Queen’s Speech: What is it and why is it important?

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The Queen on the throne of the House of Lords

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The Queen on the throne of the House of LordsImage copyright
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The Queen’s Speech is due to take place on Monday 14 October, giving the government an opportunity to highlight its forthcoming priorities.

The decision to hold one – just two weeks before the Brexit deadline – caused a lot of controversy and comes with risks.

Traditionally, losing the vote that follows the Queen’s Speech has been seen as the equivalent of being defeated in a no-confidence vote.

So, what exactly is it and could MPs vote it down?

What is it?

The Queen’s Speech forms part of the State Opening of Parliament ceremony, which marks the start of the parliamentary year.

The ceremony begins with a procession, where the Queen travels from Buckingham Palace to Westminster by carriage.

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Large crowds come to see the Queen driven by carriage during the State Opening of Parliament

MPs are summoned by a House of Lords official, known as Black Rod. Before entering the Commons, Black Rod has the doors shut in their face, symbolising the chamber’s independence from the monarchy.

During the speech, the Queen sets out the laws the government wants Parliament to approve. By convention, it is announced by the monarch in the presence of MPs, peers and other dignitaries in the House of Lords.

Normally a Queen’s Speech happens once a year, but there has not been one since 21 June 2017 because the previous prime minister, Theresa May, wanted a two-year parliamentary session to focus on Brexit.

Why does Boris Johnson’s government want one?

Boris Johnson says a Queen’s Speech is needed to bring forward a new “bold and ambitious domestic legislative agenda”.

But his decision to prorogue Parliament, which happens before every Queen’s Speech, caused controversy.

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UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

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Boris Johnson has lost six consecutive votes in the House of Commons

Who writes the Queen’s Speech?

It is written by ministers but it is delivered by the Queen from the throne of the House of Lords.

Its length depends on the number of proposed laws and other announcements – such as foreign policy objectives – but it normally takes about 10 minutes.

Can anyone else deliver the Queen’s Speech?

The Queen has delivered the speech 64 times but was absent in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant.

On those occasions, the speech was read by the Lord Chancellor.

Is there a vote on it?

Yes.

A couple of hours afterwards, MPs reassemble in the House of Commons and begin debating the speech’s contents.

After introductory speeches by two MPs, the prime minister will “sell” the speech to the Commons, setting out their vision for the country.

The leader of the opposition then gets their chance to respond, before other MPs are allowed to contribute.

The debate on what is known as the “Humble Address” normally lasts about five days.

At the end of the debate there is a vote, usually just one. It’s normally seen as symbolic, as it is extremely rare for a government to lose it.

While no date has been formally announced, this Queen’s Speech vote could take place on 21 or 22 October.

What happens if the government loses?

By losing a Queen’s Speech vote, MPs are effectively saying that they reject the government’s plan to bring in new laws.

Mr Johnson has already lost six consecutive House of Commons votes since becoming prime minister. This is scheduled to be the next vote to take place..

But even though Mr Johnson would be under immense political pressure to resign if he lost again, he might not feel forced to do so.

If the government did lose, Labour could respond by proposing a motion of no confidence, leaving all MPs to vote on the matter.

A government defeat, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA), would give opposition parties 14 days to form an alternative government.

If nothing is resolved, a general election would be automatically called. At this point Mr Johnson would still not be forced to resign, and could continue on as prime minister during a campaign.

Alternatively, according to Catherine Haddon, from the Institute for Government think tank, the opposition could write its own no-confidence motion in different words to the FTPA.

“This would allow the opposition to be explicit about what should happen, like the steps the government would need to take, or, say, if there was a Commons majority to form an alternative government,” she says.

Ms Haddon says that convention would dictate that if any motion of no confidence is passed and there is a clear alternative government the government would have to stand aside.

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Getty Images

Image caption

The last prime minister to lose a vote on the speech was Stanley Baldwin in 1924

When did a government last lose a Queen’s Speech?

The last time this happened was in January 1924 to Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin after he proceeded with a King’s Speech, under George V, despite having lost his majority in the previous month’s general election.

Mr Baldwin subsequently resigned and a minority Labour government took over.

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