Speaker's Procession and Lord Speaker's Procession

Both the Commons’ and the Lords’ Speaker formally open their respective Houses each day with a ceremonial procession from their official residences within the Palace to their respective Chambers at the start of business. These processions can be observed by the public.

Speaker’s procession

The origins of the Speaker’s procession are unclear. Two theories predominate. It has been suggested that early Speakers were routinely accompanied by a bodyguard as they went about, in recognition of the dangers of the job.

The presence of the Serjeant at Arms with the mace in the procession supports this. However, alternatively, and in light of the fact that the Commons’ proceedings begin with prayers led by the Chaplain, it is thought the original procession may have been associated with some more elaborate form of worship.

Either way, the procession today consists of a Commons’ Doorkeeper, the Serjeant at Arms with the mace, the Speaker, the Trainbearer, Chaplain and Secretary. The procession moves circuitously from Speaker’s House through the Library Corridor, the Lower Waiting Hall, Central and Members' Lobbies to the Chamber.

This route was adopted during the Second World War when the Commons used the House of Lords Chamber after their own had been destroyed. This route has been retained in preference to the shorter pre-war route so that visitors in Central Lobby can witness the ceremony. The procession walks at a slow, formal pace.

Police along the route call out ‘Speaker’, to signify that any people present should stand aside for the Speaker’s procession. In Central Lobby, where there may be members of the public, the police inspector on duty shouts "Hats off, Strangers".

Nowadays, few may be wearing hats but the police remove their helmets, and this aspect of the ceremony is a relic of the elaborate hat wearing and doffing etiquette of former centuries.

Lord Speaker's Procession

As in the Commons, before each day’s sitting the Lord Speaker walks in procession from the official residence in the Palace to the Lords’ chamber. The procession consists of a Doorkeeper, the Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms or Principal Doorkeeper bearing the Mace, and the Lord Speaker.

The procession crosses the Prince’s Chamber (a small anteroom between the Royal Gallery and the Lords Chamber) where Black Rod joins the end of the procession.

They then process through the ‘Not Content’ (i.e. the ‘no’) Lobby, and enter the Chamber on the ‘temporal side’, that is, the left side as viewed from the throne, which is contrasted to the ‘spiritual side’ on the right, traditionally occupied by Government Members and the Bishops.

The Lord Speaker continues up the temporal side to the woolsack. Next, prayers are read by one of the Bishops, who take a week each in turn. During prayers, the Lord Speaker and other Members present kneel or stand for prayers. The Lord Speaker then takes her seat on the woolsack and the day’s business commences.

The present form of the Lord Speaker’s Procession evolved from that of the Lord Chancellor, and results from recommendations made by the Procedure Committee in May 2006, following the changes made in the Speakership of the House of Lords by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

Formerly, the Lord Chancellor in his procession was accompanied by a Train Bearer and a Purse Bearer. The latter related to the Lord Chancellor’s ministerial functions and are therefore no longer part of the Lord Speaker’s office since the reforms.

Special occasions

Speaker’s and Lord Speaker’s processions are also performed whenever these offices take part in formal events where they are representing their respective Houses, such as presentations to the Queen or the State Opening of Parliament.

For example, in March 2012 during her Diamond Jubilee year, the Queen made an address to both Houses in Westminster Hall. Before her arrival, both Speakers processed into the Hall. The usual figures made up each procession, but all wore traditional dress designed for State occasions, which are more elaborate and embellished.

 

Related information

The Speaker's pages

Photos of the formal processions in Westminster Hall on the Queen's Jubilee

Ceremonies in the House of Lords