Prince Charles took on the role of the Head of State today as he read the Queen’s Speech in his mother’s place.
He said the government’s priority is to ‘strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living’ as the future king held the State Opening of Parliament for the first time ever.
The Prince of Wales did not refer to his mother’s health, but said she was looking forward to celebrating her Platinum Jubilee next month, making 70 years on the throne.
In the speech, he changed the words to say ‘Her Majesty’s government’ rather than ‘my government’ as the Queen would have said.
Last night, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen would not attend today’s ceremony on her doctors’ advice, due to ‘episodic mobility issues’.
In a major departure from the standard procedure, her oldest son Charles, accompanied by Prince William, read out the speech rafted by the government setting out its proposed policies and legislation for the coming year.
Members of the Household Cavalry mounted on horses formed two rows creating a ‘secure passage’ as the royal party’s limousine travelled through.
The Palace said in a statement yesterday: ‘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.’
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister fully respects the wishes of Her Majesty and is grateful to the Prince of Wales for agreeing to deliver the
speech on her behalf.’
The traditional State Opening of Parliament is held annually, and is the major ceremonial event of the year, broadcast on television and the only regular event to unite the three elements of legislature – the House of Lords, the House of Commons and The Queen.
The only other times that the Queen has not opened Parliament 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.
Special arrangements had to be made to allow Prince Charles to stand in for her today, the first time in almost 60 years that she has not carried out the role.
A new Letters Patent authorised by the Queen was issued to allow Charles and William as Counsellors of State (those immediately in line to the throne who are over 21) to jointly be able to do so.
During the previous times the Queen could not attend, her speech was read by the Lord Chancellor, which was then a more significant cabinet role in politics.
What are ‘episodic mobility problems’?
Buckingham Palace has not given specifics about exactly what health issues the Queen is suffering from.
However, ‘episodic’ means that they do not affect her all the time, suggesting she has good and bad periods. This may be why they waited until the evening before the speech to see if she would be feeling well enough to attend.
At 96, the Queen is likely to experience some problems with walking and moving around in general, as many elderly people do.
This can be due to a variety of reasons such as joint issues, muscle weakness, pain or illness.
The Queen tested positive for Covid-19 in February this year, and told a former patient: ‘It does leave one very tired and exhausted, doesn’t it?’
Last year, she was pictured using a walking stick in public for the first time as she attended a service at Westminster Abbey.
In October 2021, she spent some time in hospital and was advised to rest by doctors.
But she has attended public engagements recently as part of light duties, including hosting dignitaries in Windsor Castle.
Her last public appearance was on March 29 when she attended a service of thanksgiving for her late husband Prince Philip.
The Queen’s throne will remain empty in the House of Lords today, though her Imperial State Crown, which she would have been wearing, will still be transported to Parliament and be symbolically placed there instead.
Future monarch the Duke of Cambridge is also attending the State Opening – the first time Prince William has done so.
Prince Charles has stood in for the Queen at several key events over the last six months.
He took on the leading role at Remembrance Sunday last November, the Commonwealth Service in March and the Maundy Service before Easter.
The Queen’s Speech is a key date in politics, as it is when the Government sets out its plans for new laws to MPs and peers.
In all, the package set out today featured 38 bills or draft bills, including some that had been carried over from the last parliamentary session.
Boris Johnson warned he could not ‘completely shield’ people from the rising cost of living.
He set out plans for changes to create a ‘high-wage, high-skill’ economy, but there was no immediate extra help for households facing spiralling costs with inflation set to hit a 40-year high later this year.
The Queen’s mobility issues are said to be a continuation of the problems she has suffered since the autumn.
She has attended some public engagements since then, but has scaled back her diary, especially after also testing positive for Covid-19 in February
The Queen is understood to have a busy diary at Windsor this week with a call with Australia undertaken on Monday, and a planned virtual Privy Council and phone audience with the Prime Minister on Wednesday.
She is expected to undertake some private engagements later in the week.