Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Friday 9th September 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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I am grateful for the opportunity to say an enormous thank you for the Queen’s life, her service, her sense of duty and her extraordinary contribution to public life across the world over the 70 years of her reign.
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, I had the honour to represent a beautiful part of Aberdeenshire for over four decades and our communities have greatly appreciated, throughout that time, the regular presence of the Queen and other members of the Royal Family in, around and among us for so many years. In fact, it was no surprise to me when I travelled down on Monday to find that the Duchess of Rothesay, as she then was, was on the same plane—of course, she had to return only two days later in sadness, but as Queen Consort—but that was not unusual on that flight.

I remember the Queen’s accession when I was a boy of seven, and in 1953—like so many others—I watched the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on a friend’s newly acquired, tiny, black and white TV set, although two weeks later I went to the cinema and saw it in full glorious Technicolor. Thirty years later, I became an MP and my encounters with the Queen and other members of the family, as is the case for many of us, became more frequent. I remember a number of royal visits and openings, but I also remember being a part of the receiving party when the royal yacht brought the Queen to Aberdeen—probably the last time the royal yacht came north to Aberdeen. Unfortunately, because of the fog, the yacht was not able to dock in the port and the royal party had to come ashore in a barge or launch. When I was in conversation greeting and remarking to the Queen that it was a pity the fog had prevented “Britannia” from docking, Princess Anne made the Queen laugh when she said, “Not at all: fog means flat calm.”

Subsequently and on many other occasions, my wife and I were privileged to be invited to the garden party, including the only garden party, I think, that has taken place at Balmoral to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. It was exclusively limited to the invitees being from the county of Aberdeenshire—again, an indication of the connection between the community. The sun, I have to say, shone all day on Balmoral despite the heavy downpours and flash flooding that occurred in nearly all the surrounding communities, which clearly proves that the sun does shine on the righteous—I mean the Queen, not me.

I recall an incident when I was on the International Development Committee, which I had the privilege of chairing, and we were visiting an African and Commonwealth country—which I will not identify—when one of the Ministers leant across the table and said, “We are all loyal subjects here, you know.” A little bit quaint, but it perhaps encapsulates just how, during her long reign, the Queen personified a positive identity of what Britain and the Commonwealth meant to the world. It rises far above the quality or the character of any Government of the day; that is a huge asset to have. I think it is why yesterday’s news was greeted with tributes and genuine outpourings of affection from literally all over the world. Indeed, when anybody talks about the Queen anywhere in the world, there is only one Queen that they meant—we know that.

I knelt before the Queen to swear an oath as a privy counsellor—as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, did and many others—and later to receive a knighthood when the Queen discussed my support for sign language and communication support for deaf people, which she told me was very important and she valued it. It just indicates that, whatever the topic was, she had a view and she had knowledge.

At the last diplomatic reception that took place at Buckingham Palace, I wore full Highland dress because I had it and, therefore, did not have to rent the other outfit. But the Queen stopped and admired it and commented, “It is lovely to see the kilt here,” meaning in Buckingham Palace, rather than elsewhere. The Queen’s Balmoral home is just a few miles from our more modest home, and the presence of the Royals is noted all the time, throughout the year; many local businesses are, by royal appointment, suppliers to the Queen and, now, to our new King. The privacy of the Royal Family is respected by the community, but their informal engagement with the local community is also valued. There are many stories of people seeing members of the Royal Family shopping in Ballater or being given a lift when caught in the rain when hiking around Lochnagar or Loch Muick to find it was Prince Charles, or the Queen, or the Duke of Edinburgh who had picked them up.

It is, therefore, perhaps fitting that the family gathered at Balmoral to say farewell to the Queen before the formalities of state mourning began. They have the sympathy and the support of their local community, as well as the nation and the world. Of course, our sympathies are with them all. Our gratitude is to her. But now, for the first time in most people’s memory, we say “God save the King!”

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I begin, in accordance with the custom of my religious tradition, with an acknowledgement that, as mortal humans, we submit to God’s decree and from his judgment, whether that be for life or for death, there is no appeal: “Baruch dayan ha’emet”—“Blessed be the Judge of truth.”

As I say that blessing, I am taken to the last time I met Her Majesty. I recited a different and special blessing, the blessing our rabbis prescribed to be said when meeting royalty: “Baruch shenatan michvodo lebasar vadam”—“Blessed is He who has shared His glory with mortals of flesh and blood”. The idea in that blessing is not the divine right of kings; it is not the absolutist notion that, because monarchs derive their power from God, they cannot be held accountable for their actions. The blessing embodies a totally different idea, but it is a powerful one. It is the idea, as the Talmud puts it, that “royalty on earth is to reflect royalty in heaven”; that to be royal requires the highest standards and impeccable behaviour. It is an idea, I suggest, that Her late Majesty exemplified throughout her long reign.

Noble Lords might be familiar with the Hebrew word “mitzvah”. “Well done for doing this or that,” you might hear somebody say, and they will add, “You’ve done a mitzvah”—you have done a good deed. But a mitzvah is not a good deed which you do because you are in the mood or because the urge takes you; it is not something you do only and if you feel like it. The Hebrew root of the word mitzvah, its basic etymology, is the word “tzav”, which means “commandment”, “order” or “duty”. You do a mitzvah not just because it is a good deed and not just because you feel like doing it; you do a mitzvah because it is your duty. Her late Majesty spent her whole life doing the right thing and not just because she felt like it or because the mood took her. She spent her 96 years doing the right thing, day in, day out, out of a sense of duty. It was a life, if I may respectfully say, of mitzvah, of acting out of a profound sense of personal duty and under the solemn oath to God which she took at her Coronation.

In Hebrew, every letter also has a numerical value and you can add up the values of individual letters to get the value of a word. In one of those coincidences which perhaps are not, the numerical value of the Hebrew word tzav, the root of the word mitzvah, is 96: 96 years of tzav, of duty, and also of mitzvah, of doing the right thing because that is your duty.

Tomorrow is Shabbat and, as we have heard from my noble friend Lord Polak, in synagogues up and down the country we will say the prayer for the Royal Family, as we do each and every week. We recite that prayer immediately after the reading of the Torah, the five books of the Pentateuch, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, which we read in weekly instalments throughout the year. We are well into Deuteronomy at the moment, so the current annual cycle is nearly complete, but on the day we finish Deuteronomy, we do something odd but important. We return to the Holy Ark the scroll with which we completed Deuteronomy but we immediately take out a new scroll and start reading again from the first chapter of Genesis. So, on that day, the death of Moses, the faithful leader who had guided the people over so many decades, is immediately followed, a matter of moments later, by a new start—indeed, a new creation—in the first chapter of Genesis.

So tomorrow, for the first time in my life, we will not pray in synagogue for Prince Charles but for King Charles. I started yesterday as a Queen’s Counsel and I finished it as a King’s Counsel. We have closed one book, a long and good book which we have had with us for so many years, and we are about to open another. As we all pray that God save our King, I will also pray that he too may enjoy a reign of mitzvah, of doing the right thing, for that, now, is his duty. Baruch dayan ha’emet, yehi zichra Baruch. “Blessed be the judge of truth”, and may her late Majesty’s cherished memory be a blessing for all of us.