Q&A: What is the Queen's Speech?

A-Z of Parliament with Quentin Letts: Q for Queen's Speech

Written by the government and delivered by the reigning monarch, the Queen's Speech sets out the measures the government wants to get through Parliament in the year ahead.

It is the centrepiece of the state opening of Parliament.

The ceremonial trappings surrounding the speech make the event one of the high points of the parliamentary calendar, unrivalled in its spectacle and tradition, despite some of the more arcane practices having been toned down in recent years.

The Queen normally attends the state opening in person and delivers the speech from the grand throne in the House of Lords.

The decision over what to put in or leave out of the Queen's Speech is a politically crucial one, usually the subject of months of political wrangling within government as ministers fight for their favoured measures to win a slot in the crowded legislative agenda.

Typically a cabinet committee - which includes the leaders of the Commons and Lords, the chief whip, a select group of senior ministers and chief law officers - helps decide on content for the Queen's Speech, with the prime minister having the final say.

The coalition government means that negotiations have become more protracted since 2010, with Conservative and Liberal Democrats having to agree on what can be in the speech.

The limited parliamentary timetable - and the time it takes for large bills to pass through examination by committees in the Commons and Lords - usually means not all desired measures can be included.

Problems

Although the government controls the parliamentary timetable through its majority in the House of Commons, several factors can derail or change its plans.

First of all, the House of Lords - whether or not it has a government majority - can reject government bills, sending them back for review to the House of Commons.

Although the government can reverse Lords decisions, the time it takes to do this can slow down progress on other parts of its programme.

In addition, the opposition can seek to delay measures. This is a tactic which can only be effective when the government has a small and unstable majority and is unable to use its "guillotine" to cut off further debate.

And the government's own backbenchers might seek to defeat it on certain unpopular measures.

In addition to the plans set out in the Queen's Speech, the government might agree to add extra bills - including those proposed by private members who come high on an annual ballot each year - to its own programme.

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The Queen's Speech 2013

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