State Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament marks the formal start of the parliamentary year and the Queen's Speech sets out the government’s agenda for the coming session, outlining proposed policies and legislation. It is the only regular occasion when the three constituent parts of Parliament – the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons – meet.

When is State Opening?

State Opening happens on the first day of a new parliamentary session or shortly after a general election. The State Opening of Parliament for the 2014-15 session took place on Wednesday 4 June 2014.

The Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which sets out new rules on the timing of general elections, received royal assent (became law) on 15 September 2011. This means that the next general election will be on 7 May 2015. There will be a state opening soon after this date.

What happens during State Opening

State Opening is the main ceremonial event of the parliamentary calendar, attracting large crowds and a significant television and online audience. It begins with the Queen's procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, escorted by the Household Cavalry.

The Queen arrives at Sovereign's Entrance and proceeds to the Robing Room. Wearing the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State, she leads the Royal Procession through the Royal Gallery, packed with 600 guests, to the chamber of the House of Lords.

The House of Lords official known as 'Black Rod' is sent to summon the Commons. The doors to the Commons chamber are shut in his face: a practice dating back to the Civil War, symbolising the Commons' independence from the monarchy. Black Rod strikes the door three times before it is opened. Members of the House of Commons then follow Black Rod and the Commons Speaker to the Lords chamber, standing at the opposite end to the Throne, known as the Bar of the House, to listen to the speech.

The Queen's Speech

The Queen's Speech is delivered by the Queen from the Throne in the House of Lords. Although the Queen reads the Speech, it is written by the government. It contains an outline of its policies and proposed legislation for the new parliamentary session.

After the Queen's Speech

When the Queen leaves, a new parliamentary session starts and Parliament gets back to work. Members of both Houses debate the content of the speech and agree an ‘Address in Reply to Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech’. Each House continues the debate over the planned legislative programme for several days, looking at different subject areas. The Queen's Speech is voted on by the Commons, but no vote is taken in the Lords.

History of State Opening

Traditions surrounding State Opening and the delivery of a speech by the monarch can be traced back as far as the 16th century. The current ceremony dates from the opening of the rebuilt Palace of Westminster in 1852 after the fire of 1834.

Further information

State Opening explained

State Opening explained

Read more about how State Opening of Parliament works

State Opening of Parliament (PDF PDF 646 KB)

Related information

Prorogation (pro-ro-ga-tion): Term for the formal end of the parliamentary year.

Further information
Related internet links

Watch BBC Parliament's short film on the State Opening

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Sessions and parliaments

What is the difference between a parliament and a session?

A parliament can last a maximum of five years and runs from one general election to the next. Due to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 the date of the next general election is 7 May 2015.

A session of Parliament runs from the State Opening of Parliament, in the past this has usually been in November through to the following November. However, in 2010 the Leader of the House announced the Government's intention to move towards five 12-month sessions over a Parliament, beginning and ending in the spring.

State Opening images

See a slideshow of images from previous State Openings.

State Opening: 2014-15 session

The State Opening for the 2014-15 session will take place on Wednesday 4 June 2014.