The Queen’s diary just got a bit lighter. The Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, has announced that there will be no Speech from the Throne next year.
A Parliament is traditionally divided into several sessions, each of which begins with a Queen’s Speech and ends with prorogation. For many years, sessions have typically lasted for a year, but since the timing is decided by the Crown, they can run longer or shorter. For example, the first session of the 2010-15 Parliament ran from 2010 until 2012, with no Queen’s Speech in 2011. While unusual, it’s not constitutionally improper. The Sovereign is only required to address Parliament at the beginning of a session.
Leadsom claims that a longer session will give Parliament more time to deal with the mountain of legislation that Brexit is likely to create. When Parliament is prorogued at the end of a session, any bills that have not yet received Royal Assent lapse. While they can be reintroduced in the following session, they must start over at the beginning of the parliamentary process. In recent years, Parliament has allowed certain bills to be ‘carried over’ from one session to another, but this process is not automatic, and carry-over must be agreed on a case-by-case basis. By delaying prorogation, they avoid a slew of potentially difficult votes.
But the Government could be motivated by another factor. The vote on the Address-in-Reply to the Queen’s Speech has traditionally been tantamount to a vote of confidence in the Government. With no guaranteed majority and an emboldened Opposition, the Queen’s Speeches will be a major headache for the Government, so it’s not hard to see why they’d be keen to put it off. They could even extend the session for the full five years of the Parliament, in which case there wouldn’t be another Queen’s Speech until after the next election. But that would probably be a step too far. Brexit should be settled by 2019, so the Government should find it easier to proceed with a Queen’s Speech.
Of course, all this assumes that the Conservatives are still in power in 2018. If there were to be another election next year, the Queen would have to open the next Parliament. Given Theresa May’s tenuous grip on power, the Queen might have to address Parliament in 2018 after all.