State Opening of Parliament
The State Opening of Parliament marks the formal start of the parliamentary year and the Monarch'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 last State Opening of Parliament took place on 10 May 2022, at the start of the 2022-23 session of Parliament. On this occasion, Parliament was opened by the then Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge as Counsellors of State for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II presided over the State Opening of Parliament in person on 67 occasions during her reign.
The previous State Opening on 11 May 2021 was adapted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with reduced ceremonial elements and attendees to ensure it was COVID-secure.
What happens during State Opening
State Opening is the main ceremonial event of the parliamentary calendar, normally attracting large crowds and a significant television and online audience.
The event begins with the Monarch’s procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, escorted by the Household Cavalry.
The Monarch arrives at Sovereign's Entrance and proceeds to the Robing Room. Wearing the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State, he 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 or her 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 Monarch's Speech
The Monarch’s Speech is delivered by the Monarch from the Throne in the House of Lords. Although the Monarch 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 Monarch’s Speech
When the Monarch 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 His Majesty's Gracious Speech'. Each House continues the debate over the planned legislative programme for several days, looking at different subject areas. The Monarch’s Speech is voted on by the Commons, but rarely 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.