HL Deb 22 January 2002 vol 630 cc1386-8

2.56 p.m.

Lord St John of Fawsley asked the Chairman of Committees:

Whether the arrangements made with regard to the latest House of Lords Christmas cards were satisfactory.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff)

My Lords, as far as I am aware, the arrangements were quite satisfactory. I have had no complaints about the Christmas cards that I sent out, although, I regret to say, I did not send one to the noble Lord. If the noble Lord can indicate what the particular problem is, we could deal with it. If I cannot, the works of art panel could.

Lord St John of Fawsley

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his Answer. Does he realise that, like Bognor, he is the last resort? Does he know that I addressed myself to the Printed Paper Office and was told that the matter was nothing to do with that office? I was told to go to the Attendants Office. On arrival at the Attendants Office, I was told that it had nothing to do with them and that I should go to the Printed Paper Office. So I have come to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord is very satisfied with the card. May I ask him whether he realises that the principal card—which follows the barbarous custom of standing on its side—did not and does not? It fell down. Having fallen down, it refused to get up. The envelopes were far too small for the cards. Does he realise that? The effect was that, when the cards were put in, the envelopes burst. Does he realise that the glue had long ago lost whatever adhesive quality it might have had? My unfortunate secretary had to go and buy, at her own expense, a glue stick to stick them down.

Finally, would the noble Lord advert to the fact that, although the exterior of the card contained a beautiful picture of Westminster Abbey, the interior described it as Westminster Cathedral? That must be the anachronism of the millennium. All one can say to that is, "Pas encore" and to the noble Lord. "Where will it all end?".

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am reminded of the alleged last words of His Majesty King George V in relation to Bognor.

As for the size of the envelopes, I managed to get the cards into the envelope without too much difficulty. Perhaps I have slimmer fingers than the noble Lord. My spit must be more adhesive than the noble Lord's. The reference to Westminster Cathedral was unfortunate. As the noble Lord suggested, Westminster Cathedral had not been built at the time the picture was painted.

It was, I understand, a translation from the French, but it was somewhat mistranslated. "Eglise", which was in the original title, was mistranslated as "cathedral" instead of "church". However, neither is correct because it is an abbey.

As to where the noble Lord should go with his problems, complaints about such matters should perhaps be addressed to the chairman of the Advisory Panel on Works of Art which decides which card shall be produced. I understand that there is a meeting in March. If the noble Lord wishes to address his problems to it, I am sure that the panel will take them up.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, I should like to apologise to the House for the mistake over Westminster Cathedral, which provided a lot of innocent amusement to many Members of the House before Christmas. Is the noble Lord aware that this time we received more congratulations on the cards we had chosen than in any previous year in which I have been involved in selecting Christmas cards with the assistance of my panel?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am glad about that. The panel is to be congratulated on the fact that as a result of the increase in price more than £1,300 was donated to the Save the Children Fund and more than £800 was donated to the House of Lords fund for the advancing of public understanding of Parliament through the acquisition of works of art. I believe that the Advisory Panel on Works of Art does a rather good job.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that as a member of the panel I want to pay tribute to its chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, for her extremely hard work and leadership in connection with all its work? Does he agree that perhaps those who criticise might consider putting their names forward to join the panel, which year after year takes infinite trouble when undertaking the extremely difficult job of choosing a Christmas card which, it hopes, will please the majority of your Lordships?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, will be extremely grateful for that comment, coming as it does from someone who has spent much of her time as a member of the works of art panel. There is no doubt that as one walks around the House and looks at the pictures on the walls one can see that a very good job has been done in recent years. There is now more variety. Furthermore, there is not just one Christmas card; there are, at most, four. There is a range of cards from which people can choose, most of which, I believe, fit into the envelopes.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I am sure we all want to pay tribute to the works of art panel, which does indeed work hard on our behalf. However, since my noble friend tabled the Question, a number of people have said to me that to a considerable degree the mechanics went wrong—the size of the envelopes; the fact that in some cases they did not arrive at the same time as the cards, and similar mechanical problems. I am sure that the works of art panel will give careful attention to what happened when it makes its decisions this year.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, yes, that is a perfectly fair point. I had not heard of the difficulties people have had, but I am sure that the works of art panel will look into them. The printer was changed two years ago when, I understand, the original printer went bankrupt. I hope that we do not force this one into bankruptcy by over-egging the pudding. I am sure that these problems will be taken up by the works of art panel.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, will the noble Lord endorse my suggestion to the panel that as regards this year's cards an image of the Parliament choir might be an appropriate addition to the selection of designs on offer and that some of the money available for charity should go to the young musicians' charities which the Parliament choir supports?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, that suggestion can be taken up by the works of art panel. In the light of certain calendars and so forth produced by women's institutes and others, the question of the dress for the card might be worthy of consideration.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the chairman of the works of art panel—and during my time that goes back to Lord Reilly—has always been willing to accept suggestions from Members; for instance, removing the year of printing? The year used to be included, which meant that one could not send cards overseas the following year when posting early for Christmas. Is the noble Lord also aware that the present chairman has welcomed suggestions from Members and has agreed that we can attend the meeting in March?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is right. As to using last year's cards, I dare say that we all do it, but it s important to remember not send the same card to the same people two years running.

Lord St John of Fawsley

My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that I was a member of the Advisory Panel on Works of Art for three years and was then dismissed for making artistic suggestions? With regard to my noble friend's question about the mechanics, does the Chairman of Committees realise that I received 500 cards which had nothing to do with the House but came from the Victoria and Albert Museum and seemed destined for a person even higher than anyone in this House? I had the greatest difficulty getting rid of them and when I finally did so it took me another week to get hold of my own. Surely, these mechanics ought to be looked at.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I cannot think of anyone of a more elevated status than the noble Lord. However, I am sure that all his comments and criticisms will be taken on board by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, and her panel.