What is the Queen's Speech and why did she miss it this year?

The Queen's Speech is one of her most important annual engagements. Credit: PA
  • By Westminster Producer Lewis Denison

Her Majesty has missed the State Opening of Parliament for the first time in almost 60 years after dropping out with “episodic mobility problems”, according to Buckingham Palace.

She's been scaling back the number of official engagements she attends as she preserves her health, but the 96-year-old head of state had hoped to attend one of the most important events in her annual diary today.

The Queen's Speech, which is usually delivered each year, marks the State opening of Parliament and outlines the government's plans for the forthcoming year.

On Monday, however, the Queen announced she would not be attending the opening of Parliament - and that Prince Charles and Prince William will be attending in her stead.

The Queen has only missed two State openings of Parliament during her 70 years on the throne - both when she was in the late stages of pregnancy.

What is the Queen's Speech?

The Queen's Speech marks the State Opening of Parliament (the opening day of a fresh session of Parliament) and no new legislation can be dealt with until it is complete.

Traditionally it is an annual occurrence, as sessions of Parliament usually last a year, however it can be delayed, as it was amid the two-year parliamentary session in 2017/19.

What you need to know - listen to the latest episode

A Queen's Speech is usually held in the spring or after a general election and marks the start of a new legislative programme after the previous one was suspended (prorogued).

Her Majesty delivers the speech from the Sovereign's Throne in the House of Lords - according to Parliament, it is most important items of furniture in the Palace of Westminster.

Why is the Queen's Speech important and what is in it?

A Queen's Speech is one of the biggest events in a government's parliamentary calendar as it is the day they present to the country which laws they plan to change or implement in the upcoming year.

It is unlikely the Queen will wear the Imperial State Crown if she attends this year's State Opening of Parliament. Credit: PA

The speech is written by Her Majesty's ministers and should be read in a neutral tone in order to avoid the perception that she supports it. This aspect of the speech is symbolic to the Queen's relationship with Parliament as a constitutional monarchy rather than absolute.

It is a test of trust in the government and its ability to command confidence in the House of Commons when seeking to pass legislation. MPs must vote to approve the legislative agenda set out in the Queen's Speech and a rejection would likely signal the end for a government.

For majority governments, like Boris Johnson's government, the Queen's Speech is unlikely to cause any issues as it is sure to be passed by MPs, but government's with weak majorities are much more likely to be concerned.

The speech also sees the monarch list any state visits that they plan to make, and any overseas heads of state who have been invited to the UK over the course of the forthcoming session.

Which policies might be included?

Boris Johnson's spokesperson refused to reveal which policies would be included in the Queen's Speech before it is delivered, but some hot topics are very likely to be addressed.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said the Queen’s Speech will outline policies that take advantage of "Brexit freedoms to strengthen our economy and make it more dynamic".

Here are some of the other plans most likely to be mentioned:

  • The energy strategy, looking at how to replace Russian gas and oil while still committing to green solutions

  • The privatisation of Channel 4

  • Post-Brexit measures to remove or change EU regulations

  • Changes to education to equal the playing field between wealthy and less well-off families

  • A new crackdown on so-called “guerrilla protests” or disruptive activism

When is the Queen's Speech?

The traditional speech will be delivered as part of the State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday, May 10, with the ceremony beginning at 11.30am and Her Majesty's address - given by Prince Charles this year - coming shortly after.

The ceremony normally begins with Her Majesty travelling from Buckingham Palace to Westminster in a carriage procession.

Listen to, or watch, our royal podcast:

What happens after the speech and can MPs reject it?

After the speech it is debated by both the Lords and the Commons. The debate is held following a 'humble address' to the Queen - also known as the Loyal Address - in which members thank the Her Majesty for delivering the speech.

The debate usually lasts several days, which each day centring on a theme, such as education or health.

The speech is then voted on at the end of the debate and MPs are given the chance to amend aspects of it, with a maximum of four amendments allowed to be voted on.

If MPs reject the speech it would be treated as a loss of confidence in the government - it is extremely rare and hasn't happened in almost a century.

The last time it happened was 1924 and the then-prime minister Stanley Baldwin resigned and the opposition took over.

Why will the Queen miss the State Opening of Parliament?

The Queen’s “episodic mobility problems” stretch back to last autumn and have led to her cancelling a run of major engagements over the last seven months.

In October 2021, she used a walking stick at a Westminster Abbey service – the first time she had done so at a major event.

A week later, after a busy autumn programme, she was ordered to rest by doctors and advised to cancel a trip to Northern Ireland.

The Queen was secretly admitted to hospital for “preliminary investigations” and had her first overnight stay in hospital for eight years on October 20 2021.

The next day she was back at her desk at Windsor, carrying out light duties.

But concern for her health mounted when she pulled out of more high-profile engagements, including the Cop26 climate change summit and the Festival of Remembrance, with Buckingham Palace saying she had been advised to continue to rest and to not carry out any official visits.

With her absence now from the State Opening of Parliament, questions remain over whether the Jubilee Queen will be able to appear during her milestone celebratory weekend – a busy four-day extravaganza with a pop concert, church service, pageant and Trooping the Colour.