HC Deb 14 July 1981 vol 8 cc990-2 4.20 pm
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)


Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you consider accepting a manuscript amendment to the motion that the Prime Minister is about to move, along the lines that we call upon the Government to change their economic policies in order to fulfil the future happiness of approximately 1 million young people under the age of 25 who have been unable to find a job as a result of those policies? The Government should provide full and useful employment for all. Will you accept that as an amendment to the motion?

Mr. Speaker

No, I will not accept that manuscript amendment.

The Prime Minister

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty congratulating her Majesty and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh on the approaching Marriage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to the Lady Diana Spencer; expressing to Her Majesty the great pleasure felt by this House and the Nation at this joyful event; and praying that His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and the Lady Diana Spencer will be blessed with every happiness in their married life.

It is 118 years since we celebrated the marriage of a Prince of Wales as heir to the throne. Some 34 years ago you, Mr. Speaker, were present in this Chamber when the then Prime Minister moved an humble address to their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of the marriage of their daughter, the heir to the throne, then Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth, to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten.

On that occasion Mr. Attlee spoke of the promise which the people had watched unfolding through Her Majesty's childhood, and his confidence that the high regard and popularity which the Royal Family had so justly earned would be fully maintained.

Today we can reflect how well his confidence was justified. The nation's admiration and affection for the Royal Family has been demonstrated in the celebrations of both the Silver Jubilee and the 80th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. I stress "admiration" and "affection"—both were to be seen not only in the formal celebrations but in the spontaneous outpourings of public acclaim and happiness throughout the country and the Commonwealth during those celebrations.

Now we approach another great occasion which has, once again, captured the imagination of Her Majesty's people. Over the last 30 years, the country, the Commonwealth and the world have watched with continuing interest and with ever-increasing enthusiasm and respect as His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has taken on the responsibilities of his important role. We have admired his dedication to his duties as much as his affinity with the people. Mr. Attlee's sentiments of 34 years ago about Princess Elizabeth, His Royal Highness's mother, have been shared by the nation about her son. Now His Royal Highness has chosen a bride whose beauty, spontaneity and dignity have already won the hearts of the British people.

I am sure that the whole House shares the Prince of Wales's obvious happiness and joy in the bride that he has chosen. We look forward to a future in which they will play an increasingly prominent part in the life of our country. We are confident that they will inspire the same loyalty, respect and gratitude as Her Majesty and Prince Philip have won throughout her reign.

We offer The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh our sincere and heartfelt congratulations and wish the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana long life and every happiness.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

I rise to second the motion moved by the Prime Minister, in the knowledge that on some occasions there have been controversies in the House on the occasions of Royal marriages or legislation affecting royal marriages. That was so in 1772, when the Royal Marriage Act was passed. It was introduced in another place because the Government of that day thought that it might be more convenient for the legislative processes to do it that way. [Interruption.] I see that the habit is not altogether removed from the knowledge of the Patronage Secretary.

On that occasion, too, the monarch, George III, wrote a letter to the Patronage Secretary of the day saying that he hoped that the Bill would have a speedy passage and that the names of all defaulters would be carefully noted. That was how it was done in those days. When the Bill arrived in the House of Commons it was opposed by the greatest practitioner of parliamentary opposition in the history of this institution—Charles James Fox. He had a special interest that he did not declare, in that he had a tincture of Royal blood in his veins and he thought that that was perhaps the reason why the Bill was not framed in the best possible manner. He thought that monarchs, men and women, should be able to marry whoever they chose—if the other partner was agreeable to the proposition, of course—and he thought that that was the principle which should govern such matters. I heartily agree with Charles James Fox on that subject, as on many others.

The Bill eventually became an Act and by measures that the Patronage Secretary knows so well. It was said by a journalist at the time. Never was an Act passed against which so much, and for which so little, was said. Knowing what has happened in recent times, that is a great condemnation. The Bill was passed in extraordinary circumstances. However, I say to those who may not be sufficiently acquainted with such historical matters that that measure—which was the offspring of a royal whim and male chauvinism, which was derided so powerfully in the House and which obviously had so many deficiencies—remains on the statute book with scarcely a comma altered. That should be a lesson to my hon. Friends to be more vigilant when such matters are presented to the House.

That is the Act under which these discussions are taking place. I am glad that on this occasion the controversies are calmer than they were in those far off times. I join the Prime Minister in the good wishes that she has offered to Prince Charles and Lady Diana. I wish them all happiness. From all that we have seen, Prince Charles has performed his royal duties with great charm, persistence and—if I can say without any possibility of misunderstanding—with unfailing equestrian poise. He has done it most skilfully and he stays on much longer than most of us would. I wash him every success in that and in everything else.

I have no qualification in the good wishes that the House offers the happy couple. If any of my right hon. and hon. Friends below the Gangway wish to celebrate this year by introducing a private measure for the repeal of the Royal Marriages Act 1772, I shall be happy to append my name to the document.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

This is one of those rare but happy occasions when all parties can unite with enthusiasm at the proposition be fore the House. On this occasion the leaders of the Social Democratic Party, the Ulster Unionist Party and the Scottish National Party have asked me to associate them also with support for the humble address. On behalf of them and my colleagues, I join in sending our good wishes to Her Majesty and to the happy couple on this family and national occasion.

There have been a few grumbling souls outside and no doubt inside the House who say that at a time of national austerity we should play down the coming wedding. I do not believe that that accords with the view of the vast majority, who look forward to a day of shared rejoicing on 29 July.

It is right that at this time we should also record our thanks to the Prince of Wales for his example in public service. I have watched with admiration his sponsoring of the International Year of Disabled People, his heading of the United World colleges, his promotion of the arts, his organisation of the Jubilee Trust and his representation of this country on international occasions such as the independence celebrations in Zimbabwe last year.

To these undoubted talents and skills he now adds a further attribute—the ability to choose an exceptionally attractive wife. Those who have had the chance to meet Lady Diana Spencer can testify not only to her obvious outward grace but to her delightful unstuffy vivacity, which makes her a valuable addition to the Royal Household.

In the years to come the nation will demand of these two people years of sustained public service. Let us hope that in the immediate future they will be afforded not only the blessing of happiness in their married life, referred to in the motion, but reasonable times of privacy to enjoy their family life.

Question put and agreed to, nemine contradicente.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty congratulating Her Majesty and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh on the approaching Marriage of His Royal Highness The Price of Wales to the Lady Diana Spencer; expressing to Her Majesty the great pleasure felt by this House and the Nation at this joyful event; and praying that His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and the Lady Diana Spencer will be blessed with every happiness in their married life.