House of Commons
Wednesday 7 March 2012
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before Questions
Spoliation Advisory Panel
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report from the Honourable Sir Donnell Deeny, Chairman of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, dated 7 March 2012, in respect of fourteen clocks and watches now in the possession of the British Museum, London.—(Mr Jeremy Hunt.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
As I stated last week in my first biannual statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland, the threat remains severe. Tackling terrorism in all its forms and within the rule of law remains the highest priority for this Government. We will continue to work as closely as possible with our strategic partners in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to counter this threat.
I welcome the steps being taken to reduce the number of terrorist attacks in Northern Ireland, but as my right hon. Friend said in his recent written ministerial statement, violent activity is still being undertaken by loyalist organisations. What measures are being taken to address this issue?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and would immediately like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has done a huge amount of work, talking to a number of loyalist groups. There is absolutely no place for organised crime or violence in Northern Ireland. I would appeal to everybody to work closely with the PSNI and to pursue whatever political aims they have through peaceful, democratic means.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, in what will be a high-profile year for the United Kingdom—and for Harlow, given the number of Olympic events happening in and around my constituency—the security threat in Northern Ireland remains at “severe”?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the Olympics, which present us with a wonderful opportunity to sell this country. Northern Ireland-related terrorism in Great Britain is graded as “substantial”. I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I saw the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland on Monday. Together we are determined to ensure that there should be no threat to a peaceful and successful Olympics.
The Secretary of State will be aware of a murder in Londonderry in recent weeks and the continuing targeting by dissident republicans of a number of people, and not just in the border area, but across Northern Ireland. Is he content in his discussions with the Chief Constable and the Minister for Justice that the necessary resources are in place to deal with the escalating problem?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that disgusting and deplorable murder. I spoke to the Chief Constable this morning, and I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we agreed a special package of £200 million at the request of the Chief Constable, who said in April last year:
“We have the resources, we have the resilience and we have the commitment.”
When he recently acquitted those charged with the murder of Tommy English, Mr Justice Gillen reminded us that the use of accomplice evidence is long established and, in the words of his judgment, is
“a price worth paying in the interest of protecting the public from major criminals”.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the relevant provisions of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 will remain available to the PSNI?
My hon. Friend is quite right. As I said a few moments ago, there is absolutely no excuse for pursuing political aims by anything other than peaceful democratic means, through the Assembly and representation in this Parliament. There are small numbers of groups that do not accept the current settlement, and we are determined to bear down on them.
May I say again to the Secretary of State that we will stand with him in tackling any threat to security in Northern Ireland? In tackling terrorism, resources for the police and security services are obviously paramount. Does he also agree, however, that the many community and voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland contribute hugely to a peaceful and stable society? Can he therefore update the House on progress with the Peace IV funding bid to the European Union, which is so helpful to maintaining security?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his continued support on these serious security issues, which must remain a bilateral matter. I entirely agree with him about the community projects and funds. What we are putting into security can only contain the problem; the long-term solution is to get deep into those communities. I called a meeting with Eamon Gilmore and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to look at the Peace IV funds, which we think would come from our existing budgets.
I thank the Secretary of State for his response. The financial support for communities, currently almost £300 million, is crucial to combating paramilitarism, maintaining security and ensuring that we continue to build the peaceful future in Northern Ireland that we all want. Will he ensure that he gives this matter the urgent attention that it deserves?
I would genuinely like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we talk about this matter frequently, not only with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister but with the Justice Minister, whom I saw on Monday. A lot of these projects are now in devolved hands—many of them in the hands of the Department of Justice—and we entirely agree that they need to carry on.
This Government firmly believe in the United Kingdom. We believe that what we can achieve together will always be much more than we can ever do apart. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, we will always back the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Having only 2.8% of the UK population, Northern Ireland benefits enormously from being part of the United Kingdom. I was interested to see a poll yesterday that had been conducted by Queen’s university, which showed that 82.6% wanted to remain in the UK, and only 17.4% wanted a united Ireland.
Does the Secretary of State agree that, in addition to there being enormous advantages and benefits for Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom itself has been strengthened and enriched by the contribution of the people of Northern Ireland—and, indeed, of the other constituent nations of the United Kingdom—not least through the willing and voluntary service of many generations of Ulstermen and women in Her Majesty’s forces?
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s endorsement of the Union of Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain. He rightly refers to the great sporting success of our golfers, and let us not forget our snooker player who won the world championship. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the opinion poll conducted in the highly respected Queen’s university survey, which showed that more than 80% of people wanted to stay within the United Kingdom. Will he now confirm to the House that he has no intention whatever of organising any kind of border poll in Northern Ireland, given the settled position of the people there and the levels of satisfaction with the present constitutional settlement?
I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman on that. As Secretary of State, I have the right to call a poll when I feel like it; I have an obligation to call a poll when there is a clear indication that there would be a vote for a united Ireland. Given that only 17.4% were in favour of that option, and the fact that I have received hardly any phone calls, e-mails or letters on the issue, I have no intention of calling a poll at the moment. We should concentrate on the economy and on building a shared future; that is the real priority for the people in Northern Ireland.
In addition to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said about the economy and the many great advantages to all parts of the United Kingdom of being part of the Union, will he confirm that the present level of public expenditure in Northern Ireland could not be sustained under any other constitutional arrangements, regardless of the destination of the Province?
The Chairman of the Select Committee makes a telling point. Public spending per head in Northern Ireland is currently £10,706, which is about 25% higher than it is in England. That is a huge advantage for Northern Ireland. It gives us time to rebalance the economy as well as showing the key role that membership of the UK plays for the people in Northern Ireland.
Further to the words of the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), one of the advantages and benefits of the United Kingdom is a common defence policy, to which men and women of Northern Ireland have contributed greatly. How does the Secretary of State feel, on today of all days, about men and women who are military personnel being made compulsorily redundant?
I am a strong supporter of the military in Northern Ireland. I wear the Royal Irish wristband, because that regiment is stationed at Tern Hill in my constituency. [Interruption.] What I feel is that we inherited a complete mess from the last Labour Government. We are currently borrowing £232,000 a minute, so, sadly, the Government have had to take very difficult decisions.
Bill of Rights
In September, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to party leaders suggesting the possibility of the Assembly taking forward work in this area; we have yet to receive a response. Ministers and officials have continued to discuss this issue with human rights organisations since.
The Minister will know, of course, that the establishment of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland was part of the Good Friday agreement, and that it is a matter for all people in Northern Ireland. Will he not accept, however, that both he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have a duty to bring about consensus rather than simply to listen to what people are saying without doing what is right and proper to ensure that we get consensus among all the political parties in Northern Ireland?
The House will want to acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman’s part in the Good Friday agreement in trying to pursue the Bill of Rights. Frankly, however, that was when he should have pursued it, instead of squandering the good will that he and his Government had generated at that time. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman a couple of quick examples of our problem. First, the Secretary of State wrote to the First and Deputy First Ministers and all the party leaders back in September, but he has had no reply to his letters. Secondly, the Secretary of State for Justice wrote to the Office of the First Minister, asking it to nominate someone for the commission. It is now March, but no reply has been received. We thus face a problem, as we see no way forward without consensus.
Does the Minister agree that this important work towards a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland—and, indeed, human rights more generally there—might have a useful role to play in the Government’s determination to do something about significant reform of the European Court of Human Rights?
As my hon. Friend knows, a UK commission is being set up to look into the matter. We want Northern Ireland to be represented on it. Equally, we believe that this commission could provide the necessary vehicle for the inclusion of rights particular to Northern Ireland.
We meet Church leaders frequently, and this is one of the matters we discuss with them. It is fair to say that the Secretary of State and I recently met the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights—and we discussed this matter with her. We cannot get much higher than that.
As well as corresponding with the leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland, will the Minister kindly tell us whether his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General actually believes that Northern Ireland needs a separate Bill of Rights?
My right hon. and learned Friend came to Northern Ireland several times when we were in opposition. He was always of the belief, as we are, that any rights particular to Northern Ireland should be tagged on to any UK Bill of Rights. I alluded earlier to a lack of consensus. The hon. Lady will be aware that in a debate in the Assembly last year, Members voted by 46 to 42 against a motion calling for a robust, enforceable Bill of Rights. As I said in answer to the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) earlier, that is a perfect example of the problem we face. We cannot impose; this has to come from within Northern Ireland. When it does, we will respond accordingly.
Pat Finucane Review
I have not received any representations from the Finucane family since the establishment of the Pat Finucane review last October.
The Secretary of State will know that the Finucane family, Madden and Finucane Solicitors, Judge Cory, the Irish Government, the United Nations special rapporteur and the Weston Park agreement have all called for a public inquiry. May I urge him to meet the Finucane family and Madden and Finucane Solicitors, so that the truth of the murder of Pat Finucane can be established and the reconciliation can be completed?
We have gone into the issue in some detail in written statements and in an oral statement made a couple of months ago. I wrote to Mrs Finucane soon after we came to power, and when I met her in November 2010—I was the first Secretary of State to do so for some years—I established with her that we wanted to get to the truth. I think that the method we have chosen, a review of a huge archive that is more extensive than that available to Saville, is a quicker way of getting to the truth, and will deliver satisfaction to the family. I am more than happy to meet them, and I hope that they will work closely with the de Silva review.
When was the Secretary of State made aware that the legal representatives of the Finucane family were indicating that they would accept a public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, based on the Baha Mousa standards and principles? Did he inform the Prime Minister, and who decided to head off that credible option at the pass at the Downing street meeting?
In the context of victim issues such as the Finucane murder, is the Secretary of State alarmed by what has happened in relation to other cases, such as the murder of Tommy English? In that case, the police appointed an independent oversight team consisting of a political appointee and an English barrister. It was the first time that such a team had ever been appointed in connection with a British case involving a police investigation. Does the Secretary of State agree that that was a reckless act which must never be repeated in an independent police investigation?
I think that in all these areas we must be very careful to respect the independence of the police in operational matters, the independence of the prosecuting authorities and the independence of the judiciary, and I would apply those principles to the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
The case of Pat Finucane is one of many cases in Northern Ireland that reflect the tragic legacy of our past, and we believe that a comprehensive process is needed to address that. Can the Secretary of State update us on his recent discussions with local parties about how to proceed with that approach?
As the hon. Lady knows, I established that there was no consensus at my meeting with her and other members of her party on Monday. Some parties want to draw a line in the sand and cease all activity, while others favour the establishment of an extensive international legacy commission. We will continue to work, and talk to individuals and local parties, but at the moment I see no consensus.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet the First and Deputy First Ministers and their colleagues in support of the Executive’s efforts to attract foreign direct investment, and I have just returned from accompanying the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment on a trade mission to the Gulf states in support of two Northern Ireland businesses.
I have made a very good assessment. I am a member of the Economic Affairs (Trade and Investment) Cabinet Sub-Committee, and I am glad to say that it is to discuss ways in which UKTI and the devolved Administrations can co-operate better. There will be a meeting later in the year, which I think will benefit both organisations.
Despite the best efforts of the Northern Ireland Executive, rates of business formation in Northern Ireland are lower than in the rest of the UK. What plans do the Government have to make good their fault as identified by the Business Secretary that they lack a compelling vision on the economy?
As this is Northern Ireland questions, I think I should limit myself to Northern Ireland. We have a very clear idea of the economy in Northern Ireland. We want to support it, and we believe it needs to be rebalanced. [Interruption.] This afternoon the joint ministerial working group on rebalancing the economy will meet to examine the possible devolvement of corporation tax to Northern Ireland, which we believe would be a significant move. [Interruption.]
I am sure the Minister will agree that inward investment into Northern Ireland is always welcome, but we must not forget small indigenous businesses that have been there for many years. [Interruption.] Will he join me in welcoming the £30-million investment by the Asda group in one site in my constituency, which is in an area that has not had investment for 35 years? [Interruption.]
Of course I welcome that investment. The hon. Gentleman is a doughty champion of business in his constituency, and I look forward to spending a day with him shortly. He will be aware of the growth fund, which will help small and medium-sized enterprises with strong potential for growth, particularly in the international markets. We believe these moves by the devolved Administration are the right ones.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet the First and Deputy First Ministers and their colleagues in support of the Executive’s efforts to develop the economy. We also work closely together on the joint ministerial working group on rebalancing the economy, which—I now say for the third time—will meet this afternoon.
It is good news that Northern Ireland sells £12.4 billion-worth of manufactured goods abroad, and has almost recovered to the pre-recession level in sales to Great Britain—indeed, sales to GB achieved a new record. Those are very positive trends, on which we seek to build.
Investment in research and development is crucial for economic development in Northern Ireland, just as it is in Macclesfield. Will my hon. Friend therefore join me in congratulating the Northern Ireland Executive on the 6% increase in research and development investment over the past year?
Yes, I will. Research and development is crucial to the development of the economy, and investment in it increased by 6% in Northern Ireland last year, to £334 million. The Northern Ireland Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is keen to continue with research and development, not least for small and medium-sized enterprises, which both she and I believe are vital.
Given the need to pump-prime the economy in Northern Ireland and given the fact that the Finance Ministers met on Monday, are the disputes about the £18 billion allocation to Northern Ireland as part of the devolution dividend near resolution, and if not, what are the areas of disagreement?
That was not raised officially at the meeting, but later on I had my own bilateral over a cup of coffee with the Northern Ireland Finance Minister, the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who is in his place. We discussed progress on this matter, and he informed me that it continues, but it is slow. The Chancellor is now in his place, too, and he may be interested to learn of what the hon. Lady has just said. This is still being discussed, and it will take some time.
Economic development in Northern Ireland is being held up by the reluctance of banks to lend to viable businesses and their withdrawing of capital from existing businesses. What discussions has the Minister had about whether banks in Northern Ireland are meeting their Merlin targets? Also, why is it that the Merlin target figures can be published for Scotland, but not for Northern Ireland?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point, which he also made in the Finance Ministers quadrilateral last week. We need to get more lending to companies in Northern Ireland, where we are fishing in a smaller pool because we do not have so many banks to lend. We want to see those figures and to work together to see how we can get more lending to smaller companies.
I would like to pay tribute to all those from Northern Ireland and, indeed, from all regions of the United Kingdom who serve in our armed forces. I speak regularly with ministerial colleagues across Whitehall on matters relating to Northern Ireland, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. I am very proud to have the Royal Irish stationed in my constituency. I went to the Barossa dinner on Monday, celebrating the capture of the first French eagle with the cry:
“By Jaysus, boys, I have the cuckoo.”
The regiment is a glorious example of an organisation that brings people together from all parts of the community, including from south of the border.
In recognising the tremendous sacrifice of our brave soldiers from Northern Ireland in contributing to the defence of the United Kingdom, does the Secretary of State acknowledge that there is a time bomb of mental health problems facing those who return from the field of conflict? What steps are being taken to assist those people?
I entirely endorse the hon. Gentleman’s comments and I pay tribute to the three rangers of the Royal Irish who sadly lost their lives in the Helmand campaign last year. He is absolutely right to draw attention to the mental health problems that can occur and I discuss this with my right hon. Friends in Cabinet. He should also discuss it with the local Ministers who are responsible for delivering those services in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I hope you will permit me, Mr Speaker, before I answer any questions, to make the following announcement. Yesterday, a Warrior armoured fighting vehicle on patrol near the eastern border of Helmand province was struck by an explosion. It is with very great sadness that I must tell the House that six soldiers are missing, believed killed. Five of them are from the 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment and one is from the 1st Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those brave servicemen. This will be the largest loss of life in a single incident in Afghanistan since 2006. It takes the overall number of casualties that we have suffered in Afghanistan to more than 400. Every death and every injury reminds us of the human cost paid by our armed forces to keep our country safe. I have spoken this morning to the Chief of the Defence Staff, the Chief of the General Staff and the commanding officer of 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment. They each stressed the commitment of our troops to the mission and to getting the job done. I know that everyone will want a message of support and backing for our troops and their families to go out from this House today.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in the House I shall have further such meetings later today.
I echo the Prime Minister’s tribute to the fallen. Their service and their sacrifice humbles us all. With this terrible news in mind, will my right hon. Friend use his meetings next week with President Obama to co-ordinate a prudent draw-down of allied forces in Afghanistan and to ensure that Afghan forces get the training and equipment they need to take over?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Next week is an opportunity to make sure that Britain and America, as the two largest contributors to the international security assistance force mission in Afghanistan, are absolutely in lock-step about the importance of training up the Afghan army, training up the Afghan police and making sure that all NATO partners have a properly co-ordinated process for transition in that country, so that the Afghans can take responsibility for the security of their own country, and we can bring our forces home.
I join the Prime Minister in expressing profound sadness at the terrible news of our six soldiers who are missing, feared dead. Today, we are reminded of the ongoing commitment and sacrifice that our service personnel make on our behalf. By putting themselves in harm’s way for our benefit, they demonstrate the utmost service and courage. We owe them and all those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan an immense debt of gratitude, and our thoughts are with their family, friends and colleagues at this terrible time.
At moments like these, does the Prime Minister agree that we must restate clearly the reasons for our mission in Afghanistan? A more stable, self-governing Afghanistan will produce more stable outcomes in that region and ensure greater safety for our citizens here at home.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his words. He is absolutely right. Our mission in Afghanistan remains vital to our national security. We are there to prevent that country from being a safe haven for al-Qaeda, from where they might plan attacks on the UK or our allies. Our task is simple: to equip the Afghan Government and the forces of Afghanistan with the capability and capacity to take care of their own national security without the need for foreign troops on their soil. That is our aim. We are making progress. The Afghan national army stands at 184,000, on target for 195,000 by the end of this year. The Afghan national police, standing at 145,000, are on target for 157,000 at the end of this year. We are making progress. It is absolutely essential for bringing our troops home, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman: we need to restate clearly why we are there and why it is in our national interest. The commander of the battalion told me today that his men have high morale, they know they are doing an important mission for the future of this country and the future of the world, and they want our support as they go about it.
I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. He and I also agree that it is essential that we build now for a political settlement in Afghanistan for when our troops are gone. Can he take this moment to update the House on what diplomatic progress is being made on securing the broader and more inclusive political settlement needed for a stable Afghanistan? Does he further agree that the whole international community must up the pace of progress towards that political settlement, to ensure that we do all we can to make concrete progress between now and the departure of our combat troops at the end of 2014?
We are clearly planning the increase in the army and the police—the physical forces that will take over—but the greatest difference we could make is a stronger political settlement that will ensure that Afghanistan has the chance for real peace, stability, prosperity and security in the future. There are some good signs, in that there are now proper discussions between the Afghan and Pakistan Governments. A clear message is coming out of Afghanistan and Pakistan to all those who are engaged in violence to give up that violence and join a political process. There is strong support for that across the Arab world, particularly in the middle east. We need to give that process every possible support and send a clear message to the Taliban: whether it is our troops or Afghan troops who are there, the Taliban will not win on the battlefield. They never win on the battlefield, and now it is time for a political settlement to give the country a chance for peaceful progress.
I, too, echo the Prime Minister’s tribute—as do other Members across the House—to our brave men and women who are asked to make sacrifices on a daily basis to keep our country safe and ensure a peaceful Afghanistan. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, despite those tragic events, ISAF will remain in Afghanistan in one form or another for as long as it takes to complete the mission for a safe, secure and stable Afghanistan, with the Afghan people taking responsibility for their own security?
We have a clear timetable, which is all about transitioning parts of Afghanistan to Afghan security control, to allow our troops to move into the background and eventually out of the country. In Helmand itself, where we have been for all these years—one of the toughest parts of Afghanistan—Lashkar Gah, the effective capital, is now controlled by Afghan forces. The process is ongoing. I believe it can be properly completed by the end of 2014, so that we leave in a proper and orderly fashion, handing over to Afghan troops. Let us be clear: the relationship between Britain and other countries and Afghanistan will go on. It will be a relationship of military training, of diplomacy, of support, of aid and help for that country. We must learn the lesson of the past, which is what a mistake it was to turn away from Afghanistan.
Obviously, I do not agree with that. What this Government are doing is cutting corporation tax, investing in apprenticeships, building enterprise zones, making sure that right across our economy the rebalancing is taking place that is necessary for sustained economic growth.
Q3. My constituents have to wait longer to get a hospital appointment than they would in England, they are five times less likely to get certain cancer drugs than they are in England, and if they get to hospital, they are twice as likely to get an infection as they are in England. Does this prove to the Prime Minister that we cannot trust Labour with the NHS? (98316)
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that, if you look at the NHS in Wales, it shows what happens if we do not put in the resources—the money—because the resources are being cut in Wales, and also if we do not reform the NHS to make sure that there is a proper chance for people to get the treatments they need. There is not the cancer drugs fund in Wales, there are much longer waiting times, and there are much longer waiting lists, and that is an example of what happens without the money and without the reform.
Q4. The Prime Minister is proud of his welfare reforms. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Can he look me in the eye and tell me he is proud of the decision to remove all disability benefits from a 10-year-old child who can hardly walk and who cannot toilet herself because she has cerebral palsy? Is he truly proud? (98317)
This Government are not cutting the money that is going into disability benefits. We are replacing disability living allowance with the personal independence payment. As someone who has actually filled out the form for disability allowance and had a child with cerebral palsy, I know how long it takes to fill in that form. We are going to have a proper medical test so that people who are disabled and need that help get it more quickly.
On Friday, PC Trevor Hall and PCSO Claire Miller, two of the best from Warwickshire police, came to see me about the life-threatening effects of a new legal high called black mamba on the life of a 13-year-old in my constituency. I am informed that black mamba is the latest legal high being sold on our streets in the UK. Now that we have regulations that allow us to act swiftly to ban potentially dangerous legal highs, will my right hon. Friend act on this substance immediately and—
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. We are determined to stamp out these so-called legal highs. The Home Office is aware of this particular drug. We now have the drugs early warning system which brings these things to our attention, but as he says, a decision needs swiftly to be made and I will make sure that happens.
Tim Howes is a delivery driver from Dartford. He is a married father of three and the sole earner in his family. He currently works 20 hours a week. From next month, under the Prime Minister’s proposals, unless he works 24 hours a week he will lose all his working tax credit, some £60 a week. He says:
“I have approached my employer to possibly increase my hours but I have been told there simply aren’t the hours there. I would love to work full-time.”
What is the Prime Minister’s advice to Tim Howes?
First, let me set the context for this—[Hon. Members: “Answer!”] I will answer the question very directly, but we need to reform the tax credits system because we have a massive budget deficit. When we came to office, tax credits were going to nine out of 10 families, including people right up the income scale, including Members of Parliament. What our changes do, in terms of this specific case, is deal with the basic unfairness that we ask a single parent to work 16 hours before getting access to the tax credit system, so it is only right to say to couples that between them they should work 24 hours—that is, 12 hours each. If that is the case, and they do that, they will be better off.
I have to say to the Prime Minister that that answer is no use to Mr Howes and his family. He cannot find the extra hours and so will lose his—[Interruption.] The Defence Secretary shouts from a sedentary position, “What about his wife?” Let me tell him that his wife is looking after their three school-age children and cannot find hours that are consistent with that. Tim Howes and 200,000 couples will lose as a result of this. Before the election, the Prime Minister said in the TV debates that for Labour
“to say that actually the changes we’re making would hit low income families is simply not true.”
Why has he broken that promise?
We have increased the child tax credit that goes to the poorest families in our country. To answer the right hon. Gentleman very directly, when we say to a single parent that they have to work 16 hours to get access to the tax credits system, I do not think that it is unreasonable to ask a couple to work an average of 12 hours each. That is what we are asking. In a way, this relates to a bigger picture. We have a massive budget deficit. If he is not going to support the welfare cap, the housing benefit cap, cuts to legal aid or cuts to tax credits, how on earth would he deal with the deficit?
In case the Prime Minister did not realise this, in Dartford, where the Howes family live, five people are chasing every vacancy. It is just not good enough for him to say, “Well, they should go out to work.” If they cannot find the work, they will find that they are better off on benefits than in work because of the Prime Minister’s changes, which is something he said he wanted to avoid. It is also about this matter of trust. He made a clear promise, just like he made a clear promise on child benefit. Before the election, he said:
“I’m not going to flannel you. I’m going to give it to you straight. I like the child benefit. I wouldn’t change child benefit. I wouldn’t means-test it. I don’t think that is a good idea.”
We have already established that he has broken his promise to low-income families. Why has he broken his promise to middle-income families, too?
Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that people earning £25,000 should pay for his child benefit? I do not agree with that. We have to make savings, so not giving child benefit to the wealthiest 15% of families in our country—of course it is a difficult decision. Life is about difficult decisions. Government is about difficult decisions. It is a pity that he is just not capable of taking one.
First of all, we are talking about families on £43,000 a year. Secondly, it is no good the Prime Minister saying that he now supports the principle that people on high incomes should not get child benefit, because before the election he supported the opposite principle and said quite clearly to families up and down this country, “I’m not going to take away your child benefit.” In my book there is a very simple word for that: a broken promise—it is a broken promise by this Prime Minister. [Hon. Members: “That’s two.”] They are right: there are two broken promises. The reality is that lower-income families are losing their tax credits and middle-income families are losing their child benefit. Does the Prime Minister understand why people just do not believe him when he says, “We’re all in this together”?
I think that it is time the right hon. Gentleman listened to his own shadow Chief Secretary, who said that
“we must ensure we pass the test of fiscal credibility. If we don’t get this right, it doesn’t matter what we say about anything else.”
She is absolutely right. Reducing our deficit takes tough decisions. He has opposed every single cut. He has opposed the welfare cap, the housing benefit cap and legal aid cuts. It is no wonder that when people dial up a radio phone-in and eventually work out who he is, they all say the same thing: he is not remotely up to the job.
I do want to see a ban introduced. It is the overwhelming opinion of Members in this House. We are putting in place a regulatory scheme in the short term, but my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary made it absolutely clear that it is our intention to introduce a ban in full as well.
Q6. Today, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee published a major report on consumer debt. Last November R3 reported that 60% of people were worried about debt and 3.5 million were considering payday loans. In the year since the Government concluded their consultation, no action has been announced. Will the Prime Minister commit to act now to protect vulnerable families, or will he accept that he is simply out of touch with the financial reality facing them as a result of his policies? (98320)
I think, as the last exchange just proved, we are worried about debt. The whole country needs to be worried about debt, and the problem is that the Labour party does not seem to understand that there is a debt problem. There has been a debt problem in our economy, there is also a debt problem for many households, and we do need to make sure that they get help. That is why we are making sure that citizens advice bureaux continue to get help, as they are one of the most important services for helping families in that way.
Q7. The coalition agreement contains many bold and brilliant proposals to give Britain the change that we need: open primaries, a bonfire of the quangos, and radical localism. Sometimes, however, progress has been a little slower than some of us on the Government Benches would have hoped: sometimes the radicalism has been ever so slightly blunted. Is that because of the constraints of coalition, or because of the Whitehall machine? (98321)
It was good to have such a helpful start from my hon. Friend. I think that this Government have done a number of radical things, right across the board, whether it is welfare reform to make sure that it always pays to work, education reform to give greater independence to our schools, or tax reform to give us competitive tax rates. Of course I always want us to go further and faster. I do not blame the Whitehall machine; in the end the politicians must always take responsibility.
My constituent James Toner was arrested in Goa almost three years ago on drugs charges. He was subsequently released when it turned out that the police officers who arrested him were themselves under investigation for corruption. He has spent the past 22 months in legal limbo, his passport has been confiscated, he cannot travel, he cannot work and he does not even know when his case is going to go to court. Does the Prime Minister agree that justice delayed is justice denied, and will he make sure that a Foreign Office Minister meets me urgently to discuss the case of my constituent?
I will certainly do that. It is very important that the hon. Gentleman and others feel that they can stand up for their constituents on the other side of the world who are being treated in this way, and that we can take up these cases. The work of Fair Trials International and other organisations is very important in that respect, and I shall make sure that the Foreign Office meets him soon.
Q8. Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating the project that is starting a pilot in my constituency in September, funded by the private sector, the London borough of Redbridge, and various charities, and in congratulating also the co-chairs, Richard and Philippa Mintz, and the inter-faith group on their work to get young people with special needs into employment? (98322)
I will certainly join my hon. Friend in supporting that project. It is important that we help children with special needs through not only their schooling time but that transition after school and into college, and then try to help them to find work. It sounds like this is an excellent project that deserves his support.
Is it true:
“The problem is that policy is being run by two public school boys who don’t know what it’s like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can’t afford it for their children’s lunchboxes. What’s worse, they don’t care either”?
Those are not my words, but the words of a Conservative Member, the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries).
Q9. May I add my personal tributes to our fallen? On Monday, Clare’s law came into being. Would my right hon. Friend be willing to meet me and Sergeant Carney-Haworth to learn at first hand how his team’s groundbreaking initiative in Devonport, Operation Encompass, is helping to make sure that children in my Sutton and Devonport constituency grow up in an area where there is no longer any domestic violence? (98323)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this constituency issue and to do so this week, when tomorrow we have international women’s day. The move that has been made on Clare’s law is important; it is a breakthrough to give women this information if they seek it. I want us to follow that by looking into a specific offence of stalking. I want us to continue to support the rape crisis centres, as we are under this Government, and to make sure that we act on domestic violence right across the board.
Visits (Central Ayrshire)
I know that the Prime Minister is coming to my constituency very soon indeed—in fact, later this month to attend his Tory party conference in Troon. However, I want to know whether he agrees that the uncertainty that is being created by the Nats around the separatist idea of a referendum that is being delayed for longer than it should be is leading to uncertainty about inward investment in my constituency and elsewhere. While he is in Troon, will he come with me to see some of the potential for inward investment? That is a promise that he made to me at a meeting a year ago.
When the hon. Gentleman asked me that question a year ago, I did in fact meet a delegation from his constituency. I agree with every word that he said, and I make him this offer: as I am going to be in Troon, he can make the short trip from his constituency and we can share a platform together to point out the dangers of separatism and the nationalist agenda. Are you up for it?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Labour-controlled Corby borough council is trying to suppress a report into the scandal at the Corby Cube. Twenty-six million pounds of Corby people’s money has been wasted, and now councillors are being threatened with disciplinary action if they blow the whistle. Does the Prime Minister agree that the council should come clean with Corby people?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who raises an important point. There are now proposals for total transparency in local government so that expenditure over £500 should be separately documented and so that all the salaries, names, budgets and responsibilities of staff paid over £58,000 should be published, including councillors’ allowances and expenses and all the organisational charts. We want the wind of transparency to go right through local government, Corby included.
Article 16 of the European fiscal compact says very clearly that it will be incorporated into the European treaty in five years’ time. Will the Prime Minister promise to veto that, or does he not expect to be here in five years’ time?
Q12. Will the Prime Minister join me, along with the thousands of families with missing loved ones, including the family of missing York woman Claudia Lawrence, in supporting the sensible recommendations in the Justice Committee’s report into missing people’s rights and the presumption of death? (98326)
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I pay tribute to Peter Lawrence and his support for the Missing People campaign. The Justice Committee has produced an important report on this issue. We acknowledge that the current law is complicated. I recognise all the emotional and practical difficulties faced by those whose loved ones are missing. We are going to consider the recommendations very carefully, and perhaps I will write to my hon. Friend when we come up with the answer.
Q13. If the Prime Minister manages to persuade his Chancellor to remove some of the anomalies in his child benefit policy to help people earning over £43,000 a year, will he then take action to help the couples on the minimum wage who are set to lose £3,000 from April? (98327)
I think that we dealt with that earlier. Quite apart from the point about the unfairness of a single person having to work 16 hours, we are making a long-term reform with universal credit, which will mean that everyone is always better off in work, no matter how many hours they work. Labour had 13 years to put that in place; we will have it done in 18 months.
On Saturday, 2,000 of us marched through Kendal to present a petition of 11,000 people calling for radiotherapy services at Westmorland general hospital in Kendal. Will my right hon. Friend meet me, the commissioners and cancer campaigners to ensure that we bring cancer treatment to Kendal, so that local lives can be made longer and people’s journeys shorter?
I know from having visited the hon. Gentleman’s constituency how important the issue of the hospital is. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is fully engaged in this issue. Perhaps I can fix a meeting between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend to ensure that the issue is dealt with.
Q14. The Royal Bank of Scotland recently axed another 300 jobs, mostly in Edinburgh and London. However, the jobs have not gone completely, but have been outsourced to India. The Prime Minister and the Government act on behalf of the biggest shareholder, so when will they stand up to RBS and prevent the needless job losses in the UK? (98328)
We must recognise that the Government put £45 billion into the Royal Bank of Scotland on behalf of the country. That is £2,500 for every working family in the country. The most important thing is that we get that money back. We need RBS to return to health. It has to deal with its bad loans and the trouble that it got into, and it has to grow the rest of its business. We will then be in a position to return to people the money that they put into the bank. That is what matters most.
May I offer my sympathies to the families and friends of the six soldiers who have been killed, five of whom served in 3rd Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, the Duke of Wellington’s, with which I had the privilege to serve? I recognise and support the vital role that our troops are endeavouring to undertake, but we need to bring them back in 2015. I ask the Prime Minister to ensure that we do everything that we can to support the families of those who have been lost.
My hon. Friend speaks with considerable experience, because of his service in our armed forces. It is important that we have the date for our troops coming home from Afghanistan, which I set. We will not be there in a combat role and will not be there in anything like the current numbers by the end of 2014. It is also important to ensure that, between now and then, our troops have all the equipment that they need to make them as safe as possible. I pay tribute to the previous Government, who started putting extra money into vehicles in 2006. Since then, we have spent about £2 billion on better-protected vehicles and an additional £160 million on counter-IED equipment. He is right that we need to do more for the families of our armed forces at home. That is what the military covenant process and the Cabinet Committee, which I chaired for the first meeting, are all about.
Using Applied Language Solutions was supposed to save West Midlands police £750,000 a year, and yet last week we heard that the shortage of translators leaves the police unable to quiz suspects for weeks. Is that the kind of service we can expect when our police forces tender out services to private security companies?
I do not think that there is anything wrong with the police getting back-office functions carried out by private sector organisations. Indeed, when the shadow policing Minister was asked about that at the Select Committee on Home Affairs, he said that he was quite relaxed about it. I think that that is right. I am delighted that the hon. Lady is considering whether to become a police and crime commissioner. That will be an excellent way of calling the police to account, and I hope that many other hon. Members will consider it as a career change.
Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to support Mayor Boris Johnson in London, who is pleading with the Pru, our biggest insurer, not to leave the City of London because of the attack by the European Union on the competitiveness of the City? I invite my right hon. Friend to block the fiscal union treaty by making an application to the European Court of Justice that it is illegal, until we get the City safeguards that he was demanding in December.
My hon. Friend is entirely right to raise the case of the Prudential, because it is an example of ill-thought-out EU legislation endangering a great British business, which should have its headquarters here in the UK. I recognise the importance of this matter. We are working extremely hard at the European level and with the Prudential to deal with it. I know that we have the full support of Boris Johnson in doing that.
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty on the occasion of the Sixtieth Anniversary of Her Accession to the Throne.
That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the whole House.
On her first address to the nation as Queen, Her Majesty pledged that throughout all her life, and with all her heart, she would strive to be worthy of the people’s trust: this she has achieved beyond question. The nation holds her in its heart, not just as the figurehead of an institution but as an individual who has served this country with unerring grace, dignity and decency.
The reign of Queen Elizabeth has been one of unparalleled change, from rationing through to the jet age, to the space age, to the digital age. At her first investiture as Queen, the very first decoration she presented was a Victoria Cross for heroism in the Korean war. Since then, members of the armed forces—her armed forces—have been in action all over the world, from Aden to the Falklands, the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. Around the world, dictatorships have died and democracies have been born, and across the old British empire a vibrant Commonwealth of nations has expanded and flourished.
Throughout this extraordinary change, the longest-lived monarch in our history has remained resolutely unchanged in her commitment and studious in her duties. It does not matter whether it is something we suspect she enjoys, such as the highland games at Braemar, or things we suspect she might be less keen on, such as spending new year’s eve in the millennium dome, she never, ever falters. She has always done her duty, and that stability is essential for our national life.
While the sands of culture shift and the tides of politics ebb and flow, Her Majesty has been a permanent anchor, bracing Britain against the storms, grounding us in certainty. Crucially, simultaneously, she has moved the monarchy forward. It has been said that the art of progress is to preserve order amid change and change amid order, and in this the Queen is unparalleled. She has never shut the door on the future; instead, she has led the way through it, ushering in the television cameras, opening up the royal collection and the palaces and hosting receptions and award ceremonies for every area of public life. It is easy now to take these things for granted, but we should remember that they were her initiatives. She was broadcasting to the nation every Christmas day 30 years before we let cameras into this House.
In doing those things, the Queen ended a 1,000 year distance that existed between British monarchs and their people. Indeed, while much of her life has been governed by tradition and protocol, the Queen has always taken a thoroughly pragmatic view of such matters. On arriving at one engagement in Scotland, she noticed that the local lord lieutenant was having considerable trouble extracting both himself and his sword from the official car in order to perform the introductions. While embarrassed civic dignitaries cleared their throats, the Queen cut straight through the seemingly insoluble ceremonial problem by walking up to the greeting line, hand outstretched, with the words, “My lord lieutenant appears to be having difficulty in getting out of the car, so I’d better introduce myself. I’m the Queen.”
That human connection is a hallmark of the Queen’s reign. Over 60 years, according to one royal biographer, she has met 4 million people in person, which is equivalent to the entire population of New Zealand. At garden parties alone, she has invited some 2 million people to tea. She is, of course, Queen of 16 countries, and has surely travelled more widely than any other Head of State in history. As she herself has been heard to say—it is a lesson, perhaps for all of us in this House—“I have to be seen to be believed.” All this has given her remarkable insight. Like her previous 11 Prime Ministers, I have been struck by Her Majesty’s perspective on world events, and like my predecessors I am truly grateful for the way she handles our national interests.
Last year’s visit to Ireland was a lesson in statecraft. It showed once again that the Queen can extend the hand of friendship like no other. She was the first monarch to visit China, the first to visit Russia and the first to pay a state visit to the Vatican, and her trip to post-apartheid South Africa was a statement that resounded across continents.
And, of course, there is the Commonwealth. It is doubtful whether that great alliance would ever have thrived without the dedication of Her Majesty. When the Queen became head of the Commonwealth in 1952, it had eight members; today it has 54. No one has done more to promote this unique family of nations spanning every continent, all the main religions and nearly a third of the world’s population. In all her realms, from Tuvalu to Barbados, from Papua New Guinea to St Vincent and the Grenadines, from Britain to Jamaica, she is loved because she is a Queen of everyone—for each of us and for all of us.
The diamond jubilee gives us the chance to show our gratitude. By the time she opens the Olympics, the Queen’s jubilee tour will have taken her and Prince Philip to every part of the United Kingdom. In June, London will see a huge pop concert, a great procession and the largest gathering on the Thames for more than three centuries: barges and cutters, narrow boats and motor boats, square riggers, naval vessels, the little ships of Dunkirk—all will be there to pay tribute to our magnificent Queen.
“Diamond” is the appropriate epithet for this jubilee. For 60 years, Her Majesty has been a point of light in our national life—brilliant, enduring and resilient. For that, she has the respect of the House and the enduring affection of all her people.
May I second the motion and associate myself and my party entirely with the sentiments that the Prime Minister has just expressed?
As the Prime Minister has so accurately described, Her Majesty the Queen has dedicated herself tirelessly and constantly to the people of our country and the Commonwealth for 60 years. Her Majesty has led an extraordinary life of service, which sets an example to us all.
Truly remarkable though her reign has been, it is striking that it is in keeping with the reputation and spirit of the young Princess Elizabeth before she ascended the throne. During the second world war, her work with the Auxiliary Territorial Service gave inspiration and hope to millions, especially young women desperate to play their part while their loved ones were fighting at the front.
Almost 65 years ago, as the House marked Her Majesty’s wedding to the Duke of Edinburgh, Clement Attlee observed that Princess Elizabeth was already celebrated across the globe for her “unerring graciousness and understanding”. His words echo down the years.
We have learnt so much more about Her Majesty: selfless, tireless in duty, unflinching in service, unerring in her commitment to the people of Britain, stoical in the face of personal loss, and proud, as the Prime Minister said, of the extraordinary reach of the monarchy and its values to the Commonwealth.
With Prince Philip at her side, she has shown the most extraordinary dedication to duty. When we tell each other her remarkable story, we speak, too, of the timeless characteristics of our country and all the people who have served us.
Her Majesty’s life reminds us of the true value of service. Her reign is a golden thread that links people within and across the generations. For the generation that emerged from the war, the coronation provided the opportunity to come together in celebration. There was often only one house with a television set on a street, and people crowded round to watch, sharing in community with one another.
For our generation growing up, the event was the silver jubilee in 1977. I remember being in Hyde park as a seven-year-old as part of those celebrations. Then came the golden jubilee on those glorious summer days in 2002. This year in June, it will be the next generation’s turn to share in the excitement.
In these moments, we are reminded that we are far more than just disparate individuals and communities: we are a nation with a shared sense of purpose and integrity. When we celebrated the golden jubilee, it fittingly became not only a celebration of the Queen’s reign, but of the very best features of our country.
As the Prime Minister said, in her 60 years the Queen has witnessed an astonishing array of changes throughout our society. Some have brought huge improvements to our lives; others have been more challenging.
On one occasion, I attended a meeting of the Privy Council shortly after Buckingham palace had shown its commitment to fighting climate change by adopting energy-saving light bulbs. I believe that I was the Minister responsible. Unfortunately, the transition had not been entirely smooth because the light was pretty dim—in fact, it was almost dark.
As Her Majesty valiantly struggled through the gloom to read the names of the Bills being passed, she caught my eye fixedly and remarked on the impact of “these new bulbs”. As Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, I confessed my responsibility, but I am pleased to say that she broke into a smile. Her reaction showed once again her great capacity to put people at ease, no matter what the circumstances.
Whatever she has been confronted with, Her Majesty the Queen has responded with genuine spirit. That spirit means that the Queen is received with reverence, respect and genuine affection wherever she travels in the world. In respect for that spirit, we all come together to celebrate in this, the year of her diamond jubilee.
At the time of the last diamond jubilee, the Father of the House was Charles Villiers. He had started his distinguished political career in the Parliament of King William IV, had sat in this House continuously for 63 years, and was aged 95. By comparison with him, I am a mere parliamentary debutante.
However, I vividly remember the fireworks that celebrated the silver jubilee of Her Majesty’s grandfather, King George V, in 1935. The hit tune of the time was “The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze”, a prophetically accurate description of Prince William today.
Shortly before the debate on the Loyal Address in 1897, Villiers sent Queen Victoria his personal gift as Father of the House of a parasol. I have presumed to follow his example. His parasol was dressed in Chantilly lace. Mine has not been dressed in French lace; it has been dressed in Nottingham lace, from the city that first sent me to this place 53 years ago.
For my generation, the abiding memory of our Queen is her stunning beauty when she came to the throne. There is nothing more inspiriting in the whole world than a beautiful woman.
The bedrock of her success has been the constitution—not our constitution but hers, because she has always had the most astonishing stamina. In 1953, accompanied as always by the indomitable Duke of Edinburgh, she travelled 53,000 miles. In 1977, the year of her silver jubilee, she travelled 56,000 miles. I once asked a courtier how she did it, to which I received the characteristic reply: “By not eating salads, shellfish and water melon while travelling.”
The Queen’s great-great-grandmother was Empress of India at a time when one quarter of the globe was painted red. She has lived through years of worldwide and often revolutionary change. In the single year of 1960, 16 African countries achieved independence and became sovereign member states of the United Nations. What was to be the role of the Crown in this new world? Her Majesty saw the challenge and seized the opportunity. She made the monarchy mobile. In the second year of her reign, she delivered her Christmas message to Britain and the Commonwealth from New Zealand.
Although always impeccably attentive to her duties in the United Kingdom, she threw herself, with wholehearted energy and commitment, into a new world role as the Head of the Commonwealth. She has visited nearly every member of it, many of them tens of times, from the north Atlantic to the south Pacific. Since her visit to Tuvalu in the south Pacific, sea levels around that threatened island have actually fallen. How jealous King Canute must be!
Her Majesty has presided over 18 Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings. These have not always been plain sailing. In 1979, the choice of Lusaka as a venue was a matter of controversy. Zambia was surrounded at the time by warring countries—Mozambique, Southern Rhodesia and Angola—and some thought it dangerous or politically unwise for her to go. Her Majesty made it publicly clear that whoever did or did not go, she was determined to be there. The Lusaka conference was a great success. It was even widely reported that Her Majesty’s only female Prime Minister in Britain had much enjoyed her foxtrot with Kenneth Kaunda.
Of a reign spanning nine Prime Ministers and 12 Presidents of the United States, and notwithstanding her triumph among us here at home, I believe that future historians will record that the impetus and character that she has uniquely given to the Commonwealth will be remembered as her greatest achievement. How fortunate we have been to be reigned over for 60 years by a lady of such poise, grace and beauty—the exemplary daughter of an enchanting mother.
I conclude by repeating the exquisite words of a poet and parliamentarian composed in honour of a queen of hearts of an earlier era—words that are absolutely true of our own beloved Queen:
“Tell me, if she were not designed
The eclipse and glory of her kind”.
It is a great honour to speak in this debate and particularly to follow the right hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), the Father of the House. I hope, Mr Speaker, that you, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, having listened with care to the address by the Father of the House, will have it in mind that the next diamond jubilee to be organised should be the one to celebrate his 60th year in the House—such has he become a national treasure and an entertainment to us all.
Of the many privileges that go with the best job in the British Cabinet—that of Foreign Secretary—the greatest is that the whole office is expected to accompany Her Majesty the Queen on state visits abroad. During my five years as Foreign Secretary, I went with Her Majesty to, among other places, Germany, France, Malta and Nigeria. Those visits gave me the opportunity to witness at close hand the extraordinary preparation, dedication, commitment and time that Her Majesty and Prince Philip devoted to these sometimes very difficult public engagements. The pace that the Queen and the Prince set for these visits would have tired somebody half their age.
In Nigeria, the arrangements for the day-to-day engagements showed a little flexibility—to be delicate about the matter—and Her Majesty and Prince Philip had to accommodate that flexibility. She had taken part in one engagement at which I thought she did stunningly well. I said to her afterwards, “Ma’am, if I may say so, that showed extraordinary professionalism.” There was a pause. She looked at me and said, with a benign motherly smile, “Foreign Secretary, it should have been professional. I’ve been doing this for long enough.”
As Home Secretary and then Lord Chancellor, I had a rather less public duty—that of administering the oath of homage, which all new bishops of the Church of England have to make to the sovereign, and have done since the age of Henry VIII. Through that prism, I was able to observe the profound seriousness with which the Queen treats her duties as Head of our established Church, as well as her encyclopaedic knowledge of the parishes and personalities of the Anglican communion.
As Member of Parliament for Blackburn for the past 33 years, I have seen the excitement and, more importantly, the sense of recognition that visits by Her Majesty and other members of the royal family have brought to the people of my area, as they have to every constituency and to people of every ethnic background and religion. These are but a handful of examples of the extraordinary, exemplary way in which Her Majesty has led our nation over the past 60 years.
Of the three most recent of the Queen’s dozen Prime Ministers, one was in nappies and two were not born when she acceded to the throne in February 1952. I guess that I am one of a diminishing band of Members who can recall that day and period. Food and clothes rationing were still in operation and, much more importantly for a six-year-old, so was sweet rationing. There was an acute housing shortage. Vast areas of our great towns and cities were still bombed wastelands, Britain was almost exclusively a white society and, at primary school, I can still recall, in the second year of infant school, the map of the world that our teacher had permanently fixed on the wall and to which he pointed with great regularity. It showed a quarter of the world’s land mass painted pink to signify the British empire.
Six decades on, the world is a very different place, and so is the United Kingdom. We are now a heterogeneous society, with people from many religious and ethnic backgrounds proud to call themselves British. The empire has gone, to be replaced by the Commonwealth. The rate of social, industrial and technological change has been breathtaking. But through all this change, there has been the Queen—constant, reassuring, providing a sense of security and stability in an uncertain world, yet, remarkably, remaining in touch. I am delighted to support the Prime Minister’s motion.
It is a great honour to join my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other colleagues in the House’s tribute to Her Majesty the Queen on the presentation of an Humble Address.
On the night of Monday 4 April 1955, on the eve of his resignation as Prime Minister, my kinsman Sir Winston Churchill gave a dinner at No. 10 Downing street for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. It was attended by Churchill’s closest political and military colleagues and friends, and by members of his private office and his family. The Prime Minister, in proposing the Queen’s health, said this:
“I propose a health to Your Majesty which I used to drink in the days when I was a young Officer in the 4th Hussars in the reign of Your Majesty’s great, great grandmother, Queen Victoria”.
He ended with the following words:
“And I drink to the wise and kindly way of life of which Your Majesty is the young and gleaming champion”.
I am sure that this whole House will agree that Her Majesty the Queen has, throughout her long reign, indeed been a gleaming champion for her country and for the Commonwealth. Crowned in the same abbey church as William the Conqueror, at the same age—26—as the first Queen Elizabeth 400 years earlier, she embodies all the best qualities and the continuity that are so important to our country and its splendid, independent people. This diamond jubilee will thus be an occasion for the nation to thank the Queen, who has served us so professionally, so loyally and so conscientiously through these extraordinary 60 years of some of the most tumultuous social, economic and technological change that Britain has ever seen.
The Queen brings to our national life an experience and knowledge of politics and events all around the world which is truly unrivalled by any other person in the land. Throughout her long reign, she has displayed great, good judgment, tolerance and absolute political neutrality at all times. When she ascended to the throne, her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was of an age to have charged with the 21st Lancers at the battle of Omdurman in 1898, while her present Prime Minister was not even born in 1952. Such is the scale and breadth of the life that she has so triumphantly lived through.
The Queen is a source of powerful influence for this country throughout the world, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. She is the Queen of 16 countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the Head of the Commonwealth, an organisation that includes more than a quarter of the earth’s population. She thus brings a vital and often unrecognised addition to our efforts and our influence overseas. We in this House in particular should recognise this as an irreplaceable national asset of the first importance.
Every country needs someone who can represent the whole nation. It may seem primitive—and indeed it is—but if nationhood is to mean anything, it has to have a focus. In our case, for 60 years that focus has been, and remains, the Queen. Nations do have values, and they should be proud of them and willing to express that pride. That is what we are able to do with our monarchy and our Queen, and what we will do this year.
The Queen, blessed with a happy marriage to a remarkable consort who has done so much to support her, does a job that demands tremendous physical and mental toughness and energy. Quite apart from her still extensive public engagements, her work follows her wherever she goes, and always has done. Her life has truly been one of selfless duty. Yet sadly, there is probably no day when she will not read something about her or her family in the media or see something on television that is untrue, cruel or just plain silly.
We are indeed blessed to have in the Queen someone who is truly a remarkable example of dedication, efficiency and common sense, with a tremendously good judgment of people and—last, but by no means least—an excellent sense of humour. Those attributes, added to a perfectly wondrous dislike of pomposity and vanity, and an absolute inability to pretend to be anything other than herself, make the Queen what she is: arguably the most respected and admired—indeed, loved—public figure in the world.
I conclude as I started, with Churchill on the Queen. Broadcasting to the nation on 7 February 1952, on the death of King George VI, he ended with these words:
“I, whose youth was passed in the august, unchallenged and tranquil glories of the Victorian Era, may well feel a thrill in invoking, once more, the prayer and the Anthem ‘God Save the Queen’.”
And, 60 years on, so do we all, Mr Speaker—with all our hearts.
I rise to support the motion in the name of the Prime Minister and to associate myself with the comments that hon. and right hon. Members have made with great eloquence so far.
While I have the indulgence of the House, I want briefly to take only a few moments to report that the city of Leicester—and indeed, my constituency—is immensely proud, delighted, excited and honoured to be hosting Her Majesty the Queen, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge tomorrow, for the start of the diamond jubilee tour. Tomorrow, Her Majesty will be visiting one of the country’s most dynamic universities—De Montfort, in the city of Leicester. Our cathedral will be hosting the Queen—I believe for her first visit—for a service led by the Bishop of Leicester, and our directly elected mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, will welcome Her Majesty to the iconic clock tower in our city centre.
As well as celebrating Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee, tomorrow is also about celebrating the city of Leicester and the thousands of Leicester people, of all backgrounds, who make our city the strong, diverse and vibrant place it is today. Throughout the last 60 years, families have come from all parts of the Commonwealth and all parts of the world to make Leicester their home. Under Her Majesty’s reign, Leicester and Britain have become more diverse, and stronger, too. Although we are diverse, we are united as a city. Tomorrow, people from Leicester, of all backgrounds, all communities and all faiths, will welcome their Queen—their Head of State. Perhaps they will welcome her in the varied dialects spoken in our city: “A Salaam O Alikum”, perhaps; “Namaste”, perhaps; “Sat sri akaal”, perhaps; or, more simply, perhaps the more familiar “Welcome to Leicester, your Majesty.”
The preamble to every Act of Parliament that has received Royal Assent in the last 60 years refers to the fact that it is enacted by
“the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty”,
as well as by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and by the Commons, in Parliament assembled. That is indeed fitting terminology, in that there has been a real excellence in Her Majesty the Queen’s devotion, integrity, honour, service and duty to her people over the past 60 years. The Queen serves as an indefatigable unifying influence in an increasingly diverse nation and a Commonwealth of Nations composed of a plethora of countries with different languages, cultures, religions and forms of government.
Her Majesty’s commitment and public service are without parallel. When she was on a tour of Africa at the age of 21, the then Princess Elizabeth declared that her
“whole life, whether it be long or short, would be dedicated to the service”
of her people. And it has been. I venture to suggest that Queen Elizabeth’s ancestors would be proud of her—her late father particularly so—and that her heirs and successors will be driven to follow her example. The Queen is a model sovereign, who has performed her demanding constitutional functions with extraordinarily consistent good judgment. She has touched millions of lives through her innumerable visits. She inspires utter devotion from her regiments and the Church of which she is supreme governor. In the Commonwealth, the Queen has made an enduring contribution to the lives of millions of her people around the world. By her side throughout this period of change has been His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, who has been in her heart and mind since she was 13 years of age.
In 1977, for the silver jubilee, and in 2002, for the golden jubilee, peers and Members of Parliament contributed to a gift on the parliamentary estate to be enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visitors. Late in 2010, in keeping with that tradition, I established an all-party group. With the help of the then Serjeant at Arms of this House, Jill Pay, the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, Lieutenant-General David Leakey, and the conservation architect of the estate, Adam Watrobski, I was soon able to approach you, Mr Speaker, and the then Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman, in order to seek, through your good offices, a request to any Member of this House or the other place who wished to contribute, to make such private donation as they saw fit to a stained glass depiction of the royal arms, to be placed in the north window of Westminster Hall. After renovations have been completed in the coming months, that window will show the first royal arms to be displayed in the north window since the time of King Henry VIII. They will be opposite the arms of His late Majesty, King George VI, the Queen’s father.
No public funds whatever have been used for the manufacture of the stained glass window, or for its monumental display case or its forthcoming installation. That is thanks to the generosity of hundreds of parliamentarians from all sides in both Houses who, in response to your letter, Mr Speaker, have donated a total of £98,396 for this gift, which will allow a modest surplus to be remitted to the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust charity. That generosity is a manifestation of the enormous respect and profound gratitude felt by this Parliament for the selfless and uninterrupted service of our beloved sovereign. God save the Queen.
In supporting the motion, I know that I speak on behalf of the bulk of the people in my beloved city of Sheffield in offering my congratulations and reflecting on the respect and affection in which Her Majesty has been held over the past 60 years. Reference has been made to the enormity of the change that has taken place in that time. I was reminded, listening to the radio this morning, that the first edition of the New Musical Express, published 60 years ago, featured Paul Robeson. I do not know what Her Majesty will make of this year’s Eurovision song contest, but some things never really change. Some changes have been very much for the better, in regard to tackling discrimination and gross inequality, and creating a care across the world that did not exist 60 years ago. Some of them have illustrated a loss, however, including the loss of the mutuality and reciprocity that were a feature of many of our communities 60 years ago.
One thing is absolutely certain: over those 60 years, I have managed to achieve the dishonour of making mistakes in front of the Queen on a number of occasions. The first was not, in fact, in front of Her Majesty. It involved a little boy, coming up to the age of six, in a school for the blind, when we were celebrating the coronation. Elgar was blaring out from a loudspeaker, and I rushed across the playground only to smash into a little four-year-old girl, spilling lemonade all over her skirt and blouse, which resulted in her bursting into floods of tears. That was the first, but not the last, occasion on which I have made people cry over the past 60 years.
Many moons ago, as leader of Sheffield City Council, I tasted the tea before Her Majesty arrived and described it as “absolutely disgusting”. I had it changed, only to discover that I had set aside her favourite brew. On another occasion when I was leader of Sheffield City Council, I made the mistake of declining Her Majesty’s help at lunch, when she offered to help me with a Barnsley chop. Had I accepted her help, I would have been spared the embarrassment of being told, at the end of the meal, that she was quite used to cutting up the meat for the corgis.
Dogs are a feature of Her Majesty’s life, and I could not let this occasion go by without recalling how much dogs’ instincts affect us, in the political arena as well as in their capacity as pets and social companions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) will remember our hosting an official visit by President Putin, in his first incarnation as President of the Russian Federation. As the arms were presented, my then dog, Sadie, uttered a deep growl from her chest which developed into a bark. That was obviously a precursor to the political change that we have seen in the Russian Federation.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred to the Queen’s ability to put people at their ease. Perhaps I should mention the way in which she put me at my ease when I made another blunder. It was when I was being inducted as a member of the Privy Council in 1997. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn will recall that he had set me in the right direction to kneel on the cushion, but I missed it slightly. I was put right, and the Queen gently assured me that I did actually brush her hand with my lips, rather than her elbow with my mouth, which was the direction in which I had been heading.
These have been 60 years of a Queen for her people here and in the Commonwealth. She has been a Queen who has touched the hearts of those of all classes, distinctions, races, ethnicities and religions. We have had a Queen who has been able to hold our nation together, and I hope that her life will be long and that, in the years to come, she will be able to hold the United Kingdom together in the way that many of us wish for.
It is a privilege and a pleasure to support the Prime Minister in his motion to send an Address to the Queen on the occasion of her diamond jubilee. Like the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), and everyone else in the House and beyond who have met her on a one-to-one basis, I have been daunted by the prospect as well as humbled by the experience. That is not surprising, given the record that she has achieved. She is not only the second-longest serving monarch we have ever had on these islands, but the second-longest serving Head of State in the world at the moment. I suppose if this were a primary school, I would offer a prize to anyone who could tell me who the longest serving Head of State is—
I will tell you later.
Picking up on the comments made by the Father of the House, I find it extraordinary that we have a monarch who has met nearly a quarter of all the Presidents of the United States throughout its history, and who has known a fifth of all British Prime Ministers. Those are extraordinary records.
In paying tribute to the Queen, I should also like to pay tribute to Prince Philip, who has stood alongside her for every month of those 60 years, and more.
Unlike the Father of the House, I am not old enough to remember the accession or the coronation, although I must be honest and tell the House that I was just alive at the time, and I am sure that my family were celebrating. Other events have been significant throughout the Queen’s life. When she has visited our communities, those visits have been really important. There have been conventional events, such as her visit to Llandaff cathedral when I was a little boy. It had been restored after sustaining bomb damage during the war. There have been conventional events relating to past jubilees. She came to the King’s Stairs gardens in Bermondsey, by Edward III’s manor house, to mark her silver jubilee, for example. There have also been some esoteric events. She came to an event near London Bridge a few years ago, in which she unveiled a stone in honour of a native American Indian who was buried there—a fact that came as a surprise to us all. It was a slightly unexpected mixture, seeing the Queen next to a red Indian chief somewhere near London Bridge station.
As the Prime Minister indicated, the Queen has certainly also gone beyond the call of duty on many occasions. The example that most comes to mind is indeed the blessed millennium eve celebrations at the dome. I think that she was reassured by stopping off at Southwark cathedral first, which she enjoyed and found highly appropriate. That visit probably also gave her the spiritual strength and courage to go on to the events that straddled midnight.
People have rightly paid tribute to the Queen’s international as well as national service. It is extraordinary that she is Queen of 16 countries, and of about 130 million people around the world. She is Queen of the second-largest country in the world—Canada—as well as of Tuvalu, a country of only 10,000 people. It is absolutely consistent with her service that the trust set up to mark the jubilee is intended to serve the poorest peoples of the Commonwealth—exactly the sort of mission she has always supported herself.
The Queen has been pre-eminent in making sure that people in the public service, and particularly those in military service, have been honoured and supported by her. We thank her for that, because they do the bravest and most difficult of jobs. She has also always gone out of her way to support those in voluntary service, commending that non-paid activity in our country and beyond. She has also been particular in making sure that she has supported and encouraged people of all faiths and backgrounds.
People have paid many tributes in this place on occasions during the 60 years. They have highlighted the Queen’s unassuming virtues and her faultless example. In fact, she has stood like a rock in a sea of troubles, she has lived out the promises made at her accession and coronation and she has exemplified dignity, experience, wisdom and, above all, her incomparable sense of duty.
As we say our grateful thank you to a Queen who has been our monarch for 60 years, it is also fair to say that she has also been our servant—the people’s servant—for 60 years. She has been a servant monarch, which is what she said she would be when she took the coronation oath.
Let me finish with two short personal comments. I am a member of the Christian Church. There are people in this Parliament of many faiths and of none. Speaking as someone of faith, may I say on behalf of those who have faith in general and of Christians in particular that when the Queen has expressed her views about the truths and good news of the Christian gospel, as she did in her Christmas broadcast last year, she has done so more honestly, more simply and more clearly than probably any other Christian leader in the world? People of all faiths should be thankful for that. She has absolutely got it right in expressing the faith in which she so clearly believes.
I am privileged to be the MP whose constituency includes the Old Kent road. The Prime Minister alluded to a relevant description earlier. We regularly call people—we are not the only people to do so—“diamond geezers”. I am not sure that the Queen would be overly keen on the second part of the description, but in the vernacular of Bermondsey, the Old Kent road and everywhere else: she is a diamond; she has been a diamond; and for the many more years we hope she reigns, she will go on being a diamond. On behalf of all my colleagues—and so say all of us.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, it is a great privilege and pleasure to endorse and to be associated with the statements of the Prime Minister and of other right hon. and hon. Members in support of this motion. For most of us and for most of the country, Queen Elizabeth II is the only monarch we have ever known. Only one other monarch, Queen Victoria, has reached this tremendous milestone. It is not just the length of service that has been so impressive, but the manner in which Her Majesty has served the people of this country. Dedication, commitment, judgment and sacrifice are words that spring to mind when we think of the Queen’s service to our country and to the Commonwealth over the course of her entire life.
At 21 years of age, Her Majesty pledged that
“my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”
That promise has been well and truly fulfilled. During Her Majesty’s reign, she has of course been supported superbly by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, who has obviously been a great source of strength to Her Majesty, as well as serving our country in his own inimitable right.
We from Northern Ireland appreciate deeply the commitment that the Queen has shown to our part of the United Kingdom over the course of her reign. Her Majesty has visited Northern Ireland on some 15 official visits over the last 60 years. She has travelled even during very difficult and dangerous periods when her visits brought with them severe risks to her personal security. I well recall one particular visit when, during very dark and troubled days indeed, I had the great honour as lord mayor of the great city of Belfast of welcoming her to the city. Her intense concern for and interest in the welfare of all of the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland was evident. People in our Province have always enjoyed visits by the Queen and members of the royal family. We look forward eagerly to Her Majesty’s visit later this year, so that once again we can show our respect and affection for her and the royal household.
On the first occasion that Her Majesty visited Northern Ireland as Queen in 1953, she spoke to the Northern Ireland House of Commons, saying:
“I assure you that I will always strive to repay your loyalty and devotion with my steadfast service to you.”
The then Speaker responded by saying:
“It is our heartfelt prayer that Your Majesty may be blessed with health and strength, long to reign over us.”
As we give thanks to almighty God today for the life and service of Her Majesty, we affirm that this continues to be our sincere prayer today. God save the Queen.
As the Member of Parliament for Windsor, I wholeheartedly associate myself with the words of the Prime Minister and of other right hon. and hon. Members. During 60 years of service, there have been 60 years of change, but one thing has not changed and has remained constant—Her Majesty’s dedication and sense of duty towards our country and its people. On behalf of the people of Windsor, I wish to express my thanks and my best wishes to Her Majesty and the royal family. She is as welcome in her home in Windsor as she is throughout the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.
I join my fellow former member of Oxford university Labour club, the Father of the House, in paying tribute to Her Majesty. What has impressed me about her, among many other noble attributes, is her knowledgeability and her imperturbality.
I attended a meeting of the Privy Council, at which Her Majesty had the responsibility to prick sheriffs. She held an object that looks like a large knitting needle and in front a parchment roll, not dissimilar to another kind of roll, was unrolled before her. As the official read out the names, the Queen leaned forward and stabbed the roll. On one occasion when a name was read out, Her Majesty said, “But he’s dead,” to which the official’s response was, “Yes, Your Majesty, but if you will prick it, I will explain later.”
Her Majesty goes to enormous pains to obtain information in order to carry out her duties. When I attended the investiture at Buckingham palace, the Queen tapped me on the shoulder. She then made comments to me, which made it clear that she had taken the trouble to find out something about me. What I found even more encouraging and remarkable was that as each person being honoured came before her—there were a very large number—she had something to say to each one of them. It struck me as impressive that she went to all that trouble to make the day memorable for the people attending at Buckingham palace.
I want to pay tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh, too. I have been involved in a number of events with His Royal Highness. I particularly remember meeting His Royal Highness at Farnborough air show at the time when I was shepherding through legislation to nationalise the aircraft industry and to create British Aerospace. He had some extremely forthright comments and pieces of advice to offer about how British Aerospace should be nationalised. I took due account of what he said when we carried the legislation through Parliament.
While there are Presidents in countries all over the world, this country has what some might regard as an anomaly, whereby the Head of State is an hereditary monarch. The greatest achievement of Her Majesty is that she has proved by the way in which she has presided over this country for 60 years that hereditary monarchy provides a better basis for genuine democracy than any of the presidencies we see in different parts of the world. Her impartiality and knowledgability have demonstrated to all of us that we, who have the best democracy in the world—despite occasional electoral aberrations—owe that democracy, in which all of us are free, to Her Majesty. What she has done in making this United Kingdom a permanent democracy, a democracy that is impregnable, is perhaps the greatest of her many achievements.
I am honoured to have the opportunity to contribute a few words to this humble Address to Her Majesty on the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. I strongly support the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who gave a powerful and poignant summary of what the Queen has done for this country.
When Queen Elizabeth II became our monarch in February 1952, the United Kingdom was a pretty austere place. It was only seven years after the end of the second world war, and tea rationing was still in place. The Queen was faced with a crisis almost immediately when the great smog of London killed about 12,000 people in December 1952, an event that shocked the world into starting the environmental movement. In her first Christmas message, aged just 26, she called on her people to
“set out to build a truer knowledge of ourselves and our fellowmen, to work for tolerance and understanding among the nations and to use the tremendous forces of science and learning for the betterment of man’s lot upon this earth.”
Those are wise words even today, as they were then.
As others have already pointed out, the Queen has witnessed some incredible innovations during her 60-year reign: the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, the first man on the moon, the first and last supersonic flights on Concorde, the first test-tube baby, the first personal computer and the world wide web, and the introduction of the mobile phone. About 90% of people in the United Kingdom now have mobile phones.
Her Majesty has also been a constant presence during many significant world events, such as Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, the construction and fall of the Berlin wall, the recessions of the 1970s and 1990s, and the economic crisis of more recent years. She has discussed the politics of the day with 12 Prime Ministers, from Sir Winston Churchill in 1951 to my right hon. Friend our current Prime Minister. That makes her probably the most experienced and well-briefed person in the country today. She has been at the heart of what has been important to Britain, and the challenges that we have had to face as a country over these 60 years. Our world has changed more in the Queen’s lifetime than in those of any of her predecessors, but she has remained a calm presence at the centre, earning the respect and affection of everyone.
I first met Her Majesty in May 1998 at Balmoral castle, beside the beautiful banks of the River Dee, in my role as part of the royal household. On that first evening, over dinner, I saw her wonderful humour, heard story after story of experiences that she had been through, listened to the pipes being played by Pipe Major Jim Motherwell, and talked about Scotland, which, of course, I consider to be an important part of the United Kingdom.
During my time as policy adviser, I saw at first hand the unbelievable work load that Her Majesty undertook daily as part of her unstinting service to this country and the Commonwealth. Her devotion to duty is unparalleled, and is reflected not just in her work load, but in the number of engagements that she attends and the visitors to this country whom she entertains. The Queen is patron to more than 600 wide-ranging organisations that support children, sport, the arts, health, science, animals, industry, education and the military, to name just a few. She takes a particular interest in all the armed forces in both the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, and is, of course, the wife, mother and grandmother of individuals who have served, or are currently serving, in the armed forces.
For me, the Queen represents the best of British values—loyalty, respect, family, volunteering—and reminds us of what it means to be British. In her diamond jubilee message, she asked us all to remember
“the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness.”
All those things are so important at the moment to everyone in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth.
The Queen even has the ability to transcend boundaries. I flew in this morning after looking at emerging and high-growth markets and businesses in Asia, and spoke to an American gentleman who said to me enthusiastically, “We love her, and we feel that she is our Queen too.” When I pressed him to tell me why, he said, “She embodies dignity, stability and grace.” I could not have agreed more.
His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, spoke recently of how his grandmother had
“carved her own way completely”
and had managed to deal with the difficult balance between public demands and private life. At the same time, the Queen has not been afraid to listen to feedback from the general public, and to take action when it is needed. She has personally overseen a radical modernisation of the royal household to reduce spending, support female succession and embrace technology. Grants to the Queen and the royal household amount to less than 70p per person in the country, a figure that is far outweighed by their payments to the Treasury and the benefits of tourism to the economy. The Queen has also opened up the way for the royal household to share information. More than half a million people like her Facebook page, which I suspect is more than most Members of Parliament can say.
In 1897, on the day of her own diamond jubilee celebrations, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary:
“The streets were beautifully decorated, also the balconies of the houses, with flowers, flags and draperies of every hue.”
I look forward to similar festivities throughout the country during the celebration weekend in June, and encourage all local communities to hold the street parties and other events that do so much to bring us together in our own communities. Let us use this year of the diamond jubilee and the Olympics and Paralympics to regain our sense of Britishness. Let us be proud to be British. Let us talk up British business and, most of all, our people: those who really make Britain what it is today, with the Queen at the helm.
I want to join everyone here today in paying the warmest possible tribute to Her Majesty the Queen. Her devotion to duty and her energy are inspirational, and we cannot thank her enough for all that she does for our country and the Commonwealth. If we all did a fraction of what she does, our communities would surely be stronger and better. Members of Parliament are elected to serve our constituents and to make a difference to our country. What better example of service could they follow than that of Her Majesty the Queen? She has made an impression on so many people. She is a role model and an inspiration, for me, for women, for citizens of the UK and the Commonwealth, and for generations to come.
In supporting the Prime Minister’s motion and thanking the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, I end my speech with words from our national anthem:
“God save our gracious Queen”.
Long may she reign over us!
It is a pleasure to contribute to the humble Address, and to support the motion.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) told us earlier, tomorrow morning Her Majesty the Queen, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge will visit Leicester on the first stop of the diamond jubilee tour. That is a great honour for our city. Under the Queen’s reign, Leicester has prospered and changed. We have welcomed people from throughout the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. It is therefore fitting that tomorrow’s royal visit will begin with a dance that celebrates our city’s diversity.
Leicester has a long history in textiles, hosiery and shoemaking. Students on De Montfort university’s world-renowned footwear design course have been busy making a pair of shoes for the Duchess of Cambridge, and the royal party will watch a fashion show at the university. They will also hear about De Montfort’s Square Mile project, which aims to help local residents in Newfoundpool, Fosse and Woodgate, which are in my constituency. Students from Leicester college, including my constituent Amrik Mudher, will then help to make the royal lunch at St Martin’s house before the visitors proceed to Leicester cathedral and our historic clock tower.
We in Leicester treasure our history, we celebrate our present and we are confident about the future. There is a huge sense of anticipation and excitement about tomorrow’s visit. I know that tomorrow the citizens of Leicester will give the Queen, in the 60th year of her reign, a welcome of which our whole city, and country, can be proud.
It is a great privilege to be called to speak in this debate and thereby have an opportunity to pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, both on my own part as her humble subject and on behalf of the residents of Suffolk Coastal. For so many of us, she is the only monarch we have ever known, and what a wonderful example she has set of service, of family and of true commitment to our United Kingdom. Members of my family proudly serve in the armed forces, and the Queen also served during world war two, showing that what was good enough for her subjects was good enough for her. The example she set then was an important part of the national war effort.
I also pay tribute to the Queen’s steadfast consort, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. It is fantastic that he has recovered from his recent minor illness, and I am delighted that he will be starting the jubilee tour with his wife tomorrow in Leicester.
I pay tribute to the Queen for her visit to the Republic of Ireland last year. I wonder whether Her Majesty will ever realise the true extent of the impact she made. It may be a little controversial to say that it was a great parliamentarian, Cromwell, who tore Ireland apart. I think that the Queen’s visit last year will have gone a long way towards restoring the relationship between our two great nations.
I do not pretend to have had any contact with Her Majesty, but we have heard some wonderful insights and amusing anecdotes today. I do know, however, that the people who receive honours from her and those who attend her garden parties are thrilled to do so, as are all the people who queue up as I did as little girl in 1977—I also got a commemorative mug—and line the streets of Liverpool, Wrexham and other places because we want to see our monarch. The only times that I have had any contact with Her Majesty are when she was gracious enough to grant Royal Assent to a private Member’s Bill of mine, and thereby make it an Act of Parliament, and, of course, when I swore the oath to take office here in Parliament for the first time.
I think it is fair to say that Her Majesty has also touched the world. She is the Head of State for over a quarter of the world’s population. That is celebrated in Commonwealth week and at the Commonwealth games—and I hope she will open the Olympic games later this year. I encourage colleagues to take the opportunity of diamond jubilee week to host a Commonwealth day reception in their constituencies, to mark the Queen’s contribution not only to our country, but around the world.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) said, there have been many changes during Her Majesty’s reign. When the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), mentioned TV sets, I remembered my mother telling me that the coronation was the first time she watched television. In Wrexham, people crowded into one particular shop, because the shopkeeper had bought a television just to be able to watch that ceremony, which changed history. Many other things have changed—one of my favourite dishes, coronation chicken, was invented for that day and is one of its lasting legacies.
We cannot praise Her Majesty’s service to our country too highly. She is a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother. As has been said, she enjoys the company of dogs and horses, and on a visit to Suffolk earlier in the year, she went to Newmarket. On Her Majesty’s special weekend, we will all join her in celebrating what is great about our country. I am sure that she will continue to serve us for years to come.
The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) made a fine comment about His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, who will begin the royal tour tomorrow on schedule. We all welcome that news.
It is a great pleasure to attend this debate and to listen so many fine and noble speeches. I was impressed by the speeches of the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). I remember the death of George VI, but not the radio broadcast by his kinsman the following night. I certainly remember the Queen’s coronation and the feeling in the country that we were entering a new Elizabethan era. That era has lasted longer than anyone would have imagined and has been to our country’s credit and honour.
Many right hon. and hon. Members have described their personal experiences of the Queen, the Duke and the rest of the royal family. I first visited Buckingham palace in 1984, accompanied by my wife. I saw the very first copy of Disraeli’s “Sybil, or The Two Nations” in an exhibition of manuscripts from Windsor castle. Her Majesty and Prince Philip came along and talked to us all very nicely. Dame Angela Rumbold, a former Minister of the Crown and Member of Parliament, was also there. Her husband, John, died recently, which is a great sadness to us all. Angela and I were officially paired in the House, and when I proudly told the Duke that, he turned to my wife and asked, “And you have an official pair, my dear?” He had that twinkle in his eye that I am not quite sure about. Fortunately for me, however, my wife held her peace.
Her Majesty visited Middlesbrough in 1992, when she and the Duke were touring the British isles for the last time on the royal yacht Britannia—former Prime Minister Tony Blair came to regret the decision to abandon the yacht. The yacht was docked in Hartlepool, but Her Majesty visited my Middlesbrough constituency, where she opened a children’s playground at Pallister park. The Queen clearly has greater knowledge of our parliamentary system than some Members, because she looked at me and said, “The Whips have let you off today, have they?”
One of my constituents asked me if I had been invited to a dinner on the royal yacht that evening. I somewhat shyly and diffidently said that my wife and I had, indeed, been invited. My constituent said, “I sent her a cruet set for her 40th anniversary. Will you ask her if she received it, and if she uses it?” It is always wise to seek to do a constituent’s bidding, of course, but I must admit that my courage failed me on that occasion.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) described various mistakes made in the Queen’s presence. I have often said to people that one thing we must never do is address the Queen; we must wait for her to address us. On one occasion, commanded again to Buckingham palace, I stood in line to be introduced. When my turn came, I blurted out: “Your Majesty, I am your Second Church Estates Commissioner.” She replied, “Oh, really.” It took me some time to get over that. Later on, however, she came up to me and asked what the General Synod had been discussing last weekend—the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) will have taken note of that—which made me feel a lot better.
I was Her Majesty’s Second Church Estates Commissioner for 13 years, and I saw very clearly her dedication and devotion to her duties to state and to Church—my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn also mentioned that. I remember her opening the General Synod at Westminster abbey. She is, of course, Supreme Governor of the Church of England through her coronation oath, which dates back to the time of Henry VIII. I saw how she looked at the people around her and took in the atmosphere. It was clear that she enjoyed the event; she was smiling in enjoyment and pleasure at her role as Supreme Governor—in marked contrast to what happened at the opening of the millennium dome, to which the Prime Minister referred.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) mentioned the Queen’s interest in other faiths. When she visited Lambeth palace on 15 February, she talked of nine families of faith. She referred to the significant position of the Church of England in our nation’s life and its duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.
I have referred to various visits to Buckingham palace, and I would not wish to omit the final visit I made to see Her Majesty there with other Members of Parliament. We do get invited to Buckingham palace from time to time. On this occasion I was with a group of MPs that included the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing), who I am sure would not miss this occasion today, when Her Majesty came to talk to us. Three years later, it was our time again, and the hon. Member for Epping Forest— now a friend—said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Her Majesty came along and spoke to us again?” I spoke to the equerry and he managed to get Her Majesty to come and speak to us, and the hon. Lady said, “Your Majesty, we were together three years ago and you spoke to us then.” Her Majesty uttered the immortal words, “And we are all still here,” and so, 60 years on from her coronation, are Her Majesty and the Duke. It has been a mighty achievement for a monarch to reign for 60 years and that is why we pay tribute to Her Majesty and the Duke. We wish her well in her reign and we look back in satisfaction and gratitude at the service she has rendered to this country.
I am very happy to verify the story of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell). In supporting the Humble Address may I say that those of us who strive to show that there should be no barriers to a woman being able to achieve all that a man can achieve have in Her Majesty a shining example and a wonderful inspiration?
May I add my support to the sentiments expressed by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition following recent devastating events in Afghanistan? We must never forget that those who serve are the lions of our country. We owe them all an enormous debt of gratitude and I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families of those who have tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan.
It is an honour to speak in today’s Humble Address to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. As Her Majesty prepares to begin the next chapter in her remarkable history, it is right that we remind ourselves of the changes to the country and the world that have accompanied her most distinguished reign on the British throne. While the world has changed at a rapid rate, the Queen has struck the balance perfectly between stability and tradition versus change and modernisation. She reigns steadfast in her belief in duty, commitment and loyalty, steadfast in her belief in peace and prosperity both at home and overseas, and steadfast as a mother and grandmother who works tirelessly for her nation and her family. The Queen has served her country dutifully and with a quiet dignity and grace. I know that the Queen’s support for our armed forces really does matter to them and their families, especially on days such as today. I believe that the Queen’s service is best defined by one word—duty.
Her Majesty is undoubtedly formidable, but we know that she also has a sense of humour. I recall a story about a mayoress from a town that shall remain nameless, although I will say that it was not Barnsley, who showed the Queen around a refurbished town hall. During the tour, the Queen and mayoress arrived at an open cabinet containing a rather formal robe, which prompted the Queen to ask, “What is that robe for?” The mayoress replied, “This is our ceremonial robe, but we only use it for very special occasions.” A wry smile from the Queen said all that needed to be said.
In complex and challenging times for Britain and the world, the Queen has remained a reassuring constant. Her Majesty has worked tirelessly to support all her Prime Ministers and to build strong working relationships with countless foreign Heads of State and leaders of the Commonwealth countries. The Queen is well placed to head a country that has culture, the arts, heritage, design and technology at its core. Around the world, portraits of the Queen have become synonymous with the traditions of the British monarchy. Rolf Harris and Lucien Freud, to name just two, have had the opportunity to paint Her Majesty. Oh to have been a fly on the wall during one of Freud’s sittings with Her Majesty!
As we move into 2012, Her Majesty will inspire her nation again. In July, she will become the third British monarch officially to open the London Olympic games, following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, Edward VII, in 1908 and her father, George VI, in 1948. Before that, the nation will gather to celebrate the diamond jubilee. In South Yorkshire, we will celebrate with festivals and street parties. Over the next 12 months, the eyes of the world will be on the Queen to inspire her people. I am confident, as, I am sure, are the whole House and the whole country, that she will, as ever, with a grace and devotion to duty that is admired and respected the world over, once more make this country very proud.
It is a great privilege to have this opportunity, on behalf of the Witham constituency, to support the Humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen.
In October 2010, my constituency was honoured by the first visit of Her Majesty to that part of Essex for a generation. She came to visit Wilkin and Sons in Tiptree, which has a royal warrant. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, the company makes the finest jams and preserves in the world. In the weeks leading up to the visit, the air of excitement and anticipation was immense. That seems unimaginable in today’s era of short-term celebrity culture, but business men, schoolchildren and pensioners were all enthused and excited about her presence in Tiptree. The visit brought everyone together as nothing else could and blew us all away on the day. It is a testament to her remarkable character that everyone who met her felt inspired and delighted that the Queen had engaged in conversation with them. Despite the fact that that visit was only one of the hundreds she makes each year, everyone felt special to have spent time with Her Majesty.
Just as Tiptree celebrated Her Majesty’s visit, people across my constituency are now embracing the diamond jubilee celebrations. Witham town council has organised a competition for local schoolchildren to design a logo to mark this momentous occasion. With so many events, street parties and activities taking place in her honour, we can see that Her Majesty is perhaps the only living person who can command this level of respect and loyalty and bring our great nation together.
It is absolutely fitting, with the celebrations taking place across the country and the Commonwealth, that the House should pay its own tribute to the 60 years of selfless service that Her Majesty has given to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. She has relentlessly promoted Britain throughout the world, and there is barely a corner of the earth that she has not reached. Her Majesty has supported numerous charities and great causes throughout our country. She has acted as a confidante to a dozen Prime Ministers throughout her reign and done tremendous work. Her strong work ethic is inspiring, and her eternal optimism for this country is a great source of comfort in an era of change. As her visit to my constituency demonstrated, our sovereign lady is a true believer in the people and businesses that make our country the greatest in the world. Her Majesty is the embodiment of the British spirit, and long may her reign continue.
My reason for speaking is that I have lived under four monarchs, and I would like to present a view that will represent a diversity of opinion in the country, which probably has not been expressed so far in the debate. A Head of State wearing a green dress and bowing her head to Croke Park was a very powerful symbol of reconciliation, which I believe will have a profound effect on healing the wounds that have disfigured life in the island of Ireland for generations.
The Queen is still working, doing a full-time job, having been born in 1926. What a splendid example to the nation and to the House, which has just two hon. Members who are octogenarians. Their distinguished contributions should ensure that we encourage greater diversity in the House. It is one area where we fail. Great progress has been made; there is a larger proportion of women Members and more Members from the minorities, although not yet enough, but we fail dismally on the number of people who can remember what it was like before there was a health service, for instance. We should look with gratitude to the Queen for providing a magnificent example.
My third positive point is from the writings of Robert Rhodes James, a former Member for Cambridge and a respected historian. He raised a fascinating point about the feelings in the Conservative party when Mrs Thatcher’s premiership was coming to an end. He wrote of concern in Conservative circles that Mrs Thatcher might decide to call a general election, acting in her own interests rather than those of the nation, and that the Conservative party, the House and the Cabinet would not be able to stop her. The only person who could have stopped her was the Head of State, and I believe all of us agree that the Queen’s strength of character and the fact that she had served many other Prime Ministers would give us full confidence that she was the best person in that situation or any situation when a Prime Minister decided to act in his or her interests rather than the interests of the country.
Another tradition is represented in this country, certainly in my constituency when, in 1839, a group of Chartists demonstrated and their purpose was not entirely benign towards Queen Victoria. Twenty of them were shot. It is right that we look at the relationship between the sovereign and ourselves in a modern Parliament. One welcomes the fact that a new coat of arms will be added to the many already displayed in the House, but sadly there is virtually no pictorial depiction of the struggles for democracy by the Chartists, the Tolpuddle martyrs, the suffragettes and others who shaped the rich and strong democracy we have today. We should put that right.
The speeches that have been made so far have been sincere and heartfelt, and virtually all were true, but if someone wants to be critical, they are not allowed to be. If a monarch, or just a relative of the monarch, strayed from the paths of sainthood and perfection, it would be impossible for a Member of the House to be critical of that person. That is not sensible. If that circumstance should arise, we should be allowed to talk freely if words of criticism are necessary.
It is right, too, that the quarter of the population who describe themselves as republican should have their views heard. We know that figure is reflected in the membership of the House. When there was a debate some years ago about whether there should be an alternative Oath, more than 100 Members voted for it. To avoid the verbal rigmarole that republicans have to go through when taking the Oath, we should have an alternative.
Finally, I am sure that even with the history of my city, where republicanism has existed for at least 200 years, all the people I represent, whether they see themselves as subjects or citizens, royalists or republicans, will wish the Queen well on this occasion.
On behalf of my constituents of Romford and Hornchurch, I rise in support of the Prime Minister in the Humble Address to the Queen, and add my congratulations and heartfelt thanks to her Majesty for her service and dedication to our nation in this, the 60th year of her reign as our Head of State, sovereign and defender of the faith.
The diamond jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen will be a wonderful celebration for all the people of these islands, and a truly historic occasion for British people throughout the world. Let us remember that although Her Majesty is dear to all of us in this country, she is also loved by millions across the globe. The Queen reigns over not only the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but 15 other realms, five Crown dependencies and 16 overseas territories, and 11 external territories of which Australia and New Zealand are sovereign; in total, 135 million people throughout 48 realms and territories, representing more than 18.8 million square miles of the world remain under the Crown.
From the Arctic north of Canada to the British Antarctic Territory at the most southerly end of the planet, from Norfolk island on the eastern side of the Pacific to the Pitcairn islands on the western side, from the Caribbean to the Indian ocean, and from the Falkland Islands of the south Atlantic to the Rock of Gibraltar, people across the world will be celebrating this joyful occasion. Today, in this mother of Parliaments, let us remember all Her Majesty’s loyal subjects from every corner of the globe, and together celebrate our shared heritage, represented so magnificently by Queen Elizabeth II.
On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I add our congratulations to the Queen and wish her well on the tremendous occasion of her 60th jubilee.
This is my second speech on an Humble Address; the other was six years ago on the occasion of the Queen’s 80th birthday. Of the six Members who contributed that day, only two have done so again today: the Prime Minister did so from a different position, but I speak from the same place and am happy to provide continuity for the Humble Address.
Her Majesty has had a long and impressive reign. I noted from a recent TV documentary that 60 years ago she pledged to serve the “imperial family”. Time has moved on, and so has the Queen, although not her inner gracious qualities and decorum. The imperial family has changed into a Commonwealth, as the Prime Minister noted earlier, and Her Majesty is now Queen of 16 independent states, a number that may be added to in coming years—a veritable growing family.
In the year of Her Majesty’s 80th birthday, six years ago, she cruised around the Hebrides—my constituency, Na h-Eileanan an Iar—perhaps her favourite destination in all her realms. Before she becomes our longest reigning monarch—God willing—on 9 September 2015, I hope that she may again have the opportunity to cruise around the Hebrides, as this year may be a bit busy for her.
In my childhood it was always a high point when Her Majesty visited the islands south of Barra, and travelled there in peace, and the three masts of the royal yacht Britannia were visible behind the hills when it was anchored in Vatersay bay.
Finally, I say in Gaelic—the old but also the modern language of Scotland—“Meallaibh ar naidheachd a Bhanrighinn Elasdaid is tha mi an dochas gum bi ioma Bliadhna sona roimhibh.”
Opening today’s debate on the Humble Address, the Prime Minister mentioned how much Her Majesty enjoys the Braemar gathering, which takes place in my constituency. The secret of the success to which we have paid tribute today is the royal family’s ability to recharge the batteries in the highland retreat of Balmoral in the heart of my constituency. On behalf of the many neighbours who live in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, I associate myself with the remarks made today. I wish Her Majesty well in her diamond jubilee and support the Humble Address.
I support the very gracious words of the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
It seems to me that if we were political scientists creating a state, as we did after the second world war, we would not begin with a monarchy in this day and age. It is an irrational, arbitrary, often deranged institution that depends upon the luck of genes, and it does not always work out well for the country, but not in this case. We must also, it seems, be careful about aligning too closely the history and identity of Britain with the history and identity of monarchy. Royal families come and go; some have very strong connections with the nation, others very weak ones—indeed, some do not even speak the same language as we do.
But there is no doubt that in the post-war years the monarchy of Queen Elizabeth II closely aligned itself with the changing history and identity of Britain, and often for the most curious reasons. On the one hand, Her Majesty was lucky. History is clear that those who do not wait around for the throne—those who have it thrust upon them at an early age—often prove to be among the most successful of our monarchs. In terms of longevity and achievement, being a queen rather than a king also plays well, particularly for the history of England. Added to that have been the remarkable personal virtues that have been spelled out so effectively by right hon. and hon. Members: patience, dignity, resolve, discretion, duty.
What has been so remarkable in Her Majesty’s reign has been the ability to let the monarchy assist in the transformation of post-war Britain. On her watch, Britain has changed from a predominantly Protestant, white and hierarchical society to a multi-cultural, mixed-race, secular nation inherently hostile towards privilege and inherited position. And yet, through all these extraordinary social and cultural upheavals, which have seen monarchies come and go on the continent, Her Majesty has managed to retain the nation’s abiding affection and provided some sense of the unity of values that we have discussed.
This is partly the product of the nature of monarchy, which is non-sectarian, imperial and then Commonwealth in its reach, curiously suited for the identities of a diffuse, globalised age. Similarly, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) suggested, one of the ironies of the Queen’s strength is her sense of faith in a multi-religious age, a deep commitment to the Church of England and its teachings; providing that official sanction for faith provides space for other faiths to express themselves. At times of repeated difficulties, the Queen has wisely kept the monarchy outside politics and stuck to the old royal aphorism that Ministers are king in this country.
But the work goes on. The monarchy and Her Majesty’s Government are going to have to deal very deftly with the growing calls for republican autonomy in former colonies, as we heard so recently in Jamaica and, inevitably, in Australia. The House of Windsor will also have to confront the challenge of separatism within the UK and perhaps the return to a fully federal vision of monarchy. There is certainly more to be done on both physical and intellectual access to the royal estates, their archives and their histories, but none of this should be an insurmountable challenge.
Finally, I am always wary when the House is too reverential towards monarchy. We should, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who has departed, suggested, also speak to our different traditions. We should have a healthy respect but also a critical eye on the actions of the sovereign and on the sovereign’s finances, power and estate. We have our own history and identity in this place, a democratic rather than monarchical heritage that Britain also speaks to. As such, we can all pay deep respects to the enormous personal contribution of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
I can say that particularly from my constituency, Stoke-on-Trent, where the order books are strong and employment is up on the back of this summer’s celebrations. In the Potteries the kilns are hot for the diamond jubilee and, on behalf of my constituents, I am delighted to add my support to the Humble Address.
May I associate myself with the comments of the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the sad loss in Afghanistan today? One of the soldiers was a member of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, and my thoughts are with the family and all those who have given their lives—the ultimate sacrifice—in fighting for Afghanistan.
I support the Humble Address today. Before I came into the House, I served Her Majesty the Queen and Duke of Lancaster as a member of the Scots Guards for nine years, and I am currently a member of the Queen’s bodyguard for Scotland. Now that our colleagues, the Scottish National party, have become monarchists too, perhaps there is less cause for me to use that body to guard Her Majesty in future.
I saw behind the scenes of the monarchy in my time before entering politics. We in the House know more than most that it is not easy to make people feel special on their occasion. It is not easy to show interest in the things they do every day, which they take to be so important. It is not easy to live under the daily gaze of the media, both in private life and in public life. We do this on occasion, but Her Majesty the Queen has done it for 60 years. Her family does it every day.
Not only does Her Majesty do that to the highest standard, but she leaves everybody she meets with the feeling that they have been touched by the monarchy and by the nation. When people are given an award by Her Majesty the Queen, it is not because of politics or favour but because our nation values what they do. That is something that she herself embodies. She also leaves with all of us a story of our encounters with the Queen or members of the royal family.
On one occasion I was the officer of the guard at Buckingham palace and I had to accompany Her Majesty the Queen to an investiture. I was at that time seeking a seat in the Scottish Parliament and I had been for the selection meeting on the Monday at Balmoral, in Crathie, to try and stand for the seat of West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine in the Scottish Parliament. I was not lucky and did not get through to the final round. However, Her Majesty the Queen asked me what I had done and I said that I had been up in her neck of the woods, but unfortunately I thought that members of the selection board thought I was a bit too young. She said, “I think they should think again.” The next day I got a phone call, to be told that the shortlist of two was too small and would be expanded to five. I was then selected as the Conservative candidate for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and elected to the Scottish Parliament, and perhaps that is why I am standing here today.
The Queen also embodies the Sandhurst tradition of serve to lead, which is all about public duty. She taught me at Sandhurst that you give yourself to lead your country. Perhaps she is the true inspiration of the big society. We forget so much about the value and importance of public duty. People today need more stability. They need less politics, not more, and they need impartiality. Her Majesty the Queen has provided all that for our nation, and she has allowed our nation to feel secure in itself and to continue to achieve the greatness that this country achieves and stands for throughout the world.
On behalf of all the armed forces that I served with and the veterans whom I now represent in Lancashire, and my constituents in the Duchy of Lancaster and my constituency, Wyre and Preston North, I wish Her Majesty a happy and successful diamond jubilee, and long may she reign.
I add my support to the motion in the name of the Prime Minister and express my best wishes to Her Majesty the Queen in her diamond jubilee year. I recognise the very important contribution she has made to this country over that time and also to our relationships with other nations around the world. It is a remarkable and inspiring achievement that 60 years on from her accession to the throne, she continues to serve with undiminished energy, vigour, dedication and grace.
Other Members have highlighted the Queen’s service and dedication in many spheres of national life, but in my brief remarks I wish to focus on just one example that is of particular importance to me and those I represent, and to which the Prime Minister has already referred. Other Members have spoken of the changing times during which the Queen has reigned. Even during my lifetime we have witnessed some remarkable improvements in relations between Ireland and Britain, particularly over the past few years. However, the state visit to Ireland last year, hosted by the former President, Mary McAleese, which was the first state visit by a British monarch to that state in 100 years, lifted those relationships to an entirely new level and, I believe, have helped to make a tangible contribution to the building of a more shared and prosperous future in Northern Ireland.
Although the success of that historic royal visit was the result of detailed planning, careful management, sensitive choreography and strong political leadership, it was also in no small measure due to the unique warmth of the relationship between those two female Heads of State, who engaged with each other and with the hugely emotive and sensitive issues raised by the visit with the kind of dignity and humility that should mark our approach to all such difficult issues. The transformational effects that the powerful images and thoughtful reflections on our nations’ shared history generated by the visit had on healing the wounds of our difficult past are significant not only in their own right, but in laying out a template and a tone for our future engagement with each other. It was a vivid demonstration of the power of reconciliation and the generosity required for real leadership.
Although that special contribution was a very small part of her past 60 years of service to this country, I believe that it was nevertheless of huge value in Northern Ireland and in these islands and therefore deserves particular recognition as we mark this historic occasion. I pay tribute to the Queen and to Prince Philip for their service to date and wish them God’s richest blessing in the years ahead.
On behalf of my constituents, I want to describe how the Queen comes across to a great many of us. I have never met Her Majesty, and until I attended a garden party last year I had never seen her in the flesh. Indeed, even then I saw her only from a distance. That is the great experience of many of my constituents and many in this country. However, one thing overrides all that. Many people regard Her Majesty almost as a member of the family, because they know her so well. In a time of crisis she is always there on our television screens. Indeed, Christmas day simply would not be Christmas day without Her Majesty’s 3 o’clock address.
One thing that shines out about having a monarch who is well above the political process is what she does when we have disasters and tragedies in our country, such as the tragic events of 7 July 2005. When she was able to visit the hospital and meet the people who had been so tragically and grievously wounded, the country was able to share in its mourning behind Her Majesty, a lady who is in no way linked to political organisations. During the Falklands war, when some suggested that it was simply too dangerous for her son to be sent into conflict, Her Majesty, never one to shy away from responsibility, would hear nothing of it. She said that he was a serving member of the armed forces and so would go and do his duty. With that comes the respect of the nation and of those who serve Her Majesty and this country. I will keep this short: on behalf of my constituents in Elmet and Rothwell, I simply say “God save the Queen.”
As the Member of Parliament for Britain’s oldest recorded town and the first capital of Roman Britain, I wish to be associated with the Address and much of what has been said. I can recall being a five-year-old at Myland primary school when King George VI died. I can also remember 16 months later seeing television for the first time and watching the coronation at a family friend’s house in Mile End in Colchester.
Like others, I wish to pay tribute not only to Her Majesty the Queen, but to the Duke of Edinburgh for all his support over the years. In particular, I want to mention the support that both have given to many youth organisations over the past 60 years. As a Queen’s scout, I will mention the scout movement and the guide movement. Of course, as Princess Elizabeth, our Queen was a girl guide, and there are other youth organisations that she and Prince Philip have supported. Of the many charities and organisations that she is directly associated with as a patron, I wish to mention LEPRA, the international charity tackling leprosy around the world, whose international headquarters are based in my constituency.
The Queen has made three visits to Colchester in her glorious reign, and I have had the pleasure of witnessing all of them: first as a pupil at St Helena secondary modern school for boys; secondly as deputy mayor of Colchester; and thirdly as the town’s MP. On two occasions the Queen has also visited the university of Essex in Colchester, an institution of which you, Mr Speaker, have fond memories as both a graduate and an honorary graduate. You will know that it is the most international of Britain’s universities. I think it is a safe bet that every Commonwealth country will at some stage be represented there, if they are not already, because over 120 nationalities are represented there. The Queen has also been a great supporter of our armed forces. As I represent the garrison town of Colchester, I wish to associate the garrison with my greetings to Her Majesty.
I am a constitutional monarchist. When we look at Presidents of the United States and of France, I think we see that constitutional monarchy has more than the edge. Finally, 2000 years ago Colchester was a Roman city. In the mists of time, somehow that status was lost. It would be marvellous if in this the diamond jubilee year the city status could be restored.
When the first Queen Elizabeth made her golden speech back in 1601, she acknowledged that, more than anything else, it was the affection of her people that had sustained her through her long reign. Addressing one of your predecessors, Mr Speaker, she said:
“And, though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my Crown, that I have reigned with your loves.”
Over 400 years later, in our age of constitutional monarchy, we are fortunate indeed to have a monarch who, like her illustrious predecessor, has always understood that it is the affection of her people that is most important. The solemn oath that Her Majesty took at her coronation has been and is being fulfilled in every possible way. May I, on behalf of my constituents, offer praise and thanks for her 60 years of service as our Queen and head of the Commonwealth? She has truly lived a life triumphant. May God save our diamond Queen.
I join others in congratulating Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her diamond jubilee. As you know, Mr Speaker, this is a unique occasion, because normally we are not allowed to mention members of the royal family in this place. For 60 years Her Majesty, beyond all call of duty, has managed to be charming to her subjects. Having spent half that number of years in public service, I certainly find it a strain to be pleasant to people morning, noon and night. As I represent the constituency with the largest number of centenarians in the country, I can tell the House that they greatly look forward to the telegram they receive from Her Majesty the Queen—my own mother, Maud, is looking forward to her telegram on 2 May. Finally, I have a question for your good self, Mr Speaker: when Her Majesty celebrates her 100th birthday, who will send her a telegram? Long may she reign over us.
Question put and agreed to, nemine contradicente.
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty on the occasion of the Sixtieth Anniversary of Her Accession to the Throne.
That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the whole House.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This has been an important day, and we have just had an excellent debate. It is therefore disappointing that the Department for Work and Pensions chose this occasion to release, after the Prime Minister sat down, an announcement stating that two thirds of Remploy factories in this country will now close. That is a matter of great concern to Members on both sides of the House. Have you, Sir, received any request for an oral statement on this subject, and if not how may we now bring Ministers to this House to account for that callous decision?
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am seeking to do so, because you know that earlier this week I raised the matter of the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), coming to the Remploy factory in my constituency. All the staff there, many of whom are very vulnerable members of society, have been deeply disturbed by the way in which she came into the office and left. They did not know whether there was going to be an announcement today; the written ministerial statement is simply called “Employment Support”. This has been sneaked out, it is unfair to treat disabled people in this country in that way, and the Minister is wandering around all the radio studios this afternoon. It is a disgrace. We should be treated better, and disabled people in this country should be treated better.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This afternoon, in the Welsh Assembly, Labour’s Minister, Leighton Andrews, who is not responsible for this policy, will be standing, will be making an oral statement and will be open to questions from democratically elected Members of that Assembly. Yet here, in this place, we have the disgrace of a Minister who sneaks out a written statement. I am unable to question that Minister on the 47 loyal staff in Bridgend. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is unable to question her about the 74 staff in Porth, who also serve my constituency, or about the nine other factories throughout Wales which are threatened.
That is a disgrace, and I genuinely seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, because on a day when we have just spent, quite rightly, some time on an Humble Address to Her Majesty, an institution as venerable as Remploy—with people as loyal as its workers—has not received the courtesy of being addressed within this place. I know that you are a guardian of this House. I hope that you can help us.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Just a few weeks ago we had a Back-Bench business debate about Remploy. Dozens of my colleagues took part in it, and it is extremely discourteous of the Minister to fail to come to this House and explain to us exactly what is happening to the organisation. At my local Remploy factory in Aberdare, 42 people are going to lose their jobs, in a job market where there are no jobs. It is an utter disgrace to do that to disabled people at the moment, as it is for the Minister to offer a briefing in room W4 between 3 and 4 o’clock this afternoon, out of sight of all the people in this Chamber and away from the television cameras. It will not do, and I ask you to call the Minister to this House to explain what the policy is all about.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Those people are some of the most vulnerable workers in my constituency, and they were sacked by the Minister at 12.36 pm today through a written statement that was sent to the Library. Offering a briefing in private, when my constituents want to hear the justification for their losing their jobs, is not good enough, and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Maria Miller), should be ashamed of herself. She should come here and, if she is making the right decision, make the arguments.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday I raised the future of Remploy with the Chancellor at Treasury Question Time. There was no inkling of any sudden announcement of a mass closure of 36 factories, with the Swansea factory closing down and 1,200 disabled people losing their jobs. Is it in order to make such a statement through the Library, without even a debate about the future of individual factories and their financial viability, given that we have lots of orders coming in, and without even an oral statement? At a time when we have spent so long, quite rightly, celebrating the diamond jubilee of our Queen, Remploy, along with the future job prospects of hundreds of disabled people, is subject to a clandestine, cloak and dagger assassination. It is an absolute disgrace.
I am grateful to Members for their points of order, and I note what the hon. Lady has just said, and what the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) said, about the possibility of something being offered to the House by way of a statement later in the day. I can offer no encouragement on that front. I simply make the following points. First, the House knows the importance I attach—the premium that I attach—to statements being made to the House, and to a proper judgment being made as to the