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On 12 September 2022, the King received the loyal addresses from both Houses of Parliament following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. He did so in person in Westminster Hall, with the addresses being read out by the Lord Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith, and by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. His speech thanking both Houses was his first to members of Parliament as King.
In his speech, the King referred to the historical significance of Westminster Hall. He said he could not help but to:
[…] feel the weight of history which surrounds us and which reminds us of the vital parliamentary traditions to which members of both Houses dedicate yourselves, with such personal commitment for the betterment of us all.
The King said the late Queen had been the “pattern to all princes living”, a quote from the play Henry VIII by William Shakespeare. He said the Queen had “set an example of selfless duty” which he had resolved to follow. He also said the Queen had dedicated herself to the maintenance of the principles of constitutional government.
1. Addresses to both Houses by Queen Elizabeth II
During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II gave six speeches to members of both Houses of Parliament. This is not counting the speeches made at the state opening of Parliament. Five of these speeches were made in Westminster Hall.
Queen Elizabeth II’s first speech to both Houses was made on 22 June 1965 in the Royal Gallery. This was made following her receiving addresses from both Houses to mark the 700th anniversary of the Parliament of Simon de Montford. Her first address to both Houses in Westminster Hall was made on 4 May 1977 after she had received addresses from both Houses to mark her silver jubilee. During this speech, the Queen referred to herself as a constitutional monarch, describing constitutional monarchy as:
[…] a form of government in which those who represent the main elements of the community can come together to reconcile conflicting interests and to strive for the hopes and aims we all share. It has adapted itself to the changes in our own society and in international relationships, yet it has remained true to its essential role. It has provided the fabric of good order in society and has been the guardian of the liberties of individual citizens.
The Queen’s next two speeches in Westminster Hall marked historical events. The first was on 20 July 1988 and marked the tercentenary of the revolution of 1688–89 and the Bill of Rights in 1989. The second was on 6 May 1995 for the 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. During this speech, the Queen spoke of her personal experience, saying the years of the second world war had “formed [her] youth”. She also spoke of her conversations with her father, King George VI, and her mother, Queen Elizabeth. She said they had described to her the “courage and unity of purpose” of the people they met during the war.
The Queen’s last two speeches were made to mark milestone anniversaries of her reign. The Queen made a speech on 30 April 2002 to mark her golden jubilee. Her last speech to both Houses was made on 20 March 2012 to mark her diamond jubilee. During this speech, she described Parliament as being “at the heart of the country and the lives of our people throughout its history”. She spoke again of the role of the monarch in the UK constitution. She said that the link between monarch and Parliament was “a connecting thread from one period to the next”.
2. Addresses in Westminster Hall during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II
During the Queen’s reign, four visiting heads of state have given speeches to members of both Houses in Westminster Hall:
- The first was a speech by General Charles de Gaulle, the president of the French Republic, on 7 April 1960. During his speech, President de Gaulle paid tribute to members of the wartime government including Sir Winston Churchill and Lord Attlee. He also spoke of the longevity and stability of the UK’s democratic institutions and of the importance of the alliance between the UK and France.
- Nelson Mandela, the president of South Africa, gave a speech to both Houses on 11 July 1996. He spoke of the history of British colonialism in South Africa. He also paid tribute to those in the UK who spoke out against apartheid. He said the UK and South Africa should work together to build a free, peaceful and prosperous future for both countries.
- Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech to an audience including members of both Houses on 17 September 2010. The audience also included religious leaders and other representatives of British society. He spoke about the role of religion in political life. Specifically, he argued ethical choices rather than short-term expediency should underpin political decision making.
- Barack Obama, the president of the United States of America, gave a speech to members of both Houses on 25 May 2011. President Ronald Reagan had given an address to members of both Houses on 8 June 1982, in the Royal Gallery. However, President Obama was the first US president to give a speech in Westminster Hall. He spoke of the importance of British constitutional history to the development of the US constitution. He also spoke about the importance of the alliance between the UK and the US, including through membership of NATO.
In addition to these speeches by foreign heads of state, Aung San Suu Kyi, the then Burmese opposition leader, gave a speech to both Houses in Westminster Hall on 21 June 2012.
Other locations in Parliament are also used to host speeches by visiting heads of state. The most recent example is the address given by King Willem-Alexander, the King of the Netherlands, on 23 October 2018. This was given to both Houses in the Royal Gallery. The Robing Room has also been used, most recently to host the address by Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, the president of the republic of Colombia, on 1 November 2016.
In a first of its kind, an address was given to members of both Houses virtually. On 8 March 2022, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, gave a speech by video from Kyiv to members of the House of Commons. This was broadcast in the House of Commons chamber and members of the House of Lords were present in the public gallery.
3. Read more
- House of Commons Library, ‘Addresses to members of both Houses of Parliament’, 9 March 2022
Cover image: Copyright House of Lords 2022 / Photography by Roger Harris.