Previous SectionIndexHome Page


12.47 pm

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): It is a privilege to follow that personal tribute from the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). I also compliment the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King).

When I had the privilege nearly 20 years ago of being elected to Parliament, I was already aware that the war and the blitz had been among the most life-affecting experiences in the docklands communities of London. The two people who personified the resilience of those communities, among which many families paid the ultimate price, were the King and the Queen. It was not as though there was much in common between the backgrounds of those communities and the King and Queen. Nor was it that the electors of the docklands would have naturally voted Conservative—indeed, the eminent MP for Bermondsey was a republican but was elected again and again during the 1920s and 1930s, until the second world war.

Within days of the start of the war, the King and Queen came to inspect the civil defence forces in Bermondsey. They came again the following year to support the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. The Queen came again the following year to go down into the air raid

3 Apr 2002 : Column 817

shelters. On each of those occasions, she encouraged and inspired everybody, and won their respect. Whether people were monarchist or republican, they thought that she was a star: whatever political views people hold, everyone is now generous enough to say so.

After the war, the Queen Mother kept up that amazing service. She had not chosen to be born an aristocrat, she had not chosen to become the Queen and she had not chosen to be widowed so early in life, but she did choose to make of each of those opportunities a life of service. For 50 years from her widowhood, she continued that life of service.

Only a few years ago, the Queen Mother made her last visit to the docklands to see how they had been rebuilt after the war. She visited the new housing and opened a housing estate at the Surrey docks. Then, she asked to go into the pub. I think that she was the first monarch who had ever asked to go where normal people go pretty regularly. She went into the pub, had a half-pint of beer and chatted to the people. They said then that she was a star and what a power of good she had done for their community over the years.

On behalf of those communities and the people from all over the world who have come to settle in the docklands—many of whom fought on the home front or abroad—I want to say that we are very grateful for her life of service. She did a power of good to her family, a power of good to her faith, a power of good to the monarchy, a power of good to her people and a power of good to this country at home and overseas. We are very grateful and we give thanks for her very much.

12.51 pm

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): The first time that the Queen Mother visited my constituency was in January 1923, shortly after she became engaged to the Duke of York. The last time that she left my constituency was by helicopter in February of this year on her way to the funeral of her daughter, Princess Margaret. In between, there were 79 years of countless visits and deep involvement in the local community.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) knows only too well, the Queen Mother was very proud to become the first female to receive the freedom of the borough of Lynn in 1954. At the time, she said:


quite something from a Scots lass.

That love manifested itself through the patronage of numerous organisations. The King's Lynn festival and the Sandringham flower show featured very much as a focus for her annual summer visits. When she came to the constituency over Christmas and new year, she was involved with the local women's institutes and schools. She even instituted her own personal awards for pupils at local secondary schools for academic excellence and she invited them every year to Sandringham to talk about their careers and ambitions for the future.

3 Apr 2002 : Column 818

All of that was interspersed with many other official visits and, whenever there was a natural disaster locally, such as the floods in 1953, the Queen Mother was on hand to give comfort to people. Her knowledge of west Norfolk and its people was awesome, as I discovered shortly after being elected. The King's Lynn custom house, its great historic building, was threatened with closure and had an uncertain future, and I was summoned—it was hardly a summons, as I was contacted by her private secretary, who said, "If you can get away from the Whips, Her Majesty would be delighted if you would come and join her for dinner." The Whips would not believe that for a start and I could not believe it either, as she made it look as though I was doing her a favour by going to talk to her about the custom house. She told me to "rattle some cages"—what a great turn of phrase that was—and to use my position as Member of Parliament quietly to get a few things done. So, I received advice early on as an MP from a very wise person and the King's Lynn custom house was saved. Then, the Queen Mother wrote a letter to the local paper to thank everyone locally for being involved in the campaign.

Shortly afterwards, the Queen Mother took a great interest in the local railway line. She was always very concerned about it and had used it many times in the past. She wanted to be kept informed about the campaign to electrify the line. She let it be known that she would like to attend the opening of the King's Lynn electrification. I thought, hang on, something has gone wrong. Queens do not come to openings, they do not turn up in a taxi to watch some junior Minister unveil a plaque—they actually do the opening; but that was her modesty. Can you imagine, Mr. Speaker, any Minister wanting to come to an opening? They want to do the opening themselves.

The Queen Mother came to that opening and met five or six grades of British Rail management. Obviously she was charming to them, but I could tell that she wanted to get on and meet real people. She then met the drivers, conductors and local station staff and spent a long time talking to them and she really made their day. She probably gave them the best day of their careers. She was indeed a life enhancer and had the ability to make the people she met feel fantastic.

The Queen Mother's hospitality and generosity was limitless. She never said no to a request for a prize or present for a raffle for local charity in west Norfolk. That kindness touched the lives of thousands of people. I have a personal debt of gratitude to her, as on several occasions she invited my wife and me to stay with her.

As long as the Queen Mother lived, a bright light shone on my constituency. It was a light based on the best human qualities, those encapsulated by her: compassion, sympathy and concern for others. Now that light has been extinguished my constituency will be the poorer, but I will go to the service on Tuesday to represent my constituency and to give thanks for a remarkable life.

12.56 pm

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): For 70 years, the Queen Mother made a family home at Windsor. Affection, gratitude and respect for her life of service are keenly felt in and around our town—as are sorrow and loss at her death at Royal Lodge.

That was clear when I took my two youngest children up to the castle gates on Saturday evening. Already, people from the town and visitors from throughout the

3 Apr 2002 : Column 819

country and the world were gathering. They were drawn together to share their sense of shock. It was quiet and dignified. However much one may anticipate death, it always comes as a great blow. Windsor was no more prepared for that than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The people outside the castle—scene of so many memories in the life of the Queen Mother and where she will be laid to rest—were, in their private ways, trying to come to terms with their sadness.

Over the Easter weekend the crowds grew. Windsor is accustomed to large numbers of visitors on bank holiday weekends, but those gathering at the castle were not drawn by mere curiosity. I was hugely impressed by the reaction of my 11-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. They and the other young people shared the same emotions as the older generations.

I was struck by the remarks of the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the sheer span of the Queen Mother's life. She was a hugely familiar figure to us all. She had become a symbol of continuity in our society, and continuity brings with it a sense of security, which we all—old and young people alike—need in our lives.

In Windsor, we are very aware of the royal family. I think that we try hard to live together in a neighbourly way, letting them get on with their lives as human beings, but the deep affection that local people hold for the royal family should be no surprise. That feeling is warmly reciprocated.

Over many years, the Queen Mother undertook countless visits and appearances in the royal borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Many of our shops now have photographs of her in their windows. During the past few days I have met dozens of local people who have particular memories of her. Many speak of a sense of personal loss.

I should also like to tell the House of the special place held by the Queen Mother in the hearts of those who live within the Great Park, especially in the Village with its York Club. Many hon. Members know Cumberland Lodge, whose foundation and development owed so much to her vision and commitment. She would frequently greet its guests from all parts of the country and the Commonwealth at Sunday services in the Chapel of All Saints—the chapel where she lay after her death.

The Queen Mother made a home for her family at Royal Lodge. We have all read or heard accounts of the happy informal atmosphere of that house, but most people know the Queen Mother best from the times when she was out in the world—on parade, as it were. She knew that people would turn out dressed in their finest and be on their best behaviour to meet her, and she always did the same. On state occasions and Garter day she showed star qualities. At Royal Ascot and at the Windsor race course, she clearly joined in the fun. She showed a lively interest in and real concern for the many voluntary groups and public organisations in Windsor.

The royal borough, although in mourning, is therefore giving grateful thanks for the interest and affection that Queen Elizabeth had for us. Tributes more eloquent than mine will be paid to the Queen Mother, but today, with humility, I speak for my constituents in expressing our love, our respect and our deep sympathy for the Queen and her family.

3 Apr 2002 : Column 820

1 pm


Next Section

IndexHome Page