Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II laid out a legislative agenda focused on the economy and changes to the very body before which she spoke, Parliament, in a speech delivered today amid the pomp and pageantry befitting a royal monarch.
The queen, 86, opened her annual remarks, formally called the Queen’s Speech, by saying it would be British lawmakers’ “first priority … to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability.”
She also laid out plans to reform the 700-year-old House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber, and introduce direct elections for its members. Previous attempts to overhaul the body, which only can amend, not make, legislation, have failed.
The speech, the closest thing the U.K. has to the State of the Union in the United States, is a largely ceremonial speech in which the monarch reads aloud the list of bills and goals for the legislative year ahead. The queen announced 29 items this year, including at least 15 pieces of legislation that will likely rise to the top of Britain’s national agenda in the year ahead.
The speech is written by the ruling government, this year a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Critics of the ruling government criticized the speech for lacking ambition during challenging economic times. Labor union members were expected to march on the House of Commons today to protest the government’s program of sharp spending cuts, the Associated Press reported.
The pomp and circumstance surrounding the legislative nature of the speech matched, or even exceeded, the speech itself, which only took 10 minutes for the queen to read.
Queen Elizabeth made her way from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster in a horse-drawn coach. As is custom, her crown, the Imperial State Crown, reportedly studded with almost 3,000 diamonds, made the journey in a separate coach. The queen, wearing a ceremonial cream gown, was accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Following tradition, once the queen arrived, her messenger, the Black Rod, went to the House of Commons to summon lawmakers to her speech. The door was slammed in his face, again per tradition, and he had to pound on the door with his rod to get the attention of members of Parliament.
The queen’s speech this year held special significance as she celebrates her Diamond Jubilee marking 60 years on the throne. The occasion marked the only point in the speech where the queen offered a personal reflection.
“Prince Philip and I will continue to take part in celebrations across the United Kingdom,” she said, referring to her husband and the events they and other royal family members have attended around Britain.
The main event, the 2012 Diamond Jubilee weekend, will be held in June and feature a star-studded concert and boat pageant on the Thames River with a 1,000-strong flotilla.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.