On Monday, October 14, 2019, Queen Elizabeth II opened a new session of the UK Parliament by delivering her 65th “Queen’s Speech.” Here are the facts you need to know.
What is a Queen’s (or King’s) Speech?
At the start of a new session of Parliament, the reigning Sovereign delivers a speech setting out the government’s agenda for the upcoming legislative session. Ceremonial elements date back centuries.
Who writes the Queen’s Speech?
Ironically, the Queen’s Speech is not written by the Queen but by the ruling government. This is in keeping with the ceremonial role of the monarchy.
Where does the Queen’s Speech take place?
The Sovereign reads a speech from a throne in the House of Lords.
Who attends Queen’s Speech?
The Queen’s Speech involves all three constituent elements of Parliament: The Sovereign (King or Queen), the House of Lords, and the House of Commons; members of the judiciary and the Church of England, and invited guests.
What are the ceremonial elements associated with a typical Queen’s Speech?
The Sovereign is usually escorted by the Household Cavalry as she rides in a horse-drawn carriage from Buckingham Palace to Parliament. She leads a procession to the House of Lords, where a throne has been set up, as she wears the crown and the Robe of State. A senior official in the House of Lords, known colloquially as “Black Rod,” walks to the House of Commons to summon the lower chamber to the speech. The door is slammed on Black Rod, to symbolize Parliament’s independence, a tradition dating to the English Civil War. Black Rod uses the rod to knock on the door three times, often forcefully. The prime minister and the shadow cabinet then lead MPs to the House of Lords. Sarah Clarke became the first woman appointed Black Rod (with the title “Lady Usher of the Black Rod”) on February 13, 2018; the office was instituted in 1350.
The Lord Chancellor hands the speech, which is printed on goatskin parchment (which contains no actual goatskin), to the Sovereign and receives it back after it has been read. Following the speech, both houses of Parliament meet and draft an “Address in Reply to Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech.”
Is the Queen’s Speech always delivered in person?
No. Queen Victoria had several speeches delivered by proxy. Queen Elizabeth II has only declined to deliver the Queen’s Speech in person twice, due to pregnancy (in 1959 and 1963); the Lord Chancellor read the speech in her place.
What policies did Queen Elizabeth II announce in the 2019 Queen’s Speech?
The 2019 Queen’s Speech focused on Brexit, and the theme of law and order. The speech, which included 26 bills, included the following policies and principles:
Brexit and free trade. Seven of the 26 bills had to do with Brexit, the UK’s exit from the European Union. The speech committed the government to leaving the EU on October 31 and forging a new relationship “based on free trade and friendly cooperation.” The government promised to “champion global free trade” and begin “seizing the opportunities that arise from leaving the European Union.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government will pursue new laws for fisheries, agriculture, trade, and financial services. Johnson also promised to replace the nation’s immigration law with an Australian-style points system.
Law and order. The speech outlined proposals to crack down on crime, while giving victims a greater voice in the system and increasing rehabilitation services. The average criminal is released halfway through his sentence; one of the proposals would compel those guilty of violent or sexual crimes (with a sentence of at least four years) to service three-quarters of their sentence before being released.
More oversight for the National Health Service (NHS). The Health Service Safety Investigations Bill will enact new procedures “to investigate serious healthcare incidents,” a nod to the 12,000 avoidable deaths that take place every year in NHS hospitals.
More environmental legislation. “For the first time, environmental principles will be enshrined in law,” Her Majesty said. The speech promised to “prioritise tackling climate change” and “tackle plastic pollution.” The draft Environmental Bill establishes a new Office of Environmental Protection, and empowers the government to “introduce charges for specified single use plastic items” and to mandate labeling of recycled products.
Subsidiarity. Returning self-government played a role in the speech, with the government promising to restore devolved government and “enable decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level.”
National security and meeting NATO requirements. The government pledged to meet its NATO obligations by spending two percent of GDP on national defense. “As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, my Government will ensure that it continues to play a leading role in global affairs, defending its interests and promoting its values,” the Queen said.
Establishing no-fault divorce. The Queen’s Speech included a reference to the Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Bill. The act would remove the traditional British requirement that divorces take place for cause and allow dissolution “on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.”
Does the 2019 Queen’s Speech agenda matter?
Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party lacks a parliamentary majority, and all parties expect a general election shortly. Therefore, few of these bills are likely to pass this Parliament this session. However, they may well be enacted at a later date, depending on the outcome of the election.
Does this speech put other issues off the table?
The Queen’s Speech included the traditional line, “Other measures will be laid before you,” which allows the government to introduce any policy not specified during the speech.
Was there a religious element to her speech?
The House of Commons holds prayers before the Queen’s Speech. Queen Elizabeth II concluded her speech with the traditional phrase, “I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.”
You may watch or read the full 2019 Queen’s Speech below:
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons.
My Government’s priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 October. My Government intends to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, based on free trade and friendly cooperation [European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill].
My Ministers will work to implement new regimes for fisheries, agriculture and trade, seizing the opportunities that arise from leaving the European Union [Fisheries Bill, Agriculture Bill and Trade Bill]. An immigration bill, ending free movement, will lay the foundation for a fair, modern and global immigration system. My Government remains committed to ensuring that resident European citizens, who have built their lives in, and contributed so much to, the United Kingdom, have the right to remain. The bill will include measures that reinforce this commitment [Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill]. Steps will be taken to provide certainty, stability and new opportunities for the financial services and legal sectors [Financial Services Bill and Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill].
My Government’s new economic plan will be underpinned by a responsible fiscal strategy, investing in economic growth while maintaining the sustainability of the public finances.
Measures will be brought forward to support and strengthen the National Health Service, its workforce and resources, enabling it to deliver the highest quality care. New laws will be taken forward to help implement the National Health Service’s Long Term Plan in England, and to establish an independent body to investigate serious healthcare incidents [Health Service Safety Investigations Bill].
My Government will bring forward proposals to reform adult social care in England to ensure dignity in old age. My Ministers will continue work to reform the Mental Health Act to improve respect for, and care of, those receiving treatment.
My Government is committed to addressing violent crime, and to strengthening public confidence in the criminal justice system. New sentencing laws will see that the most serious offenders spend longer in custody to reflect better the severity of their crimes [Sentencing Bill]. Measures will be introduced to improve the justice system’s response to foreign national offenders [Foreign National Offenders Bill]. My Government will work to improve safety and security in prisons and to strengthen the rehabilitation of offenders. Proposals will be brought forward to ensure that victims receive the support they need and the justice they deserve. Laws will be introduced to ensure that the parole system recognises the pain to victims and their families caused by offenders refusing to disclose information relating to their crimes [Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill].
A new duty will be placed on public sector bodies, ensuring they work together to address serious violence [Serious Violence Bill]. Police officers will be provided with the protections they need to keep the population safe [Police Protections Bill]. They will also be awarded the power to arrest individuals who are wanted by trusted international partners [Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill].
My Government will bring forward measures to protect individuals, families and their homes. Legislation will transform the approach of the justice system and other agencies to victims of domestic abuse [Domestic Abuse Bill], and minimise the impact of divorce, particularly on children [Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill]. My Ministers will continue to develop proposals to improve internet safety, and will bring forward laws to implement new building safety standards.
My Ministers will ensure that all young people have access to an excellent education, unlocking their full potential and preparing them for the world of work. My Government will take steps to make work fairer, introducing measures that will support those working hard [Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill]. To help people plan for the future, measures will be brought forward to provide simpler oversight of pensions savings. To protect people’s savings for later life, new laws will provide greater powers to tackle irresponsible management of private pension schemes [Pension Schemes Bill].
To ensure that the benefits of a prospering economy reach every corner of the United Kingdom, my Ministers will bring forward a National Infrastructure Strategy. This will set out a long-term vision to improve the nation’s digital, transport and energy infrastructure. New legislation will help accelerate the delivery of fast, reliable and secure broadband networks to millions of homes [Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill]. An aviation bill will provide for the effective and efficient management of the United Kingdom’s airspace Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill. Proposals on railway reform will be brought forward.
A white paper will be published to set out my Government’s ambitions for unleashing regional potential in England, and to enable decisions that affect local people to be made at a local level.
My Government is committed to establishing the United Kingdom as a world-leader in scientific capability and space technology. Increased investment in science will be complemented by the development of a new funding agency, a more open visa system, and an ambitious national space strategy.
My Ministers remain committed to protecting and improving the environment for future generations. For the first time, environmental principles will be enshrined in law. Measures will be introduced to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive. Legislation will also create new legally-binding environmental improvement targets. A new, world-leading independent regulator will be established in statute to scrutinise environmental policy and law, investigate complaints and take enforcement action [Environment Bill].
Proposals will also be brought forward to promote and protect the welfare of animals [Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill], including banning imports from trophy hunting.
The integrity and prosperity of the union that binds the four nations of the United Kingdom is of the utmost importance to my Government. My Ministers will bring forward measures to support citizens across all the nations of the United Kingdom.
My Government remains committed to working with all parties in Northern Ireland to support the return of devolved government and to address the legacy of the past.
My Government will take steps to protect the integrity of democracy and the electoral system in the United Kingdom.
My Government will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces. My Ministers will honour the Armed Forces Covenant and the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence.
As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, my Government will ensure that it continues to play a leading role in global affairs, defending its interests and promoting its values.
My Government will be at the forefront of efforts to solve the most complex international security issues. It will champion global free trade and work alongside international partners to solve the most pressing global challenges. It will prioritise tackling climate change and ensuring that all girls have access to twelve years of quality education.
Members of the House of Commons.
Estimates for the public services will be laid before you.
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons.
Other measures will be laid before you.
I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.
(Photo credit: Screenshot.)