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His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales

Volume 793: debated on Wednesday 14 November 2018

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 assure Your Majesty of the great pleasure felt by this House on the seventieth birthday of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales;

To convey to Your Majesty the admiration that is felt by this House for His Royal Highness; and

To express the hope that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales may long continue to enjoy good health and happiness.”

My Lords, it is my happy duty today to lead the House in agreeing a humble Address to mark the 70th birthday of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. He is not only a remarkable public servant but a remarkable individual: as a tireless promoter of charitable causes and their potential to provide practical help to people; as a representative of this country and of the Commonwealth; and as a father, husband and grandfather. It is fitting that on this significant birthday we pay tribute to him and express our admiration for his exemplary commitment and service.

The Address before the House today rightly mentions the Prince of Wales’s achievement in establishing the Prince’s Trust. Since 1976, the trust has helped more than 870,000 young people into employment, education or training. The work of the trust has brought the Prince of Wales into close contact with young people from all backgrounds, including those who have encountered serious difficulty in life. The success and reach of the scheme is staggering: around 87,000 young people have been helped to set up their own businesses. The transformative effect of his and his trust’s work on those individuals is testament to his unstinting personal commitment. Like many noble Lords across all Benches, I have had the privilege of meeting a number of impressive young people who have benefited from the work of the trust over the years.

Through his effort in this and other areas, the Prince of Wales has set an extraordinary example of hard work and stamina in the cause of public service. At times, he has been accused of meddling, but he has raised important issues, such as the impact of climate change and the effect of waste and plastics on the environment, well before they became political priorities.

With a passion for the built environment, he has understood the value of fostering sustainable communities and the serious and lasting impact on people of not having the infrastructure—both hard and soft— they need to build thriving lives. He has stewarded developments in Poundbury, in Dorset, and more recently in Nansledan, near Newquay, in Cornwall. Through those developments, the communities that live there have assets which will be valued for generations to come, as do the communities in areas developed by the Duchy of Cornwall, such as those within spitting distance of this place in Vauxhall and Kennington, which were stewarded by his predecessors.

His Royal Highness’s deep belief in the value of the built environment does not stop at our coastline: the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment helped to reconstruct and redesign buildings in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the appalling damage caused by the earthquake in 2010, as well as to refurbish historic buildings in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Kingston, Jamaica.

His commitment to public service and duty is exemplary. It is a frequent occurrence for him to resume work on his boxes in the evenings, when public engagements allow, and to work long into the early hours. While many of us in this House may be familiar with such a routine, other than Her Majesty the Queen, nobody else has carried it for so long or with so much dedication.

However, it is not just this country that has benefited from the commitment of the Prince of Wales. He has been a proud supporter of the Commonwealth throughout his adult life and played a central role in maintaining the Royal Family’s strong connection to its member countries, as his most recent visit to Ghana, the Gambia and Nigeria once again highlighted. Earlier this year, the Commonwealth Heads of State confirmed that they wish the Prince of Wales to succeed Her Majesty as Head of the Commonwealth—a vote of confidence which is fully merited.

Of course, we as a House also have a special connection to the Prince of Wales. He was one of us and almost certainly will go down in history as the last Prince of Wales to sit in this House. As with everything he has done, he took his membership of this House seriously and participated in proceedings. I commend to noble Lords his maiden speech, delivered on 13 June 1974, in which he noted that it had been a century since a member of his family had spoken in the House but that in 1829 there had been a debate in which three Royal Dukes took part. The Prince of Wales recalled:

“Each got up one after the other and attacked each other so vehemently and used such bad language that the House was shocked into silence”.

Needless to say his own speech, which he approached with as much trepidation as any other new Member of this House, went down rather better, and introduced the House to an earnest, committed and well-informed young man, passionate about galvanising the potential of young people everywhere. He was also, I am assured, attired in smart business dress, which paled into comparison with his predecessor as Prince of Wales, also Prince Regent and later King George IV. In his speech the current Prince of Wales memorably described him as,

“exquisitely dressed in black velvet, lined with pink satin and embroidered in gold and wearing shoes with pink heels”.—[Official Report, 13/6/1974; col. 624.]

If the Prince of Wales’s speech summed up the young man, the life he has lived since, played out in the public eye, has given us many further examples of his personal qualities. As a father he has been devoted to the welfare of Prince William and Prince Harry and the whole nation shares his pride at the outstanding young men they have turned out to be. We have also shared in his obvious joy in his important role as a grandfather. On behalf of the whole House, I congratulate His Royal Highness and his family on what we hope is a very happy 70th birthday. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the Deputy Leader of the House, and we join in wishing the Prince of Wales a very happy 70th birthday. There is no job description for the role of heir to the Throne. As the longest serving heir during a time of significant social change, it has been an opportunity and no doubt at times a challenge to fulfil the role in the meaningful way that the Prince has undertaken. It is significant that the Prince is the first heir to the Throne to go to school rather than be educated by a personal tutor in a royal palace. He was the first to gain a university degree and the first have a cameo role in “Coronation Street”. He was also the first to be on Twitter, and the first to have his own birthday hashtag, #Charlesat70. He was also most definitely the first to run his classic Aston Martin car on fuel from the by-products of wine and cheese. I do not think that trying to get the Royal Train running on environmentally friendly used cooking oil has been quite so successful.

As we have heard from the noble Earl, the speech of His Royal Highness in the House of Lords followed in the footsteps of his great-great-grandfather, Prince Edward, later Edward VII, who had made such a speech 90 years before. Both speeches focused on social issues. In a thoughtful contribution on a Lords Select Committee report on sports and leisure, which was developed in a later speech made to your Lordships on volunteering, His Royal Highness gave a glimpse of some of the issues that he would make it his life’s work to champion. In both speeches he reflected on how society could best support young people, the environment and our environmental heritage.

But these were not woolly, do-gooder speeches; they had an edge to them and posed a challenge. The Prince recognised the role of the citizen and the state working together and the importance of support for life outside work to enhance physical and mental well-being. He advocated alternative activities and provision to challenge crime and anti-social behaviour. That personal interest led directly to the establishment in 1976 of the Prince’s Trust—but who knew that it was set up with his £7,000 Royal Navy severance pay? I know that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, will say more about the Prince’s Trust, but the vision that Prince Charles set out in the 1970s—that all young people, particularly those who have not had a good start in life, should have the opportunity to succeed—remains true today. He continues to be genuinely interested in the lives and life stories of young people, engaging directly with them. His vision and commitment have ensured that thousands of disadvantaged young people have been provided with the opportunity to transform their lives, helping nearly a million individuals into employment or business.

However, it is on environmental matters that Prince Charles has at times ruffled a few feathers. Who could have failed to see the amusement in his face when it was put to him by John Bridcut in the BBC programme last week that he had been accused of meddling? He replied with a smile, “Really—you don’t say?” There is no doubt, however, that what in the 1970s were regarded as somewhat eccentric issues are today’s problems that we are all trying to grapple with, having failed to heed past warnings. That 1970 speech in which he warned of the approaching waste crisis arising from using non-returnable plastic bottles and indestructible plastic stands out, as does his long-term concern about climate change. Perhaps we should re-examine a few more of those so-called “eccentric” issues.

The Prince’s Foundation is one of the many charities he has established and focuses on the built environment, heritage and community education projects. It aims to create a modern, viable and productive use for historic buildings. It proves that it is possible to bring together the past and the future in sustainable communities. The Prince has always been passionate about the nations’ built heritage, as I found out personally during my time as Environment Minister in Northern Ireland. As other Ministers will endorse, the usual response after a visit is a short note of thanks. Following one such visit to Northern Ireland, Prince Charles’ first letter to me ran to three long pages, with well-informed observations, thoughts and suggestions for future collaboration and support on heritage issues. It was what we would nowadays call “a nudge”. In the correspondence that followed, the Prince offered to arrange visits to newly developed sites and meetings with key advisers, all of which turned out to be both fascinating and useful.

Around that time in 2003, my much-loved grandmother died. As her funeral was during his visit, which was over several days, there were a number of engagements that I was due to host or attend that I was unable to make. When I returned to Northern Ireland, I was surprised to receive many lovely messages of condolence from people whom I only slightly knew and I did not really understand why. I later found out that, at all the events I had missed, Prince Charles had explained to everybody why I was unable to be there and that I was with my family. It was very thoughtful and greatly appreciated.

My favourite story of kindness is about the new young assistant private secretary accompanying his Minister to a meeting with His Royal Highness. Nervous and inexperienced, he read every book and took as much advice as possible on protocol and etiquette—he was not going to make a mistake. However, he became steadily more anxious as the day drew near. That his female Minister strode up to Prince Charles, arm outstretched to shake hands, did nothing to quell his nerves. As the Prince and the Minister sat talking over tea, the poor, now terrified, private secretary was unable to stop his hands shaking to such an extent that the sound of a cup clattering against saucer was in danger of drowning out the conversation. Ignoring it just made it worse. At which point, the Prince, sensing his acute discomfort, reached out and said, “May I take that from you?”—much to the relief of all.

No comments would be complete without an acknowledgement of His Royal Highness’s deep commitment to the Commonwealth, especially now it is confirmed that he will be its next Head. His recent visit to west Africa demonstrates that this is more than a formal duty but a responsibility that he clearly respects and enjoys.

None of us can choose the life that we are born into, but, especially from a position of privilege, we have a choice of how to live it and how to contribute. When His Royal Highness spoke in your Lordships’ House more than four decades ago, the then Leader of the House and previous Labour Leader, Malcolm Shepherd, reflected:

“The noble Prince was born to great privilege and great opportunity, and also to a position of influence. Equally, such a position, by its very nature, is open to temptation. It would be easy to find the easy way out and to seek narrow, selfish interests, for we are all human … But the noble Prince … has chosen the hard road of duty and service”.—[Official Report, 13/6/74; col. 632.]

While we hope that, on his birthday, he will be allowed to succumb to some temptation, on this side of the House we wish the Prince of Wales a very happy birthday.

My Lords, it is a particular pleasure for me to support the humble Address, which we are debating today. For 20 years from the early 1990s, I worked with the Prince’s Trust, first as a consultant and then as chair of its Football Initiative.

Started with the Prince’s severance pay when he left the Royal Navy in 1976, the trust has now helped more than 900,000 young people. Its turnover is more than £50 million a year. It turns around the lives of the vast bulk of the young people with whom it works.

This has been possible only because of the hands-on commitment of the Prince, who has devoted an enormous amount of his time and energy to promoting its work. In doing so, he has deployed in an extremely canny way the soft power he wields—and which he knows he wields.

One example sums this up. In the autumn of 1997, the trust had just launched an initiative to involve the Premier League football clubs in its work: to use the stardust of the clubs and their grounds to motivate participants in trust programmes. I had managed to persuade seven of the 20 Premier League clubs to become involved. To persuade the remainder, we held a tea party in St James’s Palace for the club chairmen. They all came. Prince Charles had tea with the ones who had signed up. The others had to suffer a lecture from me. At the end of my homily, double doors swung open and the Prince emerged, followed by seven grinning chairmen. The others were furious at their second-class treatment. One of them marched across the room and said in threatening tones, “You’ll be hearing from me in the morning”. Indeed, the next morning his club secretary rang and sheepishly asked to get involved, which the club then did. More than 20 years later this programme alone has raised more than £9 million from the Premier League and the Professional Footballers’ Association, and impacted on the lives of tens of thousands of young people.

None of this could have happened without the Prince’s personal involvement at the start and his continuing involvement ever since. It is one of countless cases where the Prince has used his influence for the good of the country of which he will eventually become monarch. It is a formidable record of achievement which I suggest has had a greater impact on the country than that of any Prince of Wales since the Black Prince some 650 years ago. The country is fortunate in having such a thoughtful, committed and energetic Prince of Wales. He fully deserves all our good wishes for his 70th birthday and for his future health and happiness.

My Lords, as the House knows very well, the Cross-Bench group, whom I represent, seldom speaks with one voice, but on this occasion I am quite sure that every Member of my group would wish me to say how delighted we all are to be associated in every way with the tributes that have been paid across the House.

Our group brings to this House Members with a wide range of experience. Some, by reason of the positions they have held, have a much greater appreciation than the rest of us of the work which His Royal Highness has done, and is still doing, in so many areas of public life with such a sense of dedication and commitment. But all of us, in one way or another, have our own memories of him and of the service that he has given, and we can all share in paying tribute to his many achievements in so many areas, to which reference has already been made.

Our tribute would not be complete without special mention of His Royal Highness’s close interest in Dumfries House, near Cumnock in East Ayrshire. This is but one example of the many cases to which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, paid tribute in his address. Dumfries House is a handsome building which dates from the 1750s, a large country house with a priceless collection of furniture, and all was at risk of being abandoned and sold off had it not been for a very substantial loan from the Prince’s charitable trust. That was not all: as a result of his personal intervention in 2007 and his constant encouragement and unique guidance ever since, all of this has now been preserved and renovated, to the great benefit of the local economy. The estate is now open to the public and the surrounding area has been completely revitalised. This was a community which was suffering greatly, as East Ayrshire did, from the closure of its coal mines. What has happened since has been a renovation of the community as a result of the interest which His Royal Highness has taken. The whole enterprise has benefited greatly throughout from the close interest which he has taken in everything that goes on, and his belief, made clear in the television programme to which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, made reference earlier, that in such things it is the detail that matters. If ever there was an example of his ability to make a difference, and to inspire others to do so, this is it. I know that the local community is immensely grateful for what he has done.

I think that it is fair to say that His Royal Highness is not quite as well known for one-liners as his father, but I do remember one, because I was there and heard it. The date was 30 December 1999. The place was the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. His Royal Highness had decided to observe the arrival of the new millennium in Scotland and not, like many others, at the Dome in Greenwich. He gave a dinner party in the Palace that evening, and it was preceded by a parade. As we were in Scotland, it was of course a march past of pipe bands. There were hundreds of pipers and drummers of all ages and all shapes and sizes. I recall one little drummer boy who caught everyone’s attention. He was so small, and the drum so big, that his father had to hold it for him as he marched past. After dinner, His Royal Highness made a very brief speech. He summed up the whole evening for us at the end of it in one sentence, which I will always remember. It revealed his charming and kindly sense of humour, which is never very far away and was certainly there that evening. He said, “Love hath no greater gift to offer”, adding, to much laughter, “than that a father should carry his son’s drum”.

On behalf of all of us on the Cross Benches, I join the rest of the House in supporting this Motion and wishing His Royal Highness a very happy birthday. To adopt the time-honoured phrase, we all wish him very many happy returns of the day.

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I express our warm congratulations to His Royal Highness on the occasion of his 70th birthday and associate myself with the sentiments already expressed by those on the other Benches, especially as regards His Royal Highness’s work in the Commonwealth.

In a speech that he gave some 40 years ago in this Chamber, His Royal Highness spoke of,

“the very real desire on the part of all sorts of people to give service to other human beings without thought of any remuneration or particular recognition for themselves”.—[Official Report, 25/6/1975; col. 1418.]

I am sure we can all agree that he has lived up to his own statement through his lifelong dedication to the service of our nation and his ongoing concern for our young people, especially through the Prince’s Trust, as was outlined by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby.

There has been talk of meddling. In the Church we politely say “being prophetic”. To some extent, His Royal Highness is a prophet. A prophet in the Old Testament is someone who sees slightly further into things than other people and, perhaps to some people’s discomfort at times, may bring them out and is then proved to be right. He has shown his prophetic instincts, not least in his welcome advocacy of the critical need to protect the environment and, as has already been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, his instincts around plastics pollution. Those efforts have been well ahead of most of us in this Chamber.

His Royal Highness has been a leader also in speaking out on the plight of persecuted Christians around the world—something for which I am most grateful personally, including, as it does, benefit to the Christians of the Anglican Communion. His deep confidence in his own personal faith has been a basis for, as he has put it, “building bridges across chasms”. His own personal clear and orthodox Christianity is, like that of Her Majesty, combined with a proper, informed and profound hospitality to those of other faiths or no faith, and an equal concern for their flourishing.

When I have had the privilege of seeing His Royal Highness at work, I have been struck by his profound pastoral skills, which have been outlined this afternoon. I think particularly of an event at Liverpool Cathedral for the bereaved relatives of police who had died in the line of duty. The impact he had on some of those who had been very recently bereaved was noticeable. His focused attention on the person he is meeting is always evident, as well as his striking sense of humour, as has already been said. His love for his family has been spoken of. As the whole nation has seen, it is matched by his clear love for and dutiful service to his country. We have united this year to celebrate his family’s joys and I am delighted to express the same joy on this occasion.

In this Chamber, before business every day we pray for our Royal Family. I am sure that we join, in one way or another, with the good wishes or prayers that His Royal Highness may be endued, as the Prayer goes, “with thy Holy Spirit”; enriched “with Heavenly Grace”; prospered “with all happiness”; and brought “to thine everlasting kingdom”.

My Lords, in briefly closing these contributions, I will say that what is clear from everything said today is the great affection with which His Royal Highness is viewed in this House. We send him our sincere congratulations and, at the same time, our best wishes to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall. I would add only this directly to His Royal Highness: if you have reservations about turning 70, just you wait until you get to 80. Happy Birthday.

Motion agreed nemine dissentiente.