HRH Prince Charles has delivered the Queen’s Speech for the first time, standing in for his mother who, at 96 years of age, has missed the state event for the first time in 59 years.
The state opening of parliament, at which what is called the ‘Queen’s Speech’ is delivered by the monarch, is an important part of the British constitution: an occasion where common members of Parliament (MPs), members of the House of Lords, and the Monarchy gather. While the Queen’s Speech is generally delivered by the monarch, it is really the government’s address, a list of their plans and priorities for the coming months written for the monarch to read aloud.
As such, the speech essentially resembles a bullet-point list of plans, elaborated upon in only the briefest detail. Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II’s son and the heir to the throne gave the speech for the first time today, deputising for the Queen herself who is said to be unable to fulfil the duty physically because of mobility issues.
While this is not the first time the Queen has missed the opening of parliament and her speech, it is certainly the first in a long time, having sat out the event in 1959 and 1963, both times due to her being pregnant.
Several changes were seen in today’s opening distinguishing it from others in the past. Normally the Queen would walk alone into the House of Lords to give the address to members, but last year she was accompanied by Prince Charles who led her by the hand to provide physical support and balance to the then 95-year-old. This year the 96-year-old Queen was of course absent and Prince Charles walked alone in the state procession, taking a seat upon the throne on the dais at the head of the chamber.
In the past, the Queen has sat either alongside her consort the Duke of Edinburgh in front of the great screen or alone, in the centre of the space there. Today, Prince Charles’ throne was notably offset to one side, leaving a clear visual space alongside him empty for the Queen. Afore that space sat the Imperial state crown, the ultimate symbol of Royal authority and properly representing the Queen in the chamber.
The speech itself touched upon dozens of areas of government, ranging from economic plans, to law and order, and even the establishment of an independent regulator for English football. While each area is only briefly discussed, the speech provides a longer-range view of what the government hopes to achieve in the life of the parliament, and while it had been speculated the government may take the opportunity of a major state event to put some distance between them and the recent months of controversy over lockdown breeches, actually little was said that surprises or might grab major headlines.
The economic statements were boilerplate, but perhaps begging for accusations of hypocrisy by the government in some areas. As well as paying lip service to growth, living standards, and inflation, the government also said through the throne that it would have a “responsible approach to public finances, reducing debt while reforming and cutting taxes”.
Given the enormous debt the government has piled up in recent years, and the tax rises now enacted to cover spending, for the government to ask the monarch — or her son — to claim fiscal responsibility at this stage would be risible were it not so disrespectful.
The government, through the crown, also cited the channel migrant crisis, with Prince Charles reading from the statement given to him: “[the government will] take action to prevent dangerous and illegal channel crossings, and tackle the criminal gangs which profit from facilitating them”, despite the problem having been known for years and no serious action having been taken to tackle it.
There were a variety of other areas touched, from the serious — like Brexit, a British Bill of Rights, and repealing EU law — to the more mundane, but nevertheless important like giving local residents more say over the often unpopular newbuild developments in their areas, reforming the railways, and improving education.
The Prince of Wales concluded the speech by telling Parliament: “her majesty prays that the blessing of almighty God may rest upon your counsels”.
The contents of the speech will be debated by Parliament in the coming days.