State Opening explained

State Opening is the main ceremonial event of the parliamentary calendar. It is the one set event in the year where the three elements that make up Parliament – the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons – meet together.

What's the purpose of State Opening?

State Opening marks the beginning of the parliamentary year – or session – and is the formal occasion under our constitution when the Queen calls Parliament to meet.

What does it mean for Parliament?

The speech read by the Queen in the Lords chamber contains the government's programme of legislation and policies for the coming year – the speech is written by the government and not by Her Majesty.

The Queen's Speech, in many respects, sets Parliament's agenda for the year. Members of both Houses are listening to hear what bills will come before them in the new session.

Does the House of Lords always look like this?

The State Opening of Parliament is not all about red robes and splendour, and nor does it show the House of Lords as it is on a typical day. It is the one day in the year when members of the House of Lords wear distinctive red parliamentary robes. Every other day they dress in normal clothes.

Most members do not own their robes but hire them for the occasion.

While the ceremony is symbolically important, it should not be confused with the important day-to-day work of the Lords.

The State Opening of Parliament is a ceremonial occasion and not a formal sitting of the Lords.

Who's actually present in the chamber during the ceremony?

Members of both Houses and guests including judges, ambassadors and high commissioners gather in the Lords chamber for the speech. Many wear national or ceremonial dress.

MPs from the Commons stand at the opposite end to the Throne in the Lords chamber – often referred to as the 'Bar of the House' because of the rail across the entrance to the chamber. Members of the Royal Procession and others gather around the Throne.

What happens after State Opening?

State Opening takes place in the morning. After the ceremony is over, the Commons and Lords meet much like any other day (with only members in the chamber and not wearing robes).

Members of the Lords and the Commons then spend several days debating the content of the Queen's Speech.

After the debates on the Queen's Speech have ended, bills start to get introduced in the Lords and the Commons and they begin their work of debating, scrutinising and amending  legislation, and holding the government to account.

Image: House of Lords 2013

State Opening explained

State Opening explained

Read more about how State Opening of Parliament works

State Opening of Parliament (PDF PDF 646 KB)

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