Harriet Harman – 2021 Speech on HRH The Duke of Edinburgh

The speech made by Harriet Harman, the Mother of the House, in the House of Commons on 12 April 2021.

I am grateful for the opportunity to add my tribute to the powerful speeches that have already been made to celebrate the life and role of the Duke of Edinburgh. For more than 70 years, he was at the heart of the royal family, that most historic and traditional of British institutions. Yet, as has been said, in many ways he was ahead of his time.

He was ahead of his time on the environment. This year the UK will host the 26th United Nations climate change conference, amidst the recognition here and globally of its importance. Yet more than five decades ago, he was urging us, with clarity and foresight, to understand how all living creatures on this planet are interdependent. These views were so much ahead of their time that they were met by some with derision.

He was ahead of his time on young people, with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, recognising the interconnection of physical and mental wellbeing as a route for young people to develop to their full potential. One of the many success stories of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is the work that goes on at Westminster House youth club in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham. It gets more black and minority ethnic young people through the award than almost anywhere else. Many of those young people have had a difficult start in life or have not thrived at school, yet through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award they find a route to self-confidence and success.

The Duke of Edinburgh was ahead of his time as a husband. One of the remarkable things about Prince Philip is that he chose, in his marriage, to put himself second and make his central role in life that of supporting his wife in her role as the Queen. He sought never to eclipse her, only to support her. Way back half way through the last century, that was profoundly counter-cultural. The expectation was that to be a man was to be head of the family, and particularly in the public domain it was the man who would play the leading role, and the wife who would support him. If that—sadly—still remains largely true today, how much more of an iron rule it was 70 years ago. His decision to give up what would have been a glittering career in the Navy, and to make it his duty to support his wife in her role, took him into uncharted territory and left him exposed. For if he was not the head of the family, what did that make him? There was no reassuring recognition that he was no less of a man for what he did in putting the Queen first, and himself second. It takes a remarkable man to be a leader, but an even more remarkable man to support a woman leader, and that is what Prince Philip did.

When we hear the Queen speak, we know that she always weighs her words carefully. What she said at their golden wedding anniversary in 1997 was that Prince Philip had,

“quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”

What a loss it is for her to lose that husband, that partner, her liegeman of life and limb. We rightly pay tribute to Prince Philip’s work on the environment, young people, our armed forces, and much else besides. He did his work, but, above all, he enabled the Queen to do hers. For that he deserves our recognition and gratitude. He served this country by serving his Queen.