HL Deb 09 May 2001 vol 625 cc1021-4
Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank Sir Edward for his diligent and tireless service to the House during the six years that he has served as Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

The holder of the office of Black Rod has a bewildering number of duties, and I am sure that we all accept that Sir Edward has proved himself more than adept at all of them. He has performed his ceremonial duties with great style, including of course his six state openings of Parliament. Behind the scenes, Black Rod and his department are responsible for the organisation of state openings, a huge operation which he has performed with great skill and care.

As your Lordships know, in addition, Black Rod and his team are also responsible for the organisation of all major events in this part of the Palace. I include, as I am sure your Lordships well remember, the successful recent visit of President Clinton and the celebrations to mark the centenary of the Federation of Australia. Such large operations have always been conducted with enormous skill.

Black Rod is also responsible for regulating access to the building, and for security issues more generally. I know that we are all grateful for his substantial efforts in that regard. They have included removing hereditary Peers who had jumped on the Woolsack, and the more serious problems of racial hate mail with which he has dealt with great tact, discretion and effectiveness.

However, I suspect that it is in the realm of accommodation that the works of Sir Edward will be most remembered and will be most permanent. The major improvements to the structure of the Palace, begun in the early 1990s, have continued apace. On a practical level, the Palace has been made more accessible to disabled people, and the installation of the parliamentary data and video network is now nearing completion. Last summer the Line of Route was opened up to the general public for the first time in many years. Those are all activities in which Black Rod was engaged most successfully.

He has also confronted and taken up the challenge of the shortage of working space in your Lordships' House, which, quite rightly, is always a matter of intense interest. In the past few years there have been major improvements and, as Members of the House will know, still more offices will become available during the Summer Recess. We know that there is some way to go, but we should be grateful to Sir Edward for his great efforts in that area. During his time, I believe that we have turned a corner in relation to this thorny problem.

On behalf of the entire House, I thank Sir Edward for his ceaseless work and enthusiasm in the service of the House. We will miss him and Lady Jones very much. I can especially remember their splendid Christmas parties that I hope will become part of the Black Rod tradition.

In the past few months Sir Edward and I have had an informal personal competition as to which one of us would retire first. He has beaten me by about four weeks. I wish him every happiness in his retirement. I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending very best wishes to him and to Lady Jones.

Finally, I welcome Sir Edward's successor, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Willcocks. I am sure that he will fulfil the onerous duties with as much distinction as his predecessor; and I hope that he enjoys his time with us.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her splendid and full tribute to General Sir Edward Jones. On this side of the House, we associate ourselves fully with her remarks. However, although today we know who succeeds Sir Edward, it may be a few weeks yet before we know who will succeed the noble Baroness herself! I am ever hopeful!

Sir Edward's term of office has been exemplary and the noble Baroness has rightly listed many of his achievements. During that time he has had the challenge of managing considerable change, such as followed the general election of 1997 when changes were made to the management of the House, and after the expulsion of the hereditary Peers. He and his team, as well as the Doorkeepers, for whom he is responsible, managed that task with few complaints.

Sir Edward has served this House with skill, enthusiasm, distinction, and, surprisingly sometimes for a man with such a booming voice, with sensitivity. I suspect that we shall all miss his tall stature bearing down on us, as we shall all miss Lady Jones, who has played a hugely supportive role in the Palace of Westminster and beyond.

I too welcome his successor, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Willcocks, another distinguished soldier who takes on this burden of office. I believe it is right to say that he has a tough act to follow, but I am convinced that he will match up to all the outstanding qualities of his predecessor.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I too thank the Leader of the House for, and associate these Benches with, the tribute that she has paid to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. In particular, I associate with those remarks my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, who is very sorry not to be present on this occasion.

General Sir Edward Jones brought to his post a great contribution drawn from his own experience, first, as a distinguished military man, which I am sure taught him leadership and decision-making, and secondly, as the military representative to NATO from 1992 to 1993, where he learnt the art of diplomacy that he has used most effectively in this House.

More recently Sir Edward has distinguished himself as a celebrity on television. I too occasionally appear on television and I am deeply envious of his wonderful clothing. Only yesterday I discovered, in an unguarded moment from Sir Edward himself, that he is capable of changing into his full resplendency in just over five minutes, an attribute that I wish I could emulate.

All of us will miss his wise guidance and that of his splendid and marvellous wife, Lady Jones. Perhaps I can conclude this brief tribute to him by saying that the cleaning of Royal Court is one of his great achievements. It was said, famously, by Christopher Wren, "Se monumentum, requiris, circumspice". I am sure that when Sir Edward looks at the beauty of the Palace of Westminster in its clean and resplendent state he will be able to say, together with Christopher Wren, that he has a proper and lasting memorial.

I also greatly welcome Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Willcocks as his successor. He has already distinguished himself by the excellent short parade which he was able to master so professionally and effectively. All of us on these Benches greatly look forward to working with him and wish him well in his onerous but exciting new duties.

Lord Weatherill

My Lords, in the absence of the Convenor, it is my privilege from these Benches to pay tribute to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. I am well aware that military gentlemen do not hold politicians in high esteem. Indeed, when I entered the House of Commons in 1964 I received a letter from my general. He said: Dear Weatherill. I am astounded to be informed that an officer of the regiment is going into politics. It is a dishonest profession. I pray that you may prove to be the exception. I very much doubt it". Whatever Black Rod's view of politicians may have been six years ago when he first came to your Lordships' House, I wager that that is not his view today. Sir Edward Jones has been a splendid and outstanding Black Rod. Not only has he looked the part but he has also acted the part with military precision, efficiency, great style and dignity. During his time here, he and his wife, Lady Jones, have made many friends, not only among Members of your Lordships' House and, I suspect, among Members of the other place, but also among the staff, who hold him in high esteem.

I believe that Seneca said, Obedience is yielded more readily to one who commands gently". That epitomises the way in which Black Rod has carried out his duties to your Lordships' House. We on these Benches salute him and also Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Willcocks, whom we wish an equally successful and happy time in your Lordships' House.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford

My Lords, it is a great pleasure for me to associate my fellow bishops and myself in the warm tributes paid to Sir Edward Jones. I can assure your Lordships that when as a bishop with no political background one is introduced to your Lordships' House, it is a very daunting and unnerving experience. The kindness and helpfulness afforded by Sir Edward and his staff to many bishops is greatly appreciated. We welcome an opportunity publicly to thank him and to say how grateful we are for the help and encouragement we have been given.

His approachability and his ability to tolerate the hesitant, to say nothing of fools, and to give the impression that he does so gladly, is something we have come greatly to appreciate. He has contributed to the courtesy and generosity shown in this House towards its newer Members.

Sir Edward, in his role as Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, has brought great dignity to all of our proceedings and I want to emphasise that word in a society where dignity is somewhat lowly prized. His dignity has impressed and encouraged us all; he has set a great example. We wish him well.

We also offer our very best wishes to Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Willcocks and, if I may, I should like to give him a personal welcome. As a national serviceman who served with I Battery (Bull's Troop) and then in the 2nd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, perhaps I may say how wonderful it is to see a distinguished officer from the Royal Horse Artillery gracing your Lordships' House. I hope that it is in order for a former acting bombardier to greet a general in that way. If it is impertinent, I pray I may be forgiven.

As bishops, we hope that Sir Michael will feel very happy here. He will find the bishops the least troublesome of all Members of your Lordships' House and the most unpredictable. We hope also that he will have a fulfilling time in office.