12.53 pmPaul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The supreme achievement of the Duke of Edinburgh is that he is working at the age of 90. This is a magnificent example and one that has been followed by a constituent of mine, Mr Harry Polloway, who is working as a toastmaster at the age of 97. I last saw him in the Jewish cemetery in my constituency, where we were commemorating the death of May Mendleson, who died last year at the age of 108. Continuing work into that period of life is a wonderful example to set, and one that we can look at with some embarrassment and shame in the House, where I believe the oldest Member—a distinguished Member—is just 80 years of age, and we have only five Members over the age of 76.
This group of people are disgracefully under-represented in the House. If we are to have a proper reflection of senior citizens, we must look to have all-80-year-old shortlists at the next general election. In the light of the heroic examples set by Prince Philip, Harry Polloway and May Mendleson, that fault needs to be corrected.
However, my purpose in speaking today is to make another point. As someone who is not a royalist and is happy to say that I am a republican and always have been, I want to ask why on earth, in this age, the address is to be “humble”. Are members of the royal family superior beings to the rest of us? Are we inferior beings to them? Is Prince Philip superior to Harry Polloway and May Mendleson? That was the feeling of the House seven centuries ago, when we accepted the rules under which we speak now.
We live in an egalitarian time when we recognise the universality of the human condition, in which royals and commoners share the same strengths and frailty. In the House, when we speak of the royals—not just the monarch, but all the family, without any limit—we are denied the chance of making any derogatory comment. That might extend to first cousins who are a long way distant from the monarch. There is no question but that the monarch—the Head of State—should remain above the political fray. We have been well served by this, particularly recently.
However, if these occasions are to be greatly valued, it should be possible for Members to utter the odd syllable that might be critical. I do not have anything to say in this case, but the sycophancy described by the Prime Minister when he referred to someone asking Prince Philip a fairly obvious question when he came off a plane must sicken the royal family. When they have an excess of praise of this kind, it is devalued.