THE PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

(HANSARD)

in the third session of the fifty-first parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the twenty-seventh day of april in the forty-first year of the reign of

HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II

FIFTH SERIES

VOLUME DLXIV

SIXTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1994—95


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House of Lords

Tuesday, 9th May 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Lord Carew—Sat first in Parliament after the death of his Father.

Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, I have to acquaint the House that Her Majesty has appointed General Sir Edward Jones KCB, CBE, to be Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, in succession to Admiral Sir Richard Thomas KCB, KCVO, OBE, and that he is at the Door ready to receive your Lordships' commands.

Whereupon the House directed that he be called in. Accordingly he was called in and officiated in his place.

Tributes to Sir Richard Thomas

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, today we wish Godspeed to Admiral Sir Richard Thomas, who has served the House faithfully during the three-and-a-half years he has been Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

Those years have seen substantial increases in Black Rod's responsibilities. Indeed, Sir Richard took up his post in January 1992, just as the House was beginning to implement the Ibbs recommendations, which, as noble Lords will remember, suggested that both Houses assume responsibility for their own services. His burden was further increased when, in April of the same year, he shouldered a greater responsibility for House of Lords works.

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Black Rod is perhaps most associated in the public mind with ceremonial duties both in the Palace of Westminster and in respect of his work at the Garter Ceremony. However, I emphasise the administrative side of his work because, as so often, perhaps the most onerous are those tasks which remain hidden from the public eye.

Black Rod's duties are as varied as those of any office holder in the Palace of Westminster. In addition to those that I have already mentioned, they range from matters of order and security to the regulation of visitors. However, it is in the realm of accommodation and works that we shall remember Sir Richard most. His enthusiasm for carrying forward improvements in both areas was reassuring, and to a marked degree they will remain as his enduring memorial: the restored stonework, culminating in the final burnishing, of the Victoria Tower; the splendidly restored Nos. 6 and 7 Old Palace Yard; the new parliamentary data and video network, still yet to be made operational; the conversion of Black Rod's Garden. The House should be grateful to Sir Richard for his perseverance and the part that he played in all these projects.

I for one will always remember Sir Richard for something else: his courage. The fortitude with which he faced the consequences of his stroke, and the example that he has given to all of us who might one day be cursed with the same illness, have been—I can put it no higher than this—in the best traditions of both Wales and the Royal Navy. The House will salute him for it.

Therefore, on behalf of the whole House, as Sir Richard leaves to spend more time in his garden and with his devoted family, I wish him good health and a long and happy retirement.

Finally, I also take this opportunity to welcome General Sir Edward Jones as his successor. I know that he will fill the post with the greatest of distinction, and that your Lordships will give him a warm welcome. But above all, perhaps he will allow me to say that I hope beyond anything else that he will enjoy his time with us and find the job a happy and fulfilling one.

Lord Richard: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to support the warm tributes that the Leader of the House has

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just expressed. But perhaps I may first, on behalf of the whole House, convey to him, as the Minister responsible for the weekend's activities, our congratulations on the way in which they were organised. I think they went well. In relation to last Friday, somebody used the word "seamless". I believe that it was. It was in the best traditions of Parliament as a whole. We thank him for it and for the rest of his work.

It is a very great pleasure indeed to support the warm tribute paid by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to Sir Richard Thomas. The post of Black Rod must be a very difficult one. There are two distinct sets of functions attached to it. There are the administrative functions, to which the noble Viscount referred, in particular in the fields of security, accommodation and looking after the building. That responsibility has been particularly important in the past few years.

There are, too, very important ceremonial functions, particularly on great state occasions when this House is involved. It is difficult to get the balance right. I am sure that the House will feel that Sir Richard, given the position in which he found himself, got that balance as right as it could have been. We admire greatly the way in which he discharged both those functions. He discharged them with a distinction and, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said, with great courage. We all particularly admire the courage with which he has carried on his duties since he became ill.

Sir Richard was always helpful and kind to the Opposition. I cannot say that everybody connected with this House is always helpful and kind to the Opposition; but certainly he was, and we are indeed grateful to him for it. We wish him and Lady Thomas a long and happy retirement.

As the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said, during Sir Richard's time in office much was achieved. On behalf of the Opposition, I thank him for his efforts on behalf of the House as a whole. Finally, I take this opportunity to welcome Sir Richard's successor, General Sir Edward Jones, and to wish him well. We look forward to working with him in the future. I hope that he too will treat the Opposition with kindness and consideration.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, my memories of Black Rods go back to Sir Brian Horrocks, who, I believe, took office in 1949. I can think of nobody since who has so splendidly looked the part of Black Rod as has Admiral Sir Richard Thomas. It was therefore a peculiar and bitter tragedy that he was struck down so soon after taking office. As the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal so eloquently said, we have all greatly admired the courage with which Sir Richard fought back.

I personally will retain as a vivid and special memory the sight last Friday morning, in Westminster Hall, of Sir Richard getting triumphantly and at the same time elegantly to the top of that long and exposed flight of steps. Fate has cruelly deprived us of a notable public

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servant of Crown and Parliament. We lose greatly by his departure. We ask him to take our respect and affection into his retirement.

Lady Hylton-Foster: My Lords, we on the Cross-Benches also bid farewell to Admiral Sir Richard Thomas, and at the same time endorse the tributes and thanks that have already been expressed. Sir Richard came with a distinguished record of service in the Royal Navy and, having held such senior appointments in NATO, he faced a different type of challenge when he came to the House as Black Rod. First, there is the shortage of accommodation for all of us and the staff; there was the preparation for the wonderful commemoration ceremony held in Westminster Hall last Friday; and there were the arrangements for the alterations to the West Wing, among many other things.

Sadly, nearly two years ago Sir Richard suffered a severe stroke. Those who saw him at that time and understood the extent of his disability were amazed at his dogged determination to regain much of his mobility and clarity of mind in order to return to his normal duties. In a short period of time and with the support of his office, he succeeded in many achievements, including the pedestrian crossing, which I understand is about to be put into operation and which will be a blessing for many years to come.

We commend his courage in adversity. We wish Sir Richard and Lady Thomas every happiness on the road ahead. At the same time we extend a warm welcome to General Sir Edward Jones and hope that he will be extremely happy in this House.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, to some extent I and my colleagues on this Bench are elusive. We come and go on duty in short bursts and thus must cause considerable trouble to Black Rod and his staff.

On behalf of my colleagues I express our gratitude to Black Rod and to the members of his staff who, time and again, patiently answer our questions. In particular, we pay tribute to Sir Richard's very high standard of commitment. Commitment is often thin on the ground in our society and thus we admire it, recognise it, and salute it.

We also place on public record our appreciation of his personal care and the charming way in which he has dealt with this House and its Members. We wish him and his family much grace and blessing and a measure of health that will take him on for many years to come. In expressing our appreciation, we welcome General Sir Edward Jones to the post. We look forward to his help and hope that we on this Bench do not cause him too much trouble.


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