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Queen Elizabeth II succeeded to the Throne on 6 February 1952 upon the death of her father, King George VI, but the 70th anniversary of her accession is being celebrated in June.
It has been a tradition since the reign of King Edward VII to celebrate a monarch’s “official” birthday in June, when there is “a greater likelihood of good weather” for the Birthday Parade, also known as Trooping the Colour.
This Insight explains what an Address is and what has happened on the occasion of the Queen’s previous jubilees.
What is an Address?
According to Erskine May, “an humble Address” to the Queen is the means by which both Houses of Parliament make “their desires and opinions known to the Crown” as well as acknowledging communications (or “Messages”) from the Crown.
An Address is most commonly used when each House responds to the Queen’s Speech at the beginning of a parliamentary session, but they can also be used to annul certain Statutory Instruments, make public appointments, require Government ministers to make papers available to Parliament or to express condolences upon the death of a monarch or a senior member of the Royal Family.
It is also customary that both Houses debate and present Addresses to the monarch during jubilee celebrations, as they did upon Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee (1977), Golden Jubilee (2002) and Diamond Jubilee (2012). On each of these occasions, the Prime Minister has moved the motion in the Commons.
The Platinum Jubilee
Today in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister will move that:
an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to offer the heartfelt good wishes and loyal devotion of the House on the occasion of the Seventieth Anniversary of Her Accession to the Throne, expressing its deep gratitude for Her Majesty’s lifelong unstinting service, leadership and commitment to the United Kingdom, Dependencies and Territories, Her other Realms, and the Commonwealth.
In the House of Lords, the Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Evans of Bowes Park) will move an identical motion.
In the Commons, the procedure upon a motion for an “humble Address” is the same as that for an ordinary substantive motion. This means it requires notice and can be debated, amended and voted on. Amending the motion to leave out the word “humble” is not allowed. Party leaders and other members of both Houses will debate each motion, which gives them an opportunity to pay tribute to the monarch.
Once agreed, Addresses are ordered to be presented to the monarch by the whole of each House, by members who are Privy Counsellors, members of the Royal Household or, in some cases, by specially nominated members.
Response to an Address
Once Addresses have been presented, the monarch responds.
On each of the previous jubilees in 1977, 2002 and 2012 Addresses were presented by the whole of each House in Westminster Hall. Each House’s Speaker read the Address, which was presented to the monarch upon one knee.
On these three occasions, the Queen responded with a single speech. This has, on occasion, been controversial. In 1977, for example, the Queen referred to “keen discussion of proposals for devolution to Scotland and Wales within the United Kingdom”. While she could “readily understand these aspirations”, the Queen added that she could not:
forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Perhaps this Jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom.
The SNP MP Donald Stewart later asked the then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, if he accepted “responsibility” for the monarch’s remarks.
In the event that an Address is not presented to the monarch by the whole of each House, then a delegation from each would travel to the Royal residence at an appointed time and be “conducted” towards the Throne by the Lord Chamberlain. As in Westminster Hall, the Speaker of each House would read their Address and present it on one knee. The monarch would then reply before each delegation retired. In this scenario, members of the Royal Household would later report the monarch’s response to each House.
Members from both Houses of Parliament will also present a gift to the Queen to mark her Platinum Jubilee. The gift, a pair of unique bronze sculptures featuring the heraldic beasts of the United Kingdom, will also serve as illuminated beacons.
As with the gift presented in 2012, these have been entirely funded by personal donations from members of both Houses. The sculptures will be on display in New Palace Yard.
The Scottish Parliament is also due to pay its own tributes to the Queen next Wednesday.
About the author: David Torrance is the monarchy specialist at the House of Commons Library
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