HL Deb 13 January 1992 vol 534 cc1-4
Lord Waddington

My Lords, I feel privileged that it falls to me as Leader of your Lordships' House to pay tribute to the outstanding service which Sir John Gingell has given during his seven years as Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. He is held in great affection and we are sorry to see him go.

Sir John took up his post at the very moment when this House was first televised, January 1985. Through television Black Rod has become a well-known public figure because of the duty he holds of summoning the Members of another place to this House on the occasion of the State Opening. That is, however, a very small part of the duties attached to the post.

Black Rod holds office as Serjeant-at-Arms attending the Lord Chancellor, as Secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain, and as Agent of the Administration and Works Sub-Committee. As a Gentleman Usher to Her Majesty The Queen, he is a member of the Royal Household, and of course has important duties towards the Order of the Garter.

Beyond all this, however, Black Rod is responsible for many mundane but crucial functions on our behalf: the regulation of visitors, the maintenance of order in the Chamber and within the precincts, and even ultimately the dusting and vacuuming of the House. What is more, Black Rod is responsible for our security and I do not need to remind your Lordships that that role has become more onerous in the past seven years.

I imagine that when Sir John arrived here seven years ago he found his new post somewhat different from the one that he had just left—which was Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces Central Europe. He appeared to make the transition with effortless ease, although from the start there were big challenges to be faced. The televising of the House, which I have already mentioned, meant considerable extra work for the new Black Rod, negotiating with the broadcasters and ensuring that the presence of cameras in this Chamber made no difference to the atmosphere of the House. Seven years on, we all know that Sir John managed this brilliantly.

It has been a very busy seven years in your Lordships' House, and both the amount of work that we do and the number of your Lordships who are active in that work have increased. This has meant that Sir John has had to cope with an increasing demand for space and he has used great tact and diplomacy in meeting many of our new needs. During his period of office, No. 1, Abbey Gardens was acquired, and in the last few months—largely owing to an original initiative on his part—we have secured a floor in 7, Millbank. The Barry Room has been opened as an extra dining facility, and during the past two summer Recesses our kitchens have been entirely rebuilt. I am reminded also that when Sir John arrived he found the Peers' Lobby ceiling shrouded in scaffolding. All the difficulties of making progress with renovation were pressed upon him but progress was made and the scaffolding went. On a personal note, I should like to say how helpful and supportive Sir John has been to me as Leader of your Lordships' House. I think I am right in saying that there is no Black Rod in living memory who has been held in higher or warmer esteem by all of us, and by all the staff of the House. Sir John combines an entirely natural affability with a remarkable and compelling dignity.

I am sure that all your Lordships would wish to join me in offering Sir John congratulations on the KCVO which he received in the New Year's Honours List. We send both him and Lady Gingell our very best wishes for a long and happy retirement. I should also like to take this opportunity to welcome his successor, Admiral Sir Richard Thomas, and to wish him well. He takes over a ship in excellent order and I know that he will be able to count on the help and support of all your Lordships.

2.42 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to support the warm tribute paid by the noble Lord the Leader of the House to Sir John Gingell. We have been fortunate in those who have served the House as Gentlemen Ushers of the Black Rod. To be successful, they must balance the ceremonial aspects of their office against the very real responsibilities that they shoulder. The finery, although attractive, is only a small part of the job.

We have been very fortunate to have Sir John in the office of Black Rod over the past seven years and we shall miss him very much. His commitment to the interests of noble Lords has been noteworthy in the fields of security, accommodation, services generally and the other duties mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington.

Sir John has been assiduous and helpful at all times. People abseiling from the Gallery have always found him waiting for them! We shall above all remember Sir John for his kindness and good nature whenever we have approached him for help and guidance. He has assisted the noble Lord the Leader of the House over seven years. He has also been helpful and kind to me as Leader of the Opposition. Black Rod needs a sense of humour, and Sir John Gingell has that in abundance. In this office and throughout his distinguished career Sir John has been supported and sustained by Lady Gingell. We wish them both a long and happy retirement. We also wish Admiral Sir Richard Thomas every success during his tenure of office.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, the Leader of my party, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, is unfortunately away from London this afternoon. Therefore it is my pleasant task to speak in his stead at this moment. During the adjournment debate before the Recess I made some reference to the fact that Black Rod was due to leave this House. I echo what has been said by the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. I have as a Whip received enormous assistance from Sir John. I am sure the other Chief Whips from the other parties echo that sentiment. I continue to seek accommodation here and Sir John has been of enormous assistance in that task. He reaches places in this Palace no one else reaches.

The noble Lord the Leader of the House has already referred to the honour that Sir John received in the New Year's Honours List. I was reminded of a perhaps apocryphal message that was passed by a flag captain to the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean fleet on a similar occasion during the war. It read: "Twice a knight at your age—congratulations".

It may well be said that with all the difficulties that Black Rod has faced he has never been wrongfooted by any of your Lordships. There was, however, one occasion on which I thought he had been wrongfooted. That occurred during a prorogation of Parliament when he left your Lordships' Chamber doing a smart left-about turn. When I was doing my National Service I was always told that the worst thing one could ever do was anything other than a right-about turn. I mentioned that to one of the doorkeepers. I asked him whether that was the correct procedure. He replied that it was not correct but that Black Rod could not help it. When I asked him why that was he said, "Air Force, my Lord". With that single blemish Black Rod has served this House extremely well. I wish his successor the greatest good fortune. Our good wishes go to Sir John and Lady Gingell.

Baroness Hylton-Foster

My Lords, it is with the greatest pleasure that we on the Cross-Benches endorse the tributes to Black Rod's formal and administrative abilities. As he is not part of the usual channels not only the Convenor but also many of the Cross-Bench peers have taken unusual problems to him. All of us have been helped and advised with much patience, understanding, friendliness and, above all, lovely good humour. For all he has done for us and the House we thank him and wish him and Lady Gingell every happiness in their new life. We very much welcome Admiral Sir Richard Thomas and wish him well.

The Lord Bishop of Chichester

My Lords, it is truly a pleasure to associate my colleagues on these Benches and myself with the tributes that have been paid to Sir John. Sadly, Bishops are not able to attend the House as frequently as other noble Lords and therefore perhaps do not need quite as much care. However, we have been extremely grateful for the courtesy and help we have received from Sir John and we wish both him and Lady Gingell a happy, long and fruitful retirement. We extend our best wishes to his successor.