Mr Speaker, today Her Majesty the Queen becomes our country’s longest reigning Monarch.
It is of course typical of her selfless sense of service that she would have us treat this day just like any other. But Mr Speaker, while I rarely advocate disobeying Her Majesty – least of all in her own Parliament, I do think it is right that today we should stop and take a moment as a nation to mark this historic milestone and to thank Her Majesty for the extraordinary service that she has given to our country over more than 6 decades. Mr Speaker, Her Majesty the Queen inspires us all with her incredible service, her dignified leadership and the extraordinary grace with which she carries out her duties, and I would like to say a word about each.
Mr Speaker, on her 21st birthday, in a radio broadcast from Cape Town, over 4 years before she would accede to the throne, the then Princess dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth saying, and I quote:
I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.
It is one thing for a 21 year old to utter those inspiring words. It is another to live by them for more than 60 years. For all of us in this chamber who seek to play our part in public service it is truly humbling to comprehend the scale of service that Her Majesty the Queen has given to this country.
Mr Speaker, the reign of Queen Elizabeth II has been a golden thread running through 3 post-war generations, and she has presided over more than two thirds of our history as a full democracy with everyone being able to vote.
When I was born, Her Majesty had already been reigning for 14 years. When the Father of this House, our longest-serving Member was first elected to this Chamber, Her Majesty had already been Queen for 18 years.
In 63 years and 216 days she has worked with 12 Prime Ministers, 6 Archbishops of Canterbury and 9 Cabinet Secretaries.
She has answered 3.5 million pieces of correspondence, sent over 100,000 telegrams to centenarians across the Commonwealth and met more people than any other Monarch in history. And yet Mr Speaker, whether it is something we suspect she enjoys, such as the Highland Games, or something we suspect she might be less keen on, such as spending New Year’s Eve in the Millennium Dome, she never, ever falters. Her selfless sense of service and duty have earned her unparalleled respect and admiration, not only in Britain, but all around the world.
Turning to her leadership, Her Majesty exemplifies the unique combination of tradition and progress that has come to define us as a nation. She has been a rock of stability in an era in which our country has changed so much, providing an enduring focal point for all her people. But she has also recognised the need to embrace change. As she said in an address to both Houses of Parliament back on her Golden Jubilee in 2002:
For if a Jubilee becomes a moment to define an age, then for me we must speak of change. Change has become a constant; managing it has become an expanding discipline. The way we embrace it defines our future.
Her Majesty’s contribution to shaping the future of the Commonwealth has been particularly extraordinary. Some doubted whether this organisation would succeed, but she has assiduously supported it, growing it from just 7 members in 1952 to 53 today. She has played a leading role in building a unique family of nations that spans every continent, all the main religions and nearly a third of the world’s population.
As a diplomat and an ambassador for Britain, it is hard to overstate what she has done for our country; representing us on 265 official visits to 116 different countries, including making 22 visits to Canada alone. And from her post-apartheid visit to South Africa, to her State visit to Ireland, we have seen time and again how the presence and judicious words of Her Majesty can build partnership and progress like no other.
She is held in deep affection by leaders around the world, even ardent Republicans fall under her spell. Mr Speaker, as we commemorate this historic milestone, I know that Her Majesty would want us to pay a particular tribute to the service and support of her whole family, not least the Duke of Edinburgh who has stood by her side every day of her reign.
Mr Speaker, throughout her long service, the Queen has carried herself with an extraordinary grace and presence. She has led a gentle evolution of our monarchy, bringing it closer to the people while maintaining its dignity. She pioneered the first televised Christmas Day Message, over 30 years before we allowed cameras into this House. She opened up the Royal Collection and Palaces. And she invented the Royal Walkabout, so that she could meet more people on her visits.
People who meet the Queen often talk about it for the rest of their lives. And I am sure that I speak for all of my 11 predecessors when I say that that going to see the Queen to form a government and then meeting her once a week is one of the most enjoyable, inspiring and humbling honours of this office.
Mr Speaker, when I joined Her Majesty for her State visit to Germany earlier this year I learnt that there are many female sovereigns that the Germans call ‘die Königin’, but there is only one they call ‘die Queen’. In fact the German dictionary – the Duden – provides as its example sentence ‘the Queen is coming on a State Visit to Berlin’ and then offers one key grammatical prescript: there is no plural.
Mr Speaker, the Queen is our Queen. And we could not be more proud of her. She has served this country with unerring grace, dignity and decency, and long may she continue to do so.