HL Deb 17 January 1978 vol 388 cc1-5

My Lords, it is my sad duty to take this opportunity to say farewell to Sir Frank Twiss, but it is also my pleasure to pay tribute to his exceptional service to the House. The House is always fortunate in receiving the assistance of distinguished officers from Her Majesty's Forces who come to serve us as Black Rod, and we welcome today another in that line in the person of Sir David House. Your Lordships will all be well aware that Sir Frank had already enjoyed an outstanding career in the Royal Navy when he came to us just over seven years ago, in October 1970, following his retirement as Second Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Personnel. Since 1970, the duties of Black Rod have changed out of all recognition. In 1970, the job of a Gentleman Usher was largely ceremonial, with responsibility for our invaluable Doorkeepers and occasional sorties to knock on the doors of another place. These duties have remained, but in 1971 Sir Frank also became Secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain, Serjeant at Arms to the Lord Chancellor and the Agent of the Administration Committee.

Since taking on these wide responsibilities, Sir Frank has transformed the administrative services of the House and there is now virtually no aspect of its security, maintenance and administration which has not concerned him. To mention only one aspect of his work, he has overseen the extension of the Dining Room; the construction of new Committee and writing rooms on the Committee corridor and the Peers' rooms above them; in addition to these, the new offices on the Clerks' corridor on the first floor and, most recently, the ingeniously designed new offices for the typing agency and Hansard.

These extensive operations have been no more than one aspect of the multifarious activities of Black Rod. It would be repeating to your Lordships what your Lordships already know well to draw attention to the consummate kindness and tact with which we have become so familiar in all our dealings with Sir Frank. We must have tried his patience many times, though he has never shown it. He has never tried ours.

I know that the House would like to join with me in congratulating him upon the honour of Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order which the Queen bestowed upon him in the New Year's Honours. I know that all Members of this House will also join with me in wishing him very well in his retirement and in wishing luck to our most distinguished new Black Rod.

2.41 p.m.


My Lords, may I associate those who sit on these Benches with the tribute which the Leader of the House has paid to Sir Frank Twiss. On 27th October 1970 when there was an equivalent ceremony, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that Sir Frank Twiss was highly recommended to us by the Ministry of Defence and that we were fortunate to have such a distinguished and able officer. To a certain extent I believe that Lord Shackleton was taking Admiral Twiss on trust; I do not think he knew him. However, Lord Shackleton was absolutely right. We have been particularly fortunate during these last seven years in a Black Rod who, with new duties, has set a new high standard. I must, however, tell your Lordships that, unlike Lord Shackleton, I was not taking Admiral Twiss on trust because he was recommended by the Ministry of Defence.

Many years ago when I was First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Twiss was appointed Naval Secretary to the First Lord. There cannot be many of your Lordships who have had a Rear-Admiral as their Secretary, but of course it was not really like that at all. The Naval Secretary was an officer destined to get to the very top—detailed for two years or so to look after promotion to Captain and Flag rank in the Royal Navy and, in the course of doing so, to look after a civilian First Lord, almost invariably ignorant of naval tradition and likely, particularly when visiting the Fleet, to make mistakes of so fundamental and tasteless a character that it would call into question not just the credibility of the Government but our political institutions. For two years Admiral Twiss—quick witted, nimble and tireless—prevented this ex-First Lord from making too much of a fool of himself. In the course of those two years, which I for one greatly enjoyed and during which we travelled a great deal and laughed a great deal, I came to recognise the quality which his senior officers saw in him and which was to serve the Royal Navy and your Lordships' House so well. He did indeed rise to the top of the Royal Navy, despite an occasion which I remember when cruising with him in HMS "Tiger". Anxious to show off the skill of his ship's gunnery in front of an old First Lord, he made the unpardonable error of shooting down a very expensive target aircraft, to the cheers of the ship's company but to a stinging rebuke from their Lordships of the Admiralty. I am glad to say that he responded that, since for 30 years he had been trying to hit a target and failed, he could not quite understand the attitude of their Lordships.

I cannot think of any occasion on which anybody in this House can have had any cause to rebuke Admiral Twiss, or, indeed, to do anything other than to thank him for the immeasurable service which he has rendered both to the House and, I imagine, to all of us individually. He has performed the duties of Black Rod with wit and with wisdom and I hope that he knows how much he has been appreciated by all of your Lordships and by all who work in and for the House.

At the same time, I should like to welcome Sir David House as the new Black Rod. After the quick pace of the Green Jackets I hope he will become accustomed to the leisurely march of your Lordships' House. All your Lordships will wish him well and we express our pleasure that he has come to work with us.

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches wish to be associated whole-heartedly with the two tributes paid today to our outgoing Black Rod, Sir Frank Twiss. As has already been said, he has rendered distinguished service to this House, for which all of us have cause to be extremely grateful. He really has created a remarkable transformation in the House from which we have all, Members and staff alike, benefited. What is more, as we have come to expect from the "Silent Service", these changes have been brought about with that apparent effortlessness which is the hall-mark of the genuinely efficient administrator. We have also appreciated—and I speak as his nearest neighbour because his room is next to mine—his constant cheerfulness which has been a wonderful facility to be able to enjoy, particularly on a Monday morning. He can retire with our deepest thanks and the knowledge that this has been a job truly well done.

We welcome his successor and look forward to working with him for some considerable time.