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The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, before we begin the usual business, I hope that the House will allow me to divert it for a second and to draw its attention to the historic day that today represents. The noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, is retiring as Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. I think I am right in saying that the noble Baroness is so far the only holder of that post. It is a post which is perhaps even more exacting than the demands that are put upon the leaders of parties in your Lordships' House. The Convenor of the Cross-Benches has to be strictly impartial, and his or her flockin this case her flockis above all a flock which, perhaps more than anything else, encapsulates the true spirit of your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness has had over the past 21 yearsI think I am right in sayingto juggle the political views of people who come traditionally from the left of the political spectrum, from the right of the political spectrum, from the centre of the political spectrum, and from that indefinable reservoir of knowledge and talent which we call the great and good who sit habitually on your Lordships' Cross-Benches.
I think it is fair to say that the noble Baroness has set a stiff example to the noble Lord who is to follow her, and I should like to pay tribute to the remarkable job that she has done; to wish her well in the future; and to hope that she will not, because she has retired, fail to attend your Lordships' House and to continue to give us the benefit of her views, both in public and in private, and to wish her successor the very best of good fortune in the times to come.
Lord Richard: My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, perhaps I may join in the tribute that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has paid to the noble Baroness. She has achieved something which is unique in your Lordships' House. Having been the Convenor of a group that is not a group, she has succeeded in establishing the group that is not a group as if it were a major group in your Lordships' House. That is especially true, because she has fought very hard for members of a group that is not a group in terms of accommodation and in its participation in terms of its proper share of the time of the House when it has been available.
It is a remarkable achievement that she has for so long managed to guideI hesitate to use the word "lead" in connection with the Cross-Bencherssuch a disparate and talented group of people in the way that she has. Speaking for the Opposition, we have had an extremely good working relationship with the noble Baroness. She has been invariably courteous and invariably prepared to listen. She has not always been prepared to change her position after listening, but nevertheless she has been a force for good in the House, and we wish her well in her retirement.
Perhaps I may also join in what the noble Viscount the Leader of the House had to say in conveying our good wishes to her successor. How someone who has been a Speaker will do, having had the experience of discipline and firmness when dealing with an unruly flock, in dealing as gently as he will have to with the group that makes up the Cross-Benchers, we shall see. But we wish him well.
Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, we shall all miss the noble Baroness as the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers. My whole parliamentary life has been, as it were, punctuated by her family. When I made my maiden speech in the House of Commons 47 years ago, her father was in the Chair; when I made my first speech as a Minister 31 years ago, her husband was in the Chair; and, when seven years ago, I, a somewhat inexperienced
Her family has a most remarkable record of service to the institution of Parliament. She has fully kept up the tradition and made a most notable contribution. We thank the noble Baroness for her contribution to our proceedings and wish her well in her retirement. We extend our good wishes to her successor.
The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, only those who, like myself, have had a seat in your Lordships' House for very much longer than the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, has been our Convenor can be aware of how much we owe to her. She filled what had hitherto been a great vacuum. As your Lordships know, we are not a party in the political sense of having anything corresponding to a party line. We are a group united only on the basis of not being a party. But that does not mean that we do not have common interests. There is a need to have weekly meetings in order to exchange views, to find out what is going on in the House and, more importantly, to find out what is going to go on in the House the following week. Weekly meetings and weekly newsletters are invaluable services to us all.
Those of us who are taking our seats for the first time need a guide, philosopher and friend to help us on our forward way and to teach us something about the procedures in the House of Lords. Of course, there is the Companion to the Standing Orders but we need to be told where it is and how to find it. When we are contemplating making a maiden speech, we need a companion, guide and philosopher to tell us how not to be controversial without inflicting on your Lordships a long succession of bromides. We also want a clearing house for information. In the case of a political party in the strict sense of the phrase, all that is laid on by the Whips' offices. They have the satisfaction of knowing that they have behind them a coherent and, it is to be hoped, well disciplined party as a result; a party with a high morale.
However, we on the Cross-Benches are not a party; we are a group whose only characteristic is independence of the party system. Therefore, the functional equivalent of the Whips' office is a service to be laid on by an individual whose satisfaction arises out of doing just that; providing a service without any reward except the thanks of her friends. For nigh on 22 years the noble Baroness has done just that for all of us, and we are deeply in her debt.
As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, the noble Baroness is not a stranger to a life of service. She began as a trainee nurse with the Red Cross and worked her way up the hierarchy until she was helping to organise the British Red Cross at national level. Her father was a Speaker of the House of Commons, which is service. Her late husband too was a Speaker of the House of Commons, which again is service. Her whole life has been dedicated to performing services for one interest or another as part of a family of national public servants.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, it is my pleasure from these Benches to endorse all that has been said so fully and eloquently by others in your Lordships' House. The Archbishops and Bishops have been grateful for the kindness and support unfailingly offered by the noble Baroness. We very much appreciate being included in the meetings that are held and the notices that are issued by the Cross-Bench Peers. It can be lonely in this corner of the House, sandwiched between the parties. However, there is great reassurance in being welcomed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, and her noble friends. I express sincere thanks for that.
In common with all noble Lords, I warmly welcome the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, as the new Convenor and congratulate him on assuming the responsibility. My pleasure in expressing congratulations is also personal. It is the greater because of his family's connections with Bishop's Waltham, which is in my diocese. They live there in the shadow of the Bishop's Palace, which was ruined centuries before his lifetime or mine.
We on these Benches thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, and welcome the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill. We look forward to our continuing association with the Peers without a party and their Convenor.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, the Government are organising a programme of commemorative events over the weekend of 19th and 20th August and envisage participation from all nations which fought under the Crown from 1939 to 1945. On Saturday 19th August, the programme includes an open-air service outside Buckingham Palace, a parade of veterans and servicemen and evening entertainment on the River Thames. On Sunday 20th August, we hope that there will be events throughout the nation, with church services and Beating Retreats in the four capital cities.
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