Her Majesty the Queen: 90th Birthday

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Thursday 21st April 2016

(8 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Moved by
Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston
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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.”

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con)
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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.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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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.