HL Deb 10 April 2002 vol 633 cc416-8

3.8 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, before I move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, perhaps your Lordships would allow me a moment. Noble Lords will want me to record our appreciation of and admiration for the work done these past days by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, Lieutenant General Sir Michael Willcocks. He has been characteristically modest, and I am sure will be extremely displeased with me, about his part in the operation. As we all know, his role was crucial. He had overall responsibility for all the parliamentary arrangements. He led his team with authority, precision, foresight and dependability. The operation was therefore carried out with dignity and a tactful appreciation of the mood and emotions of the public and the Royal Family. We are all extremely fortunate.

He was assisted by a high-calibre team of staff from all around the Parliamentary Estate. I am sure we would want to thank the security staff who made it possible for Westminster Hall to stay open all night; the staff of the Parliamentary Works Directorate, who put in place all the scaffolding, tents and other building works, including the building of the catafalque; and the Clerks and other staff of the House who ran the information room and provided us with the words of the humble Address last Wednesday. We thank also the Doorkeepers who guided us through the various ceremonies with their customary gentle authority; and the catering staff who planned and provided refreshment for us in very unpredictable circumstances. Perhaps I may thank most particularly the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod, Brigadier Hedley Duncan, who was a most able and reliable deputy to Black Rod. He co-ordinated many of the fine details of the operation and all the extensive contacts with the media. All worked extended hours under great pressure and delivered quite marvellous results.

I know that the House will join me in expressing our thanks for the way in which the job was done which allowed that sad occasion to be marked with such dignity and grace. I beg to move.

Moved, That leave be given to the Lord Hunt of Kings Heath to advance the Committee stage of the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill from Thursday 18th April to tomorrow.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I wholeheartedly support everything that the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House has just said. It is entirely right that our thanks and congratulations as a House should go to Black Rod. Of course this was an event that had been a long time in the planning. It went without a hitch.

The noble and learned Lord used the word "dignity". He was quite right to do so. I witnessed some of the queuing that took place. There was no trouble in the very long queues. The operation was expertly controlled. The decision at this sad time to allow access to Westminster Hall for nearly 24 hours a day was utterly right and demonstrated the flexibility of the House authorities. The supplying of tea and coffee and other help in Victoria Gardens also worked extremely well.

I think that there is huge appreciation, not just from this House but throughout the country, for the way in which the operation was managed. It was seamless. Our wholehearted thanks go not only to Black Rod, as the noble and learned Lord quite rightly said, but to him and his team, for running this excellently executed operation.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, perhaps I may add the thanks of these Benches. There is no question but that Black Rod, his deputy and the staff of the House caught in a most remarkable way a national mood. It was a national mood of respect, dignity and affection, but also one that showed an extraordinary level of self-restraint. Anyone who saw the way in which the British public behaved would recognise how its respect for the Queen Mother was reflected fully in the attitudes and the extraordinary dedication of the staff of this House. I should like to echo what the noble Lord the Leader of the Official Opposition said about, in particular, the ability to keep the House open for 24 hours a day in order to allow everyone who wished to do so to pay their respects.

Perhaps I may finally pay tribute to the excellent bearing of the Captain of the Gentleman-at-Arms and the Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard who did this House proud in the way that they guarded the catafalque. I am sure that we would all want to be associated with thanks given to them.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I echo the words of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House. On behalf of all Cross-Benchers, I thank Black Rod and his team for their work. I hope that the House will agree that Sir Michael's background and knowledge was a contributory factor in the quite outstanding success and pageantry of the past 10 days. They have been days of great historical importance, emotions and national unity. We give our congratulations to him and to all his team who so willingly and enthusiastically devoted enormous time and effort in ensuring the success of the arrangements made for the lying-in-state of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. We thoroughly support what the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House said.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, I associate these Benches very much with the words of the noble and learned Lord. A huge amount of extra work was done. It was widely appreciated. I know that I speak for many clergy of all denominations all over the country in saying how good it was to know that Westminster Hall was open while we gave interviews or preached sermons and were able to refer to that unique piece of history. Congratulations to them all.

On Question, Motion agreed to.