HL Deb 27 October 1970 vol 312 cc1-5

My Lords, I should not like to let this brief ceremony pass without saying a few words in gratitude for the services of Sir George Milis. Your Lordships will be aware that the office of Black Rod—of which I think that Sir George was the 55th holder—is an ancient one. Indeed, I have always taken the description of the Porters of the Parliament in the Modus Tenendi Parliamentum—that 14th century forgery which purports to be a contemporary description of the manner of holding Parliaments in the reign of Edward the Confessor—to apply to the Gentleman Usher of the Biack Rod, where the duties of the Principal Porter are described as keeping the door so that none come into the Parliament but he which ought to come to the Parliament". The Modus states that the Porter ought, if it be needful, to have more Porters under him. My Lords, the Modus is now recognised for what it is, and we no longer attach the significance to it that 17th century Parliamentarians did; but I like to think that its description of the Porter and his assistants reflects the importance of the role which Black Rod and his Doorkeepers discharge so ably and so faithfully to this day.

Sir George Mills, after a very distinguished career in the Royal Air Force, culminating in his holding the post of Commander of the Allied Air Forces, Central Europe, and United Kingdom representative on the Standing Group of the NATO Military Committee, became our Black Rod seven years ago, in 1963. If his term of office has been unmomen-tous so far as alarums and excursions are concerned, this is only evidence of the efficiency with which he has discharged his ancient office. During his tenure, no fire has started at this end of the building, and his disciplinary powers have not been in demand. I think that Sir George has had little to contend with other than having to mark time on one occasion outside the door of another place, and this is possibly something which his successor, whom I am sure we are all glad to welcome here, will not have repeated.

My Lords, I have no doubt that the whole House will agree with me when I say that during the past seven years Sir George has been unfailingly helpful and courteous in all his dealings with your Lordships, and I know that he leaves a great many friends in your Lordships' House behind him. I hope that during his retirement he will be able to pursue in tranquillity that pursuit of knowledge which I am informed led to the disappearance from the Library from time to time, in alphabetical sequence, of certain volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica while the House was sitting. My Lords, Black Rod's office is a somewhat lonely place, and I hope that during the long hours Sir George spent in it he was able to progress far through the alphabet.

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will join with me in expressing our thanks to Sir George for all that he has done for us, in sending our warmest wishes to him and Lady Mills for a happy retirement, and in wishing our new and very distinguished Black Rod good luck in his office.

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, the Leader of the House has introduced in a most charming way a subject with which I think every Member of your Lordships' House will be in agreement. Indeed, there is in his remarks almost a return to the scholarship which marked my predecessor, Lord Longford; or perhaps the research that is conducted by his office has improved. It seems only a very short time—and I am amazed that it is seven years—since Sir George Mills took over from Sir Brian Horrocks, and again the turn of the Royal Navy has come round. Much as I regret that the Air Force should give up this particular post, I recall that the predecessor of Sir Brian Horrocks was Sir Geoffrey Blake. We are apt to be rather critical these days about something known as "Buggins's turn", but I am bound to say that it works extraordinarily well in the case of the Black Rods of your Lordships' House.

I am very relieved to find that Sir George Mills has been employing his time profitably. Many of us remember that Sir Brian Horrocks did a great deal of his broadcast and other work sitting in the Box, and one was happy to see him employed. I am also gratified that somebody who may be older in years than he looks is still very young in spirit. Sir George has brought a great deal of charm and friendliness. I think we should all agree that friendliness and charm are among the qualities of your Lordships' House, and that for the maintenance of this atmosphere we depend not only on your Lordships but on those who serve us so well. Certainly Sir George Mills filled his office with distinction and friendliness and we are very sorry to see him go.

At the same time I should like to echo what was said by the noble Earl the Leader of the House in giving a welcome to Sir Frank Twiss. During my tour of duty as Leader of your Lordships' House we considered very carefully its organisation, and Sir Frank Twiss will be taking on great additional responsibilities. He was highly commended to us by the Ministry of Defence, and no more highly commended than by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who actually was served by Sir Frank Twiss. We are fortunate that such a distinguished and such an able officer follows an equally distinguished and able officer.


My Lords, for myself and on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches may I say that we wholeheartedly support the very well-deserved tributes paid to-day to Sir George. There is always sadness in parting with those one has worked with and has come to know. Sir George has been Black Rod ever since I entered this House and I am personally grateful for all the charm and good humour that he brought to the job. It is not an easy task to knock at irregular intervals on the door of the other place and to disturb the tranquillity and cosiness of the debates that are going on there, but Sir George did it many times without arousing too much opposition—although I understand that one or two Members are considering reporting him to the Commission on Intrusion into Privacy. However, I believe there was a very early occasion in his career when, having knocked on the door and having been admitted, he found himself speechless. I will not add, "And who should blame him?" He has served your Lordships' House with tolerance and charm and always appeared to enjoy his work. We hope that he will enjoy his well-deserved retirement as much as he has enjoyed the work he has done in this House. We welcome his successor and we know that he will discharge his duties in the high tradition of this House.