Queen’s Speech

What is the State Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament, with all its pageantry and pomp, marks the beginning of a new Parliamentary Session.

The Monarch comes to the Palace of Westminster and announces the Government’s legislative programme for the coming Session.  This Speech is read out to dignitaries and peers, suited in all their finery, and to MPs summoned to the bar of the House of Lords for the occasion.

The address – known as the Queen’s Speech – is written by Ministers.

It details the Bills the Government intends to bring forward in the Session and indicates Ministers’ themes of the domestic agenda. It also covers the international agenda and any State Visits the Monarch will make in the coming year.

What happens during the State Opening of Parliament

On the morning of the State Opening, MPs gather in the House of Commons and peers, along with foreign ambassadors, high commissioners and other diplomats, congregate in the House of Lords to await the Monarch.

The Queen leaves Buckingham Palace in the Irish State Coach and proceeds to the Palace of Westminster, arriving at the Sovereign’s Entrance under the Victoria Tower.

On arrival, the Monarch is robed and processes through the Royal Gallery to the House of Lords, where she is seated on the throne at the southern end of the chamber. At this time, the doors of both the House of Lords and the House of Commons are open – the Monarch sits directly opposite the Speaker in his throne a hundred metres away at the other end of the Palace in the Lower Chamber.

Black Rod is sent to call on MPs to attend the Monarch in the House of Lords. On arrival at the entrance to the House of Commons, the door is ceremonially slammed. On knocking, Black Rod is allowed to enter and to summon MPs to attend the Queen.

Led by the mace and the Speaker, MPs process to the House of Lords, government and opposition walking side-by-side.

Once the MPs have arrived in the House of Lords, the Queen reads from the speech, which has previously been approved by the Cabinet, and handed to her by the Lord Chancellor.

On the afternoon of the State Opening, both Houses of Parliament begin debates on the content of the speech, which go on for anything up to a week. They normally coincide with key policy announcements from Ministers fleshing out the outline proposals included in the Monarch’s address.

When is the State Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament normally takes place in November or immediately following a General Election.

The time between each State Opening is called a Session and the time between general elections is known as a Parliament. There are normally four or five Sessions in each Parliament.

The State Opening sees the Monarch, the Government, all MPs and all members of the House of Lords congregated in the same place and security is tight.

In 1605, Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators sought to target the State Opening but their plot was discovered when gunpowder was found in the cellars beneath the House of Lords. A ceremonial search of the cellars continues to this day.

Historic traditions

The State Opening includes some historical reminders of how Parliamentary democracy developed in the United Kingdom.

For example, the door of the House of Commons chamber is slammed in path of Black Rod to indicate that MPs retain the right to deny entry to a royal messenger.

In another hangover from when relations between the Monarch and the House of Commons were less good, an MP is held ‘hostage’ at Buckingham Palace until the safe return of the Monarch. Similarly, instead of debating the Queen’s Speech directly, MPs by tradition introduce a Bill – the Outlawries Bill – before they start their discussions.