Commons tribute to Her Majesty the Queen on the occasion of her 80th Birthday
"I'm delighted to associate myself, and the Opposition, with the Prime Minister's generous tribute to Her Majesty. It is entirely merited.
The occasion of anyone's 80th birthday is a matter for rejoicing. But this landmark in the life of Queen Elizabeth, who has reigned over our country so wisely and for so long, is a genuine cause for national celebration.
She's been our Queen for 54 years.
Through a thousand years of British history, only Queen Victoria, George III, Henry III and, by a few months, Edward III have sat on the throne for a greater period.
Her Majesty has lived in two centuries, through a time of incredible transformation:
The Second World War - in which she served in uniform…
…the dismantling of Empire…
…the joining of the European Community…
…the ending of the Cold War…
…and into the new Millennium.
She has been a rock of stability, calm and good sense in a period of the most turbulent change.
I had my first meeting with Her Majesty as Leader of the Opposition just a few weeks ago.
As you try and explain what you're up to, you are acutely conscious that she has heard it all and seen it all before.
Her first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill.
Her first Leader of the Opposition was Clement Attlee.
I'm the nineteenth Leader of the Opposition The Queen has had to meet.
I am sure that, like others, Her Majesty has no doubt noticed that this number has increased all too frequently in recent years.
However, she was far too polite to point it out.
To me, the Queen personifies two vital principles.
The first is national unity.
There are many things that divide us. But the institution of our Monarchy, and the integrity with which The Queen has carried out her role over six decades, bring Britain together.
I remember celebrating the Silver Jubilee in the village where I grew up.
I participated in Golden Jubilee events across my constituency as a newly elected backbencher.
The Queen means as much to people of my generation as to previous ones.
As Head of the Commonweath, Her Majesty presides over an organisation that includes more than a quarter of the earth's population.
That this community of nations has endured and thrived through such a tumultuous period in world history is due, in no small measure, to The Queen herself. She's admired and held in affection by everyone, from the most senior dignitary to the youngest schoolchild.
The second principle The Queen embodies is public service.
Throughout her reign she's displayed judgement, tolerance and absolute political neutrality.
Her life has been one of selfless duty.
From the moment she was born, she has lived in the public eye. I cannot think of a single occasion on which Her Majesty has done anything or said anything to damage in any way the institution she embodies. For all of us in public life, she has set the highest standards in every respect.
In 1947, to mark her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth addressed the Commonwealth in a radio broadcast from Cape Town. In it she made a solemn act of dedication to her people. She said:
"I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service."
Today, almost sixty years later, the whole House, indeed the whole world, can agree how magnificently that vow has been fulfilled."