In the Commonwealth realms, the Speech From the Throne is the oration given before the legislature (whether both chambers of a bicameral parliament or the single chamber of a unicameral parliament) as part of a lavish affair marking the opening of parliament. In either case, the speech is written by the sitting cabinet, with or without the reader's participation, and outlines the legislative programme for the new parliamentary session.
In the United Kingdom, where the practice originated, Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech, also known as the Gracious Address or, less formally, as the Queen's Speech, is typically read by the reigning sovereign at the State Opening of Parliament; this occurs annually in May—prior to the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011, the State Opening usually occurred in November or December—or soon after a general election. The monarch may, however, appoint a delegate to perform the task in his or her place; Queen Elizabeth II did this in 1959 and 1963 when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, respectively, having the Lord Chancellor deliver the address instead.
In those countries that share with Britain the same person as their respective sovereign, the Speech From the Throne will generally be read on the monarch's behalf by his or her viceroy, the governor-general, though the monarch can give the address in person: Queen Elizabeth II read the Throne Speech in the Parliament of New Zealand in 1954, the Parliament of Australia in 1954 and 1974, and the Parliament of Canada in 1957 and 1977.
Another member of the Royal Family may also perform this duty, such as when, on 1 September 1919, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), read the Speech From the Throne in the Canadian parliament. In the Irish Free State, the governor-general delivered the Governor-General's Address to Dáil Éireann, which, unusually, was delivered in the lower house of parliament. Only two speeches were ever given, in 1922 and 1923.
For the legislatures of Australia's states and Canada's provinces, a Throne Speech is also performed to outline local legislative plans. In Canada, it is not clear that it would be constitutional for anyone but the relevant lieutenant governor, as representative of the sovereign in right of the respective province, to perform this task. In Australia, the governor of a state typically gives the oration in place of the monarch, but the reigning sovereign can perform the task in person. Queen Elizabeth II opened the parliaments of some of the Australian states in 1954 and of New South Wales in 1992.
In British overseas territories, the relevant governor delivers the speech. In Hong Kong, the governor's address was termed the Policy Address during Chris Patten's governorship. The tradition has preserved to date, although Britain handed over the territory to the People's Republic of China in 1997. Responsible government was never granted; the governor remained head of government until 1997, when the role as head of the region and head of government was taken up by the chief executive.
The address is followed by a debate and vote in both houses or the one house of parliament. Formally, the motion merely calls on parliament to thank the monarch or viceroy for the speech via an Address in Reply. The debate is, however, often wide-ranging, exploring many aspects of the government's proposed policies, and spread over several days. When the Address in Reply is eventually voted on, the poll is held to constitute a motion of confidence in the government, which, if lost, would result in the end of that government's mandate.
In some legislatures, this discussion and vote follows a symbolic raising of other matters, designed to highlight the independence of parliament from the Crown. In the British House of Commons, the other business raised is by tradition the Outlawries Bill. In the Canadian House of Commons, the bill considered is Bill C-1, an Act Respecting the Administration of Oaths of Office, while in the Senate, it is Bill S-1, an Act Relating to Railways. In Australia and New Zealand, by contrast, no pro forma bills are introduced; there, the respective houses of representatives instead consider some brief and non-controversial business items before debating the Address in Reply.
A throne speech is not typical in the devolved legislatures within the United Kingdom, the nearest equivalent being a statement of the legislative agenda of the executive branch usually given by a first minister. However, the Queen often undertakes visits and speaks to the devolved bodies in a less official capacity. So far, she has been present and has given an address at all openings of the Scottish Parliament, usually speaking reflectively upon its accomplishments and wishing the institution well for its coming term rather than considering the plans of the executive.
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