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Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Volume 824: debated on Friday 9 September 2022


My Lords, in a moment, the Leader of the House will begin today’s solemn business and lead the House of Lords in making tributes to Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I will first offer a short contribution from the Woolsack.

Her late Majesty, whom we mourn today, was, for over 70 years, a loyal and steadfast presence in the national life of the United Kingdom. Her strong sense of public duty and her devotion to the welfare and happiness of her people served to bind our nation together during an epoch of unprecedented societal and technological change. Her unique record of public service, deep sense of faith and commitment to her role ensure that she will be regarded as a supreme example of a constitutional monarch.

Today, my thoughts, and indeed those of the whole House, go out to members of her family, especially His Majesty the King, for whom this feeling of loss will be profound. I offer my devoted sympathy, as well as the thoughts, prayers, commitment and dedication of this House and its Members.

My Lords, this is an appropriately dark and dreary day, and one we prayed would never come. These are words that I hoped never to hear spoken, let alone to have to speak.

I ask myself how people will conceive of life without Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the heart and focus of our nation’s love and loyalty. For millions of people, she was the mother of our nation and the literal embodiment of the United Kingdom, which she so cherished. The shock will be immense and the grief unmeasured—as we already see. Even people in their 70s have never known life without her. She was our anchor of stability in a changing world and our exemplar of conduct and courtesy—one who, from the highest position in the land, showed us day by day the virtues of dignity, civility, humility, truthfulness and service.

“The Queen”: two little words that identified her instantly in seven continents and 100 languages. Can we conceive never again hearing that voice—that kindly, gentle voice, as we heard it from that very Throne at our State Openings—giving, in her royal broadcasts at Christmas or lately during lockdown, her unvarying message of faith and hope? Her voice was warmly encouraging to so many people on her myriad daily visits to hospitals, schools and factories and all the public places in cities, towns and villages here and across all her realms and territories—indeed the whole world. No one ever questioned her work ethic; she was Queen for everyone, every place and every generation.

In a moving and unusually public remark—because Her Majesty had that diamond among virtues, discretion—Her Majesty said of the husband that she so loved, our late lamented Prince Philip, that he was quite simply her

“strength and stay all these years”.

So was she to us, and to all the countries and peoples of the great Commonwealth that she herself, beyond all others, nurtured, and to which she was devoted. She was our strength and stay for 70 years—firm in her duty, wise in her counsel, reassuring in her smile and gracious in her every act, whether in stretching out the hand of reconciliation in Ireland or encouraging a timorous child hovering with a bouquet that he dared not present.

How many tens of millions of people over 70 long years have travelled, sometimes hundreds of miles, to see her, the most famous woman in the world—although that was the very last thing she would ever have sought to be? Having seen her, they were touched by her warmth and went home with joy in their hearts, secure that there was a sparkle of goodness and a spirit of good humour in the world—and, my goodness, Her Majesty had humour and wit. People were just glad that she had come to their little corner of the world; frankly, people were just glad that she was there. For as they loved the public Queen, they also loved the private Queen, with her dogs and horses and her joy in Scotland’s countryside, wherein she died. Many who came to see her were from other nations, not her subjects, on her state visits or on their visits to this country. She was our nation’s greatest magnet and our finest diplomat. None will ever have forgotten that day when they saw her, however long it was ago.

All of us, whether we knew her or not, felt that we knew her and were glad that we knew her. Of all the different things we felt we knew, the one thing we all surely knew lies in that one word: duty. Hers was a life given to duty, to the service of her peoples, service to others: unceasing, utterly selfless service given with resilience and forbearance even in the difficult times. From that moment in her 21st birthday broadcast when she declared that her whole life would be devoted to our service, through her sacred coronation oath, to what we witnessed this last week, when this quite extraordinary woman summoned the last drops of her strength to say farewell to her 14th Prime Minister and appoint her 15th, it was duty, my Lords—duty. Many of us make many promises, and we all fall short of them. In 1947 and 1953, Her Majesty made one great and solemn vow of lifelong service, and she honoured it without flinch or blemish for 75 years.

Therein was another quality of Her Majesty: constancy and courage—the courage that we saw when, at Trooping the Colour, a demented man fired shots at her that no one then knew were blanks. That consummate horsewoman steadied her horse and just got on with it, as her generation did. She displayed that courage this last week too, even unto the threshold of death.

In that very first 21st birthday broadcast, so soon after a terrible war that scorched and stole the flower of her youth, she said something else to the young people of Britain and the Commonwealth. It is often overlooked, but it should not be forgotten. She said that they must never be daunted by anxieties and hardships. Her Majesty was never daunted; she always persevered. I venture to say, with no disrespect to the first, mighty Queen Elizabeth, that here was the greatest sovereign this country has ever had.

The deepest and most poignant sympathy of your Lordships’ House and all our thoughts will be with all her sorrowing family and with our King, for over half a century her fellow in duty as her faithful Prince of Wales. We pray that God may now protect and preserve him as our new King. May he and the Royal Family be consoled in their grief and comforted by the boundless love with which Her Majesty has ever been and, I believe, ever will be regarded.

We in her loyal House of Lords, along with hundreds of millions of people across the world, will join in prayers for our dear, our dearest, departed Queen. We call upon almighty God, in whom she so profoundly trusted and believed, to receive, as he so surely will, her dauntless and immortal soul. Thank you, Ma’am. May you ever rest in peace, as you will ever rest in our hearts.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord True, has spoken for us all in his very moving tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. That we should feel not just grief and sadness but shock at the passing of our Queen at the age of 96 is extraordinary. It is not just our nations that are deeply shaken. Across the world, from great leaders to schoolchildren, we all feel that we have lost something special from our lives. It was so finely illustrated last night as, around the globe, lights dimmed, flags were flown at half-mast and national monuments were illuminated.

As the most recognisable face in the world, Her Majesty has been a fixed point at the core of our national life. As the world has changed almost beyond recognition during the 70 years of her reign, through her experience, her character and steadfast sense of duty, the Queen was able to remain a constant and unwavering presence while still ensuring that the monarchy adapted to the challenges of the modern age. It was not just her longevity and the span of history she lived through but how she represented and served the nations of the UK and the Commonwealth that have earned such admiration and affection.

The noble Lord, Lord True, spoke of that remarkable 21st birthday speech, when she dedicated her life, be it long or short, to our service and, as she said, to make us

“more free, more prosperous, more happy and a more powerful influence for good in the world”.

She saw that commitment as a joint endeavour, as she added:

“But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me.”

And we did. That is why we mourn her loss so deeply today.

When Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born, few could have predicted the life ahead of her. Her father King George VI’s succession to the Throne was sudden and unexpected. Despite feeling unprepared, his general devotion and commitment to his country, to the Commonwealth and all its people earned him great warmth and admiration, particularly during the trauma of the war years. The then Princess Elizabeth also readily absorbed her new responsibilities. We should not underestimate the impact of her first public broadcast, at the age of 14, on the BBC’s “Children’s Hour” to those evacuated overseas during the Second World War.

Her Majesty later qualified as a mechanic and driver with the women’s branch of the British Army, the ATS. Apparently, the Government did not approve, believing that her most important training should be as heir to the Throne, not as a mechanic, yet her determination in insisting that she wanted to serve her country was an early sign of the great Queen she would become. And, having served in the ATS, on VE Day the two Royal Princesses were as excited as anyone. Her Majesty later spoke of joining the crowds in Whitehall, where they mingled anonymously with those linking arms and singing. In a world without mobile phones or selfies, I wonder how many thought that the two young women celebrating with them looked just like the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

It is wonderful how she reached across the generations. My parents and grandparents would speak of her and her father’s dedication to the country during the war. As the first monarch of the television age, she and the Duke of Edinburgh ensured that her Coronation was the first ever to be broadcast across the world, as she pioneered the Christmas Day televised message. She connected with and was visible to each new generation in a way no monarch has ever done before, even when having to resort to Zoom during the pandemic. Her arrival at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games, where she appeared to be parachuted into the stadium with James Bond, was as surprising as it was delightful, and the nation was just enchanted by her sharing of tea and marmalade sandwiches with Paddington Bear for her Platinum Jubilee.

That sense of fun enhanced her reputation as a monarch who connected with and understood her people. Of her 15 Prime Ministers, the first was born over a century before the last. At their weekly audiences, she was so much more than a willing confidante with absolute discretion. Her experience gave her a knowledge and an intuitive understanding of domestic and international issues. At home and abroad, she presented the best of us. President Barack Obama, one of the 14 US Presidents of her lifetime, said:

“Queen Elizabeth II embodied the special relationship”.

But she was so much more than a figurehead. Her historic visits to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 and Northern Ireland in 2012 were of global significance and further proof of her diplomatic skills. It is enormously valued that Her Majesty never spoke publicly of her views on a political or policy issue. She maintained a dignified privacy of thought and displayed strict impartiality. If it was frustrating at times, it never showed.

As Head of State, she symbolised that our common values are greater than any divisions. Many in your Lordships’ House will have memories of meetings with Queen Elizabeth that they will treasure and will share during tributes in your Lordships’ House. More importantly, up and down and across the country—indeed, all over the world—people who met her, spoke to her or just saw her in person are also sharing their memories. Our affection for Her Majesty is not the demanded affection of deference to a monarch of the past, but is freely given for a monarch who, in an era of great change and some turbulence, provided precious stability and continuity. Although we are united in sorrow, we are also united in pride and in celebrating the life of a remarkable Queen.

It is the end of a great Elizabethan age. We send our very sincere condolences to all members of the Royal Family on their profound loss, especially to His Majesty. We join the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, in the hope that the love, respect and admiration of your Lordships’ House, the country, the Commonwealth and all across the world, provides some comfort in their loss.

My Lords, it is only a matter of weeks since your Lordships’ House met to pay tribute to the Queen on the occasion of her Platinum Jubilee. On that occasion, we knew that the Queen was already in frail health, but nobody contemplated that her reign had such a short period ahead of it. Because the Queen is the only monarch most people have known and was a permanent, reassuring presence in a challenging and rapidly changing world, her death has clearly come to millions as a great shock. For all but the oldest among us, a hitherto ever-present feature of British life has been removed and a deep sense of loss is felt not just by my generation, but by many of our children and grandchildren, for whom one might have thought that the Queen was a distant and possibly irrelevant figure.

What was the basis of this universal appeal? I suggest that it is because she demonstrated qualities that appeal across and down the ages. She was constant. As the world changed, as Prime Ministers and Presidents came and went, she exuded a sense of serenity and calm and, in times of national trauma and tragedy, a sense that these difficulties were surmountable, that they should be met with fortitude and that they would pass. She was unwavering in her commitment to the service of the nation and to her duty to represent its traditions and values, but she was sensitive to changing times, realising that the monarchy too had to change—had to be more open, more accessible and more accountable for everything it did. She was empathetic. For someone whose daily life was as different as it is possible to be from that of the vast majority of her subjects, she had an ability to communicate with them as individuals, to put them at ease and to make them feel truly special.

She had a great sense of humour. This no doubt helped her deal with the vagaries of her own life, but she used it effortlessly to defuse potentially difficult situations and to put the thousands of people she met at ease. She had a zest for life and for the role she had been allotted. Just look at the picture taken earlier this week as she met the new Prime Minister. That smile was genuine and heartwarming. Finally, she appealed to people’s better natures. Every year in her Christmas broadcast, she championed the values of community, generosity, kindness and service to others. We politicians share these values, but the nature of political debate means that we rarely articulate them. The country also shares them and looked to the Queen to champion them, which she unfailingly did.

These qualities were underpinned by two constants in her own life. The first, as we heard, was her marriage to Prince Philip, whom she repeatedly called her rock. For anyone who saw them together, there was no doubting that this was indeed the case. The second was her religious faith. This not only provided a source of strength and comfort for her but underpinned her approach to being the monarch. There is, in the Book of Common Prayer, the evocative concept of an individual’s “bounden duty”. The Queen applied this concept not only to her spiritual life but to her public role. She understood the importance of that duty for a monarch and she fulfilled her duties, one might say, religiously—literally to the end of her life.

As we remember the Queen, we also have in our thoughts, His Majesty King Charles—how strange it is to be using those words—Prince William and all other members of the Royal Family. We send them our condolences and good wishes for the difficult days ahead. We have lived our lives in the Elizabethan age, and how fortunate we have been to do so.

My Lords, on behalf of the Cross Benches, I want to associate myself which each of the three very moving speeches that the House has listened to. In a sense, there is nothing more to be added; yet, we do need to reflect and think about the things we have heard and perhaps you will allow me to just add a little to it.

What I find amazing is that we have known that yesterday would happen and yet, just looking around the Chamber, we are stunned. It was going to happen; we did not want it to and, because we did not want it to, we shut our eyes to its inevitability. So, here we are, assembled to pay our great respects to a great Queen—as has already been said—in an age of amazing change, in an age where more has changed for more people in more places than ever in history. For each one of us, and for each member of the world’s population, life has changed more dramatically than ever before: sometimes for much better, sometimes for less good.

It is no surprise that there will be an outpouring of affection, respect, love and, indeed, grief at the disappearance from our lives of this great Queen. We do have to remember that she was the Queen to men and women who were born in Queen Victoria’s age. We have to remember that she, in her generation, was one of that generation for whom the horrors, the fears, the catastrophe of the Second World War lived bright and dark. For that generation, the arrival of a new princess to become Queen, mourning the loss of her beloved father and yet assuming her responsibilities without hesitation, was a moment that reflected the possibility in those austere times of a great future for this country. To the extent that there has been a great future, we are indebted to her for her contribution to it. As it is now, the young still adore her. It is something to do with style, approach, commitment, the ability to get the best out of everybody she was speaking to—and that probably includes many of us—that fixed the affection for ever and kept her in the warmth of all our hearts.

I just wanted to refer to one particular matter that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has just referred to. One of the most unsung qualities of a Christian life—and, indeed, of a human characteristic—is fortitude. It is one of the eternal verities. In this Queen, we had fortitude: fortitude to stand up and do your duty—it is not the doing your duty that is the characteristic; it is the fortitude on which it stems.

We also have to face the fact that life has not always been easy for Her Majesty. There have been some dreadful times: there have been times when the personal criticism of her was awful; there were times when most of us, faced with that sort of criticism, would say, “Okay, I will give up.” There were times, too, when her personal life must have been filled with a sense of cataclysm—all in the public gaze. We all knew about every family trouble: I would not want anyone’s family troubles to be illuminated in public like hers have been. Again, there could have been times when she said, “This is too much”, the most important of which, of course, and most recent, was the death of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. But there she was stepping forward, now an elderly lady, nevertheless with fortitude to do her duty.

There are going to be many other things said and I shall not reflect on this anymore, save for one final observation: if we are to be paying tribute to Her Majesty, it is right that it should be here in the heart of our constitutional monarchy paying our respects to a great constitutional monarch. We just do that, do we not? We thank her. We are very grateful.

My Lords, one of the greatest privileges of sitting on these Benches is that, within a year or so of becoming a diocesan bishop, you are invited to spend a weekend at Sandringham. While there, often in January, you go for a barbeque—fortitude. You have the enormous gift given to you of being able to spend time with Her late Majesty, with her family, with the jigsaw puzzle and all the other things that are there. Thus, on behalf of these Benches—I know from the conversations we have among ourselves—there is a profound sense of personal sorrow and an even more profound sense of the significance of the virtues of the characteristics of the late Queen.

What has been said already today has been extraordinarily eloquent. I do not intend to repeat it but to say something about the Queen’s links to faith and to the Church of England. First is her assurance, her confidence, in the God who called her. At her coronation, so long ago, conducted by Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher—the first of seven Archbishops of Canterbury who had the privilege of serving her—the service began with her walking by herself past the Throne, where she would very shortly be seated, and kneeling by the high altar of Westminster Abbey. The order of service said, “She will kneel in private prayer”—and so she did, for some time. The next thing to happen was that homage was paid to her, starting with the Duke of Edinburgh. What that said about her understanding of her role was that she pledged her allegiance to God before others pledged their allegiance to her. She had this profound sense of who she was and by whom she was called.

Then there was her profound, deep and extraordinary theological vision. Many years ago now—seven or eight years ago—I was travelling abroad, and someone who had no knowledge of these things said, “Well, of course, she’s not really got that much intellect, has she? I mean, private tutors and all this—what can she know?” Well, what ignorance. In 2012, she spoke at Lambeth Palace on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, and the speech she made there is one we return to very frequently, because she set out a vision for what an established Church should be. It was not a vision of comfort and privilege; it was to say, put very politely, “You are here as an umbrella for the whole people of this land”. The subtext was, “If you are not that, you are nothing”. That is a deep vision of what it is to be the Church—of what it is to be not an established Church but a Christian Church. That came from her deep understanding of faith. Every five years, at the inauguration of the Church of England’s General Synod, she came with messages of encouragement and assurance of her prayers. In 2021, her message was,

“my hope is that you will be strengthened with the certainty of the love of God, as you work together and draw on the Church’s tradition of unity in fellowship for the tasks ahead.”

Publicly, Her late Majesty worshipped regularly and spoke of her faith in God, particularly in her Christmas broadcasts, with quiet, gentle confidence. Privately, she was an inspiring and helpful guide and questioner to me and to my predecessors. She had a dry sense of humour, as we have heard already, and the ability to spot the absurd—the Church of England was very capable of giving her material—but she never exercised that at the expense of others. When I last saw her in June, her memory was as sharp as it could ever have been. She remembered meetings from 40 or 50 years ago and drew on the lessons from those times to speak of today and what we needed to learn: assurance of the love of God in her call, and then humility. It would be easy as a monarch to be proud, but she was everything but that. It was her faith that gave her strength. She knew that, but she knew also her call to be a servant, the one whom she served, and the nation she served, the Commonwealth and the world. Over the last 24 hours, I have had so many messages from archbishops, bishops and other people around the world, within the Commonwealth and way beyond it—from China, Latin America and many other places—in a deep sense of loss.

It has been the privilege of those on these Benches to be intimately involved with momentous occasions so often throughout Her late Majesty’s life. As has been said, she has been a presence for as long as we can remember. Jesus says in the Gospel of St Matthew:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”.

May God comfort all those who grieve Her late Majesty’s loss, and may God sustain His Majesty King Charles III in the enormous weight and challenges that he takes on immediately, at the same as he bears the burden of grief, and those around him in his family. May God hold Her late Majesty in His presence, firmly secured in the peace that passes far beyond our understanding.

My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if we adjourn until 1.15 pm so that noble Lords who have to do things and be various places can find the time to do so.

Sitting suspended.