2: The Crown and parliamentary sessions
Opening of a new Parliament
Opening of subsequent sessions
First meeting after State Opening
Effect of termination of session
Demise of the Crown
Emergency recall of the House
Addresses to the Crown
Messages from the Crown
2.1 A proclamation issued at the dissolution of an old Parliament appoints a day and place of meeting of the new Parliament. The new Parliament is summoned to meet a few days, usually a week, before the King’s Speech. During this period the House of Lords usually sits for two or three ‘swearing-in’ days. Only business which does not require the House to take a decision on a motion may be taken on these days. The principal business is:
- proceedings relating to the election of a Speaker of the House of Commons, which takes place on the first and second days (see appendix D), and
- administering the oath of allegiance to members of the House.(1)
2.2 New members of the House of Lords may be introduced after the first day.
2.3 Members may attend to take the oath at any time the House is sitting during the swearing-in days. The House sits long enough (sometimes with short adjournments ‘during pleasure’) to enable those who are present to take the oath.
2.4 The election of a Commons Speaker and the swearing-in of members occur only in the first session of a Parliament. Each subsequent session is opened with the King’s Speech without any preliminary proceedings. The King usually delivers the Speech in person.(2) In his absence, the presiding Commissioner delivers it. The procedure for delivery of the King’s Speech is described in appendix E.
2.5 At the time appointed for the sitting of the House (usually 3.30pm on the day of State Opening) the Lord Speaker takes their seat on the Woolsack. Prayers are read and members of the House may take the oath. A bill, for the better regulating of Select Vestries, is then read a first time pro forma on the motion of the Leader of the House, in order to assert the right of the House to deliberate independently of the Crown.(3) Until this has taken place, no other business is done.
2.6 Immediately after the Select Vestries Bill has been read a first time, the Lord Speaker informs the House that the King delivered the Gracious Speech earlier in the day to the two Houses of Parliament. They say:
I have to acquaint the House that His Majesty was pleased this morning to make a Most Gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament assembled in the House of Lords. Copies of the Gracious Speech are available in the Printed Paper Office. I have for the convenience of the House arranged for the terms of the Gracious Speech to be published in the Official Report.”
2.7 A government backbencher chosen by the Leader of the House then moves:
“That an Humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the Most Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.”
2.8 The mover then makes a speech and at the end says: “I beg to move that an Humble Address be presented to His Majesty.” They then proceed to the Woolsack with the Address and bow to the Lord Speaker, who rises and bows in return and receives the Address. When the mover has returned to their seat, the Lord Speaker rises and says:
“The Question is that an Humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows”
and reads the text of the Address.
2.9 A government backbencher, also chosen by the Leader, then seconds the motion for an Address. It is customary for the speeches of the mover and seconder to be uncontroversial. After the speech of the seconder, the Leader of the Opposition moves the adjournment of the debate. On this motion the Leader of the Opposition and the other party leaders congratulate the mover and seconder and comment generally on the King’s Speech. After the Leader of the House has responded, the debate on the Address is adjourned.
2.10 Certain formal business is then taken. The Senior Deputy Speaker is appointed on the motion of the Leader of the House. Exceptionally, if State Opening takes place on the last sitting day before a weekend, public bills may be introduced. Formal entries in the Minutes of Proceedings record the laying before the House by the Clerk of the Parliaments of a list of members of the House, a list of hereditary peers who wish to stand for election as members of the House of Lords under SO 9, and the sessional order for preventing stoppages in the streets.
2.11 The general debate on the Address is resumed on the next sitting day. The principal topics for debate (e.g. foreign affairs, home affairs, economic affairs, agriculture, transport) are taken on different days. Members should not stray beyond the topics being taken on the day of their speech. Amendments, of which notice must be given, may be moved to the Address at any time in the debate, and are disposed of at the end of the day on which they are debated or at the end of the whole debate. If there is no voice against the Address, the Lord Speaker declares the Question decided nemine dissentiente. The House then orders the Address to be presented to His Majesty. This is usually done by the Lord Chamberlain.
2.12 The prorogation of Parliament, which brings a session to an end, is a prerogative act of the Crown and not a proceeding of the House. Parliament is prorogued by Commissioners acting in the Sovereign’s name or by the Sovereign in person.(4) The House has no role in determining the timing of prorogation.
2.13 On prorogation day, prayers are read and any necessary business is transacted. The sequence of events followed at prorogation, with or without Royal Assent, is given in appendix G. Parliament is always prorogued to a definite day. Prorogation for further periods may be effected by proclamation.(5) Parliament, while prorogued, can be summoned by proclamation pursuant to the Meeting of Parliament Acts 1797 and 1870(6) and the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.
2.14 No Parliament may continue to sit for more than five years from the day on which it first met.(7) Under the terms of the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, Parliament is dissolved by Royal Proclamation under the Great Seal on the request of the Prime Minister.
2.15 Prorogation has the effect of putting an end to all business before the House, except:
- private bills and hybrid bills which may be ‘carried over’ from one session to another (including dissolution);(8)
- proceedings on Measures, statutory instruments and special procedure orders laid in one session, which may be continued in the next, notwithstanding prorogation or dissolution. Prorogation and dissolution are disregarded in calculating ‘praying time’;(9) and
- certain sessional committees which remain in existence notwithstanding the prorogation of Parliament until the House makes further orders of appointment in the next session (but this does not apply to a dissolution, when all select committee activity must cease).(10)
2.16 Government public bills may also be ‘carried over’ from one session to the next, but not over a dissolution. See paragraph 8.9.
2.17 The Succession to the Crown Act 1707(11) provides that in the event of the demise of the Crown, Parliament, if adjourned or prorogued, must meet as soon as possible(12) and, if sitting, must immediately proceed to act without any summons in the usual form.
2.18 The Representation of the People Act 1985(13) provides that, in the case of the demise of the Crown after the dissolution of one Parliament and the proclamation summoning the next, but before the election, the election and the meeting of Parliament are postponed by 14 days. If the demise occurs on or after the date of the election, Parliament meets in accordance with the proclamation summoning the next Parliament.
2.19 When Parliament meets under either of these Acts, there is no speech from the Throne. Members take the oath of allegiance to the new Sovereign, and debate and agree an Address to the new Sovereign, expressing condolences upon the death of their predecessor and loyalty to them upon their accession. In the course of a few days a message under the Sign Manual is sent formally acquainting the House with the death of the Sovereign, and stating such other matters as may be necessary.
2.20 If the demise of the Crown has taken place during the session, business is resumed and proceeds as usual; but if it has occurred during an adjournment or prorogation, both Houses again adjourn as soon as the Addresses have been presented.
2.21 The Lord Speaker, or, in their absence, the Senior Deputy Speaker, may, after consultation with the Government, recall the House whenever it stands adjourned, if satisfied that the public interest requires it(14) or in pursuance of section 28(3) of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.
2.22 The ordinary method by which the Houses communicate with the Sovereign is by Address. Addresses may be agreed by both Houses and jointly presented, or agreed separately but presented together, but are more commonly agreed and presented separately. From the House of Lords, they may be presented by certain designated members, by members who are members of the Royal Household or Privy Counsellors, or by the whole House. The most common form of Address occurs at the beginning of every session in reply to the King’s Speech. Other forms of Address are those requesting the King to make an Order in Council in the form of a draft laid before the House or praying the King to annul a negative instrument. There has been an Address for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy.(15) There are also Addresses of condolence or congratulation to the Sovereign on family or public occasions. An Address may also be presented in response to a Royal Message, concerning for example the Civil List or the declaration of a State of Emergency.
2.23 The Sovereign’s reply is communicated to the House on the first convenient occasion. The member reporting the reply to the House (usually the Lord Chamberlain or another member of the Royal Household) does so at the beginning of business.
Messages to members of the Royal Family
2.24 The congratulations or condolences of the House are communicated to a member of the Royal Family other than the Sovereign by a message, and not by an Address. In such a case certain members of the House are ordered to present the message, and one of them reports the answer or answers.(16)
Address presented by the whole House
2.25 On occasions of particular importance, an Address may be presented by the whole House. Until 1897 (the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s accession) such Addresses were presented at Buckingham Palace or another royal residence. Since then Addresses by the whole House have been presented, together with Addresses from the House of Commons, within the Palace of Westminster. Thus Addresses were presented in Westminster Hall to mark the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II (1995) and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee (2002) and Diamond Jubilee (2012).(17)
2.26 After prayers on the day appointed for the presentation of the Address, the House proceeds to the designated place. The motion that the House do now proceed to the designated place also provides that the House do thereafter adjourn during pleasure and meet again in the Chamber at an appointed time. The Lord Speaker and the Commons Speaker either lead their respective Houses or arrive with their processions after the members of both Houses are seated. The Commons Speaker usually arrives last. Both Houses sit facing the King, the Commons on her left and the Lords on his right. As soon as the King has arrived, the Lord Speaker reads the Lords’ Address and then presents it to the Sovereign. The Commons Speaker likewise reads and presents the Commons’ Address. The King delivers his reply to the Addresses and withdraws. The Lords withdraw followed by the Commons. By virtue of the terms of the motion moved earlier in the Chamber, the House then adjourns during pleasure and resumes its sitting at the appointed time.
2.27 Messages from the Crown other than in reply to an Address are rare. They are formal communications relating to important public events that require the attention of Parliament, for example, the declaration of a State of Emergency. A message from the Crown is usually in writing under the King’s Sign Manual. It is brought by a member of the House who is either a minister, for example the Leader of the House, or one of the King’s Household. A message from the Crown has precedence over other business, except for introductions, oaths and the Lord Speaker’s leave of absence.
2.28 The member bearing a message announces to the House that they have a message under the King’s Sign Manual that the King has commanded them to deliver to the House. They read it at the Table, and then give it to the Lord Speaker at the Woolsack, who hands it to the Clerk of the Parliaments. When the message has been read, it is either considered immediately on motion or, more usually, a later day is appointed.(18) An Address is then moved in reply, usually by the Leader of the House. However, the House takes no further action on messages from the Crown in reply to an Address from the House.(19)
1 SO 76(1).
2 On 10 May 2022 the Queen was not present and authorised the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge to act in her place, as Counsellors of State, by Letters Patent under section 6 of the Regency Act 1937.
3 SO 76(2).
4 Parliament was last prorogued by the Monarch in person in 1854.
5 Prorogation Act 1867 s. 1, amended by the Statute Law Revision Act 1893.
6 As amended by the Parliament (Elections and Meeting) Act 1943.
7 Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, s. 5. A bill containing any provision to extend the maximum duration of Parliament beyond five years is exempted from the restrictions imposed on the powers of the House of Lords by the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949.
8 The procedure by which this is done provides for the waiving of certain standing orders by agreement between the two Houses in order that the bills may be taken pro forma up to the stage that they had reached in the previous session.
9 See paragraph 10.9.
10 SO 63.
11 s. 5.
12 Notice of the time of meeting is given by any means available.
13 s. 20.
14 SO 16.
15 The case of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, HL Deb. 20 July 1998, cols 653–72.
16 For example HL Deb. 23 July 2013, col. 1164; 8 Oct 2013, col. 1 (Birth of a son to Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge); and 14 November 2018, col. 1 (70th birthday of the Prince of Wales).
17 LJ (1994–95) 387; LJ (2010–12) 2208.
18 SO 39(1).
19 Such as those received following the end of the debate on the King’s Speech or replying to an Address to annul a statutory instrument.