Charles to read Queen’s Speech for first time as monarch misses State Opening

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The Queen and the Prince of Wales (Toby Melville/PA) (PA Archive)
The Queen and the Prince of Wales (Toby Melville/PA) (PA Archive)

The Queen has delegated constitutional duties to the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge to open Parliament on her behalf in a historic, unprecedented move which sees Charles – a king in waiting – reading the Queen’s Speech for the first time.

The monarch, 96, reluctantly pulled out of the major ceremonial occasion – nearly 60 years after she last missed it – following advice from her royal doctors as she continues to experience “episodic mobility problems”.

As Charles, 73, takes on the head of state’s major constitutional duty for the first time, the move will be interpreted as a symbolic and significant shift in his responsibilities as a future monarch.

It also marks a major change for second in line to the throne William, 39, who will also one day be king.

It will be William’s first state opening – and the royal function of opening a new parliament has been delegated to both Charles and William by the Queen.

A source said Charles was “of course ready to support Her Majesty the Queen”.

A new Letters Patent authorised by the Queen was issued to cover the State Opening delegating to Counsellors of State the royal function of opening a new session of Parliament.

In this instance, it enables Charles and William to jointly exercise that function. No other functions have been delegated by the Queen.

The Queen and the Prince of Wales at a state opening in 2019 (Matt Dunham/PA (PA Archive)
The Queen and the Prince of Wales at a state opening in 2019 (Matt Dunham/PA (PA Archive)

Buckingham Palace said in a statement: “The Queen continues to experience episodic mobility problems, and in consultation with her doctors has reluctantly decided that she will not attend the State Opening of Parliament tomorrow.

“At Her Majesty’s request, and with the agreement of the relevant authorities, The Prince of Wales will read The Queen’s Speech on Her Majesty’s behalf, with The Duke of Cambridge also in attendance.”

Constitutional expert Dr Bob Morris, of UCL’s Constitution Unit, told the PA news agency that the arrangements were unprecedented.

“They’ve gone down the Counsellor of State route, that’s one way round it. The Prince of Wales is giving the speech and William is there as his stay and support as it were,” he said.

“It’s a rather odd confection but it works.”

William and Charles will both attend the State Opening (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)
William and Charles will both attend the State Opening (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Archive)

He added: “It is unprecedented and it’s the way in which the constitution flexes to accommodate unusual circumstances.”

Dr Morris added that it was “more likely than not” that the arrangements would continue for future state openings, meaning the Queen may never carry out a state opening again.

Former BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt described it as a “significant moment” for both future kings.

“The heir is teetering on the edge of becoming a de facto prince regent. William will observe what awaits him,” he added.

“With the Queen progressively withdrawing from public life, the palace is keen to show the monarchy is safe in the hands of father and son.”

The Duchess of Cornwall, a future Queen Consort, will also accompany Charles.

But the Queen’s main throne will remain empty in the House of Lords.

Charles, in his Admiral of the Fleet uniform, and Camilla will sit in their usual seats, with William, in a morning coat, on the opposite side to Camilla.

The Imperial State Crown will still travel to Parliament.

The decision was taken on Monday, and the Queen’s mobility issues are said to be a continuation of the problems she has suffered since the autumn.

Royal aides were keen to stress she has busy diary at Windsor this week including a planned virtual Privy Council and phone audience with the Prime Minister on Wednesday.

It is only the third time during her reign that the Queen has not opened parliament.

The exceptions were in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and then Prince Edward, when her speech was read by the Lord Chancellor.

Queen Victoria declined to attend state openings between 1862, the year following Prince Albert’s death, and 1865.

During these years, Parliament was opened by Commission, made up of the five Lords Commissioners, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord President of the Council, the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord Steward of the Household and the Lord Chamberlain of the Household.

In 1863, her eldest son the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, attended in his robes.

The Lord Chancellor read the Queen’s Speech in the third person.

Between 1866 and 1901 when she died, Victoria only opened Parliament seven times.

It was opened by Commission in her absence and her speech read by the Lord Chancellor in the first person, as she would have delivered it.

Victoria’s ancestor Elizabeth II is just over three weeks away from her high profile Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

The Queen has only been seen outside a royal residence or home on official duties once in the last seven months when she attended the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service in March, using a stick as she walked carefully to her seat.

Many of her light duties are now carried out by video calls, and the nation’s longest reigning sovereign remarked during a recent in-person audience: “Well, as you can see, I can’t move.”

The Queen spent a night in hospital in October undergoing tests and was then under doctors’ orders to rest for the next three months.

The prince, the longest serving heir the throne in British history, has accompanied the Queen to the state opening on a number of occasions, and attended many times over the years.

Charles and Camilla accompanying the Queen (Geoff Pugh/Telegraph/PA) (PA Archive)
Charles and Camilla accompanying the Queen (Geoff Pugh/Telegraph/PA) (PA Archive)

The State Opening of Parliament is the main ceremonial event of the parliamentary year.

For over 500 years, it has served as a symbolic reminder of the unity of Parliament’s three parts: the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The Queen’s Speech is written by the Government and sets out its agenda for Parliament’s new session.

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