A speech from the throne (or throne speech) is an event in certain monarchies in which the reigning sovereign (or a representative) reads a prepared speech to members of parliament, outlining the government's agenda for the coming session. This event is often held annually, although in some places it may occur more or less frequently whenever a new session of parliament is opened. Many republics have adopted a similar practice with their head of state, often a president, addressing their legislature (for example, in the United States, the president makes an annual State of the Union address).
Historically, when monarchs exercised personal power in government, a speech from the throne was used to outline the policies and objectives of the monarch—as such the speech was usually prepared by the monarch's advisers, with the monarch (or regent in case of a regency) supervising the drafting of the speech to at least some extent and in any case always having the absolute final discretion as to its content.
In constitutional monarchies today, whether by law or by convention, the head of state (or representative thereof) reads the speech from the throne, but it is prepared by the ministers of the crown in cabinet. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the monarch (or his or her representative) to outline the legislative agenda, for which the cooperation of parliament is needed, and national priorities.
In 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. As the sovereign is traditionally barred from the lower chamber of a bicameral parliament, this ceremony, as with the bestowing of Royal Assent, takes place in the upper chamber (the House of Lords in the UK and senate in Australia and Canada); in unicameral parliaments, the speech is read in the one chamber.
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, with the exception of Quebec since 1973, a Throne Speech is also performed to outline local legislative plans. 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 Canada, a province's Throne Speech, written by the provincial government, is given by the province's Lieutenant Governor, who is the personal representative of the Sovereign in the province.
In British overseas territories that have instituted this practice, the relevant governor delivers the speech. In Hong Kong, the governor's address was termed the Policy Address during Chris Patten's governorship. After the territory was handed over to the People's Republic of China in 1997, the tradition continued, with the speech now given by the chief executive. In each of the Canadian territories, the commissioner reads the Throne Speech or Opening Address to the legislature.
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. These Acts or discussions are done to perpetuate in a symbolic way parliament's role and independence in governance from that of the Sovereign.
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.
In Japan, the Emperor makes only a short speech of greeting during the Diet opening ceremony; he does not refer to any government policies, instead allowing the prime minister to address political matters. Similarly, in Sweden, since the mid-1970s, the monarch, at the request of the Speaker of the Riksdag, gives a short symbolic address ending with the monarch declaring the annual session of the Riksdag (Swedish: Riksmötet) to be opened, and is immediately followed by the prime minister's statement of government agenda (Swedish: Regeringsförklaring) for the forthcoming legislative year.
In Thailand, the monarch makes a speech at a joint session in the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, advising the National Assembly in their work. Malaysia also has the same practice, with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong making such an address to the Parliament of Malaysia in joint session during its state opening yearly every March.
Many republics also hold a yearly event in which the president gives a speech to a joint session of the legislature, such as the State of the Union address given by the President of the United States or the State of the Nation Address by the President of the Philippines. Often such are on or near the first day of the legislature's new session.
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