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Her Majesty the Queen: 90th Birthday

Volume 771: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016

Motion for a Humble Address

Moved by

That a Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty The Queen as follows:

“Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer Your Majesty the warmest congratulations of this House on the occasion of Your Majesty’s ninetieth Birthday;

To assure Your Majesty of our deep affection and highest regard;

And to join our prayers with those of the Nation and Commonwealth for the long continuance of Your Majesty’s health and happiness.”

My Lords, it is an honour to lead tributes to Her Majesty in your Lordships’ House today. We are celebrating her 90th birthday, and to do that justice we should first reflect on her early life.

When Her Majesty was born in 1926, she was not expected to be Queen, but at just nine years old her destiny changed and her life of a dedicated public servant began. As a young teenager of 14, during the early years of the war, she made her first radio broadcast to bring comfort and hope to other children being evacuated. Her first solo public engagement followed two years later. At just 25 years old, she succeeded her father to the Throne. That was four short years after she had married and while her first two children were still toddlers. As she became Queen, her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, warned:

“She comes to the Throne at a time when a tormented mankind stands uncertainly poised between world catastrophe and a golden age”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/1952; col. 962.]

We are fortunate that she will give her name to an era of unparalleled economic growth, technological advance and social change.

Throughout her whole life she has helped our nation to feel at ease with itself, and has served as a remarkable point of continuity for all her people. Despite her tender years, at the beginning of her reign she was admired by even her most experienced subjects. All of us have trembled at making our maiden speech in this Chamber, but nothing we have done could compare with her first gracious Speech from that Throne. Yet, following that first Queen’s Speech, the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Viscount Swinton—a man who had first entered the Cabinet before she was even born—spoke for the whole House when he said that describing the Speech as gracious was not simply a formality but,

“the true word for all the Queen is and all she does”.—[Official Report, 4/11/1952; col. 20.]

As she has grown older, she has remained just as admired by successive generations. His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge said on his recent state visit to India that Her Majesty is a “guiding force” for her family, and her contemporaries have looked to her to see how to respond to a changing world. She has innovated to bring the monarch closer to the people, her Christmas message of 1957 being the first to be transmitted live. She pioneered the royal walkabout and last year she sent her first tweet. The fact that she remains as relevant today as ever is testament to her enduring values of decency, honesty, humility and honour.

What is truly remarkable about Her Majesty’s commitment is that she continues to serve with a zest and undimmed sense of public duty. Last year she carried out 306 engagements in the UK and 35 overseas —a workload that would be daunting to someone even half her age. As Head of State, she fulfils her constitutional position with distinction. Uniquely among those who give public service, her commitment is beyond question.

As we mark this milestone birthday, Her Majesty would no doubt want us to acknowledge the lifelong support of her family, not least that of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, who remains always by her side. Indeed, those remarkable photographs that we have seen published this week show just what family means to Her Majesty.

As we look forward to the many events that will celebrate Her Majesty’s 90th birthday between now and June, many noble Lords will choose to pay tribute in their own way. Your Lordships may have noticed that my noble friend the Chief Whip is not in his usual place today. Instead, as Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, he is at Windsor Castle, presenting Her Majesty with a sheaf of a new variety of daffodils. These have been raised—that is the term that I am told is used—in honour of her birthday and registered with the Royal Horticultural Society. Appropriately, these daffodils are named “Gentleman at Arms”. My noble friend has taken them to Her Majesty and intends to offer her the warm wishes of those on all Benches in this House.

I know that all noble Lords will join me in wishing Her Majesty a very happy 90th birthday. I beg to move this Motion for a humble Address to Her Majesty.

My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to follow the noble Baroness and to speak on behalf of these Benches to wish Her Majesty the Queen a very happy 90th birthday and to support the humble Address.

For many of us, milestone birthdays are a time for reflection, but when that birthday is a 90th and a whole life has been spent in the public eye in public service, that reflection has an added dimension. Like all of us, Her Majesty the Queen will have many personal memories of births and deaths, and of people, places and events. While her life has brought more privilege and opportunities than most, she has also known the highs and the lows, and the joys and the sadnesses that normal family life brings. As the noble Baroness also said, it is impossible to reflect on the role of the Queen without recognition of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh—outspoken, sometimes irreverent and at all times totally human, his support has been vital.

The late King George VI, with his sense of public responsibility during the Second World War, had a huge influence on his daughter. I am sure he would take immense pride in how she has conducted herself and shaped the role of our longest serving monarch.

This 90th birthday is a time for public celebration and public reflection. It is not just here at home but across the world that those with memories of the Queen will share them—memories of a visit, a conversation or even just a comment.

As the noble Baroness said, when Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born on this day in 1926 in London, few could have predicted the life that lay before her. At that time, she was third in line to the Throne, because the then Prince of Wales had not yet met Mrs Simpson and started the chain of events that led to the Queen’s father becoming King. Yet the responsibility is one that she readily absorbed, making her first radio broadcast in 1940 at the age of 14, as the noble Baroness referred to, on BBC “Children’s Hour”, to the children evacuated overseas during the Second World War.

With thousands of other young women, she qualified as a mechanic and driver with the ATS. For the time, that was quite bold and daring for a princess and not a decision that the Government were at all happy about, believing that her most important training should be as heir to the Throne, not as a mechanic. Her determination and persistence in insisting that she wanted to serve her country was a clear indication that she would become a Queen who would bring her own style and make her own way. So on VE Day, the two royal princesses were as keen as anyone to celebrate the peace. Her Majesty has spoken about joining the crowds in Whitehall, where they mingled anonymously with those linking arms and celebrating the end of the war. In a world without selfies or mobiles, I wonder how many thought that the two attractive young women partying with them looked just like Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, as with the first, the royal families from across Europe found that as time moved on so did they. In those post-war years, the monarchies of Bulgaria, Portugal and many other countries ceased to exist. But here in the UK, a country that has known just a very short-lived republic in the 17th century, the monarchy has not just survived but has increased in popularity. We should recognise and happily acknowledge that such success is to the enormous credit of the Queen and the way she has conducted herself and undertaken the role—a role for which there is no manual or guide.

In the age of Twitter, “Celebrity Big Brother” and, at times, the sharing of private moments far too publicly, it is refreshing and enormously valued and respected that Her Majesty the Queen has never spoken out publicly of her views on a political or policy issue. She has maintained a dignified privacy of thought and displayed strict impartiality. If it was frustrating at times, it never showed.

The 12 Prime Ministers who have had weekly audience with the Queen have found a willing listener and someone whose discretion they can rely on absolutely: no leaks, no Tweets, just absolute confidence. Those who have attended Privy Council meetings will recognise that businesslike approach.

Some will have heard of the Labour Minister who, while standing as business was conducted, suddenly heard her mobile phone ringing very loudly from the very large handbag at her feet. Hugely embarrassed, she dived into the bag and desperately rummaged until she eventually and triumphantly retrieved the phone and silenced it. Her Majesty looked at her and sympathised: “Oh dear, I do hope it wasn’t anyone important”. I do not think either of them will ever talk to me again.

That dry sense of humour has become very evident over the years. At the opening of the Docklands Light Railway, shortly after her election in 1987, the late Mildred Gordon MP was asked by the Queen how she liked her new job. She responded that she felt that she had little power to help her constituents. The Queen replied understandingly, “Once they find out that you lot can’t help them, they all write to me”.

The fascination with the life of the Queen is magnified overseas, and often the most die-hard republicans show an admiration for her role. Many will recall the somewhat bizarre pirouette of the former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, behind the Queen in 1977—although he later also spoke of his respect. Just last week, almost 40 years later, the current Canadian Prime Minister and Pierre Trudeau’s son, Justin Trudeau, met Her Majesty and paid a glowing tribute. You had to smile as one onlooker observed, “The hereditary principle is alive and well”.

There are other well-known people who also celebrate their 90th birthdays this year: Sir David Attenborough, the singer Tony Bennett and Fidel Castro. In those 90 years, the world has seen massive social and cultural change. In technology, John Logie Baird had only just demonstrated his new invention, the mechanical television, yet last Christmas, the Queen’s Christmas message had more viewers than any other programme on Christmas Day, even “Downton Abbey”—I was looking for the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, but fortunately he is not here. In 1926, the first transatlantic telephone call was made from London to New York, the first red telephone box was installed and the national grid was set up. In that same year, the League of Nations convention abolished all slavery—so it seems so disappointing that, almost 90 years later, we had to bring in our own Modern Slavery Act. While this week we debated and sought to improve the Government’s Trade Union Bill, it was tougher in 1926, when we had martial law on the streets in response to a general strike.

So times have changed, but values have not. The British Royal Family is one of the most traditional institutions in the world, yet if we stand back and reflect on the past 90 years, both the 90 years of the Queen’s life and more than 60 years of her reign, we see significant changes. Many politicians would give their right arm for her approval ratings. She has perceptively, skilfully and without fanfare guided the monarchy into the 21st century. It is clear that Her Majesty values not just the monarchy of today but that of the future, and has encouraged and supported her children and grandchildren in undertaking official engagements and public service.

For some in your Lordships’ House, she has been the Queen for our entire lives. Many of us do not remember any other monarch. She is the figurehead of our nation, and I hope that our tributes today convey something of the high personal esteem in which she is held. So today is a day for celebration. Happy birthday, Ma’am.

My Lords, from these Benches, I am delighted to add our good wishes and congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen on this very special occasion of her 90th birthday. Her Majesty has had, and continues to have, an extraordinary life which she has dedicated in service to our country.

As we have heard, we are living today in a very different society from the one into which Her Majesty was born 90 years ago today. Then, the sufferings and losses of the Great War were still raw. It was less than a decade since the United Kingdom had emerged from the horrors of the First World War, vowing that such devastating conflict should never happen again. And yet, sadly, it did happen again, when Her Majesty, then Princess Elizabeth, was barely a teenager. As we have heard from the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition, during the Second World War Her Majesty not only served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service but brought comfort to many young people by broadcasting a message to evacuees, urging them to have courage.

Thankfully, today the prospect of war breaking out in the heart of Europe is unimaginable. Today, too, we are living in a world which is far more interconnected than it has ever been. Again, the Queen has fully engaged with this changing world. The metamorphosis of empire and colonial rule into the Commonwealth of free nations has in no small way been achieved by the Queen’s strong personal commitment to that unique institution and force for good in the world. She has kept up with technology and the IT revolutions which have transformed our world. In March 1976, when almost 50, and taking part in a network technology demonstration, the Queen was the first Head of State to send an email, although I rather suspect they did not call it that then.

Throughout the huge change that this country has experienced in the past 90 years, Her Majesty has been a constant, standing with her people whether it be in times of tragedy or times of joy. Her unwavering sense of duty, supported for more than 68 years by the Duke of Edinburgh, and her commitment to the service and welfare of the people of this country are surely an inspiration to us all. When speaking in your Lordships’ House on the eve of Her Majesty’s 80th birthday, my noble friend Lord McNally recalled the vow that the then Princess Elizabeth made in Cape Town on her 21st birthday. She said:

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

Gladly, it has been a long life and surely no vow has been more dutifully honoured.

On behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I offer my warmest good wishes to Her Majesty the Queen on this most joyous of milestones for a day full of love and affection from family, friends and a grateful nation. Long live our noble Queen!

My Lords, as the House knows, members of the Cross-Bench group whom I represent seldom, if ever, speak with one voice. I am reminded of that feature of our existence almost every day, but this occasion, surely, is quite different. I know that each member of the group would wish me to say how delighted we all are to be associated in every way with what has been said, and that we join together as one in supporting this Motion.

The Cross-Bench group brings to this House Members with a wide range of experience. Many have spent their entire working lives in the public service. Some, by reason of the positions that they have held, have a much greater appreciation than the rest of us of the volume of work with which Her Majesty has lived for so many years, with such a great sense of dedication and commitment. But all of us, in one way or another, have our own memories of her and of the service that she has given. We can all share in the memories of the great occasions.

Perhaps one above the others that deserves to be remembered today is Her Majesty’s state visit to Dublin in May 2011. Her remarkable speech at the state dinner in Dublin Castle was surely an extraordinary moment in history, which only she could bring about. Her silent tribute in the garden of remembrance the previous day had done so much to settle memories of the past.

One occasion that stands out in my own memory, because I was there, was her Address to both Houses in Westminster Hall on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee. It is hard to believe, but that was 14 years ago in 2002. The then Speaker, Speaker Martin, and the Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who I am glad to see is in his place, presented their addresses and handed them to her after reading them. Then it was her turn. She stood up and went forward to the microphones to read her own speech. There was no table; there was no lectern; she held her speech in front of her as she stood alone, I thought with great courage, on the steps in front of a huge audience. Unlike the speeches at a State Opening, that speech was her own creation—full of warmth and perfect for the occasion. She ended with a triumphant sentence assuring us of her resolve to continue to serve us all to the best of her ability. It was faultlessly read, as always, in a firm, clear voice. She then sat down to prolonged applause, which lasted for well over a minute. She seemed not to have expected that, and was greatly moved by that applause, but it was so well deserved.

Later she joined us for a reception in the Royal Gallery. One of the Law Lords who was with me had his back to her as she reached us. He was tapped on the shoulder by the Lord Chancellor. My colleague had the misfortune to be in the process of eating a large biscuit. Something was bound to go wrong and, indeed, it did. When he turned round, he was so astonished to see her standing beside him that he dropped his biscuit onto the floor right in front of Her Majesty’s feet. Her Majesty, who has a great sense of humour, was much amused. Another Law Lord, a judge from New Zealand, was then introduced. Her Majesty said to him, “I hear that you are about to end your appeals to the Privy Council”. He replied that it would not affect him, as he had already reached the retirement age of 75 and would no longer be able to sit. “When was your birthday?”, she asked. When he said that it was in June, she exclaimed, “You are two months younger than I am”. So much hangs on those words—we can all do our own arithmetic—but those words were as clear a demonstration as there could be that retirement was not for Her Majesty, that it is not and it never has been. How blessed we all are that this is so.

On behalf of all of us on the Cross Benches, I join with the rest of the House in supporting the Motion and wishing Her Majesty a very happy birthday. We offer her our warmest congratulations and our profound thanks. I think it is also right to say that we offer our profound thanks to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh—always there at Her Majesty’s side and with his own unique sense of humour, as has been said. For him, too, surely, this is a very happy day.

My Lords, on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the Lords Spiritual, I wish to endorse most heartily the proposed message of congratulations to Her Majesty, by divine providence Queen, head of the Commonwealth and defender of the faith.

At her coronation, Archbishop Fisher placed on the Queen’s wrists two newly-made gold bracelets, presented by a number of the overseas realms and territories as a symbol of the Commonwealth. As he did so, he said these words:

“Receive the Bracelets of sincerity and wisdom, both for tokens of the Lord’s protection embracing you on every side; and also for symbols and pledges of that bond which unites you with your Peoples”.

Today we give thanks for the Lord’s protection that has embraced Her Majesty on every side these many years. We also want to pay tribute to the sincerity, wisdom and devotion which she has consistently manifested throughout her long and glorious reign. They have served greatly to strengthen that bond between the Sovereign and all her peoples.

Since 1952, there have been seven Archbishops of Canterbury and seven Archbishops of York. What Her Majesty has made of that richly diverse and eclectic collection of Primates will no doubt never be revealed. All that I can say, from those of the Archbishops whom I have known, is that each has like me valued the support, interest, faithfulness and prayers of our Supreme Governor more than it is possible to describe. There are very few other people to whom an Archbishop can open his heart, knowing that his confidences will go no further and certain that at the end of the conversation he will go away affirmed and encouraged.

And so let this be a day for thanksgiving and much rejoicing on Her Majesty’s birthday. Long live the Queen!

My Lords, perhaps I may briefly add my warmest congratulations to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her 90th birthday. The tributes that we have heard today from all sides of the Chamber show the gratitude that this House, and indeed the nation, owe her for her extraordinary service throughout her reign. It is therefore my honour to put the Question today that the Motion be agreed to.

Motion agreed nemine dissentiente; and it was ordered that the Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lord Chamberlain.