HL Deb 27 July 1983 vol 443 cc1525-32

On consideration of the letter from Sir Peter Gordon Henderson, KCB, announcing his retirement from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments:

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, shortly before the dissolution of the last Parliament, my noble friend Lady Young—then Leader of the House—read to the House the letter in which Sir Peter Henderson announced his intention of retiring from the office of Clerk of the Parliaments with effect from the beginning of the summer Recess. My noble friend said then that an appropriate opportunity would be afforded to the House to pay tribute to Sir Peter's services, and it is in order to provide that opportunity that I now move to resolve: That this House has received with sincere regret the announcement of the retirement of Sir Peter Gordon Henderson, KCB, 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 Peter Gordon Henderson executed the important duties of his office. As so often in recent weeks, I feel personally very diffident. The great honour and privilege which I feel in proposing this Motion as Leader of your Lordships' House is tempered by my own inadequacy as a new boy to speak from experience of Sir Peter's outstanding qualities. Yet in a curious way I have a very special reason to be grateful to him. Having become Leader without any previous experience of your Lordships' House, I have had during the past six weeks to rely especially heavily on Sir Peter's help and advice. I have quickly come to appreciate what an important part the Clerk of the Parliaments plays in the work of this House, and what great qualities Sir Peter has brought to his service in that office. It has therefore been no suprise to me to learn how warmly regarded and how highly respected he has been by your Lordships in all parts of the House.

Sir Peter entered the Parliament Office nearly 30 years ago after having served in the second world war. Naturally it is a matter of personal satisfaction to me that he was wise enough to be a member of what a jealous friend of mine recently described as "the Scots Guards mafia". But I know from my own regimental sources that Sir Peter served with very great gallantry in Italy when, as the House knows, he was most severely wounded.

In 1960, Sir Peter was assigned to take over the duties of Private Secretary to the Leader of the House—at that time my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel—on the death of Sir Charles Hendriks, who had held that post for many years. Thus began the now well-established convention whereby Clerks are seconded to this service from the Parliament Office, bringing to it as they do a knowledge of parliamentary procedure and the conventions of the House, and returning to the Parliament Office with an understanding of the practical aspects of the organisation of parliamentary business—and perhaps I should add of dealing with some of the complicated personalities involved. That this arrangement has worked so much to the advantage of the House is due in very large measure to the firm foundations laid by Sir Peter.

In 1963 Sir Peter returned to the Parliament Office as Clerk of Public Bills—a post which he filled with distinction for some 11 years. In 1964, soon after becoming Clerk of Public Bills, Sir Peter began his service at the Table of the House as Reading Clerk. His wise knowledge and experience of the legislative process was put to good use from 1973 to 1975 when he served as a member of the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Renton.

In 1974 Sir Peter became successively Clerk Assistant and Clerk of the Parliaments. The nine years during which he served as Clerk of the Parliaments have witnessed a number of changes in your Lordships' House. It has become more complex in terms of its party composition. There has been a significant increase in the length of sittings and the size of the active membership. Perhaps most remarkable has been the development of the committee activity of the House. It is easy to forget that 10 years ago there was very little such activity. Now, the European Communities Committee and the Science and Technology Committee absorb a large amount of the energies and resources of the House, producing reports of outstanding quality that have done much to enhance the reputation of the House. This successful development owes much to, and reflects great credit on, Sir Peter's leadership and inspiration.

From my own short experience, reinforced by what I have learnt from noble Lords with much greater experience, it is clear that Sir Peter has been an outstanding servant of the House who has combined to an exceptional degree a broad appreciation of the interest of the House to which he has devoted his life with a capacity for taking pains over detail, and in particular for going out of his way to help all Members of the House. One particular matter in which Sir Peter has taken a close interest has been the conservation and restoration of the Palace of Westminster. A monument to his close attention is the presence of the figures of Justice and Mercy flanking the statue of Queen Victoria in the Prince's Chamber. I am told that for many years these figures were stored away, and that it was largely due to Sir Peter's enthusiastic efforts that they were replaced in position during his time as Clerk of the Parliaments. It is pleasant to be able to record that only last week the figure of Justice was completed by the replacement of the scales which previously had been missing from her hand.

It is a most happy coincidence for me personally that Sir Peter and Lady Henderson have a house not far from my own home in Cumbria. I hope that we shall see more of them there, for I do not need to remind your Lordships that of course there is no better part of the country. Equally, I know that their many friends in this House will wish to see them frequently in London. May I conclude by offering warm good wishes to Sir Peter and Lady Henderson, and to their family, for a long and happy retirement.

Moved to resolve, That this House has received with sincere regret the announcement of the retirement of Sir Peter Gordon Henderson, KCB, 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 Peter Gordon Henderson executed the important duties of his office.— (Viscount Whitelaw).

2.40 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, in warmly supporting the Motion I would say that it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Viscount in paying tribute to Sir Peter Henderson. I have of course known Sir Peter for many years in the several posts which he has held in this House, but that was as a distant observer who came from another place to listen to a debate, or to visit a Minister or a friend, or both. But it was not until I became a Member of this House that I began to appreciate his great worth. The noble Viscount has enumerated his qualities and described his long and distinguished service.

I believe it to be the unanimous opinion of your Lordships in all parts of the House that Sir Peter takes his place among the great Clerks of the Parliaments. There is a sense of loss at his departure which I have not often met with in public life. I believe this to be due to two qualities. The first was the way in which his intellectual gifts enabled him to fulfil the demands of his high office. He served successive Lord Chancellors with distinction; he served Ministers and Shadow Ministers with impartiality; and he served individual Members of the House with thoughtfulness and courtesy. His second great quality was his willingness at all times to make himself available to everyone who sought his assistance and advice; and his personal kindness has been appreciated by us all.

It is the combination of these attributes which has gained for Sir Peter the respect and affection of all Members of this House. If I say that in peace as well as in war he showed courage beyond the call of duty, I know the House will agree. Sir Peter Henderson is a man for all seasons, and we are proud to have had him as our Clerk of the Parliaments. We now wish him and Lady Henderson a long, happy and well-earned retirement.

Lord Byers

My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I rise to support this Motion, to pay my tribute and that of my colleagues to Sir Peter Henderson, and to thank him for all the help and advice he has given us during the years he has been Clerk of the Parliaments. He has always been immediately available. He is the safe keeper of many confidences. He has been particularly helpful to the smaller parties and to individual Members. He has welcomed innovations which have been proposed; and, what is more, he has ensured that they have worked effectively. He has contributed immensely during his term of office to the improvements in our practices and procedures, both in the House and behind the scenes, many of which he himself inspired.

We shall miss the twinkling of his eye, particularly when he was contemplating some minor political mischief, which was often the case. We are indeed fortunate to have had such an outstanding servant of the whole House during his period of office. We wish him and Lady Henderson a tranquil, enjoyable and lengthy future.

Lord Diamond

My Lords, we on these Benches are very anxious to be associated with the richly deserved tributes paid to Sir Peter Henderson. There is little one can add, having regard to what has been said. I would just say how extraordinary I have found it, in the 13 years in which I have been privileged to be a Member of your Lordships' House, that on every occasion when one sought his help it was always made available and at very short notice. His advice was as constructive in content as it was simple in expression and he never let one leave his office with a feeling that one had possibly troubled him unnecessarily. Today we part with a great man, a man whose massive intellectual powers we have learned to respect and whose modesty of demeanour we regard with affection. We wish him well; we wish his lady well; and we shall not forget the great help and the great integrity with which he has served your Lordships' House.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, this is one of the occasions when I can speak on behalf of the Cross-Bench Peers, as we should all wish to join in the tributes to Sir Peter Henderson and to express our appreciation for his services. As the Cross-Benches have no organisation, secretariat or records, they are constantly in need of information and guidance. Certainly we have frequently turned to the Clerk of the Parliaments for advice and have always been rewarded with the fruits of a wise, well-stocked mind, given in exquisite courtesy. Though his manner is modest and self-effacing, he seldom left one in any doubt about the proper course to follow. We hope he and Lady Henderson will enjoy his years of retirement, and that sometimes he will reflect on the many Members of your Lordships' House who have cause to remember him with gratitude and affection.

Lord Home of the Hirsel

My Lords, I well remember the day when Sir Peter first took office as Clerk of the Parliaments. I would add a few words of gratitude for the unfailing kindness he showed to me all through the years and to every Member of this House. He has served Parliament and this House with total loyalty, and I am old-fashioned enough to believe that loyalty is still one of the greatest of the virtues. I should like to add my good wishes to him and to Lady Henderson.

The Lord Bishop of Derby

My Lords, some of your Lordships have commitments which make it very difficult for you to play a regular part in the affairs of this House. All Bishops are in that position because of our duties elsewhere. It is impossible for us, unlike others of your Lordships, to have a weekly meeting, and that makes us all the more dependent on the work of the professional officers of the House. Among them over the last nine years Sir Peter Henderson has been pre-eminent. The Clerk of the Parliaments rehearses Bishops before their unheralded introduction as Members of the House. He sometimes has to instruct new Bishops about the right way to say Prayers. I had received correction before Sir Peter entered on the office he is now leaving, but, like others, I have known his numerous acts of personal kindness. He has enabled the Bishops as a whole to play their part in the business of the House with the greatest possible ease in our particular circumstances.

He has of course shown the impartiality and integrity of any great public servant. We who sit on these Benches are able to see the faces of the Clerks much more easily than most Members of the House. There has never been on Sir Peter's face the slightest movement when the House has become its most animated, and always he has shown the appearance of the greatest possible interest when it has been at its most anodyne. Even at those times he must have acquired a vast collection of recondite knowledge which we hope will give him many entertaining and productive hours during his retirement, without, we hope, spoiling the pleasure that Lady Henderson is also to have in his retirement. We should like to join our expression of thanks to the general appreciations which have been expressed.

2.50 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, I rise not so much as a former Leader of the House but as one of the surviving members of the class of 1958—the first batch of Life Peers. I see here the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and others. We arrived at the time of Sir Charles Hendriks, who, so far as we knew, had been here since the days of Lord Crewe and possibly Lord Curzon. He was a man of such great authority that when he told me, when I was a very new Peer, to hurry up and run or I would miss my opportunity of voting for the Opposition we knew we were in the presence of authority.

Then came this brilliant decision to appoint to a sensitive political post a Clerk of the House who was uniquely fitted to enable the usual channels to work. It is one of the strengths of your Lordships' House that, even at a time when the usual channels are not always co-operating officially, my noble friend Lord Beswick and I both feel we owe a debt of gratitude to the Clerks who have followed in the steps of Sir Peter Henderson. There have been some difficult times in the days of the Clerks, but Sir Peter was always there with wise advice and friendliness and, with the personal courage to which the Leader of the House referred, was able to help us. It is striking that the same quality exists among the Clerks, sometimes with a little touch of arrogance; but there was no arrogance in Sir Peter Henderson. We are all deeply grateful for what he has done for us. He became, with Lady Henderson, a friend of mine, and we wish him a very happy time in that delectable part of the country to which the Leader of the House referred.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, as a Peer who has possibly known Sir Peter longer than any other Peer in this House, as he and I were freshmen at Oxford some 42 years ago, it is splendid to listen to the wise and kind words which have so rightly been said about him. But I am pleased to say that there was a younger Sir Peter whom I knew, but whose advice was not always so wise. I can remember going to dine with him one day at Magdalen. The night wore on and I said that I would be late in getting back to Christ Church. He assured me that it was all right—"You know the way over the Cathedral, don't you, down into Tom?" I said I did. He said he knew the way out over the wall at Magdalen. He led me to the wall, where, he said, there was a lampost which had palings on it which stopped people from climbing down. I got over the wall and climbed down only to find the Dean of Magdalen at the bottom of the lampost. Sir Peter did not offer to pay the £1 which I was fined because I was late at Christ Church. But no matter.

Of course, I saw him occasionally during the war and, when I arrived here later, however small the matter I wanted to know about as a junior Whip, both in Opposition and in Government, I always found his advice far more useful than that of my superiors. Moreover, being of historic antiquated mind I always have a lot of historic antiquated questions. He showed considerable interest in answering my questions, and not only in answering them but in coming back one or two days later having done the research. He is a most remarkable man, who hides with such modesty under his delightful presence such a sharp mind, as has been said. I should like personally very warmly to support this Motion.

Earl St. Aldwyn

My Lords, may I interrupt for just a moment? I have had the privilege of being in your Lordships' House when we have had two really great Clerks of the Parliament. One went by the name of Baddeley. I am afraid not many of your Lordships were here in this House when he was the Clerk. He was a brilliant Clerk and, although it was in the days of hereditary Peers only, and therefore his task was very much lighter, the only man who compares with him is Sir Peter Henderson, who has had a much more difficult task to deal with. All that has been said is totally true.

My noble friend the Leader of the House said that Sir Peter was the first Clerk to come from the Parliament Office to be secretary to the Leader of the House, but he was, in fact, first Chief Secretary to the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip. When he came to the Whips' Office there was no organisation at all, and it is due to Sir Peter Henderson that the system which he worked out at that time has stood the test of time and has remained virtually unchanged until today. I wish him well and a peaceful and happy retirement.

Lord Peart

My Lords, perhaps I may just add a few words and say how I have enjoyed already what has happened. We are all pleased that Sir Peter is here. Tributes have been paid from the many of us whom he helped and I hope that help will continue.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pointed out, the year that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and I became Life Peers was the first year of the Life Peerages. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, and I are two of those remaining of the original ones. I should like to say that we found Sir Peter enormously helpful. In those days the arrival of women in the House of Lords was very well received by many people but there was a certain suspicion, let us face it, which we had to live down. Sir Peter helped enormously. No one could have been kinder and no one wiser in his advice. I am sure I am speaking for all noble Baronesses who have joined us when I say how much we appreciate what he has done, and that we very much hope he will have a very happy retirement and that we shall see him from time to time in this House, if not in the Chamber.

Viscount Ingleby

My Lords, may I say just a few words on behalf of the Members of the "mobile bench" in this House. It may not be generally known that Sir Peter is a paraplegic, and we regard him as one of ourselves. When we first arrived here—and I am sure I am speaking for all of us—we felt very apprehensive. Sir Peter put us at our ease right from the word go. He has always been most helpful and will always have a very special place in our affections.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)

My Lords, as I owe at least as much and perhaps more to Sir Peter as any who have spoken in this House over the years, perhaps it would be churlish if I were not to say something, if wearisome if I were to say a lot. Some of your Lordships will remember that for a brief period between 1960 and 1963 I was Leader of your Lordships' House and that, prior to that, I was Deputy Leader. During that period the office of Private Secretary to the Leader and Chief Whip, became vacant. With my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn, the then Chief Whip, I was one of those jointly responsible for Sir Peter's appointment. Shortly after I had disclaimed my two hereditary titles, he moved back to the Parliament Office and since then has risen to the position from which he has now retired.

I do not want to weary the House with a catalogue of the innumerable occasions on which Sir Peter has earned my undying gratitude for the wisdom of the advice which he has given in one capacity or another and for the loyal co-operation and discretion with which he has served as a fellow labourer or ironed out my peccadilloes. We all owe very much to him, but I as much as any. I am happy to take this opportunity of joining with all the others who have paid tributes to him. We shall all miss him, but we wish him happiness and long life in his retirement, and his successor the like felicity in his new appointment.

On Question, Resolution agreed to nemine dissentiente; it was ordered that the Lord Chancellor do communicate this resolution to the said Sir Peter Gordon Henderson, KCB.

Then, the then Leader of the House having informed the House on 12th May last that Her Majesty had, by Letters Patent, appointed John Christopher Sainty, Esquire, to the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments, in the place of Sir Peter Gordon Henderson, KCB, the Letters Patent were read. The said John Christopher Sainty, 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, John Christopher Sainty, 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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