Address in reply to Queen's speech
8.37When the Queen's speech has been read, an Address in answer to it is moved in both Houses. Two Members in each House are selected by the Government for moving and seconding the Address, which is moved in the form of a resolution expressing thanks to the Sovereign for the most gracious speech addressed to both Houses of Parliament,1 and amendments by way of additions to the resolution may be moved.2
The debate on the Address in the Commons falls into three parts. Debate on the opening day (or days) covers the whole field of government policy, especially in relation to the contents of the Queen's speech. Thereafter debate is usually directed to more specific areas of policy chosen by the Opposition, of which the House is informed,3 although at that stage without prejudice to Members' right to raise other topics.4 The final part consists of a series of amendments, which are usually moved from the front bench of the main Opposition party. Standing Order No 33 (calling of amendments at end of debate) provides that on the final day, if an amendment to the motion for an Address has been disposed of at or after the expiration of the time for opposed business, any further amendments selected by the Speaker may be moved and disposed of forthwith. The Speaker may select up to four amendments in total, normally one on the penultimate day and up to three on the final day. On the final day, the first amendment is normally moved during the debate and the other two moved at the end without debate. Under this provision, the Speaker has selected amendments tabled by opposition parties other than the official Opposition and by others.5 Once an amendment has been moved, it is likely to be the focus of debate, but in modern practice debate is not restricted to the terms of the amendment alone (see para 20.32 ).
The transaction of public business is carried on while the proceedings on the Address are in progress, bills being introduced, committees appointed, and statutory instruments considered. The debate on the Address is normally given precedence but it has occasionally been postponed in favour of urgent business including a motion of censure and passage of government bills,6 and it may be interrupted in the course of a sitting by an emergency debate under Standing Order No 24 (see para 19.22 ). Under Standing Order No 10, Westminster Hall cannot sit until the Address is agreed.
In the Lords the opening day's debate on the Address is brief. After the speeches of the mover and seconder, it is usual for the Leader of the Opposition to move the adjournment of the debate. On this motion they and the other party leaders congratulate the mover and seconder and comment generally on the Queen's speech.7 The debate is then adjourned. The debate is resumed on the following sitting day. Different topics (such as foreign affairs and defence, home and social affairs, and economic affairs) are taken on different days.
- 1. Addresses have also contained expressions of condolence on the deaths of members of the royal family (LJ (1892) 7; CJ (1892) 10; LJ (1896) 16; CJ (1896) 12). In Session 1921 (II) the Gracious Speech was confined to the Articles of Agreements signed by Ministers and the Irish Delegation, and the Address of each House declared its readiness to confirm and ratify those Articles (LJ (1921) 463, 470; CJ (1921) 405, 406).
- 2. In 1894 an amendment to the Address having been carried, the Address, as amended, was negatived, and another Address was proposed by the Leader of the House and agreed to (CJ (1894) 9, 11). In 1924 an amendment to the Address having been carried, the Address, as amended, was then agreed to (CJ (1924) 32). In 2016, an amendment was made to the Address, without division. The Address, as amended, was then agreed to, HC Deb (26 May 2016) 611, c 803.
- 3. HC Deb (2009–10) 501, c 5; ibid (1952–53) 507, c 150; ibid (1997–98) 294, c 45; ibid (2001–02) 370, c 35.; ibid (8 May 2013) 563, c 5; ibid (21 June 2017) 626, c 37.
- 4. HC Deb (1953–54) 520, c 153; ibid (1960–61) 629, c 185; ibid (1985–86) 86, cc 255–63.
- 5. Eg HC Deb (17 May 2012) 545, c 712; HC Deb (15 May 2013) 563, c 655. In 2016 the Speaker selected an amendment in the name of a backbench Member relating to the National Health Service which was agreed to without division, HC Deb (26 May 2016) 611, c 800.
- 6. In 2006, the debate on the Address was interrupted to facilitate passage of emergency legislation relating to Northern Ireland, HC Deb (2006–07) 453, c 414 ff. See also CJ (1884) 8, 9, 46, 66; ibid (1922) 354, 355, 357; ibid (1924–25) 27, 34; CJ (1928) 12.
- 7. On 25 May 2010, following the establishment of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government, only the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the House spoke on the motion for adjournment. See HL Deb (2010–12) 719, cc 15–22.