Call for austerity amid glittering pomp

Queen Elizabeth delivers address on gilded throne

LONDON — The message was one of thrift and austerity, but the messenger was opulence incarnate.

Britain’s Conservative-led government announced a modest program of legislation to tighten immigration rules, curb welfare expenses, encourage business, and invest in infrastructure — in a speech read by a monarch on a gilded throne, wearing a crown studded with 3,000 diamonds.

The contrast was part of the state opening of Parliament, an annual pageant of pomp and politics centered on the Queen’s Speech, a legislative program written by the government but read out by the monarch before a crowd of lawmakers, ermine-robed peers, and ceremonial officials in bright garb evoking centuries past.


The event’s mix of extravagant surroundings and prosaic content was starker than usual at a time of halting economic growth. Britain’s economy has been through two periods of recession since the global financial crisis hit in 2008, and grew by only 0.3 percent in the first quarter of this year.

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Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers that the measures in the speech would make Britain more competitive and ‘‘back aspiration and those who want to get on.’’

But Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition Labour Party, called it ‘‘a no-answers Queen’s Speech from a tired and failing government.’’

The leaders were kicking off a lively six-day debate in the House of Commons on the proposals.

In a ritual she has enacted dozens of times during her 61-year reign, the queen was driven from Buckingham Palace to Parliament in a horse-drawn carriage, escorted by mounted members of the Household Cavalry in scarlet tunics and gleaming breastplates.


Dressed in an ivory gown and wearing the diamond-encrusted Imperial State Crown, she delivered the speech from a gilded throne in the House of Lords.

The speech is written on parchment whose ink takes three days to dry, but it took the queen only seven minutes to read it.

It promised ‘‘an economy where people who work hard are properly rewarded,’’ with laws to ‘‘reduce the burden of excessive regulation on businesses’’ and enshrine consumer rights.

There was no hint of deviation from the government’s commitment to deficit-reducing spending cuts, but the speech announced infrastructure investment in energy and the water system, and a bill to start building a high-speed rail link from London to Birmingham and northern England.

The government also threw a few nuggets to those wearied by rising prices and stagnating salaries. It promised better and cheaper childcare, a simpler state pension system, and a cap on long-term-care bills.


On immigration, the speech said the government would make Britain a country that ‘‘accepts people who will contribute and deters those who will not.’’

Proposed immigration measures would limit newcomers’ access to health care, fine businesses that employ people without the legal right to work in Britain, and make it easier to deport foreign citizens convicted of crimes.