HC Deb 31 July 1980 vol 989 cc1757-66
Mr. Speaker

I have notice of a manuscript amendment from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I am afraid that it is outside the scope of the motion and I cannot accept it.

4.26 pm
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty on the eightieth birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and to assure Her Majesty of the great pleasure felt by this House on so joyful an occasion.

An eightieth birthday is always a matter for delighted congratulation. In the case of the Queen Mother the people of Britain celebrate with affection and pride the birthday of a person with a very special place in our hearts. She is a Queen who has been strong with the brave, has mourned with the sad and has enchanted everyone by her grace and wit.

It was, indeed, a happy occasion for our Royal House and for Britain when in 1923 the then Duke of York was able to persuade the Lady Elizabeth to be willing to leave her Scottish family home and to accept the restrictions that inevitably attend the life of a Royal consort. Then, it could not have been foreseen that one day she would be asked to carry vastly greater burdens and responsibilities.

Many among us recall vividly the Queen Mother's marvellous support for King George VI and the example that they together gave the nation of courage and selfless devotion to duty during the hard wartime years. To look back into those memories of 40 years ago is to remember the King and Queen working on daily in a London in flames.

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother loves being with people, cares about everyone that she has met, astonishing and delighting by remembering the names and faces from encounters long past. I doubt whether any future generation will see more changes than those that have taken place during the first 80 years of this century.

Our Royal Family has been able to use to the full the dramatic improvements in travel that have become possible in the past 40 years, and there are few parts of the Commonwealth that the Queen Mother has not visited and loved. Indeed, I believe that I am right in saying that she was the first member of the Royal Family to fly right round the world at a time when such journeys were far from being as easy as they are today. Wherever she has gone, she has shown her genius for making friends and delighting the people.

This great lady—a source of deep, quiet strength, upholding King George through prosperity and adversity—has been, since 1952, an equal source of encouragement as a mother, then a grandmother and now a great-grandmother to our present Sovereign and her family.

In her calm fearlessness and irrepressible inward gaiety, she sets a stamp of golden distinction on all the innumerable functions that she still continues to attend. At a time of life when most people would be expecting to take it a little bit more easily, she has not spared herself in public duties. For her devotion to the service of the Queen's people in this country and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, we owe her our heartfelt thanks and wish her health and happiness for many years to come.

4.31 pm
Mr. James Callaghan () Cardiff, South-East

I rise to endorse and support the Prime Minister's proposal that a message be sent from this House to congratulate the Queen Mother on her eightieth birthday on Monday next, and to wish her many happy returns of the day.

I have been asked to say that the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) wish me to associate their parties with this proposal.

I agree with the Prime Minister that none of us here are in any doubt that the Queen Mother holds a special place of affection in the hearts of our people—a place that she has won by her own personal and very attractive qualities. In her meetings with others, both in her public duties and in her private life, she has an unaffected naturalness and a simplicity of approach that endears her to those whom she meets and brings an immediate response from them. We all admire the tremendous gusto with which she undertakes her public duties and the warmth that she brings to them. Even more, she carries them out with an infectious gaiety.

As this occasion is a birthday greeting, there is no need to rehearse all the many events in the long span of the Queen Mother's life. The Prime Minister has rightly touched on some of them. I should also like to remember, as she did, just one—the remarkable part played by the Queen Mother, in company with the late King George VI, during the 1939-45 war in sustaining the morale of the nation. Whenever there was bomb destruction at its heaviest, or death, distress or hardship at their greatest, they together provided a rallying point and became a symbol of the strength that united us in the darkest days of the war. Now those days, thank God, are long past, never to return, we trust. However, we retain a host of abiding memories from those days—and not only from those days but from the 35 years since—in which her many acts of kindness, most of them unknown, of thoughtfulness for others, and of generosity, have been the characteristic feature of her life. So we thank her, send her our affectionate greetings and our hearty good wishes, and our hope that she will be spared to enjoy many birthdays still to come.

4.33 pm
Mr. David Steel () Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles

In the tributes paid to Her Majesty the Queen Mother, on the occasion of her eightieth birthday, by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition today, as in the many other tributes in other places, there has been a common theme—the sheer joy and delight that she has brought, throughout her long life of public service, into the hearts of the British people.

From her steadfastness as consort to King George VI, especially through the war, to her identification with the country life of her native Scotland, the Queen Mother has brought her unique brand of radiant warmth to millions at home and overseas. In joining, on behalf of my colleagues, in conveying the loyal greetings and the best wishes of the House as a whole for her health and happiness, I pay tribute to her role as the senior member of the Royal Family and give thanks for the enduring stable influence of the monarchy, which she has done so much to sustain. Truly, it will not be a mere formality when we carry our thanks and good wishes to Her Most Gracious Majesty.

4.34 pm
Mr. Ian Stewart () Hitchin

I have the privilege to represent the constituency of Hitchin, which includes St. Paul's Walden, where Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the Queen Mother, beloved of us all, spent much of the early part of her life. She has a special place in the affections of my constituents, through a lifetime of long service, not only the country in general but particularly to that part of it that she knew so well in her early years and that she has never forgotten.

One of this gracious lady's most recent acts was to give active support to a fund-raising effort on behalf of St. Mary's church, in Hitchin and, for her own part, she played an important role in achieving a great response. It was one of her many acts that have been greatly appreciated by those locally in North Hertfordshire. I should like to take this opportunity to add a word from my constituents in support of the motion on this occasion.

4.35 pm
Mr. Dennis Skinner () Bolsover

When I read the motion this morning, my immediate reaction was to think of all the many other 80-year-olds in this country, in my constiuency and in many others. My second reaction was to read the motion carefully. I hastily came to the conclusion that it was very narrow, and needed to be broadened. That is why I sent to the Table Office a manuscript amendment, through which I wanted to add the words and that this House congratulates all those persons in the United Kingdom who have reached their eightieth birthday and above, especially since many of those aforesaid have managed to survive in much more adverse circumstances, especially during the last fifteen months of Tory Government. This motion is like many others that we discuss on some occasions. It is very elitist and narrow, and comes from a sloppy concensus that I abhor.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman () Lancaster

The words of a very bitter man.

Mr. Skinner

I am more concerned with people like Mr. and Mrs. Shuker, who live in my constituency. One of them lives at No. 3 Sandy Lane, with her daughter and son-in-law, Les Jackson, the county and England cricketer. Her husband lives in a small hospital further down the road in the constituency, at Chesterfield. One is 87 years old and the other is 88. They are desperately trying to get together for the last period of their lives, but are unable to do so because of the many cuts that have been perpetrated by the Tory Derbyshire county council and the Government. I feel that this motion should have included the Mr. and Mrs. Shukers of this world.

I think also of those many widows of 80 whose husbands lost their lives in pits and other industries throughout the years, who have struggled to make ends meet, who do not know what it is to have more than a few pence to scrape together three days after they have drawn their miserable pensions. I think of the blind people in their eighties and the way in which they have been treated by successive Governments, and of some of the motions that have appeared on the Order Paper from time to time over the years when I have been a Member of Parliament, when little help has been given, apart from that given under the last Government.

I think also of those 80-year-olds who have been in contact with me about the massive increase in the price of home helps, which was brought about once again by the Tory Derbyshire county council, and the increase in meals-on-wheels charges.

I read in the newspapers recently that the Queen Mother always seems to manage to dress correctly for the occasion. I know many 80-year-old women in my constituency and outside who do not have the opportunity to find dresses for the right occasion. I know—as, no doubt, you knew in your youth, Mr. Speaker, in South Wales—many 80-year-olds who, in their lifetime, had to take in washing, when poverty was at its greatest. The old now suffer from attacks similar to those that were perpetrated then. They take in washing to make ends meet.

Many 80-year-olds have sons and daughters who are being thrown on the dole. Many of the sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters who were in work previously were able on many occasions to provide a few extra shillings to help out their elderly people.

I think of the over-80s who have arthritic hips and need them replaced but find that they cannot have that done soon enough because of Government expenditure cuts. I think of the old men who worked in the pits and who are staggering about with pneumoconiosis. Some of them need heart pacemakers but, because of the Government's cuts, they are unable to get them. I think of the miserly, miserable attack that the Government made—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am doing my best to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). He must direct it to the question whether the motion should be accepted.

Mr. Skinner

I thought that I made it clear at the outset, Mr. Speaker, that I was concerned not with a narrow motion but with one that indicated the compassion of the House for all those aged 80 years and more. That is why I felt that my manuscript amendment to this all-party motion could be accepted.

Finally, I think of the pensioners who did not die of hypothermia during the winter of 1978 because of the electricity discount scheme. The scheme was not good enough, but it saved a few lives. That scheme has been mutilated by the Tory Government. For all those reasons, I consider that the motion is narrow and patronising. It is a motion of the club, and I resent it.

4.42 pm
Mr. William Hamilton () Fife, Central

I find motions of this sort insufferable.

Mr. Robert Atkins () Preston, North

we find you insufferable.

Mr. Hamilton

I know that. The sycophancy and the deference that pour from both Front Benches nauseate some of us. I cannot let this occasion pass without seeking to open the windows a little. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). From time to time I have had occasion to make comments about the institution of the monarchy and its component parts.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Very profitable ones, in the main.

Mr. Hamilton

Not as profitable as the comments that have been made by some.

Several weeks ago I recorded a programme for Granada Television on this institution. Granada is in the news because it has been prevented from publishing some comments made to it about British Steel. The programme that I recorded was due to go out about three or four weeks ago—

Sir William Clark () Croydon, South

What has this to do with the motion?

Mr. Hamilton

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The programme never went out. It has been twice postponed and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his argument to the motion before the House.

Mr. Hamilton

I am doing that directly. Granada has been subject to pressure from the Establishment, about which we are now talking, and as a result the programme will never go out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Good."] I was about to say—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I do not hear all the compliments that are exchanged below the Gangway. Sometimes I think that I am fortunate in that respect. I suggest that we shall all serve ourselves much better if we listen to what the hon. Gentleman has to say before we move on to further business.

Mr. Hamilton

I was about to say that we are celebrating a unique occasion. By any standards, Her Majesty the Queen Mother has been a remarkable lady. At 80 years old, she is amazingly well preserved and almost too constantly radiant to be real. We can all try to forget for a few moments the hairshirt economy being created by the flint-hearted iron lady at No. 10 and seek some warmth and comfort from our magnificent Royal charmer.

On this occasion, it would surely be churlish to rock the boat, even if ever so gently. As a public relations officer for the business, Her Majesty the Queen Mother has been superb. However, some who should know have told me on occasions that her political views are far to the Right of even those of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that we do not discuss the views and attitudes of members of the Royal Family.

Mr. Hamilton

I was not—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman was so doing and he must desist.

Mr. Hamilton

As I was not attempting to discuss them, Mr. Speaker, I cannot desist. I was merely saying what others have told me.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Other people can tell the hon. Gentleman many things that he cannot repeat in the House. I know that he will try to keep in order.

Mr. Hamilton

I shall keep trying, Mr. Speaker. I was about to say that as long as the Queen Mother and those like her are around, another revolution will be that wee bit more difficult to achieve. That is the purpose of the institution.

The whole House will join in wishing Her Majesty many happy returns of her birthday. I think that it will like that wish to go out to all grannies of 80 years of age.

4.48 pm
Dr. Alan Glyn () Windsor and Maidenhead

The House will be aware that Royal Lodge, in which Her Majesty lives, is in my constituency. It is my duty to the House, on behalf of my constituents, to say how much we have appreciated the courage and devotion that she has shown not only to the town that I represent but to the entire country. She has an understanding of all sections of the community. Recently, she visited the homehelps in my constituency and spoke to every one of them individually. At the age of 80, Her Majesty's devotion to duty is an inspiration to many of us and to the younger generation that will follow. On behalf of my constituents, I wish her every good fortune and health for many years to come.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of The House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

I associate myself with the motion. May I give the last word to Bagehot, who unites all parts of the House? He said—it is an observation that commends itself to Labour Members who have spoken so robustly—that a royal marriage or a birthday is a brilliant edition of a universal fact and as such it rivets mankind.

4.50 pm
Mr. Arthur Lewis () Newham, North-West

Everyone who knows the East End of London knows that no one is more patriotic than East Enders. I remember that during and after the war, the Queen Mother and the late King came into the East End, toured the London dock area, and met the people. The Queen Mother was received with acclamation and is loved in the East End.

However, in supporting the motion I wish to attack it, because it does not go far enough. I am, in fact, attacking the Government who framed the motion. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is, in part, right. It is mean and mingy of this mean and mingy Government to bring forward such a motion when they could and should have done something tangible.

What a lovely thing it would have been if, in sending our congratulations and best wishes, which are more than warranted, the Government had announced the allocation of, say, £1 million to give all those of 80 or more £1 or £2 in celebration of Her Majesty's birthday. That would not only have been a demonstration that the House was paying tribute where it is deserved but would have done something for those over 80.

Indeed, the Leader of the House could still propose the establishment of a fund to buy kidney machines or to benefit a charity that the Queen Mother is interested in. That would be a tangible recognition of our tribute on the Queen Mother's birthday. The pious resolution does not go far enough. I wish that we had given a donation or set up a fund to help the underprivileged.

I support the motion, but it should have gone further. Perhaps, even at this late stage, the usual channels might consider whether the House could provide a tangible recognition of Her Majesty's birthday.

Mr. Speaker

I should explain that the motion is actually four motions in one. By the leave of the House, I shall put the first three together.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, nemine contradicente,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty on the eightieth birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and to assure Her Majesty of the great pleasure felt by this House on so joyful an occasion.


That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by such Members of this House as are of Her Majesty's most Honourable Privy Council or of Her Majesty's Household.

Resolved, nemine contradicente,

That a Message be sent to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother to offer the cordial congratulations of this House on Her Majesty's eightieth birthday and to express its warmest desire for her long continuing health and happiness.—[The Prime Minister.]

Mr. Speaker

The name of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was inadvertently omitted from the fourth motion. By leave of the House, I shall put the question on that motion including the name of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.


That Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Whitelaw, Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas, Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Merlyn Rees, Mr. David Steel and Mr. John Parker do wait upon Her Majesty with the said Message.—[The Prime Minister.]