LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II unveiled the British government's legislative agenda Wednesday in a ceremony that combined a sumptuous display of pomp and power with a slim slate of bills on crime, pensions and fracking.
The annual Queen's Speech is both a policy statement and an ermine-draped display of regal grandeur. It is read by the monarch but written by the government and marked the final opportunity for Prime Minister David Cameron's government to offer ideas ahead of a May 2015 election.
The 11 bills outlined in the 10-minute speech included changes to pension plans, a five-pence (8 cent) levy on supermarket plastic bags and a measure giving voters limited powers to recall wayward lawmakers.
The plans also included tougher penalties for human trafficking and a bill to safeguard Good Samaritans in the case of lawsuits stemming from actions taken in an emergency. More contentious were moves to encourage companies to drill for gas through hydraulic fracturing — a practice that faces strong opposition from British environmentalists.
The 88-year-old monarch has delivered a speech at every opening of Parliament since the start of her reign in 1952 — except for two years when she was pregnant. The monarch traveled from Buckingham Palace in the resplendent new Diamond Jubilee State Coach, as thousands of tourists lined the streets.
The horse-drawn coach, which was made in Australia, is lined in yellow silk and made up of pieces donated by historic sites and organizations. The seat handrails are from the Royal Yacht Britannia, while the window frames and interior panels include material from Canterbury Cathedral, 10 Downing Street, and the Antarctic bases of Capt. Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton.
Lawmakers walked from the House of Commons to the House of Lords to hear the queen read the speech — but only after slamming the door in her messenger's face to symbolize their independence from the crown.
The speech is delivered in the House of Lords — from a gilded throne — because the monarch is barred from entering the Commons. Amid the ritual, a moment of unexpected drama arose when a page boy fainted with a thud just after the queen announced that Britain would work toward a "comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran."
Officials said later that the boy was fine.