HL Deb 17 May 2000 vol 613 cc287-9

3.11 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to support events to honour the 100th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the Government have been pleased to authorise Headquarters London District of the Ministry of Defence to support the pageant planned for 19th July. This event, involving the many charities and interests which Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother has supported throughout her life, will be the focus of the people's tribute to her as she celebrates her 100th birthday. Her Majesty's Government believe that it will be a very happy occasion.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. When finalising the arrangements for the celebrations surrounding Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's 100th birthday, and bearing in mind the high esteem and deep affection in which she is held in this country, will the general public be given the widest possible opportunity to witness these events? There has been considerable criticism in many parts of the media.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government believe it is important that as many as possible of the people of the United Kingdom who wish to witness the pageant are able to do so. As the noble Baroness has pointed out, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother is held in great esteem and, perhaps I may say, enormous affection by most people in this country.

At the pageant some 12,400 free seats will be provided, over 10,000 of which will be available to the general public. Eight thousand will be made available to people affiliated to charities or military units; 2,000 are being distributed through two national newspapers; 1,200 seats are reserved for the family and friends of Her Majesty and will be dealt with by the Palace; 500 have been allocated to the Government and 700 for performers and people supporting the event. Furthermore, there will be 600 additional seats in hospitality boxes.

I believe that the noble Baroness is also concerned about the arrangements for broadcasting this event. It is of course a matter for all television companies to decide what they wish to cover and what they do not. It is also a matter for the BBC, which has been the subject of some controversy in this respect. The BBC does, of course, have complete editorial independence. However, I think it is right to say that the Government would prefer to see a wider audience for this event. I am happy to tell the House that today there have been some positive indications from an independent television broadcasting company. It has indicated that it may wish to carry live coverage of the event. I believe that that would be splendid.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government intend to declare the 100th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother a public holiday? If not, why not?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, no such plans have been made for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's birthday. However, I am sure that on the day itself—4th August—Her Majesty will be greeted with the affection which is customary on her birthday. Given that, I am sure that on this special birthday many people will wish to take time off from work in order to offer their congratulations personally.

Lord Acton

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the two newspapers selected to distribute the 2,000 tickets are the Sun and the Sunday Telegraph? As someone who does not read either of those newspapers, I ask the Minister whether she can tell the House how they were selected.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I can confirm that my noble friend is entirely right. The Sun and the Sunday Telegraph will distribute the tickets. I do not know the precise reasons why those two newspapers were selected. Perhaps the choice reflects a certain degree of irritation with some of the disobliging comments made by other newspapers about this event. Obviously, the choice reflects what might be termed one popular newspaper with a very broad circulation and one high quality broadsheet.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, should the BBC stand by its present intention not to cover this event, will the Minister undertake to remind the BBC that many of us who have, throughout our time in politics, supported the principle that the BBC should be funded by a licence fee on the basis that the BBC is a national body may now have reason to consider changing our support?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, perhaps I may say gently to the noble Lord that whatever one's feelings might be as an individual, it is not my job as a Minister to make that point to the BBC. However, I have not been unhappy to see a number of people making the point.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that it would be appropriate for this House to send a message of congratulation to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother? Furthermore, can she tell the House whether the business load is such that it is likely to be possible for the House to do that on the day itself?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I am sure that this matter can be arranged through the usual channels. Noble Lords will have seen that my boss, the Government Chief Whip, has indicated his views. Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the date in question is 4th August. Noble Lords may well have their own views about what this House will be doing on that day. However, I am sure that, as individuals, many of us will wish to send our heartiest congratulations to a very special and very lovely lady.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will the Government bear in mind that those of us who have long memories, such as mine, recall that the Queen Mother showed immense courage when her husband came to the throne and again during the war years when King George VI and the Queen Mother remained in London throughout the bombing? Her Majesty demonstrated enormous courage and was a fine example to the people. Furthermore, she has also shown courage and devotion over a period of 75 years throughout the Commonwealth. Does the Minister agree that these are factors which the Government should not overlook?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I agree entirely with what has been said by the noble Lord. I hope that he will be reassured to learn that the administration and organisation of the pageant have been conducted entirely by Headquarters London District. As many noble Lords will know for themselves, that group has an enormous amount of experience of this kind of event. It has of course been working in direct consultation with the Palace and other participants. It is important that on such a special day the events will be of a character that reflects the wishes and interests of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. I am sure that it will be a great success and a very happy occasion.

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