Publications / Guides

What is the King’s Speech?

The Queen's Speech delivered by the then Prince of Wales during the May 2022 State Opening of Parliament. ©UK House of Lords (CC BY 2.0)
©UK House of Lords (CC BY 2.0)

The King’s Speech is the vehicle through which the Government sets out its legislative programme for a new Session of Parliament. The Speech is the central element of the State Opening of Parliament. The King’s Speech may also be referred to as the 'Gracious Speech'. It is written by the Government; the Monarch simply reads it out. However, the references which the Monarch makes in the Speech to 'my Government' reaffirm the constitutional fact that, formally, the Government is the King's Government and is appointed by him.

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The King's Speech details the major Bills that the Government plans to introduce to Parliament or publish in draft during the new Session. The Speech also sets out a general presentation of the Government's main policy objectives and priorities, in foreign as well as domestic affairs. It usually includes an announcement of any forthcoming State Visits.

The Bills listed in the King's Speech are often the most high-profile and long-planned ones. However, at any time during the Session the Government may introduce Bills that were not listed in the King's Speech. There is no difference between the parliamentary procedure that applies to Government Bills that were included in the Gracious Speech and those that were not.

After the King's Speech, the Leader of the House of Commons normally makes a Written Statement to Parliament confirming the list of Bills announced in the Speech.

After the King's Speech, the main business in both Houses is the start of the debate on the Speech. In both Houses, the debate on the Speech normally starts on same day as the Speech takes place.

However, before the House of Commons gets down to any business, the Speaker first makes a statement about the "duties and responsibilities of honourable Members" of the House and usually refers to the Code of Conduct for MPs.

In both Houses, before the start of the debate on the King's Speech, the House gives a symbolic First Reading to a Bill that was not included in the Gracious Speech. This is a formality: the Bill is not published or debated; and although it is ordered to be read a second time, no date is appointed for Second Reading. The process is typically over in a second or two.

However, this symbolic First Reading is undertaken to make the constitutional point that the House is able to consider business of its own choice, not just business that was outlined in the King’s Speech.

In each House, the Bill which is given a symbolic First Reading is always the same.

In the House of Commons, the Bill given a symbolic First Reading is the Outlawries Bill. A Bill with this title was first presented in 1727. Since then, it has been generally accepted that it should not progress as a normal Bill. The Outlawries Bill historically provided for the more ‘effectual preventing’ of ‘clandestine outlawries’ – that is, the declaration of someone as an outlaw without due process.

In the House of Lords, the Bill given a symbolic First Reading is the Select Vestries Bill. This is a remnant of the regular debates that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries on the reform of select vestries. Vestries were a form of local government based on church parish boundaries which had the church vestry as their meeting place. The ‘select’ element refers to the fact that property restrictions limited those entitled to vote in these vestries to only a few ‘select’ people. Reform of select vestries was thus an important aspect of the debate about extending the franchise and reducing the power of the Crown and executive. As the House of Lords historically comprised powerful landowners and Bishops, the Select Vestries Bill came to symbolise the need for Members to act in the national interest rather than self-interest.

6:00pm, 6 November 2023

Hansard Society (2023), What is the King’s Speech?, (Hansard Society: London)

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