The Queen’s Speech

In the UK, the season opening for lawmaking is called The State Opening Of Parliament. The occasion is akin to the American State of the Union Address, but with a lot more pomp and circumstance. It starts out with the queen arriving at Parliament, putting on the imperial robes and crown, going into the House of Lords and sitting on a golden throne. (Her husband, Prince Philip, accompanies her and sits to her left.) Someone whose title is Black Rod then goes into the House of Commons and summons them to the House of Peers, which is the ceremonial name for the House of Lords and comes from “peerage” as it’s used to denote British nobility. (Black Rod has to summon them because the monarch hasn’t been allowed in the House of Commons ever since Charles I went in trying to arrest five of the members in 1642.) The commoners then head into the House of Lords, walking in pairs, line up at the back of the room on the opposite side of the queen, and listen to her speech while standing up.


Chamber of the House of Lords. The throne is in the back.


The Lord Chancellor then presents the queen with a speech written on vellum which she reads, while sitting on the throne, to the combined houses of Parliament. The funny thing is she didn’t write the speech, but rather her cabinet did. The British monarch has little real power, and the government is headed up by ministers which are members of Parliament. The ruling party (or coalition of parties) form a cabinet, led by a minister who is thereafter known as the Prime Minister, and who ceremonially reports to the queen. And officially, the queen is the head of state, which means she is in charge of the government and therefore the cabinet that heads it, so she gives the speech even though she didn’t write it. It outlines the agenda for the legislative session, which amounts to the queen saying that her government will propose such and such laws. At the end, a disclaimer is given that other legislation may also be added.

The 2012 State Opening of Parliament happened today, and Parliament provided a video of the affair. The speech itself runs from about 4:00 to 12:30 in the video, while the rest contains the interesting ceremonial parts.

From Parliament

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