HL Deb 11 June 1974 vol 352 cc319-25

My Lords, it is my duty to notify your Lordships that I have received the following letter from the Clerk of the Parliaments, Sir David Stephens. It reads as follows: Dear Lord Chancellor, It is my duty to request you to announce to the House that, after consultation with yourself and the Leader of the House. I have asked the Prime Minister to submit to Her Majesty the Queen my resignation from the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments with effect from the beginning of the Summer Recess; and that Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to accept my resignation. I was appointed Clerk of the Parliaments in June, 1963, and have now served almost eleven years in that Office. My appointment is due to end in any case in April, 1975, and I believe that the moment has come when I should make way for a successor. I shall take leave of the House with sincere regret. It has been a great privilege for me to serve as Clerk of the Parliaments and I should be grateful if you would kindly convey to the House my deep sense of the kindness and friendship which I have received from all sides of the House during my period of Office. Yours sincerely, David Stephens". My Lords, it is my further duty to notify your Lordships that the Queen has been pleased to appoint Mr. Peter Gordon Henderson to succeed Sir David Stephens from the beginning of the Summer Recess.


My Lords, following that announcement it will, I am sure, be your Lordships' wish in due course to pay tributes to the services of Sir David Stephens to this House. I am advised that the proper manner of doing that is for me to table a Motion recording the House's appreciation of Sir David Stephens's services. But since, happily, he will be with us until the House rises for the Summer Recess, I shall not table that Motion until nearer the Summer Recess when Sir David will hand over and the new Clerk will be sworn in.

I have to inform the House of the resignation of the Clerk Assistant, Mr.R. W. Perceval, who submitted his resignation to me last week and agreed that it should take immediate effect. Having regard to the fact that Mr.Perceval's appointment as Clerk Assistant had rather more than five years to run, it has been agreed with the Civil Service Department that, in addition to his pension entitlement under the Superannuation scheme, he should be offered some special compensation at least as generous as he would have received had he been a civil servant who retired five years before his time. The Offices Committee authorised this payment at its meeting yesterday afternoon.

The House would not wish to take leave of Robert Perceval without thanking him for his services to the House. He joined the staff of the House in November, 1938. He was a man of great ability and deep knowledge. He had his own concept of a Clerk's duties but he was, beyond all doubt, devoted to this House, its traditions, its history and its practice. Robert Perceval had and has many friends in the House and on their behalf, and on behalf of the House as a whole, I should like to thank him for his long service to the House and to offer him and his wife our best wishes for the future.

I come now to the immediate future. Yesterday the Lord Chancellor informed the Offices Committee that until Sir David Stephens is succeeded by Mr.Henderson he proposed, subject to the approval of the House, to appoint Mr. Henderson for the time being as Clerk Assistant and Mr. John Grey as Reading Clerk. Motions for the approval of these appointments will be tabled tonight for consideration tomorrow. Then, when Mr. Henderson takes over as Clerk of the Parliaments, Mr. Grey will become Clerk Assistant and Mr. John Sainty will become Reading Clerk.

In conclusion, I should only like to say that I am, of course, aware of the concern which this House shows in the way in which appointments to places at the Table are made. Last year my predecessor in this Office and the then Lord Chancellor gave certain personal undertakings as to the consultations that they would undertake in making recommendations or appointments. These undertakings have been honoured on this occasion to the full. Never, in fact, has consulation been so wide and so thorough and the result so unanimous. In this connection, I should like to acknowledge the help we have received from the Sub-Committee on the Parliament Office, the so-called "three wise men"—the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, and the noble Lords, Lord Champion and Lord Mancroft—who have taken infinite trouble to familiarise themselves with the problems of the Parliament Office and have greatly assisted us with their help and advice.

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened this afternoon to two Statements of great importance to the working of the House. I believe I would be expressing the sentiments of the House as a whole if I said to the Leader of the House how grateful we are to him in particular, and to the Lord Chancellor, for the way in which they have handled a difficult and sensitive matter.

Discussions have been going on for a considerable period of time about the future of the Parliament Office. I think the noble Lord, Lord Byers, as Leader of his Party, owing to changes that have taken place elsewhere, is now the longest serving Peer who has been concerned. I know the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor have gone out of their way, as is indicated in the final sentences of the Statement we have just heard, to consult the widest possible range of opinion in the House. They have involved not just those who are or have been Leaders or Whips of the Parties, or who have held the Office of Lord Chancellor, but many other Peers as well, and they have been greatly assisted in this task by the Sub-Committee on the Parliament Office, to which a tribute has already been paid by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd.

While giving due weight and the most careful consideration to the claims of various individuals in the Parliament Office, as is proper in the making of any appointment, the Lord Privy Seal and the Lord Chancellor have, quite correctly, given an over-riding priority (as they must) to how the interests of the House will be best served in the future.

I should like to endorse everything that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, about Mr. Robert Perceval, the retiring Clerk Assistant, and the service he has given to the House over a long period. Particularly on matters of history and precedent he has been our scholar and our guide. The Office Committee agreed yesterday a special payment should be made to recognise the fact he is retiring early, and it is entirely appropriate that this payment should be at the most generous level possible in the public service.

As the noble Lord the Leader of the House said, we shall have an opportunity to pay tribute to Sir David Stephens before the House goes into Recess for the summer. All I should like to do now is to welcome most warmly his successor, Mr. Peter Henderson, and to assure him, and the new appointments that will be joining him at the Table, of our full support in his new role as the Principal Officer of your Lordships' House.

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I should like sincerely to support what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has just said and particularly to extend a warm welcome to Mr. Peter Henderson when he assumes his new Office at the beginning of the Recess, and to those who are going to help him at the Table.

I want to support what has been said about Mr. Robert Perceval by both the noble Lords in regard to the help that he has always made readily available to Members of this House, and particularly those of my own Party. His knowledge of the working of the House is of the very highest order, and we wish him well in his retirement. I would also support what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has said about the handling of this whole matter by the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I have been concerned with this matter right from the beginning, and in my view the House owes a deep debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for the way in which he picked up this difficult problem and dealt with it in a very satisfactory way indeed. I hope the House will have an opportunity of recording their thanks to the noble Lord for what he has been able to do.

We are of course deeply indebted to the Sub-Committee on the Parliament Office—the noble Viscount, Lord Hood, and the noble Lords, Lord Mancroft and Lord Champion. Without them in the final stages we should not have been in the position we are in now. I repeat, the House is indebted to the Leader of the House for the way in which he has handled this matter.


My Lords, as one who has been closely associated over the past quarter of a century and more in various matters with Mr. Perceval, from whom on numerous occasions I have had very great assistance, I should like to add my sincere tribute to what has been said about him. I was glad to hear mention made of his quite unusual knowledge of our Parliamentary system, its legislative aspects, its governmental aspects and particularly his wide-ranging and profound knowledge of the work of this House and of its history, which I should think has not been equalled for a long time, if ever. Many of your Lordships will miss his wise guidance and help in the work which they do here, and I am sure that all of us will very much regret his going.


My Lords, may I as a Back-Bencher on this side of the House say a few words in support of what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and the tributes already paid to Mr. Robert Perceval. I think I am among those who have had the longest association with Robert Perceval in this House, and I remember on so many occasions the ready help given by him and the swift action which he would take in producing a solution to a problem which might appear at first to be difficult to understand. In referring to his knowledge of the House my memory goes back many years to my early contact with Robert Perceval, when he was in a much more junior position, and to the vigilance and the care with which he followed proceedings, the exceptional knowledge of the procedure of the House and Parliament (and outside it) on any question for which one sought guidance from the Table. It is with those memories that I should like to support what has been said already.


My Lords, may I add a word. I recall when I was first in the House and concerned with a Private Member's Bill, I went to Mr. Perceval and within a short time—and I can confirm what has been said—he drafted a short Bill and gave me the most detailed knowledge about it and how I should proceed. Subsequently, I went to him again and again on the same matter, and always received generous help from him. I think that at a time like this a man appreciates a few words from people who realise perhaps that to-day he is feeling a little unhappy. I should like it to go out from this House that some of us thank him for what he did, and will never forget it.


My Lords, one came to respect the splendid independence of Mr. Perceval. It was the quality of independence in his judgment and his indifference to pressures of any kind that one appreciated so much. I should like to join with the other tributes which have been paid to a great servant of Parliament and of this House, who stood for its independence, integrity and freedom from pressures.


My Lords, at a time when tributes are being paid to Mr. Perceval from both sides of the House, it would seem not inappropriate that the Cross-Benches should be heard in this context, for we CrossBenchers are rather friendless individuals; personally we are friendly with everyone, but we have no one to whom we can refer as our noble friends to keep us straight other than on a personal basis. It was always to Mr. Perceval that we addressed ourselves. His warm and genial personality wrapped round one when one was in procedural difficulties, and made everything easy. May I add my own personal tribute to a great Parliamentary servant and a close personal friend.


My Lords, may I as a Welshman be allowed to pay my tribute. I am sure that if we do have a Parliament of Wales, we shall certainly consult Sir David Stephens when establishing that Parliament. I want to warn him that he is not going to entire retirement because we are hoping to have a Parliament in Wales within the next two or three years. Personally, I am sorry to lose the services of Sir David from the House and also of Mr. Perceval, but I should like to congratulate Mr. Henderson, whom I am sure we all love.

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