This morning, Her Majesty The Queen officially opened Parliament in the event known as ‘The State Opening of Parliament’. The Queen was accompanied to today’s ceremony by The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.
What is The State Opening of Parliament?
The State Opening of Parliament formally begins a session of Parliament. The ceremony assembles all three branches of Government – the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
Queen Elizabeth II has opened every session of Parliament since her accession, except in 1959 and 1963 when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Today marks Her Majesty’s 65th State Opening of Parliament.
The Queen makes her way to the Palace of Westminster with the Household Cavalry. In the Robing Room, Her Majesty is bedecked in the crimson velvet Robe of State, before leading the Royal procession through the Gallery to the chamber of the House of Lords.
The House of Lords’ official, the Black Rod – now a woman – is then sent to summon MPs from the House of Commons to the House of Lords to stand and listen to The Queen’s speech. Members of the Supreme Court are also present for the speech. Once The Queen has made her speech and has departed, members of both Houses debate the content of the speech and agree an ‘Address in Reply to Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech’.
You can read more about the history of the event, and some of the strange procedures that take place here.
The Queen arrived at the Palace of Westminster this morning in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach; this is the newest coach at the Royal Mews and was first used at the State Opening of Parliament in 2014. The coach is over five metres long, weighs over three tonnes and needs six horses to pull it.
Today, The Queen was in full ceremonial robes at she delivered her speech in the House of Lords. This is different to previous years, particularly in 2017 where The Queen did not wear full robes as to signify a more ‘dressed down’ State Opening.
The Queen did not wear the jewel-encrusted Imperial State Crown that the Monarch usually wears to the State Opening; instead, Her Majesty wore a diamond diadem, with the Imperial State Crown rested on a table beside her. The decision to wear a smaller crown is believed to be because the diadem is much lighter than the Imperial State Crown, which The Queen is more comfortable with at the age of 93.
The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester also attended The State Opening of Parliament today; their 12 year old grandson Lord Culloden was one of the fur Pages of Honour for The Queen. They sat with Lord Culloden’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Ulster.
The Queen’s Speech
Her Majesty The Queen read a prepared speech by Boris Johnson’s Government, outlining their agenda for the coming Parliamentary year. Neither the House of Lords or House of Commons can proceed with public business before Her Majesty officially opens Parliament by addressing both Houses in the speech.
The Queen must always been careful to read the entire speech in a neutral and formal tone, implying neither approval or disapproval of the proposals of the Government. The Queen must always refer to the Government as “My Government” when reading the speech – they act in her name.
Today’s speech has been eagerly anticipated; it is the first State Opening of Parliament under Boris Johnson, and took place during political turmoil due to the Brexit deadline of 31st October.
The Queen’s speech today made it clear that Boris Johnson’s priority is to leave the European Union on 31st October.
In today’s speech, 26 Bills were set out; seven of these pieces of legislation related to Brexit, including establishing new frameworks for farming, fishing, trade and financial services, and ending freedom of movement. Other legislation included seven criminal justice Bills, plans for independent NHS investigations, an environment bill to set improvement targets to reduce plastics and air pollution, and reforms to divorce laws.
However, the Prime Minister does not have a majority in Parliament, so many of these Bills may not become law.
After The State Opening of Parliament, The Queen’s speech is debated in the House of Commons. Boris Johnson said his plans offered “a new age of opportunity for the whole country.” However, Jeremy Corbyn said the speech was a “propaganda exercise” and that, “The Prime Minister promised that this Queen’s speech would dazzle us. On closer inspection, it is nothing more than fool’s gold.”
MPs will be able to debate The Queen’s speech for a further 5 days.