Motion for an Humble Address
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to congratulate Her Majesty on the occasion of the Sixtieth Anniversary of Her Accession to the Throne.
My Lords, I beg to move than an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty the Queen, to congratulate Her Majesty on the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne, and that the Address be presented by the whole House on Tuesday 20 March in Westminster Hall.
This is a formal occasion for paying tribute to our head of state, but what I know will be evident in our national celebrations is the respect and admiration for the Queen personally felt by so many in this nation. She is not simply owed our respect as head of state, but she inspires our respect as an individual.
The Queen fulfils her role as head of state with grace and with firmness of purpose. At the core of that role is her enduring right to be consulted, to advise and to warn the Government, whether that Government is led by her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, or David Cameron, now her 12th Prime Minister.
The Queen has been careful to stand above politics at every turn. We take it for granted that we have no idea what our head of state personally thinks of any of the measures in the Queen’s Speech. Her discretion and impartiality when dealing with the Government are impeccable, and we should pay tribute to them.
The Queen is the fount of authority in this realm. She is the head of the Armed Forces, the judiciary, the Civil Service, the supreme governor of the Church of England. It is she, as monarch and an individual, who holds our state together. As well as that assurance of political independence and neutrality, the Queen provides each of those institutions with a valuable focus for loyalty which endures well beyond the reach of any election campaign. That focus for loyalty has been especially valuable for the Armed Forces in recent years, as they have seen more active service than in previous decades.
The same is true of the union itself. The Queen has been rightly careful not to be an English Queen. Indeed, dare I presume that if the Queen were to have a favourite place, the highlands might be that place? The Queen has regularly visited Northern Ireland throughout her reign—17 times, in fact. We should remember that the Troubles directly touched her family. More happily, she has now paid a welcome and deeply significant state visit to the Republic of Ireland.
The heart of the Queen’s role as head of state is her role in Parliament. It is the monarch who provides the daily authority for our sittings. Without the Mace on the Woolsack, we would not be the House of Lords but a collection of individuals. It is why we bow to the Cloth of Estate behind the Throne and to the Mace as it passes us in procession.
When the Queen is present in person, we have no need of the Mace. Next Tuesday, as the Queen arrives in Westminster Hall, a cloth will gracefully be pulled over the silver gilt of the Mace. Last week, the Queen gave Royal Assent to half a dozen Acts of Parliament—yes, a ceremonial formality, but a public assurance of due process and authority. In a few weeks’ time, the Queen will sit on the Throne in this Parliament Chamber and announce the Government’s new programme of legislation for the 58th time. If anyone has cause to complain about the relentless tide of legislation, it is she.
The scene at State Opening will be readily identifiable, with the Tudor depiction of the same ceremony embossed on one of our Christmas cards last year. That is part of the point. The Queen provides the nation with a reassuring symbol of continuity and stability that many of us value. Political parties and financial markets go up and down; fashions and celebrity wax and wane; but the crowds for royal weddings over the decades and the centuries have been constant.
One of the Queen’s greatest qualities is that she has appeared unchanging while changing very much indeed. The Queen has quite simply kept in touch with our national life throughout her reign. The United Kingdom in 2012 is a world apart from that of 1952, let alone the imperial court in which Her Majesty was raised. It is an achievement of some skill that the Queen remains quite so relevant to our national life and in touch with her subjects. Those of us, and there are a few of us in this House, who are privileged enough to have been Chancellors of the Duchy of Lancaster know from our personal experience the keen interest that the Queen takes in hearing in detail about the Duchy’s affairs, and the pleasure that she gets from it.
The Queen is not simply owed our respect as head of state; she inspires it as an individual. It is a privilege to lead these tributes today, and I am confident that they mark the start of a deservedly happy jubilee. I know that the Lord Speaker will speak eloquently on our behalf next Tuesday. I beg to move this Motion for an humble Address.
My Lords, it is an enormous privilege for me from the Benches of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in your Lordships’ House to support the Motion and add our congratulations to those already offered to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary of her accession to the Throne. The Leader of the House has concentrated on the Queen’s role as head of state, her constitutional role and her role in Parliament, and I concur, of course, with all that he has said.
All those things are central to the monarchy, but equally central is Britain’s relationship with its monarchy and in particular with its Queen. Twenty years ago this year, the Queen had what she herself termed her “annus horribilis”. Twenty years on from that low point, her standing with the people of this country could not be higher.
Republics and republicanism are now dominant around the world, but not here in Britain. Polls show that three-quarters of the British people support the monarch. More than half believe that the Queen is one of Britain’s greatest monarchs. More than half again believe that Britain will still have the monarchy in 50 years’ time. Two-thirds of people across our country believe that in the 60 years of the Queen’s reign the quality of life in Britain has got better.
That support means that, regardless of the political affiliation of the Government in power, the Queen can and does speak for Britain and the British people, as she did so wonderfully last year in her first ever visit to the Republic of Ireland. She is able to carry out that role because she is in touch with all the details of our national life. Every year, the Queen meets tens of thousands of people of this country and touches their lives. Every year, the Queen and her family undertake more than 3,000 engagements across the UK and many others overseas. Every year, the Queen entertains more than 50,000 people at receptions and garden parties. Every year, the Queen gets through a mountain of red boxes, seeing all important government papers, including the minutes of every Cabinet meeting. That has given her a unique and unmatchable perspective on British government, politics and society over a 60-year period—real service, real connection and a real relationship between the Queen and her country.
A constitutional monarchy is one in which the monarch is in name the ruler but does not rule. A constitutional monarch is not the servant of the people but does serve the people, and the Queen’s service, with the loyal and steadfast support of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, has been extraordinary. We in this House are used to long service, but 60 years on the Throne, 60 years of unstinting and unswerving service, is an astounding achievement. It is one that this House and the whole country recognise, respect and value, and one for which we are all grateful.
Perhaps I may record a personal point. When I was Leader of your Lordships’ House and Lord President of the Council, I was one of the Ministers who was privileged to meet the Queen regularly. Occasionally the meetings took place in Windsor Castle, where she always gave the impression of being at home. She was unfailingly courteous, knowledgeable and professional, and personally kind to me, for which I am particularly grateful. When my noble friend Lord Mandelson took over that particular privilege, I became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. One of my treasured memories is of hosting a dinner for the Queen and all former Chancellors of the Duchy who were still living, many of whom are in their places today. It was a very jolly occasion with much laughter. A similar dinner had taken place 10 years before and a photograph had been taken to commemorate the occasion. Naturally, the Queen was in the middle of the front row. Sadly, however, apart from the Queen, everyone else in that front row had died in the intervening years—a testament both to our frailty and to the strength of the Queen.
The public’s view of the Queen is clear: the longer she reigns the better. The Queen is already the United Kingdom’s second longest serving monarch and we look forward to September 2015 when she will, we all hope, outdistance even Queen Victoria. Jubilees such as we are about to see this year are a big punctuation mark in our national life. They give the country the opportunity to pause and to reflect and they tend to prove the naysayers wrong. The Silver Jubilee in 1977 was predicted to be a flop; it was instead a huge success. So was the Golden Jubilee in 2002; and the Diamond Jubilee will also be a triumph. Britain will celebrate the Queen’s 60 years on the Throne and celebrate, too, the sense of community and pride in our country which the Diamond Jubilee will foster. Even in times of austerity the jubilee will bring the country together.
We, on these Benches and across the whole House, look forward to that and to Her Majesty’s address next week to both Houses of Parliament. It is wholly appropriate that the Queen should choose for the formal launch of her jubilee celebrations the Parliament of the people. Rightly, the jubilee will lead to many tributes to the Queen and to many conclusions being promulgated about the state of the nation at this moment. For our part, we will stand by the judgment given by the BBC’s Andrew Marr in his book to mark the Diamond Jubilee, in which he says of the Queen,
“With her, and with her kind of monarchy, most of her people are content”.
We are indeed. In fact, we in this House are more than content.
My Lords, I readily associate myself and the Liberal Democrat Benches with these tributes.
The Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition have spoken about the Queen’s role as head of state, her service to this country and the immense changes seen in Britain over the past 60 years. It is not only in Britain that we have seen change. When the Queen came to the Throne she still reigned over an empire. The peaceful transition from colonies to a commonwealth of free nations is a legacy in which she has played no small part. From that spine-tingling dedication of self to service by the young Princess Elizabeth in Africa over 60 years ago, to a message to the Commonwealth earlier this week in Westminster Abbey, the Queen has been the inspiration and the personification of the Commonwealth which, in her words this week in the Abbey, can,
“draw us together, stronger and better than before”.
One aspect of Her Majesty’s work of which everyone is aware is the constant round of making and receiving visits. Anyone who has ever done a school prize-giving knows how much time and effort goes into making the day special for those you are meeting and greeting. The ready smile, the handshake, the interested question look all so easy and yet require care and preparation to ensure that those on the receiving end are left with lifetime memories of “the day I met the Queen”.
There is one passion that the Queen shares with me and millions of others. Anyone who has ever seen a photograph of her at a horserace meeting knows that she loves the horses. Last year, the Sun reported with absolute precision that the Queen was going to bet £10 on Carlton House, her horse in the Derby. How they could be so sure of the fact, one can only speculate.
In 2001, we in this House made the faux pas of holding the State Opening of Parliament in Ascot week. Only the fact that the Irish stagecoach broke the speed limit returning down the Mall allowed Her Majesty to be in Ascot in time for the 2.30. This time there is no such clash, and we know that on 2 June she will be at Epsom for the Jubilee Derby. After last year’s disappointment with Carlton House, which came third, I do not think Her Majesty has a runner this year. For the romantics among us, I suggest Imperial Monarch—but I think my noble friend Lord Sassoon should put the Treasury’s money on Camelot.
As the Leader of the Opposition said, any tribute to the Queen should also be associated with Prince Philip, who has been by her side throughout this period. I also say, as a son of the red rose county, what a pleasure it is that both the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition recall their time as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. My tribute is not only to the Queen but to “the Queen, the Duke of Lancaster”, and I am proud to make it.
My Lords, the House will know that members of the Cross-Bench group seldom, if ever, speak with one voice. Indeed, they often remind me of their individual independence. However, today is different, because for once, I am in no doubt that each member of the Cross-Bench group is delighted to be associated— in every respect—with the tributes already paid and with the Motion of an humble Address. The citizens of this country, and indeed people throughout the Commonwealth, are most fortunate in having such a remarkable woman as our head of state and head of the Commonwealth. Her Majesty the Queen is rightly held in great affection and she has our deep gratitude, always, for the immense workload she carries on behalf of us all.
The members of the Cross-Bench group bring to this House a wide range of experience and expertise. They have spent many years in the key public services, in industry, the law, the arts, commerce and of course in leading charities. However, in addition, the group includes former Lord Chamberlains and Private Secretaries to Her Majesty. Those officeholders have, more than most, an even clearer appreciation of the volume of work and the range of activities undertaken by the Queen and members of her family, week in and week out—in her case for more than 60 years.
Her Majesty’s workload includes frequent visits to cities and counties throughout the United Kingdom. Many Members of this House will have had direct experience of witnessing the excitement and regard generated during these events. Her Majesty always takes the opportunity to recognise the contributions to society made by individuals and organisations. This is deeply appreciated and of enduring benefit. For example, the media reports of the recent Diamond Jubilee royal visit to Leicester indicate, so clearly, the very great affection that is felt for Her Majesty and her family.
The House will know that the Queen is the patron of more than 600 charities. Her husband, of course, founded the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme for young people and the Prince of Wales’s Prince’s Trust gives purpose and promotes self-respect to hundreds of disadvantaged young people each year. This is just a mere snapshot of the many activities in support of charities undertaken by members of the Royal Family. We must neither underestimate, nor take for granted, the work and importance of the Queen and her family in enriching the quality of life in our society.
On behalf of the Cross-Bench group, I join the rest of the House in supporting this Motion and wishing Her Majesty a splendid Diamond Jubilee. It is a great honour to make this contribution to the remarkable achievements of the Queen and, together, we offer Her Majesty our warmest congratulations and very good wishes.
My Lords, we often hear questions these days as to what gives this nation its identity. We rightly point to our history, our language and, not least, our long and deep commitment to the rule of law. But as we become more visibly diverse, as we take on board more dimensions of our history, more languages spoken in our schools, more complex discussions of equality before the law, one feature of our national life remains centrally significant. We treasure the fact that, above the shrill debates of our public life, we have in Her Majesty the Queen a personal focus for the loyalty and commitment we know we must feel towards each other as fellow citizens.
Sometimes loyalty to a nation can be a blind prejudice of race; sometimes it can be a dry and rather distant habit of reliance on the rights and privileges that the law guarantees for us. But Her Majesty the Queen has reminded us that it may also be grounded in something like a feeling of plain friendship and relationship within the national community, a feeling that is generated by the example, at the heart of our society, of someone who by her attentive and sympathetic presence in so many diverse settings, here and abroad, creates that sense of friendship. We sometimes joke about how many people appear to have dreams about meeting the Queen. But it is not simply a joke. We imagine ourselves in the neighbourhood of the monarch because we have a deeply ingrained sense of belonging with her as a neighbour, as someone who helps to keep alive the hope that the nation itself might be a neighbourhood.
So in your Lordships’ House, in the judiciary, in the Armed Forces, in the Church of England, and in many other contexts, we promise our allegiance to a person. In so doing we recognise all that Her Majesty has done and continues to do in personalising our loyalty and recalling us to the need constantly to work for that neighbourliness, that directness of relation to each other, that is the lifeblood of a genuinely united society, uniting and knitting together the hearts of this people, as our prayer reminds us daily. A person—and one whose personality plays such a significant role in what she has achieved; a personality warm, shrewd, witty and calm; a personality also deeply committed to the faith of her Church, shaped by a deep and undemonstrative devotion, which she has increasingly come to share in her public utterances and which was wonderfully in evidence in the meeting with faith leaders which we recently had the honour of hosting at Lambeth Palace.
We give thanks to God for this unique ministry over six decades, praying that Her Majesty will long be spared to go on drawing us into this spirit of neighbourly attention and support for one another that makes us still, for all the challenges we face, a lively and a hospitable society.
My Lords, I hope I may be permitted to add a very small point of tribute. The Leader of the House referred to the Civil Service as one of those organisations of which the Queen is supreme governor. I hope I might be permitted to add Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service, of which I had the privilege to be head for five years and in which I had the immense privilege of very frequent meetings with Her Majesty when I accompanied heads of diplomatic missions to present their credentials to her.
Motion agreed nemine dissentiente.