State Opening of Parliament

Lord Norton

thumbnailThe State Opening of Parliament is always a grand occasion.  We do ceremony extremely well and this morning everything proceeded according to the timetable.  The programme lists very precise timings: for example, ‘11.08 The Lord Chancellor proceeds from the Prince’s Chamber to the foot of the Sovereign’s Staircase.  11.11 The Peers appointed to carry the Cap of Maintenance and the Sword of State enter the Royal Gallery from the Prince’s Chamber’.

The ceremony often confuses broadcasters and others.  The judges sat in front of the Queen, with their robes and wigs, for example, are not the Law Lords.  Members of the diplomat corps, as well as wives of members of the House, sit in set places in the chamber. 

The occasion, though, is not just a ceremony for the sake of it.  It has great symbolic relevance.  It is the one occasion in the year when Parliament as a legal entity – the Queen-in-Parliament – meets.  The status of the Queen as someone being above politics is symbolised by the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, handing the speech to her and then being given it back once it has been delivered.  The meeting marks the start of a new session of Parliament and allows the Government to announce its programme for that session.  The programme announced this morning was fairly short – this session will be a shorter one than the last one – with no great surprises.  Various Bills, expected to be included, have been omitted.

The significance of the State Opening of Parliament is discussed by the Lord Speaker in a video on the Parliament YouTube channel at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enJRPX1P1Ng

4 comments for “State Opening of Parliament

  1. Jon
    03/12/2008 at 7:36 pm

    As a Canadian whose country is going through a bit of a constitutional crisis at the moment, I can only look on with envy at the civility of the UK Parliament.

  2. 03/12/2008 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks to iPlayer, I was able to flick through the State Opening this evening. I’m not sure I’ve ever watched it live on TV. I was struck by how much waiting around there was – the actual Queen’s Speech is quite short in comparison!

    I happened to see two separate occasions where the commentator mentions the judges in wigs, and both times he said they were from the Court of Appeal, not Law Lords.

    What I find odd is that they always make a big deal of the MPs not being allowed beyond the bar of the Lords because they are not members, yet numerous non-members are in the House, including the aforementioned judges and indeed the Lord Chancellor!

  3. Bedd Gelert
    04/12/2008 at 10:53 am

    Where on the agenda is the item ‘Speaker stabs Serjeant-At-Arms in the back’, and how much time is allowed for it ?

    Anyway, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, as Speaker Martin may have found out watching last night’s Newsnight – upset members of the opposite sex at one’s peril…

  4. lordnorton
    05/12/2008 at 5:42 pm

    Many thanks for the comments. Jon: I see that Canada is indeed going through what appears to be an unprecedented crisis. Jonathan: I am glad that the commentators are now getting it right about the judges in attendance at State Opening. As for a lot of sitting around, there’s certainly a great deal of that! Peers start taking their seats around 10.00 a.m. and we are then sat there until the Queen enters the chamber at 11.30. It is only in the past two or three years that we have had screens in the chamber so that we can see what is going on outside. Before then, we knew from the programme what was happening (the Lord Chancellor proceeding from the Prince’s Chamber etc) but could not see any of it. The lights used to dim to signal the imminent arrival of the Queen. They still do, but watching the screens we know when she is about to come in.
    The chamber then goes silent, most us having been sat chatting for the past hour or hour-and-a-half.

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