Mr Speaker, I begin by moving and reading the Humble Address.
I beg to move that an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty expressing the deep sympathies and condolences of this House on the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, whose life was given unstintingly in devoted public service to the Country and the Commonwealth; who with his late Majesty King George VI rallied the nation in the darkest days of war and who in times of peace was a unifying figure for Britain, inspiring love and affection in all She met.
On Friday Her coffin will be carried in a ceremonial procession to Westminster Hall, where it will Lie-in-State until the evening of Monday, 8 April. Members of the public will be able to pay their respects there prior to the funeral, which will take place at 1130am on Tuesday, 9 April in Westminster Abbey.
Mr. Speaker, I know that the whole House will join with me in paying tribute to The Queen Mother, who for almost a century was part of our lives, inspired our country, aroused its respect and affection and for whose service and life we give our profound thanks.
Part of the fascination with The Queen Mother was the sheer span of history She encompassed, not just the great events of the 20th century, its wars, the ideologies that came and went, but its technological and scientific discoveries, its vastly changing culture. 1801 compared to 1701 was no doubt very different. But 2001 compared to 1901 seems an historic age apart and yet She saw it and experienced it all.
She was born during the Boer War, in an era virtually free from the motor car, a time when, She once remembered, a dairyman still often stood with his cow selling milk near the gates of Buckingham Palace. Yet at the end of Her life, thousands of people sent e-mails of condolence to the royal website.
The Titanic sailed and sank when She was 11. World War I broke out on Her fourteenth birthday. Her first child was born in 1926, the year that television was invented. She was the last Empress of India. In 1986 She became the oldest person to bear the title of Queen in the history of the British monarchy. And in all She saw 20 different Prime Ministers pass through Downing Street. One of my best memories of Her is sitting with Her at Balmoral, as She told me of Her personal recollections not just of Churchill and Attlee, but of Asquith, Lloyd George and Baldwin.
Undoubtedly this long perspective brought stability to the monarchy and to the country. But the respect She received, the outpouring of affection accorded Her death, is not the result simply or even principally of Her long life. She could have lived over 100 years and made little mark. The tributes could have been a ritual.
But they weren't. They were genuine and heartfelt and from young and old, from all classes, all backgrounds, all walks of life. And that was because of the person She was, not the rank She held. She came to embody what was best about our past and She made us most optimistic about our future.
She never expected to become Queen - despite being told She would be, by a fortune teller, as a child. It was only after the abdication of Edward VIII that Her husband became King George VI. In 1936, during the abdication crisis, She wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury that "I can hardly believe that we have been called to the tremendous task …… the curious thing is that we are not afraid."
Her husband had seen active service in the Navy. She had never anticipated the role of Queen. Both had led lives reasonably broad in experience and in meeting people. And the War was to prove that fate had chosen well for Britain. Hitler, watching a newsreel clip of her laying a poppy at a First World War memorial and noticing Her poise and spirit, is said to have dubbed Her "the most dangerous woman in Europe." King George and Queen Elizabeth rallied the nation magnificently during the War's worst hours and days. Her refusal to leave London is now legendary. A clue as to why can be found in what She wrote at the time after visiting the East End: "I feel quite exhausted after seeing and hearing so much sadness, sorrow, heroism and magnificent spirit. The destruction is so awful, and the people so wonderful they deserve a better world." She spent nights in air raid shelters, and took revolver-shooting lessons in the grounds of the palace.
Her spirit and the British spirit became inseparably intertwined.
She was a unifying figure too because She personified the diversity and unity of Britain and the Commonwealth. She considered herself a Scot, and was proud of it - a descendant of Scottish royalty, She spent a lot of time from an early age at Her family's estates in Scotland. She was never happier than when at Her home at the Castle of Mey in Caithness, or fly fishing in Scotland's rivers. During a visit to South Africa in 1946 She met an old Boer veteran who told her bitterly, "I can never forgive what the English did to my people." The Queen replied: "Oh, I do so understand. We in Scotland often feel just the same."
In all Her work She was motivated by the most powerful sense of duty and service. She believed that the Royal Family's duty was to serve the nation, and She carried out that role with total and selfless devotion - even after She had suffered the loss of Her beloved husband.
She was still carrying out 130 engagements a year at the age of 80 and even over 50 at the age of 100. She has been involved, often as patron or president, in well over 300 charities, voluntary bodies and other organisations. She served the British Legion, for example, throughout almost its whole existence, nearly 80 years.
We should remember The Queen Mother for Her great sense of fun and Her zest for life. Her enthusiasm and humour shone through in all She did, whether handing out shamrocks to the Irish Guards on St Patrick's Day, inspecting the Chelsea pensioners, or indulging Her lifelong and very serious passion for horseracing.
Her infectious sense of fun could charm even opponents. The veteran anti-monarchist and former MP, Willie Hamilton, said on Her 80th Birthday: "I am glad to salute a remarkable old lady. Long may She live to be the pride of Her family. And may God understand and forgive me if I have been ensnared and corrupted - if only briefly - by this superb old trouper."
Not only did She enjoy life to the full, She helped others to do so. Her longevity and vitality in old age gave hope to older people everywhere. Commenting on Her extraordinary vigour and gaiety - She was still dancing well into her 90s - She once said: "I love life, that's my secret."
As HRH Prince Charles has said, She was "the original life enhancer …… gloriously unstoppable."
Our thoughts and prayers are with all the Royal Family and especially with Her Majesty The Queen, who has in the space of a few weeks so cruelly suffered the loss of both Her sister and mother. The Queen has borne it with Her customary dignity, continuing to serve the nation even while grieving.
We have seen in the very many moving and memorable tributes that have been paid to Her Majesty The Queen Mother, the recurring themes of Her love of life, Her warmth and humour, Her love of country, above all Her devotion to duty. It is the belief in duty that captures Her spirit best. Yet it is not duty in an arid or formal sense. She enjoyed life, lived it and loved it to the full. Yet She showed how it could be lived and loved whilst not for one moment compromising Her commitment to duty. It is that combination of high integrity and simple humanity that made Her not just respected but loved. There is nothing false or complicated about the public response to Her death. It's the simplest of equations. She loved Her country and Her country loved Her.
For that, for the life of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, we give our thanks and praise.