This assembly looks at the history of the Queen’s Speech and what her latest speech will mean for the UK

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Introduction
Last week Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II made a speech. Of course, she makes lots of speeches, but this one was special. Why? Because it was a speech the Queen makes at the opening of Parliament each year. Parliament is the building where the government and the Prime Minister do all their work. The Queen’s Speech explains to everyone what changes the government is going to make over the next year.

Now that may not sound very interesting but it affects every single person in this country, from babies to the elderly. The Queen’s Speech explains what changes will be made to nurseries, schools, universities, businesses, pensions – just about every aspect of everyday life.

So why is it called the ‘Queen’s Speech’ rather than the ‘Government’s Speech’? The reasons for that go back over 400 years.

The history of the Queen’s Speech
Before the Queen arrives at Parliament, the buildings and cellars are searched by her soldier bodyguards, the Yeoman of the Guard. Let’s look at a picture of them [show picture].

Gosh! They don’t look much like soldiers, do they? They don’t carry guns, but weapons called ‘pikes’, a long stick with a sharp blade at the end. Well, in actual fact they are dressed just like soldiers – but how soldiers would have looked in the year 1485, which is when the Yeoman of the Guard were created by King Henry VII. That’s 525 years ago – probably when your great-great-great-great [take a theatrical breath then add 16 more ‘greats’] great-grandfather was alive. Phew!

So the Yeoman of the Guard search the Parliament buildings to make sure it’s safe for the Queen.

The Queen then leaves Buckingham Palace in her black and gold Irish State Coach, which is over 150 years old and is drawn by four horses [show picture]. When she gets to the Parliament, she goes to the special Robing Chamber and puts on her crown and special robes. They’re very heavy so she needs people to help her.

Here’s a picture of the Imperial State Crown [show picture]. This crown has 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies. And, if that weren’t enough, some of the jewels were first used in an English crown over one thousand years ago! The crown and other jewels travel from Buckingham Palace to Westminster separately to the Queen, in a coach all on their own.

Weighed down with her heavy crown and robes, the Queen walks – very slowly! – to the House of Lords.

In Britain there are two parts that make up Parliament: the House of Commons (where the Prime Minister sits) and the House of Lords (where earls and dukes and lords sit).

The Queen isn’t allowed into the House of Commons. Imagine that! And the reason for that goes back to the year 1642 when the king, Charles I tried to arrest five MPs in the House of Commons.

So you can see that there’s an awful lot of history involved in the Queen’s Speech.

Once the Queen is sitting on the throne, she says to the House, “My Lords, pray be seated”, and is given the speech in a silk bag to read to everyone. But, of course, after all this, the Queen isn’t even allowed to write her own speech – she has to read what the Prime Minister tells her to read.

The reason for this goes back… yes, you guessed it… hundreds of years. Kings and queens used to have complete power over people but 400 years ago people got fed up of being told what to do by someone they hadn’t elected – or chosen – to be their leader. Instead, the power was taken by the government, and the ruler (the king or queen) had to do pretty much everything the government told them to do. It was a complete change around.

[You can now role play this: choose 6 Yeomen of the Guards – with hats and “pikes” – to search the Houses of Parliament, whilst carrying lanterns. They then give the ‘all clear’. The Queen is helped into her coach at Buckingham Palace and four horses pull her carriage to Parliament. She is then helped into her heavy robes and crown and is taken to her throne to read her speech.]

The Queen’s Speech, May 2010
So what important things were announced in the Queen’s Speech last week? She started off by saying:

‘My Government’s legislative programme will be based upon the principles of freedom, fairness and responsibility.’

Gosh! Those are big promises: freedom, fairness and responsibility. It’s quite similar to the things we think are important in our school [if you have a school motto/mission statement that is relevant, mention it here].

So what promises is the Queen’s government making? Here are some of them:

  • To not spend as much money, with a new department called the Office of Budget Responsibility being created.
  • To allow more schools to become Academies.
  • To try and reduce alcohol-related crimes and violence
  • To make sure more people have high-speed broadband for their computers.
  • To build a network of fast, new railways.

Good gracious! Those are some very important promises and there were lots of other ones in the Queen’s Speech.

And, as with all promises that we make, the government now has to work as hard as possible to make sure that they happen.

And the Queen? Well, her subjects may be able to retire from their jobs when they’re in the sixties, but she’s not retiring – and she’s 84!

Conclusion
The Prime Minister and the government had to think very hard about what promises they were going to make to the people who voted for them and for all the people in the country; now they will have to work hard to keep their promises.

Prayer
Dear Father,

We pray today for our Queen and our government. Give them the wisdom to rule us wisely and for us to help them as they try to make our country a better place. Amen.

Reflection
If you were the Prime Minister, what changes would you want to make to the country? What promises would you make to the people – and how would you do it?

Further information

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

About the author: Jane A. C. West

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