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Her Majesty the Queen

Volume 599: debated on Wednesday 9 September 2015

We begin today with speeches to mark Her Majesty the Queen becoming our longest serving monarch.

Today, Her Majesty the Queen becomes the country’s longest reigning monarch. It is of course typical of her selfless sense of service that she would have us treat this day just like any other. While I rarely advocate disobeying Her Majesty, least of all in her own Parliament, I do think that it is right that today we should stop and take a moment as a nation to mark this historic milestone and to thank Her Majesty for the extraordinary service that she has given to our country over more than six decades.

Her Majesty the Queen inspires us all with her incredible service, her dignified leadership and the extraordinary grace with which she carries out her duties, and I would like to say a word about each.

On her 21st birthday, in a radio broadcast from Cape Town, over fours years before she would accede to the throne, the then Princess dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth. She said:

“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”

It is one thing for a 21 year old to utter those inspiring words, and another to live by them for more than 60 years. For all of us in this Chamber who seek to play our part in public service, it is truly humbling to comprehend the scale of service that Her Majesty the Queen has given to this country.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth has been a golden thread running through three post-war generations. She has presided over more than two thirds of our history as a full democracy with everyone being able to vote. When I was born, Her Majesty had already been reigning for 14 years. When the Father of this House—our longest-serving Member—was first elected to this Chamber, Her Majesty had already been Queen for 18 years.

In 63 years and 216 days, she has worked with 12 Prime Ministers, six Archbishops of Canterbury and nine Cabinet Secretaries. She has answered 3.5 million pieces of correspondence, sent more than 100,000 telegrams to centenarians across the Commonwealth and met more people than any other monarch in history. And yet whether it is something we suspect that she enjoys, such as the Highland games, or something we suspect that she might be less keen on, such as spending new year’s eve in the millennium dome, she never, ever falters. Her selfless sense of service and duty have earned her unparalleled respect and admiration not only in Britain, but around the world.

Turning to her leadership, Her Majesty exemplifies the unique combination of tradition and progress that has come to define us as a nation. She has been a rock of stability in an era in which our country has changed so much, providing an enduring focal point for all her people. She has also recognised the need to embrace change. As she said in an address to both Houses of Parliament back on her golden jubilee in 2002:

“For if a jubilee becomes a moment to define an age, then for me we must speak of change...Change has become a constant; managing it has become an expanding discipline. The way we embrace it defines our future.”

Her Majesty’s contribution to shaping the future of the Commonwealth has been particularly extraordinary. Some doubted whether this organisation would succeed, but she has assiduously supported it, growing it from just seven members in 1952 to 53 today. She has played the leading role in building a unique family of nations that spans every continent, all the main religions and nearly a third of the world’s population. As a diplomat and an ambassador for Britain, it is hard to overstate what she has done for our country. She has represented us on 265 official visits to 116 different countries, including making 22 visits to Canada alone. From her post-apartheid visit to South Africa to her state visit to Ireland, we have seen time and again how the presence and judicious words of Her Majesty can build partnership and progress like no other. Her Majesty is held in deep affection by leaders around the world, and even ardent republicans fall under her spell.

As we commemorate this historic milestone, I know that Her Majesty would want us to pay a particular tribute to the service and support of her whole family, not least the Duke of Edinburgh who has stood by her side every day of her reign. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

Throughout her long service, the Queen has carried herself with an extraordinary grace and presence. She has led a gentle evolution of our monarchy, bringing it closer to the people while maintaining its dignity. She pioneered the first televised Christmas day message more than 30 years before we allowed cameras into this House. She opened up the royal collection and palaces, and she invented the royal walkabout, so that she could meet more people on her visits. People who meet the Queen often talk about it for the rest of their lives, and I am sure that I speak for all of my 11 predecessors when I say that going to see the Queen to form a Government and then meeting her once a week is one of the most enjoyable, inspiring and humbling honours of this office.

When I joined Her Majesty for her state visit to Germany earlier this year, I learnt that there are many female sovereigns that the Germans call “die Königin” but there is only one they call “die Queen”. In fact the German dictionary, the Duden, provides as its example sentence “the Queen is coming on a state visit to Berlin” and then offers one key grammatical prescript: there is no plural.

The Queen is our Queen and we could not be more proud of her. She has served this country with unerring grace, dignity and decency, and long may she continue to do so.

I am pleased to follow the Prime Minister’s tribute to Her Majesty the Queen. As he did, I want to start with her words when she was 21 years old:

“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”

Those words, remarkable from such a young woman, were a solemn vow to this country that she has kept through the 63 years and 218 days of her reign. She had not expected to succeed to the throne, but even before she was crowned she was clear that her life would be dedicated to the service of her country.

There can be no doubt about the commitment that she has made and the public service she has given and continues to give. Even today, at the age of 89, she is undertaking a public engagement. Her life has been a great sweep of British history—the second world war, the cold war and the fall of the Berlin wall—and she has presided over the transition from empire to Commonwealth. Her reign spans profound changes in all respects: in work life, family life, our communities and technology. She has gone from sending telegrams to sending tweets. At a time of so much change, her reign is the reassurance of continuity, a defining feature of this country both at home and abroad. At home, she has done thousands of official engagements, including visits, walkabouts, meeting and greeting the public and welcoming thousands to Buckingham Palace every year. In the one year of her golden jubilee, she visited 70 cities and towns across the country. There is a great commitment to her in every part of this country.

Abroad, she has been tireless in her international engagements, and in her long reign she has made official visits to more than 116 countries. It is no exaggeration to say that she is admired by billions of people all around the world, particularly in the Commonwealth, including those who come to live here in the UK, like many in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham. People respect the fact that she has stayed fastidiously neutral and above politics, yet at times she has played a significant role in key political moments, such as the extraordinary personal generosity she displayed during the peace process in Northern Ireland.

She is now on her 12th Prime Minister, although we on the Opposition Benches had hoped that she would now be on her 13th. She reigns over more than 140 million people, a huge number, nearly as large as the number of registered Labour party supporters. It is entirely characteristic of her that she has let it be known that she does not want a fuss to be made about today, but we are making a fuss, and deservedly so. We send her our warmest congratulations, our appreciation and, above all, our thanks.

I contribute to this tribute to Her Majesty with some trepidation, but as the Member responsible for the home of the British Army I hope that I might be allowed to say just a few words.

Her Majesty has been an absolute inspiration to our armed forces and her leadership and commitment to her duty has served our armed forces well. I endorse everything that the Prime Minister said, as I am sure we all do. She has been the embodiment of duty. When I look at my own diary, as I am sure we all do, and find that I have an invitation to that great event in the Aldershot constituency social calendar, the Farnborough donkey derby on bank holiday Monday, and when I consult Lady Howarth and ask whether we should go to the donkey derby, and she says, “But we went there last year,” I say, “And Her Majesty does all sorts of things every single year.” Her Majesty has done a fantastic service to this nation.

Every coin of the realm proclaims that Her Majesty is Queen, but there are two other letters and most of our people do not know what those two letters mean. They are FD. She may be the First Lord of the Treasury above my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but they do not stand for finance director. They stand for Fidei Defensor—Defender of the Faith. I think Her Majesty has lived up to her coronation oath more faithfully than any former sovereign of this realm, and she has been an inspiration to us in her faith.

All of us sit down at Christmas time and enjoy Her Majesty’s Christmas message not just to us and our constituents, but to the entire Commonwealth and the world. It is her faith which shines through unequivocally but quietly in her Christmas message, and it is her faith which has given her the strength to do all that she has done for our country. We should be a very grateful nation indeed to be served by a sovereign of such faith and commitment as Elizabeth II.

I well remember the day when King George VI died and the Queen flew back from east Africa, where she was undertaking a visit. She left this country as a Princess and she came back as a Queen, and her reign over this country ever since then has been exemplary not simply to our own country, but to all the world.

The Queen manages to combine stately behaviour with thorough hard work. She maintains this country as a democracy in a way that no President could conceivably do. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It is not simply that she is impartial, but she is beyond politics. She makes it possible for us to have a stable, democratic Government. I am not saying that she makes it possible to have an admirable Government, but that the great quality of Her Majesty is that we do not know what she thinks of the Government. She simply maintains it in a way that makes this country the greatest democracy in the world.

Not only does the Queen do her job carrying out public engagements, as she is doing today, but she works hard at carrying out those jobs. Recently she came to my constituency and visited Gorton monastery, a majestic building which had fallen into dereliction but which had been brought back to fruition as a public venue. She made herself available to people, she met people and she lunched with the people who had come, but what struck me most was the fact that she knew everything about the renovation of Gorton monastery and was able to discuss with those people who had brought it back into use the most minute facts about how that had happened. She is a wonderful Queen, she is an upholder of democracy, she is a hard worker, and we send our heartfelt wishes to her on this day.

Order. It might be for the convenience of the House to know that there are a further eight colleagues seeking to catch my eye, so consideration for each other will help.

It is a pleasure to follow the speeches that have already been made. I would like to state my gratitude to Her Majesty for a remarkable ongoing life of service and duty. Throughout her reign, she has served our country and our constituents with great grace and dignity.

I am one of only two MPs who represent Her Majesty’s private estates; in my case, Sandringham in west Norfolk. Under her passionate guidance, Sandringham has been transformed from a sleepy agricultural estate to one of the most thriving and diversified estates in Britain. Sixty years ago, the vast majority of its income would have come from agricultural rents. Today, the majority comes from tourism, leisure, museums, public access and property rents, all overseen by Her Majesty’s incredible eye for detail. Of course, there is still a very successful home farm, which sits alongside a world-class thoroughbred stud, where Her Majesty has meticulously built up numerous famous bloodstock lines.

Although Sandringham is very much a private retreat, the affairs of state are never too far away, with the relentless stream of red boxes. However, during her two or three visits a year, Her Majesty always finds time to attend a number of local events. For example, in recent years she has visited local schools, museums, charitable and other voluntary groups, and businesses. I have noticed that on these occasions, after she has talked with the mayor and the MP, she invariably wants to meet real people. As a result, there are probably more people in King’s Lynn and west Norfolk who have met Her Majesty than in any other part of the country.

On behalf of my constituency and the local community, I would like to put on the record my deep gratitude to Her Majesty for enhancing the lives of so many people and bringing joy to so many families. Long may she reign over us.

It is a pleasure to take part in these commemorative proceedings on this important day on behalf of the Scottish National party. We have seen many remarkable landmarks over Her Majesty’s long reign, during which there has been a transition from empire, with the independence of scores of nations, many of which have retained Her Majesty as Head of State, or which have a close connection through the Commonwealth.

Among all the statistics that I have seen, there is one exact figure that is missing—perhaps it is because no one could possibly keep tabs—and that relates to the literally millions of people the Queen has personally met. She has travelled the length and breadth of this kingdom over decades, performing her public duties and meeting people. She has regularly travelled to the 16 other states where she is Head of State, meeting people. She has visited 128 different countries during her 63-year-and-seven-month tenure. Since ascending to the throne in 1952, she has made 270 state and Commonwealth visits. Literally millions of people at home and overseas—over 4 million, by one account—have met her personally, and even more mind-boggling numbers have seen her on her visits and engagements.

Those of us who have had that honour will attest to her personal interest, attention, kindness and amazing ability to put people at their ease. That was evident the first time I had the honour to meet her. On learning that I was the Member of Parliament for Moray, she inquired whether I listened to Mr Wogan on the radio. I must confess that I was totally stumped, because I could not think of any obvious connection between Moray and Terry Wogan’s Radio 2 show. She saved me from my discomfort by explaining that Terry Wogan appeared to delight in the regularity of weather and traffic reports, which confirmed that the first road in the UK to close due to snow—probably in the autumn—was between Tomintoul in Moray and Cock Bridge, which is close to Balmoral.

Her Majesty, as we know, has a particular affinity with Scotland. She is known to delight in her stays at Balmoral, which is in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Stuart Donaldson). It is fitting that her record-long reign surpasses that of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who also had a tremendous affinity with Scotland in general, and with Balmoral in particular.

Today Her Majesty marks this landmark by being in Scotland, with the Duke of Edinburgh and the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, at the opening of the Scottish borders railway. It is the biggest rail project in more than a century, and perhaps since the reign of Queen Victoria. That the Queen is in Scotland on this special day, and working as usual, is much appreciated and totally in keeping with her remarkable record of public service.

Next year Her Majesty will celebrate her 90th birthday, and come 6 February 2022 she will become the first British monarch to celebrate a platinum jubilee. We look forward to that, wish her and her husband well for the future and share the appreciation for their public service over 63 years.

On behalf of the Church of England, I would like to pay tribute in this House to the Queen as head of the Church for the faithful and inspiring leadership she has provided to the Church, regularly speaking about the importance of her faith in her personal life and in her role—not just in the Christmas broadcast but all through the year. In the House of Lords, the Bishop of Peterborough will be placing a tribute, and up and down the country churches will be celebrating her long reign with services and other events. We wish her many more happy years to reign.

We as one today in this House pay tribute to Her Majesty. Her example of service, dedication and duty is now as unmatched as the length of her glorious reign. The Queen has, as the Prime Minister said, seen many Prime Ministers, archbishops and others, and indeed nine Speakers, come and go—and I am sure there are more to come.

We admire the steadfast way in which she has reigned over us. We respect the deep faith that has helped her to do so. Perhaps today we should remember the personal sacrifice involved. As has been mentioned, on her 18th birthday, in South Africa, the Queen swore, no matter how long or short her life, to devote it to the nation and to the Commonwealth. She has done so magnificently, with the enormous support of the Duke of Edinburgh. But her reign began sooner than she could ever have wished, as her beloved father, King George VI, who bore the crown in the darkest days of war, was taken from her and from us far too soon. That Her Majesty, in the face of such early sorrow, has never wavered is tribute to the strength of character we as a people have been so fortunate to enjoy in our wonderful monarch. We—her kingdoms, her subjects—are united in her, in love, loyalty and respect. Long live the Queen.

It is a great honour to be able to pay tribute to Her Majesty on this very important day. I have only managed to meet Her Majesty on two occasions; obviously in the years to come I expect an audience more regularly. On the first occasion I met her, she gave me advice on how to cope with casework. On the second occasion, on her visit to Kendal in Westmoreland, there was very nearly an incident when a very well-meaning local councillor, Councillor Walker, decided to—I can only say—lunge across a crowd of 30 or 40 people carrying a bar of Kendal mint cake to offer to Her Majesty, which she accepted with great grace, looking forward, I am sure, to enjoying it. I have to say that the security services were less excited—or rather very excited—by that lunge. I also thank Her Majesty for the occasion of her silver jubilee in 1977, when she gave me my first, and so far only, experience of being able to dance around a maypole.

We are, as a civilisation, very keen to categorise ourselves by our generations. Are we baby boomers; are we Thatcher’s children; are we generation X? The fact is that all of us here are New Elizabethans. We have all lived through that age—those 63 years and 216 days —when Queen Elizabeth II has reigned over us all. The values that she has embodied, which stand for all of us here, are about decency, about service, about civilisation, about stability, and about family. They are things that underpin our civilisation. It is all the more important that we recognise that Her Majesty occupies the most senior position in our society—indeed, the most privileged position in our society—but her conduct is marked by humility and service, not claiming the grandeur of office. On this great day, on behalf of my party and my county, I pay tribute to her service and her humility. Long live the Queen.

May I add the thanks of everybody involved in all the voluntary organisations and charities to which the Queen has given leadership and inspiration over the years?