|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, may I say that it is our privilege to give our support to the Humble Address moved by the Prime Minister?
Her Majesty's passing marks, without doubt, the end of a very long and, indeed, seminal chapter in our country's history. Without doubt, hers was the story of the 20th century, and what an extraordinary story it has been.
As the leader of the Conservative party rightly acknowledged, Her Majesty's passing follows, after only a few short weeks, the untimely passing of Princess Margaret. For the Queen, of course, the whole House will wish to express its profound sympathy for the loss of both her only sister and now her mother in such a short space of time. Let us not forget Princess Margaret's children who, during the same period, have lost both their mother and their grandmother. Coming as it does in jubilee year, it must be very hard indeed for that family to have to live out those setbacks in such a public way.
The Queen Mother came from an era that seems very distant for us today, yet for all of us who had the opportunity to meet and talk with her it was obvious that she belonged very much here in the present. She had a fantastic knowledge of and interest in contemporary events and people. She had the gift of being absorbed completely in whatever she was doing at any given time. Her achievements went beyond mere incredible statistical longevity. She was the key bond between the monarchy and the people of our country.
Over the weekend, my parents were reflecting on their wartime experiences: my mother's in Glasgowyour home city, Mr. Speakerand my father's in the west highlands of Scotland. The signal sent by the King and Queen in terms of their personal commitment was vast, especially to the people of London and the other cities in the south that suffered so much during the blitz; but that message resonated every bit as much in remote places such as the north of Scotland, which would never have caught a glimpse of the monarchy at that stage of the country's development. It was psychologically very important.
I want to say a word about the special place that the Queen Mother always had in the hearts of people in Scotland. She was raised at Glamis castle. Scotland was where she really belonged: whether it was the bracing air of Balmoral, salmon fishing on the River Dee or the River Thurso, or indeed her most immediate legacy, which has been discussed, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who, as a trustee of the Castle of Mey, hopes to catch your eye later, Mr. Speakerthe
Scots do not always give of their affection lightly. I think that the Prime Minister might agree with that in other contexts from time to time. As a people they are not over-impressed by grandeur, but all generations of Scots took the Queen Mother absolutely to their hearts, because of her warmth and because she identified so strongly with us.
We all have our Queen Mother anecdotes; one of my favourites concerns a friend of mine, the late Mark Bonham Carter. The Queen Mother used to visit Mark's house once a year for a private lunch or dinner, and he would invite friends of his from a cross-section of age groups and walks of life. On this occasion I was asked along, and it was very pleasant. There were a couple of dozen of us and the Queen Mother was holding forth on subjects ranging from agriculture to Europe, and even proportional representationshe was not very sound on that one, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] I do not think that we want to divide the House on that issue.
The Queen Mother arrived with her private detective, slightly late, and he was shown into an adjacent room. We all sat down and ate and argued our way through a splendid lunch. At the end, when it was time for the Queen Mother to leave, someone went off to raise the private detectiveand "raise" proved to be the operative word. The private detectiveher protectionwas sound asleep in an armchair. He looked a bit embarrassed by this discovery, and I said a word of condolence to him for having been caught out in that way. He said, "The problem is, I am exhausted; I just can't keep up with her."
On the Queen Mother's 100th birthday, a number of us had to present the loyal petitions on behalf of both Houses of Parliament at Clarence house, and she held court, in every sense of the word, in the garden; a beautiful afternoon it was, too. I got a real earbashing about the state of fishing in the north of Scotland, and what I was going to do about it. That seemed to me to be rather a tall order, to say the least.
This matriarch for the country as a whole, who will be so greatly missed, perhaps teaches all of us an important truth. We get obsessed with institutions and structures, but people really respond to people. She responded to people, she liked people, and as a result they liked her and she helped save and preserve a great institution. We wish her well.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On 14 February 1990, Speaker Jack Weatherill had the happy idea of inviting a cross-section of 15 Members of Parliament to meet the Queen Mother in Speaker's House. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, andsmiling on the Front Benchmy right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), will remember the occasion.
After a very nice dinner, and a beautiful speech from the Queen Mother, we were sat down, one by one, by the Speaker for three or four minutes each, next to her on that Speaker's couch that you know so well, Mr. Speaker. When my turn came, I had just sat down and she turned to me and said, "Mr. Dalyell, tell me about Scotland and Scottish devolution." I will spare the House what I said,
I had the good fortune to have something to do with her, as I was a member of the council of the Scottish National Trust in the 1960s and 1970s. The Scottish National Trust never had a more active patronin fact, no organisation had a more active patronthan the Queen Mother. It was the view of the late director, Sir Jamie Stormonth Darling, confirmed by the former deputy director, Findlay McQuarrie, that it was the Queen Mother who drove through a number of schemes with her personal interest. In schemes such as the little houses at Dunkeld and Culross, and the good work of the Crown Estate Commissioners in Fife, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows very well, at Dysart, her personal interest made all the difference.
The officials of the Scottish National Trust said, "Not only is she patron, she actually reads the minutes and asks us sharp questions about them." So I suspect that for a number of organisations she was far more than a titular head.
The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) referred to the Castle of Mey, which ought to be her memorial because it was personal to her. I had the opportunity to go there with the Ancient Monuments Board of Historic Scotland. At the end of my visit, I asked the experts who took us around, "Who had the good taste to advise the Queen Mother on this beautiful interior?", because she had rescued a castle that was almost irredeemable. They said, "Look, no one advised her; she oversaw and did a lot of this herself." I extend all good wishes to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso)one of the four trustees, with John Stobo and Lord Caithness, and the chair, Ashe Windhamin their opening for the summer of the Queen Mother's castle, because it is very different from the royal palaces: it is hers and in her taste.
I end on the matter of tasteI realise that I am on delicate groundbut having known the Queen Mother not well, but sufficiently, I just wonder whether the sister of Fergus Bowes Lyon, who, as the Leader of the Opposition said, died tragically in the first world war, would object if, after we have paid tribute and after a quarter of an hour or so, there was a discussion of the urgent situations, because I think that she would have been deeply concerned about events, for example, in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, I want to express our condolences to the Queen Mother's friends and family and offer our support for the Humble Address. When a grand old lady dies in her 102nd year, it is not a tragedy. There is sadness certainly, but it is more a time to reflect on a remarkable life. It was highly appropriate yesterday that the Queen Mother's coffin was accompanied by Pipe Major Motherwell, playing "The Dark Island"a lament, as you will know from your own
Those hon. Members who have spoken so far have referred to the momentous events that the Queen Mother has lived through, but I prefer to offer a few recollections and reflections on that life. I very much liked the Prime Minister's story about the Queen Mother's encounter with the disgruntled Afrikaner. It has been said that the Queen Mother bore her Scottish identity with pride. That is certainly true, but what I found remarkable is that each of the four hon. Members who have spoken thus far on their personal experience with the Queen Mother emerged totally convinced that she was on their side. That indicates a remarkable political talent, not to say a certain tolerance on the Queen Mother's part.
The Queen Mother bore her Scottish identity with pride, and looking back, as I have done in the past few days, at the newspaper front pages at the time of the accession, there was an early love relationship between the Queen Mother and the Scottish people because she was greeted then as the first Scottish queen for 400 years. The Queen Mother's Scottish upbringing at Glamis probably gave her her greatest talent and gift of all, which stood her in greatest stead: not so much a common touch as an ease and facility with people.
I suspect that there is no greater challenge for anyone in public life than dealing with people in a state of bereavement, in finding that mix of compassion and humour that allows people to feel that bit better in their times of greatest extremity. Ten years ago, I witnessed how that should be done when the Queen Mother unveiled the Piper Alpha memorial in Hazelhead park in Aberdeen. It was an extraordinarily hot day, nearly 90 deg, and the Queen Mother herself was 90, yet for a matter of hours that afternoon, she behaved towards 167 bereaved families in an absolutely impeccable fashionan example for all in public life that is much aspired to, but not always followed. I know from the recollections of others who encountered her in similar situations that that experience has been shared by us all.
I shared with the Queen Mother an interest in horse racing. Indeed, we shared that interest with the Leader of the House, although I suspect that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor myself conferred the same respectability on the sport as the Queen Mother did. Over the past few days, the mysterious collapse of the Queen Mother's horse, Devon Loch, has been written and reminisced about. It belly-flopped 50 yards from the finish line just as it was about to win the grand national in 1956. The remarkable thing about the story is not the eventunprecedented and remarkable though that wasbut the Queen Mother's reaction to the defeat. First, there was a philosophical "That's racing"; secondly, a concern for the jockey, the horse and the trainer; and thirdly, and most important, full and public congratulations for the owners and connections of the winning horse. There was something irresistible in the way that the Queen Mother reacted to adversity in both large and small events. As the Queen Mother goes on her final journey next Tuesday, it is highly appropriate to wish her, as the Racing Post did yesterday, a sunny day with the going good.