Today’s State Opening of Parliament followed its usual pattern, not least in terms of who was in the chamber. Not only do members of the two Houses assemble, but we are joined by members of the Diplomat Corps, who sit by seniority (the senior ones to the front of the box, and the very junior ones relegated to the gallery), peeresses (not to be confused with women peers), and senior judges. The senior judges are the ones who sit on the Woolsack immediately in front of the Queen.
Before the Supreme Court was created, some commentators used to think those occupying the Woolsack were the law lords. However, the law lords did not sit separately. They were members of the House and sat with the rest of us, wearing their red robes. With the creation of the Supreme Court, the Justices of the Supreme Court – in their new black robes – do sit separately, but on a bench behind the High Court Judges. Unlike the Hugh Court Judges, they do not wear wigs. Behind the Justices of the Supreme Court sit the senior Clerks of the House, who do wear wigs – the only people regularly to sit in the chamber wearing wigs.
For the purpose of State Opening, the chamber is completely reconfigured to accompany these different groups. The Bar of the House is also moved forward to create more space to accommodate MPs. After the chamber empties following Queen’s Speech, there is then a major exercise to restore it, more or less, to its normal configuration in time for the House to sit at 3.30 p.m. for the moving of an address to the Queen. The transformation, within a period of just over three hours, is remarkable.