HL Deb 17 December 1998 vol 595 cc1516-20
Lord Carter

My Lords, I had intended to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 3.30 p.m. The House will meet at 3.30 p.m. for Royal Assent and, following a short Business Statement by myself, the Statement on Iraq will be repeated by my noble friend the Leader of the House with a subsequent debate. It has been agreed through the usual channels that the normal Christmas tributes should be paid at this point during this afternoon's proceedings rather than at the end of what might be a rather sombre debate later this afternoon. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 3.30 p.m.—I am told that I can move the adjournment now and then withdraw it. One learns something every day about the procedures of the House.

It is a great pleasure to move the adjournment as we run up to the Christmas Recess. It has been a long year and, in many ways, a fascinating year. I find it hard to think of a year in which proceedings in your Lordships' House have been so exciting or, indeed, so thoroughly scrutinised by the media. It may be a sign of things to come.

It has been a long year, as I have said. I am sure that the noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip will remind us all that we have just concluded a very long Session. There was never any doubt in my mind that we would conclude the Session before the Christmas Recess. The House sat on very many days indeed. It has been said that it was the longest Session of the House of Lords since the Long Parliament of Oliver Cromwell. If it was not, it sometimes certainly felt like it.

The long Session is occasionally cited as a criticism of your Lordships' House but I regard it as a tribute. Despite the immense upheaval caused by the general election, your Lordships' House has, almost without exception, continued to proceed with Business in the usual way and has observed the normal conventions. I will not say anything about the exceptional proceedings on the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. For obvious reasons I am pleased that the House resolved the question of this Bill in the way that it did earlier this week.

My second point on the length of the last Session—and it was indeed a very long Session—is that the House was not often asked to sit extremely late into the night. Indeed, despite one or two scares, we managed to avoid an all-night sitting. I have learnt that the threat of breakfast is an effective weapon as a show of discipline in your Lordships' House.

All in all it has been a fascinating year. I am sure that the year ahead will be even more interesting. It is therefore more appropriate than ever that I should pay tribute to all those who serve your Lordships' House with quiet efficiency and dignity, both visibly and behind the scenes. Although your Lordships' House is staffed by a small and dedicated band, there are too many individuals or groups involved in the work of the House for me to praise them all. I believe it would be unfortunate were I to single out any groups for particular comment as I would not be able to mention them all. However, I should say a particular thank you and farewell to the Yeoman Usher, Air Vice-Marshal David Hawkins-Leth, for whom today is his last day on duty. He has served the House well. I know I speak for the whole House when I say that he has our very best wishes for the future.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Carter

My Lords, under these circumstances, I hope that the entire staff of your Lordships' House will allow me to give them a well deserved thank you from us all for their hard work and efforts over the past year. I therefore wish all of the staff of the House a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

In conclusion, perhaps I should say how much I am looking forward to working with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in his new capacity as Chief Whip for Her Majesty's main Opposition party in the Lords. The noble Lord will remember well that when he was a Minister in the Department of Social Security I was his shadow for a time. We got on well then and I am sure that we shall get on well now. I am also sure that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will not mind me saying, as a new Chief Whip and new to government, that I benefited enormously from his wisdom and understanding when he was Opposition Chief Whip. I am absolutely certain that I will have the same positive and constructive relationship with the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in his new capacity. I do not expect an easy ride; nor indeed did I do so last Session. It is the duty of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition to oppose and I fully expect the Opposition in your Lordships' House to maintain that tradition in the coming Session—so long as they do not overdo it. But I am certain that opposition will be conducted in the co-operative and constructive spirit which so characterises your Lordships' House.

I should also say thank you to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for his advice and counsel throughout the year and to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, who performs the difficult task of convening what I can only describe as the unpredictable ranks of the Cross Bench Peers. My Lords, I wish all of you, in the usual channels and indeed throughout the House, a very merry Christmas.

Moved, That the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 3.30 p.m.—(Lord Carter.)

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps I may start by echoing all the words of the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip, and in particular those he directed to me. As he said, he and I have worked together in different capacities for some time. We have had disagreements in the past and I dare say that we shall have disagreements in the future. But I hope we can ensure that, as far as possible, the usual channels will continue to operate in the best possible manner. Perhaps I may also echo his words of farewell to the Yeoman Usher, whom we will all miss and whom we thank for all that he has done over the years.

The noble Lord the Chief Whip said that it seemed a long time since the Session started. It seems to me to be a pretty long time since we came back in October. It also seems to be a particularly long time since I took on the onerous duties as Opposition Chief Whip only two weeks ago. Someone may have said that a week is a long time in politics. Well, two weeks has seemed to be a particularly long two weeks. I think I can say on behalf of myself and the entire House that all of us, whether Members of the House, servants or Officers of the House, are very much looking forward to the Recess that is about to start.

The noble Lord almost tempted me to say a word or two about the European Parliamentary Elections Bill. I see the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in his place. My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish is still in the House but I have asked him not to come back to make a speech which, by this stage, many noble Lords will know fairly well. But my noble friend would be more than happy to do so should noble Lords so wish.

After what has been a very long Session, after what has been a very long spill-over period—from October to the new Session—and after the weeks since then, all of us can say that we need a good holiday. That is particularly true, as the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip said, of all those who serve us through thick and thin, if I may put it that way, over the year. We all owe them the most enormous thanks. In so doing, I think we must warn them that there will be a very busy and, as the Chinese might put it, a very interesting year ahead of us. I join the noble Lord the Chief Whip in wishing everyone a very happy Christmas.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I wish to associate myself and my colleagues with the comments of the Government Chief Whip and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and to echo their words in paying tribute to the work of the Yeoman Usher, who is about to retire.

We have certainly kept very long hours over the past year or more and will undoubtedly sit for many long hours in the next few months. I also pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Carter, for maintaining civilised relations between the usual channels, which is the only way in which this House is capable of operating. I wish to express on behalf of my noble friends our gratitude to the staff of the House, whose dedicated work on our behalf has done so much to make our lives agreeable.

3.30 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, I rise on behalf of the independent Peers who sit on the Cross Benches—noble Lords will note that I say "independent"; the Chief Whip said "unpredictable". Whether unpredictable or independent, we are here and we are all of independent mind. I echo the remarks made about the Yeoman Usher. To us he has been a special help, guiding us, or pushing us, whichever way we wish to go. I am told that he is to enter the recycling business. I hope that his future is recycled in the proper direction. We owe him great tribute and wish him and his wife all the best in the future.

I wish to thank a number of those who so far have not been mentioned: the Doorkeepers, whose unfailing courtesy and help has been notable during what has been a difficult Session; the attendance officers whose messages keep flowing and who bewilder us with the speed with which they get messages to us; and those in the refreshment department, who at State Opening performed a miracle in the way in which they kept body and soul together.

Those who are often not mentioned are the telephone operators and security staff. We do not see them all that much, but they do a great deal for us in keeping the House going and keeping everything working. We thank them particularly for the work that they do.

Finally, 1999 will be an unpredictable year for hereditary Peers. I hope that we shall not be booted out on tumbrels as has been threatened in another place, but that we shall go with dignity and with understanding on the part of the Government.

On behalf of these Benches I offer all noble Lords and staff best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

The Lord Bishop of Ely

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to add the thanks of these Benches to those already articulated. It behoves the Lords Spiritual to mention in particular the invisible hosts as well as the visible hosts of those who serve us in this House. Speaking for myself and others on these Benches, the pleasure of serving your Lordships is very much enhanced by the courtesy and friendliness with which we are so regularly treated. Even at this particularly sombre moment, I wish all noble Lords a peaceful Christmas and a happy New Year.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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