On Wednesday, the 27th of May, Queen Elizabeth II delivered what is known as “the Queen’s Speech” to formally open the new Parliament of the United Kingdom.
That’s right! The UK held a General Election on the 7th of May to elect new members of Parliament (known as MP’s). The Conservative (or “Tory”) party won a majority, but only by twelve seats. Prior to this election, the majority in Parliament was held by a coalition between the Conservative party and Liberal-Democrat Party. Now, the Conservative Party holds 330 seats in Parliament, followed by the Labour Party, holding 232 seats; the Scottish National Party, holding 56 seats; the Liberal Democrat Party, with 8 seats (their worst performance in history); and both the Green Party and UK Independence Party (UKIP) with one seat each. David Cameron, head of the Conservative Party, remained Prime Minister.
In the United Kingdom, the Queen has to formally open the first session of the new Parliament before they can begin governing. A session lasts for one year and only the sovereign can call a Parliament together, so this is the official beginning of the new session of Parliament.
What happens during the Queen’s Speech?
On this day, the Queen is driven in a procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, where she enters at the Sovereign’s Entrance and proceeds through the Robing Room, where she dons the Imperial State Crown and the Robes of State which arrive in the procession as well. Both houses of Parliament, the House of Commons and the House of Lords listen to the Queen’s speech from opposite ends of the throne in the House of Lords — it is the only time all three branches of the UK government are present at one time. The Speech usually outlines proposed policies and legislation for the new session of Parliament, and after the Queen leaves, both houses get to work on agreeing on a response to Her Majesty’s speech, and the House of Commons votes on the contents of the speech.
What did the Queen outline in this year’s speech?
This year, one of the most pertinent issues at stake in the Queen’s speech had to do with the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union. The Conservative Party promised to introduce a referendum on the subject in 2017. Membership in the EU has been linked by many to issues such as increasing immigration into the UK. Another issue covered in the speech is employment and welfare. The Queen’s speech leaned towards austerity, with a planned reduction in the welfare cap, and other significant welfare reforms, with the hope of achieving full employment in the next few years. The Queen also discussed reducing regulations on small businesses, increasing childcare for working parents, and devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as housing, education and energy reform.
All in all, Queen Elizabeth, 62 years into her reign, is still going strong as the UK’s head Smart Girl!