifted with such erudition and endowed with the experience and the personality of Sir Francis Lascelles is a matter for general regret whenever it comes. No one can grudge him his retirement after forty years, and I am sure that your Lordships will join with me in hoping that the years in front of him may be both many and happy. But, knowing Sir Francis as we do, we can be certain that they will not be idle. He has already given as much of his leisure as he could afford to public welfare and to the care and cure of the sick and ailing. The Mary Ward Settlement, the Moorfields Eye Hospital, and the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine know him well and have been greatly indebted to him for his invaluable advice in the management and conduct of their business.

My Lords, let us hope that these other links of service in London, which still continue, will lure him and Lady Lascelles from time to time from their retreat in distant Yorkshire. I can assure them, and I know that in saying this I am speaking for the House, that there will always be a welcome for them here and they will always have friends to meet in your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved, to resolve, That this House received with sincere concern the announcement of the retirement of Sir Francis William Lascelles, K.C.B., M.C., from the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments, and thinks it right to record the just sense which it entertains of the zeal, ability, diligence, and integrity with which the said Sir Francis William Lascelles executed the important duties of his Office.—(Viscount Hailsham.)

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I know that all who are associated with me on these Benches are fully in accord with the whole of the comprehensive tribute which has been paid by the Acting Leader of the House, Lord Hailsham, to Sir Francis Lascelles. I agree with him that such occasions as these, if we think about them too long, can be melancholy, because they mean parting from a friend whom we meet daily and know intimately. But when we come to look at the actual fact of the matter, that obviously Sir Francis must have planned in his mind, with all that method and accuracy with which he has carried out all his work, the time when he would have to arrive at this situation, when he retired officially from our midst, and when we look back on the service which he has given to this House, I would say that perhaps there is no finer occasion in Parliament than when we pay tribute to a great public servant. At times the Press shows a tendency to think that any public servant is someone who is worth "having a go" at, but in the case of Sir Francis Lascelles never a tongue has been heard offering a word of criticism.

From my experience in your Lordships' House, which is only two or three years more than that of the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council, and from my experience with other public servants in other Departments, I would say that I know of no better public servant than Sir Francis Lascelles, in his service both to this House and to the country at large. He held a post of enormous importance. Not only had he to know the history of the House and to hold in mind all its traditions, but at all times it was essential, in the interests of the country, that he should give all the advice that might fall to be necessary to prevent the House from going on the wrong line on any question.

For myself, I have found, whether in office or out of office, that Sir Francis gave the best possible advice on procedural matters that your Lordships' House could wish for—advice that was full and frank and completely impartial in policy. I am grateful to him, and all my noble friends are grateful to him. His public work done on private lines outside the House speaks for itself. It establishes the spirit, over and above the general academic and other merits, of the man. I am reminded once more of two lines which I often quote: Whoso hath seen the spirit of the Highest, Cannot confound nor doubt Him, nor deny. I think that Sir Francis has something of that spirit, the kind of spirit that guides us all, if we are sincere and genuine, through our public life. May we always have such men to work with as Sir Francis! We wish him every joy, happiness and health in his retirement. We hope that we shall often see him.

My Lords, we wish his successor, Mr. Victor Goodman, who must be thankful for the apprenticeship he has served under Sir Francis, every success when he comes, at your Lordships' bidding, to take Sir Francis's place.

2.49 p.m.


My Lords, noble Lords on these Benches and I would like to associate ourselves most sincerely with the tributes which have been so eloquently paid to Sir Francis Lascelles. As I understand that other noble Lords wish to add to these tributes, I shall be brief. I would say how much we in this quarter of the House, this minority quarter, have been indebted to Sir Francis Lascelles, in his great position, for his continuous help and sympathy and wisdom at all times. Time passes quickly, and although I have been in your Lordships' House only a short time longer than the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council, it seems to me a very short time since the then Clerk Assistant was elevated to that great position of Clerk of the Parliaments, the highest appointment in the official service of the British Parliament, and therefore, I would say, in the service of any Parliament in the world.

We say farewell to him with great gratitude for what he has been and what he has done, and equally we welcome his successor. Sir Francis has indeed characterised the stability, the dignity and the responsibility of that Estate of the Realm which it is our privilege in this House to represent. Age and wisdom are said to go together. In this case I think there can be no connection, because your Lordships will agree with me that Sir Francis seems to get younger, both physically and mentally, every day. It must therefore be some esoteric wisdom that has caused him to deal us this rather sad blow. But in accepting it, as we do, we wish him and Lady Lascelles every sort of happiness in his retirement from the great office he has so eminently carried out.

2.51 p.m.


My Lords, the Leaders of the Parties have spoken so well of the services of Sir Francis Lascelles to this House that really there is little more to be said, but I should like, as one who has worked very happily with him over many years, to add a few words of heartfelt thanks to him for all his constant help and his many courtesies and kindnesses to us all, from the Leaders of the House to the youngest and newest Members of it, during the time that he has held his very onerous and responsible post. I personally owe him more than I can possibly say.

The position of the Clerk of the Parliaments is a most unusual one; one might almost say that it is unique. He is expected to know everything that is to be known about everything that has any reference to the House of Lords and its business, whether it relates to some rather abstruse constitutional point, the care of our great collection of documents, or, when any of us are in doubt, the proper procedure that any of us individually should take in certain given circumstances: whatever the problem may be, we all go to him and we expect immediate and authoritative advice. That means that any really good Clerk of the Parliaments must have to a marked degree three great and rare qualities: learning, wisdom and tact. And certainly no Clerk within my memory, not even the late Lord Badeley, who kept a fatherly eye on us for so many years, has shown those qualities with greater distinction than has Sir Francis Lascelles. He has always seemed to have unlimited time to spare for every one of us. He never volunteered advice, but if he was asked he always gave it; and it was always good. Even if he thought that one was contemplating something particularly silly, he never said so; just the very faintest spasm of pain passed across his face, and that was usually quite enough for most of us.

By his kindness and consideration Sir Francis has won a host of friends and, I am quite certain, not a single enemy. We shall miss him very much in this place, to which so quietly and unobtrusively, and yet with such wisdom and understanding, he has devoted so much of his life. No one deserves a rest more than he does, but I hope that he will not entirely desert us but will come and visit us from time to time. He will always be assured, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has already said, of a warm welcome from all of us in this place, whose deep respect and affection he has won and will always retain.

In saying this, like the Acting Leader of the House and the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, I should like to give a very warm welcome to his successor, Mr. Goodman. Mr. Goodman has already a great many friends in this House, and I am certain he will justify his selection.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add one word of tribute, and that for a special reason, to our old friend. As the Acting Leader of the House has said, we who served on the Committee on the Attendance of Peers are deeply in Sir Francis Lascelles's debt, and in what I say I know I shall be speaking for everybody on all sides of the House who served on that Committee. Sir Francis has a unique knowledge of the history and practice of Parliament from the earliest times, and that was always at our disposal. But, in addition, both before the Committee sat and throughout its sittings, Sir Francis was making continuous research into a hundred-and-one matters which it was necessary that we should know and determine and report with accuracy. I am sure that our work could not have been anything like as thorough, as expeditious or as agreeable if it had not been for the daily, constant help which Sir Francis gave us. And if we are in his debt, so indeed is the whole House.

It has never been an easy thing to succeed a successful man in a great office. Sir Francis had to follow the late Lord Badeley, who had every quality that goes to make a successful Clerk of the Parliaments But very soon, on all sides of the House, we found that in Sir Francis we had a successor as Clerk of the Parliaments in the truest Badeley tradition, and it was only a few months before we began to turn to him, just as we all used to turn to Jack Badeley. It did not matter to what Party we belonged, if we were worried or did not know about something, almost as a matter of course we would say in the Library or in the Lobby: "Let's ask Fra." I do not think there can be a better tribute to him and all he was to us than that commonplace saying: "Let's ask Fra." It is the best tribute we could pay to him. It is the tribute that we did pay to him all the time that he was our Clerk, and I do not think he could have a more agreeable memory to take into his retirement when, wise man that he is, he comes home to us in Yorkshire to spend what I hope will be many happy and prosperous days.

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, so many eloquent tributes have been paid to Sir Francis Lascelles that I add some words of my own only because of the peculiar debt under which the occupant of the Woolsack is to the Clerk of the Parliaments. It must have been quite obvious to every Member of your Lordships' House that the ready counsel and guidance of Sir Francis Lascelles has been of inestimable service to me, coming as I did to the occupancy of the Woolsack without any previous experience of your Lordships' House. I shall never forget the debt that I owe to him; I do not know what I could have done without him. There was always that charming and friendly personality to convey the advice. That has gone on now for 4¼ years, and I think it is right to put on record that every day on which your Lordships' House has sat during that period he has come to me to indicate the task in store for us for the day, and to offer his counsel and advice upon our work in the most modest and self-effacing terms, yet founded on that wealth of experience which we all knew.

Many of your Lordships have mentioned his learning and experience. I would venture only to add this: that it was joined to an almost instinctive understanding of the history and purpose of your Lordships' House. In these last years, when we have been reconsidering and rediscussing the almost infinite variety of projects for reform and alteration of the House, there was not one of them in which he could not help us in its history and antecedents. Now he departs with the grateful thanks of the House for being of service to each and all of us. I hope your Lordships will agree that the final word should be that he has done his work to the complete satisfaction of every Member of the House. I feel that that is the greatest tribute we can pay, but I also feel—and this is almost more important—that it is the tribute which would give most pleasure to him.

On question, Motion agreed to, nemine dissentiente.


My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in the name of my noble friend on the Order Paper. This Address to Her Majesty, which is in accordance with precedent, will secure to Sir Francis in the usual manner the pension attaching to his office.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty laying before Her Majesty a copy of the letter of the said Sir Francis William Lascelles, K.C.B., M.C., and likewise of the Resolution of this House, and recommending the said Sir Francis William Lascelles, to Her Majesty's Royal Grace and Bounty.—(Viscount Hailsham.)

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.

Then, the Lord Chancellor having informed the House on the 2nd December last that Her Majesty had, by Letters Patent, appointed Victor Martin Reeves Goodman, Esquire, C.B., O.B.E., M.C., to the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments, in the place of Sir Francis Lascelles, K.C.B., M.C., the Letters Patent were read. The said Victor Martin Reeves Goodman, Esquire, made the prescribed declaration (which declaration is set down in the Roll among the oaths of the great officers) in terms as follows: I, Victor Martin Reeves Goodman, do declare that I will be true and faithful and troth I will bear to Our Sovereign Lady the Queen and to Her Heirs and Successors. I will nothing know that shall be prejudicial to Her Highness Her Crown Estate and Dignity Royal, but that I will resist it to my power and with all speed I will advertise Her Grace thereof, or at the least some of Her Counsel in such wise as the same may come to Her knowledge. I will also well and truly serve Her Highness in the Office of Clerk of Her Parliaments making true Entries and Records of the things done and passed in the same. I will keep secret all such matters as shall be treated in Her said Parliaments and not disclose the same before they shall be published, but to such as it ought to be disclosed unto, and generally I will well and truly do and execute all things belonging to me to be done appertaining to the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments.

After which he took his seat at the Table.

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