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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
What is the Queen's Speech?
Queen in the Lords
The Queen's Speech is written by the government
With the election fought and won the government now begins the hard work of turning the words of its manifesto commitments into deeds.

Setting out what measures are to be put before Parliament for the next 12 months in the Queen's Speech - to be delivered on Wednesday - is the first part of this process.

Every session of Parliament begins with a royal address - the Queen's Speech - from the current monarch, detailing the government's legislative programme for the year ahead, and the main principles guiding its plans.

The royal address usually takes place in November, although one always follows the opening of a new parliament after a general election.

This time many of the plans set out in the last Queen's Speech - including a bill on fox hunting - still remain uncompleted, as parliament was dissolved early in the spring, when Prime Minister Tony Blair called a general election.

Pomp and circumstance

The Queen's Speech is one of the high points of the parliamentary calendar, and remains unrivalled in its spectacle and tradition. Although some of the more arcane practices have been toned down in recent years.

The Queen normally attends in person at the state opening of Parliament and reads out the speech, which is written by the government, from the grand throne in the House of Lords.

However, not all of the government's programme is necessarily contained in the Queen's Speech.

The Budget, and its recent addition the pre-Budget report, have also been increasingly used to set out strategy.

The decision over what to include in the Queen's Speech is a politically crucial one, and the subject of months of political debate and wrangling inside the government.

Delivery

It goes without saying the first speech of a new parliament is particularly crucial to the government's chances of being able to deliver on its manifesto commitments.

A cabinet committee - which includes the leaders of the Commons and Lords, the chief whip and chief law officers - decides on its content.

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 that not all desired measures can be included.

But delaying keynote measures can also create difficulties - as the government found out to its cost in the last parliament, notably on transport policy, with legislation delayed for several years after a railways bill failed to reach the statute books in 1998-99.

What can go wrong?

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 the 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, but 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.

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.

Legislation to ban or regulate fox hunting is one such recent example, while in the past other important measures, such as the Homeless Persons Act, have originated as private members' bills.

Such moves can put further strain on the parliamentary timetable and may result in the House sitting longer than originally planned.


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15 Oct 98 | R-S
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