My Lords, today, Her Majesty the Queen becomes our country’s longest-reigning monarch. We join millions of people across the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and, indeed, the rest of the world who will mark this historic moment and thank her for the extraordinary service she has given to our country for more than six decades.
Throughout her reign, her commitment to public service has been beyond question. Her sense of public duty is as steadfast today as it was when she declared, aged just 21, that she would devote her whole life to the service of her people. She continues to demonstrate that commitment every single day. That is why I think she is so highly respected by all those she serves. All of us who seek to play a part in public life can have no better example than her.
The Queen’s selfless sense of duty inspires our respect and fondness, not only in Britain but around the world. This is particularly true across the Commonwealth —an institution which owes much of its success to Her Majesty and the leadership she has provided. As a diplomat and an ambassador for Britain, it is hard to overstate what she has done for our country. It is testament to all that she has done that, throughout the world, she is not just a queen—she is the Queen.
We should perhaps pause for a moment to reflect on the truly remarkable scale of Her Majesty’s service during her reign. In 63 years and 217 days, she has worked with 12 Prime Ministers, six Archbishops of Canterbury and nine Cabinet Secretaries. She has represented us on 265 official visits to 116 different countries, answered 3.5 million pieces of correspondence, sent over 100,000 telegrams to centenarians across the Commonwealth and has met more people than any other monarch in our history.
Her Majesty exemplifies the unique combination of tradition and progress that has come to define us as a nation. The United Kingdom in 2015 is a world apart from that of 1952, yet she has kept in touch with our national life throughout her reign. She has provided a rock of stability and an enduring focal point for all her people. But, at the same time, one of her greatest qualities is that she has continued to adapt, evolve and change the role of the monarchy, while always retaining the values of the institution—decency, honesty, humility and honour, which we all cherish.
The Queen has a remarkable gift for making everyone who has a chance to see her up close feel special, never mind those of us who have been privileged enough to meet her. I still remember standing with my parents among the crowds in Beeston in 1977, during the Silver Jubilee year, to wave as Her Majesty’s car went by. Therefore, I was particularly honoured to be able to introduce my parents to Her Majesty at a royal garden party this summer. Like everyone else who has shared this privilege, meeting the Queen will remain with me until the end of my life.
Finally, as we mark this milestone, Her Majesty would no doubt want us to pay particular tribute to the service and support of her whole family, not least His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, who has stood by her side every day of her reign. It is a privilege to lead these tributes in our House. Her Majesty has served our country with unerring grace, dignity and decency. Long may she continue to do so.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in paying tribute to Her Majesty the Queen on becoming our longest reigning monarch. On behalf of these Benches, I convey our warmest congratulations to Her Majesty on this historic day. Sixty-three years—or 63 years, seven months and two days to be precise—would be an extraordinary length of time to hold any position. As Head of State, it is a truly remarkable record of public service.
In February 1952, when the Queen ascended to the Throne, Winston Churchill was still Prime Minister and Harry Truman was in the White House. The death of the King was traumatic and unexpected. His service to the country during the war, and that of his family, endeared them to the nation and he was held in great affection. His unexpected death at just 56 was a terrible shock and brought great sadness to the nation, as well as to his eldest daughter, the new Queen. It was only seven years since the end of the war. Many people had suffered great losses and this was the end of an era. But alongside that sadness, there was hope. This was a nation emerging from a war and it had an exciting, positive and optimistic vision for the future. It welcomed the new, young Queen as part of that vision.
During her time on the Throne, we have all seen such huge social, cultural and technological change. With Winston Churchill as Prime Minister and Clement Attlee as leader of the Opposition the country finally abandoned the identity cards used during the war, but it would be another two years before food rationing ended—although, being very British, they were able to end tea rationing. Our greatest fear was the Cold War and the Iron Curtain. London saw the end of trams and the first performance of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap”. The health service was in its infancy. Only 150,000 homes had a TV, with just one channel—so no “Coronation Street”. No one had a computer or a laptop at home. The internet had not even been imagined. The first ever pop singles chart was published, with Al Martino at number one with “Here in My Heart”. The nation’s most popular food was a tin of Spam and what was to become the European Union was still called the European Coal and Steel Community. Throughout that time, through good changes and bad, Her Majesty has been a constant—a bridge from one era to another, linking our past to our present and towards our future.
Society has changed enormously in that time. The role of women has been transformed. Indeed, it would be another six years—not until 1958—before we as women were able to sit in your Lordships’ House.
People from across the globe have made Britain their home and, as a result, our culture has been enlivened and enriched. Medical science has greatly lengthened life expectancy, something for which many of us are grateful.
As the country has changed, so has Her Majesty moved with the times but there is also something permanent about her that reassures us all in what seems like an ever changing world. Perhaps this goes a long way to explain her huge and enduring popularity, not just with British people and the Commonwealth but across the world. All of us here will have seen Her Majesty at State Opening, and many of us on other occasions as well. I have always been struck by her interest in those she meets.
There is a story, possibly apocryphal but utterly believable, of the VIP about to meet the Queen at an event who was in line to greet her on her arrival. A very modern man, he made it clear to everyone who would listen, including the press, that he was not going to bow. It was outdated in this day and age: he would stand up straight and shake hands. The great day arrived. He stood in place, ramrod straight. As the Queen progressed down the line, shaking hands and having a few words with each guest, he stood there waiting for his moment. She arrived. They shook hands and she said something, but so softly that he could not hear, so he leant forward as all the camera bulbs flashed, taking the photo of him bowing to the Queen. Some time later, he was retelling the story to a colleague, which is how I heard about it, who said, “Oh dear, she got you on that one too, did she?”. I hope that it is true because it shows such dignity and a sense of fun.
I concur with the noble Baroness that it is also fitting that we reflect on the role of His Royal Highness Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, who has been at Her Majesty’s side throughout her reign and has been such a support to her in undertaking her responsibilities. We are also grateful to him.
Her Majesty’s service to the country and the Commonwealth is rewarded by huge public affection and levels of popularity that any politician would give their right arm for. If any word could sum up her 63 years on the Throne, it would be this: duty. I believe that those of us who serve in Parliament understand this concept too, but for most of us, even those who reach the highest ministerial level, this duty is, by contrast to Her Majesty’s, very short-lived.
As we heard from the noble Baroness, it is relatively straightforward to work out that the Queen has been served by 12 Prime Ministers during her reign, not to mention some 26 Leaders of your Lordships’ House, or that she has seen 16 general elections come and go during those years. Much harder to calculate—the noble Baroness gave some excellent examples—is the number of red boxes she has worked her way through, the Cabinet minutes she will have read, the number of receptions and garden parties she has hosted and public engagements she has undertaken. We have heard some of those statistics, and those figures are to hand, but no one can count the number of people she has met and those whose lives she has touched. That is incalculable and invaluable.
Her Majesty did not choose to be Queen; it was thrust upon her at an unexpectedly early age. Her strong sense of duty that has been evident throughout her reign shows great respect to her country and the Commonwealth. We repay that respect today. So we congratulate Her Majesty, and thank her, and look forward to another such occasion next year as we celebrate her 90th birthday in a similar fashion.
My Lords, it is a privilege and pleasure to follow the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to Her Majesty the Queen and, from these Benches, to add our good wishes, congratulations and, above all, thanks to Her Majesty on the occasion of her service as our nation’s longest-reigning monarch.
At the age of 61, I have lived in the reign of only one sovereign. I suspect that that puts me in a minority in your Lordships’ House. But for the majority of our fellow citizens, the Queen alone embodies what we think of and understand by the monarchy. Over the course of her reign the Queen has been a constant in the lives of the British public during a period of immense change, not just in the United Kingdom but across the globe. The Queen’s personal dedication to the Commonwealth has helped ensure a successful transition from an empire to a Commonwealth of free nations—very much a force for good in a troubled world.
The Queen has been an exemplary constitutional monarch. Her several Prime Ministers have spoken of her wisdom and valued advice. Her sense of service is not one of slavish, routine duty; rather, she gives herself fully, as if the person she is talking to—be it a visiting head of state, a civic dignitary or an individual in a crowd during a walkabout—is at that moment the most important person to her.
I am proud to be both British and Scottish and I am particularly pleased that the Queen is spending today in Scotland, taking a steam-train journey to open the new Borders Railway. On a day such as today, it is indicative of her genuine and lasting affection for Scotland, where she has always received a tremendous reception. I particularly remember 1 July 1999, when the Queen opened the newly established Scottish Parliament—an illustration of one of the many changes, some of them unimaginable in 1952, which have taken place during the Queen’s long reign, throughout which she has shown constancy and brought to her role that sense of continuity and unity.
The Queen has shared the highs of our nation’s life, including the 2012 Olympics and last year’s opening of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. On an occasion such as this, I can even bring myself to mention England’s World Cup victory in 1966. But she has also shared our lows, consoling the bereaved families of the victims at Aberfan and Dunblane, and expressing the grief and compassion of the nation.
Like the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition, I, too, think it is important that we recognise the unstinting support that the Queen has received from the Duke of Edinburgh. His dedicated service to our nation is also well worthy of a tribute.
This is not only a day on which to look back at the Queen’s remarkable reign; we should also look to the future. The Queen’s unshakeable commitment to public service throughout her 63 years and more on the Throne has ensured that we have a monarchy that is strong and relevant in a modern Britain, and where we see a remarkable degree of continuity for the future in the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and Prince George.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I offer our warmest good wishes to Her Majesty the Queen on this historic occasion. Long may she reign.
My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues in the Cross-Bench group, I associate myself with the warm and very well-deserved good wishes to our Queen on this very special day. Those of us who are privileged to serve in this House cannot but be aware of the many times Her Majesty has graced this Chamber and, in particular, presented the gracious Speech.
Being in this part of the Palace also makes us mindful of the very many references to Queen Victoria in sculptures, paintings, mosaics and decorations of all kinds. The length of service Queen Victoria gave to the nation was indeed remarkable. But she was our longest-serving sovereign. Today we celebrate because Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II now is the longest-serving monarch—what an achievement.
We humbly offer Her Majesty our warmest congratulations and, in doing so, it is right to reflect on the enormous changes that have taken place in this country, in Europe, in the Commonwealth and across the world during her time on the Throne. Indeed, during this country’s darkest hours, Her Majesty was always a reassuring source of continuity and stability. Moreover, time and again she has shown a remarkable ability to respond positively to change. With a delicate subtlety, almost unnoticed, Her Majesty has ensured that the monarchy remains a vital and very important part not only of this country but of the wider world. Her ability to respond to change, both large and small, is so well established that I feel sure that had she had the opportunity to do so, she would have put me to shame today as I was trying to change the password on my computer.
We should not underestimate the esteem in which Her Majesty is held throughout the Commonwealth and, indeed, as has been said, throughout the world. She is rightly admired, and held in such high regard, because of her unswerving devotion to service and her calm attention to duty.
Her Majesty and her family have set for us all an example in so many ways. It is right to give special mention of what she and her family have given to charities, industry, churches and public services—and, indeed, the support that they give to every part of civic life that goes together to make sure that we have healthy communities in our society. As has been said, in this we should pay particular regard to the remarkable support throughout her reign given by His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The ways in which Her Majesty fulfils the huge responsibilities of her role as head of state, combined with her natural charm, make us realise our very great good fortune. This is indeed a day for celebration. We humbly congratulate Her Majesty and offer her our sincerest thanks and warmest good wishes in her continued service to us all.
My Lords, 1952 was a good year: Her Majesty the Queen acceded to the Throne in February and I was born in August. That puts me in the majority of people in this country—although, I suggest, perhaps not in your Lordships’ House—whose whole lives have been lived in her reign. Those 63 years, coming up to 64, have seen immense change and an immense pace of change. Institutions and authority figures have become more accountable and often less trusted. The monarchy and the Royal Family have been through difficulties, but the Queen has come through as completely trusted and deeply loved. This is not because of the institution of the monarchy but because of her personal character and integrity.
One of the privileges of diocesan bishops in the Church of England is that we spend time meeting the Queen one-to-one when we make our oath of allegiance. It was potentially a terrifying moment for me, five and a half years ago, but in reality a joy. As many others have testified, she was completely natural, put me at my ease and talked easily about Chester where I had come from and Peterborough where I was going. Further down the line an even more daunting privilege loomed, as I was invited to spend a weekend at Sandringham with the Queen, some of her family and other guests. This included preaching before the Royal Family, more one-to-one conversations and a private dinner with the Queen and Prince Philip, to whom we also must pay tribute, after the other guests had left. Once again she put me at my ease in a variety of ways, talking of families and everyday matters, relaxing and laughing. She surprised me with a dry sense of humour and confirmed all that I had heard about her encyclopaedic knowledge. She was apparently unguarded at times but with no sign at all of malice or ill will. I had a delightful weekend.
For Christians, and I think for many others, the Queen’s Christmas messages to the Commonwealth have been hugely encouraging. She talks about her own situation, about people she has met and places she has visited, and she is open about her own faith and its importance to her. Many of us are deeply grateful for that example of faith and witness in the public square. On behalf of the Bench of Bishops of the Church of England, and I trust of all people of any faith or none, I gladly pay tribute, offer deep thanks and pledge continued loyalty to Her Majesty.