Black Rod: today’s role in Parliament – with a glance back to 1348

On Wednesday 8 October 2014, Lieutenant General David Leakey CMG CBE MA, delivered an Open Lecture on his experience in the role of Black Rod at Parliament.

He discussed the ceremonial and administrative aspects of his role, as well as ceremonial events at Parliament and the Monarch’s estate in the Palace.

About Black Rod

Black Rod is a senior officer of the House of Lords and is responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House and its precincts, and a number of less advertised tasks.

Lieutenant General David Leakey was appointed Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod on 21 December 2010. He served as an army officer from 1971-2010 and has commanded forces and operations in a number of areas, including the Balkans. He has also held senior defence, security and international appointments in the Ministry of Defence and in Brussels.

Open Lectures are free events aimed at academics and students from universities in the UK but are open to others to attend as well.

Black Rod: today’s role in Parliament - Open Lecture Lecture transcript

Naomi Saint, Head of Universities Programme: I'm really delighted and grateful to Lt Gen David Leakey who is Black Rod here in Parliament. He's going to talk to us about his role today in Parliament and a brief glance back into history as well.

Lieutenant General David Leakey CMG CBE MA, Black Rod: Thank you very much.

I've come dressed in the uniform of Black Rod - this is the dressed-down uniform in fact. There are frilly cuffs and a frilly jabot for the ‘high days and holidays’ when the knocking of doors takes place.

For many of you I dare say that you associate Black Rod with knocking on the door of the House of Commons at, particularly, the State Opening of Parliament. I want you to know that this knocking on the door - of course I do it and this is the instrument with which it is done - this is the black rod - but it is a nano part of the job.

Wearing the uniform is not a nano part of the job: every day that the House of Lords is sitting I wear the uniform and it will become fairly obvious during the course of my lecture why I wear the uniform.

But in the meantime I thought that since you were here and you wanted to see Black Rod, I wasn't sure if you'd be more interested in me as the person or the physical rod itself.

I'm very happy to pass it round the room but I would ask you to treat it with very great respect.  It doesn't belong to me, it belongs to the Queen and it has been damaged in the past by people when it’s been passed around. I would ask you to be extremely careful with it and not to scratch it.

If you look on the bottom you will see that there is a gold Sovereign which is dated 1904 and the rod itself dates from 1873 - it's hallmarked 1873.
So do pass it round quietly during the lecture – but I would like it back at the end.

So I start with the black rod and do have a look at it.

The history of the ‘black rod’ starts in 1348 when Edward III had completed a very successful campaign in France. I'll choose my words carefully: are there any French people here? Well, he beat the French at the Battles of Crecy and Calais and this re-established the English territories in France and the English Sovereign rule over those territories.

When Edward III came back to England he wanted to reward the 25 people who had been his particular supporters in prosecuting this campaign. Not just the military commanders who commanded the troops in the campaign and helped him win the battles but also those who’d supported him in terms of developing the strategy, the campaign; resourcing the campaign, enabling and facilitating the campaign, raising the money back home to fund the campaign and of course keeping the peace and keeping order back in England whilst the King and his army was abroad.

And these 25 top chaps - he made them knights in the Order of the Garter. The Order of the Garter still exists today. There are still only 25 knights in the Order of the Garter and a new knight is only invested into the Order of the Garter on the death of an existing knight.

These 25 knights who Edward III appointed used to meet together with the Sovereign in a castle or a palace - very often Windsor Castle – and do so even today, jumping from 1348 and the 16th Century to today's role to establish these linkages and the historical legacy which explains to a certain extent the current role of Black Rod.

The Order of the Garter still meets with the Sovereign - generally only once a year - usually the second or third Monday in June.

Going back to 1348, what Edward did with these 25 knights was he had them in and he would have meetings with them - consultations, discussions - they were in a way his advisory council.

At these meetings they would do three things - they would have the meetings themselves and then they would process. Don't forget this was the Sovereign with his 25 top knights in the land - and so the processions were a public spectacle. So the Sovereign and his knights would dress in their finest robes, process from the meeting room to the local cathedral, chapel or church for divine service, and then they would process from the cathedral or chapel to a hall for feasting, banqueting.

These meetings would go on for a day or maybe several days.

Today the Queen still summons the Knights of the Garter on the second or third Monday of June and she has them to an extremely good lunch (I attended!) in Windsor Castle. The knights then dress in those great robes and the rather daft hats with white feathers and process with the Queen and with the royal knights - there are 25 temporal knights and as many royal knights as the Queen will appoint and they process to St George's Chapel and have divine service and then they process back afterwards.

So you could say not much has changed - I'll come back to that turn of phrase in just a moment.

Because, in 1348, there wasn't a police force as we would recognise the police these days. In fact there wasn't a G4S either. And yet there were at that time – to use the common word - miscreants and delinquents: troublemakers. And the meetings which the Sovereign held with the Knights of the Garter were sometimes disrupted by people who wanted to get into the meetings who weren't allowed in, or sometimes people who were in the meetings, advising or consulting, who were invited into the meetings but who needed to be ejected for whatever reason.

And also the processions needed ordering - the ceremonial of the King and the knights and their fine robes. So the King appointed what was known then as an ussarius.

Ussarius is the mediaeval Latin for 'doorkeeper' and essentially what this doorkeeper did was he was responsible for access and order and discipline.

Now the modern derivation of that word - ustiarius - is 'usher'. And this usher, because he was dealing with the 25 top knights of the land needed to be someone who was respected by those knights. So he had to be a Gentleman. So he was known - and is known - as the Gentleman Usher.

But in order that both the knights and members of the public recognised him as having authority the King gave the Gentleman Usher the black rod.
Not this one being passed round - as I say, this one dates from 1873.

It was a tradition of Black Rods’ that when they left their job they generally took their rods with them but that stopped in 1873. You can see here in Parliament we've been suffering austerity measures for a long time.

The key thing about the black rod is not the rod itself or the blackness of it - in fact the key thing is if you look on the top of it there is a gold lion and the lion is the significant part of the rod because the lion is the symbol of royalty and it indicates the Sovereign's authority.

So the Gentleman Usher carrying the black rod with its royal lion is a symbol of the Sovereign's authority.

And Black Rod, rather like the Knights of the Garter, was a personal appointment of the Sovereign and indeed today the appointments to the Order of the Garter are made on the personal selection of the Sovereign, not through an application process or the Prime Minister or any political process. It's entirely in the gift of the Queen and it's a great honour.

And Black Rod too was then entirely in the gift of the Sovereign. I might say that today Black Rod is appointed by the Sovereign although not necessarily selected by the Sovereign. But in those days the Black Rod was selected by the Sovereign because he operated amongst the Knights of the Garter and he had the authority of the King and he had the ear of the King.

And as well as keeping order to stop members of the public getting into the meeting and ejecting miscreants and delinquents out of the meetings, Black Rod also had the role of telling the Sovereign when there were knights who themselves were disruptive or disloyal, and could recommend to the King the degrading or the demoting out of the Order of the knights.

And the King of course was extremely grateful for Black Rod keeping this sort of control and order amongst the knights in the Order of the Garter. And of course the Garter had an interest in it as well because in degrading or demoting a knight out of the Order, Black Rod received a fee. And what was more, having degraded a knight out of the order, it created a vacancy which meant that a knight could be appointed and invested into the Order, for which Black Rod also received a fee.

And in the 16th Century that fee was in the order of five pounds. If you multiply five pounds up by the RPI algorithm by 2014 prices, five pounds is a tidy sum. And if you're doing that maybe two or three times a year it's a nice living!

You might say: ‘So what's the relevance of all that to today?’ And sometimes, when I'm limited to just a ten minute talk, I finish the talk there and say: ‘Nothing has changed: Black Rod lives in the House of Lords and does exactly the same thing today except that I am paid a salary and I don't earn any fees anymore.’

But since we've got a little more time I'll expand on the evolution of Black Rod's role - how the role has evolved over the centuries and how I am employed today.

In the 16th Century, in the 1520s or ‘30s - I think it might have been 1532 - Henry VIII moved out of the Palace of Westminster, which was the London home of the King of England.

He moved out for two reasons: the principal reason was that a part of the Palace of Westminster, in fact the royal apartments, burnt - one of the many fires in the Palace of Westminster - and made it uninhabitable - or uncomfortable at least.

The second reason he moved out was that the Palace of Whitehall was nearing completion and in its day in the 1530s the Palace of Whitehall was the biggest and most splendid palace in the whole of Europe. The King couldn't wait to move out and into that palace. (It too was burnt down later, I should say.)

When he moved out into the Palace of Whitehall he left behind Black Rod to look after the Palace of Westminster which housed his Parliament. And Black Rod has remained in the Palace of Westminster ever since. And his role in the palace has expanded and contracted depending on a number of factors - I remember these as the three ‘C's.

One of the ‘C's is competence: occasionally the Black Rod has been incompetent - and sometimes absent too. The longest-serving Black Rod...  by the way there have been either 68 or 69 Black Rods. You might say I should be more precise about this but the reason is we have 69 names - I think I'm the 69th name - but it is thought that one of the names never actually took up the appointment.

Of those Black Rods, one held the job for 47 years. I'm not trying to break that record - I'm already 62 and I have been in the job for three-and-a-half years.

Of the 69 Black Rods, one did fall foul of the Sovereign and was beheaded by Henry VIII. I'm trying not to be the second Black Rod to fall foul of the Sovereign - in that way at least.

One of the reasons why the role of Black Rod has contracted and expanded was not only because of their competence or capability - but also because of absences.

The Black Rod that held the job for 47 years was in fact a naval officer and he rose through the ranks of the navy whilst he held the appointment as Black Rod. I think he took the job as a commander or a captain but ended up as an admiral.

During his tenure as Black Rod, he went away and commanded ships of the navy on campaigns on the other side of the globe so he was very often an absentee Black Rod.

Then there has been competition from others who have shared what are now mostly the roles of Black Rod. One was a Serjeant at Arms: there has been at times a Serjeant at Arms in the House of Lords - as well as the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons - with mirrored roles.

Also there is the Lord Great Chamberlain. The Lord Great Chamberlain is one of the great offices of state. It's a hereditary appointment: the appointment in fact rotates between three aristocratic families - the Ancaster family (originally the Duke of Ancaster), the Carrington family and the Cholmondeley family (the Marquess of Cholmondeley).

The reason it came to three families was that the title was held by the Earl of Oxford but for reasons which are unbelievably complicated, and have been taken to the courts on numerous occasions, the Earl of Oxford didn't have a male heir and so the office of Lord Great Chamberlain was split between various relations of the Earl of Oxford.

Indeed the office of the Great Lord Chamberlain is split into shares and the shares are split between these 3 families. The Marquess of Cholmondeley holds a fifty per cent shareholding - the Ancasters and Carringtons hold a 25 per cent shareholding each. Their shareholding is broken down into much smaller shareholdings amongst the various members of the family.

When the Sovereign dies, the Lord Great Chamberlain-ship moves to the next family: so the Cholmondeleys hold it at the moment and the next family to get it will be the Carringtons - if the Sovereign agrees - but this has been the tradition.

And when the next Sovereign dies the shareholding will move back to the Cholmondeleys. When the following Sovereign dies the shareholding goes the Ancasters. So it alternates to the Cholmondeleys and then every third Sovereign it goes to the Ancasters and the Carringtons.

The Lord Great Chamberlain has himself even today responsibility to the Sovereign for the Palace of Westminster as a royal palace. This tradition started a very long time ago.  The competition between the Lord Great Chamberlain and Black Rod over who is controlling and organising the Palace of Westminster has sometimes been in tension and friction. Sometimes it’s been by process of Darwinian exclusion - by competence or absence.

There was another 'C'- which I ought to mention for completeness - and that is corruptibility.

Quite often in the history of Black Rod, Black Rod has been hauled before the Lords and indeed the Sovereign and told to curb his hunger for fees. Black Rod's corruptibility really came to a head I suppose at the end of the 19th Century, when Black Rod was put finally onto a salaried basis rather than a fee basis.

At the end of the 19th Century, Black Rod seemed to have rather a lot of control or influence over which bills were brought before parliament and in the 19th Century many bills were private bills brought in connection with, for example, the railways and industrialisation of our cities and our countryside: canals, railways, all these sorts of developments, which were often enabled by private bills.

In order for a member to bring a private bill, space had to be made in the parliamentary timetable and it seemed that Black Rod in the House of Lords was enabling rather a lot of private bills to be brought.

It was well known that Black Rod would do it for a very considerable fee.

So the role of Black Rod has expanded and contracted but nonetheless it revolved around those elements that I mentioned right at the beginning, in 1348: access, order, discipline, the administration, the ceremonial and the events that went on in the Palace of Westminster including the fabric of the building.

I want to fast-forward now - because time is running on - to 2014 and what does Black Rod do today, having given you a bit of the historical context.

I think I can describe my job very roughly and broadly as being divided into four parts.

The first part is security and around the Houses of Parliament I'm probably best known amongst the members and staff who work here for my role in security.

The Palace of Westminster is a globally iconic building. It is therefore a global iconic target. And therefore there is a requirement for security here, but not just the Palace of Westminster - all the other parliamentary buildings of which there are eight or nine spread round the vicinity of the parish of Westminster and Victoria.

They also need protecting, not just because of the iconic status of Parliament, but for the people who work there - the high profile members - and the fact that it is the national Parliament - and some would describe it as the 'Mother of Parliaments'.

So it is a target but not just for terrorists - of course it would be a dreadful thing if there was a terrorist attack which destroyed the building itself or damaged the building - and worse -injured or killed the people who worked there.

So security is very important but also parliaments attract the attention of others: demonstrators, protestors, stunt-throwers. And although in most cases protestors aren't bent on damaging people or destroying property, nonetheless if demonstrators and stunt-throwers get into the Houses of Parliament then, reputationally, it is very damaging to the status of Parliament and of course it undermines people's confidence in our ability to secure parliament against not just stunt-throwers but more serious threats - guns, bombs and knives.

So we take security very seriously. There are 15,000 people who have passes to come into the Palace of Westminster so we run a very big vetting operation; all permanent pass-holders go through a vetting process before they get a pass.

There is a cyber-security threat as you can imagine so there is a cyber-security operation that is run here and there are three principal people that are responsible for security in Parliament: myself and my opposite number in the Commons, the Serjeant at Arms - we work very, very closely together. In fact my mantra with the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons is that if anybody could get a cigarette paper between the two of us, since we are responsible for the operation and delivery of security at Parliament - probably one of us would have to go.

And then there is the Parliamentary Security Director who sits between us as the primus inter pares of the three of us and who looks after amongst other things the cyber-security aspects of parliament and is the coordinating authority for things like the security policies, the intelligence and risk assessments, the threat assessments and the overall strategies.

But the operational delivery of security is vested in the Serjeant at Arms and myself and the three of us work very, very closely together in delivering security for Parliament.

If you go around Parliament you will notice that there a lot of policemen here. We have a large security force here - some 500 strong - around about 150 police and 350 civilian security officers who are employed by the Metropolitan Police. That is run under a contract with the Metropolitan Police worth about 30 million pounds a year.

So the management of that contract, the 24:7 security operation, 365 days of the year is the responsibility of that contract with the Met - with the Serjeant, the Black Rod and the Security Director as the customers or clients and the Metropolitan Police as the deliverers of our House security.

That takes up about 25 per cent of my time.

Tied up with security is of course access: so all the entrances, the search and screening that goes on, turning those measures up and toning them down depending on the threat state.

So that's security. The next part of my job I won't say too much about because it's quite a sensitive area but it is business resilience, business continuity, incident management, emergency response and disaster recovery. Just a small portfolio of subjects for which I am responsible, not just for the House of Lords, but for both Houses.

I chair the Business Resilience Group which controls all those aspects I've just discussed. So whenever there is an incident - and it doesn't have to be a security incident, it could be a major facilities failure, a flood or a fire - we have an incident management framework that comes together that is on call with duty silvers, duty golds and duty bronzes - with people who come on call.

We have a variety of control rooms around the palace because if part of the palace is on fire or flooded then we need our incident management in another part of the palace. So we have an incident management framework which comes together and can deal with the whole spectrum - not just the incident of course but the consequence management of an incident.

So if there's a fire or flood at the weekend, how do we then clear that up during the weekend or during a recess? And then how do we re-establish the palace for business-as-usual when the Houses and the members return on the Monday? That's the normal sort of thing you would discuss.

And the same with emergency response and disaster recovery. We have a lot of plans - for example the artwork salvage plans and the historic furniture and fittings salvage plans - so those form a whole framework - the normal sorts of things that you will find in any library, university, bank, government department - in order to keep business continuity and business resilience alive.

And of course there are relocation plans because if the Thames should flood for example and Parliament be awash or if Parliament should burn down again - we've had it burn down a few times - or if a worse calamity befell Parliament, or indeed parts of the Houses of Parliament, then we have a whole spectrum of relocation plans, contingency plans as you would expect.

Those contingency plans of course go out of date the whole time: the alternative buildings and locations become obsolete or not fit for purpose because their IT network doesn't suit the changing requirements of Parliament or the broadcasting capabilities that we have fitted need adapting and modification. So there is a constant process of refurbishing those relocation plans and indeed we're in a major phase at the moment of upgrading those relocation plans.

They're quite sensitive obviously and I'm not going to say any more about them but suffice to say Black Rod is responsible for that for both Houses of Parliament. It probably takes up about 25 per cent of my time.

The third part of my job - or third quartile - I describe very loosely as ‘event management’. The event with which Black Rod is most closely identified with is the State Opening of Parliament.

People focus on the ceremonial which you might describe as the ‘substance’ of the event, which is true. That's what people see and for members and staff who are in the Palace of Westminster there is a great atmosphere on the day. It is a great ceremony and it’s the ceremony that is the eye-catching and substantive part of the day.

I suppose you could say the substantive part of the day is the Queens Speech itself but nonetheless it’s very symbolic.

I'm going to linger on the State Opening for a moment because there are some important symbolic things about the State Opening which some people don't fully get.

First of all, Black Rod's responsibilities for State Opening: of course there’s the ceremonial and all the rehearsals that go with it but then there is the fabric for the State Opening.

If you walk round the Palace of Westminster on a normal business-as-usual day such as today it looks glorious and wonderful. If you walk round the House of Lords chamber, in particular the House of Lords chamber, Prince’s chamber, the Royal Gallery and the Robing Room there is, in preparation for State Opening, quite a transformation.

I won't go through all of it but two major parts are the Royal Gallery which for example has tiered seating put into it all covered in wonderful fabrics and high quality chairs; tiered seating for 600 in there.

The other aspect not only in those apartments I've mentioned but extending down towards the House of Commons and Central Lobby and Members’ Lobby are the television cameras and stands and the lighting and it takes about six weeks to prepare the Palace of Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament.

Of course when I say six weeks some of the work starts very incrementally - little bits of work start to be done- because the Houses are still sitting. But it's in the last fortnight before the State Opening of Parliament there is a major transformation of the fabric and the miles and miles - tens of kilometres of cabling for the TV cameras and commentary boxes, commentary positions etc.

So the ceremony I've mentioned and then the fabric. The third part of course is the security operation that goes with the State Opening of Parliament - not only is the Palace of Westminster globally iconic but the State Opening of Parliament is a globally iconic event and extra precautions are taken and there is a pretty exhaustive security plan for which Black Rod is responsible.

I mentioned the TV: the media interest in the State Opening of Parliament is huge. The state event is televised globally and it is networked out and syndicated out - and responsibility for the distribution, if you like, not only for the setting up of the actual cameras and monitors but the cabling and distribution out to other networks also is part of the State Opening plan under Black Rod. So that's quite a major undertaking as well.

And finally there is the protocol of the State Opening of Parliament - by which I mean the Seating Plan. When you imagine the sort of people who want to come to State Opening - or indeed are already in Parliament and want to attend - there's quite a premium put on the ticketing arrangements for that.

So that's the State Opening, but all through the year there are events of different sorts. The State Opening of Parliament is one of the biggest and most complex, but there are also state visits - for example, later this month the president of Singapore is paying a state visit to the UK. As part of each state visit, the Head of State usually comes to Parliament to address the members of both Houses.

For the small visits it’s quite a small event - there's lots of ceremonial and protocol and security involved with it – but the event takes place in the Robing Room. For the bigger events, such as when President Obama came or indeed the Pope, these events take place in Westminster Hall because more people want to attend them.

Consequently the media coverage and security and protocol arrangements expand exponentially and in proportion to the scale of the visit.

And then every day there are events going on - in each House - and the smaller events by and large tend to be run by the Serjeant at Arms in the Commons and Black Rod in the House of Lords. But there are smaller events which take place involving both Houses - an example of that would be the Nelson Mandela commemorative event that took place in Westmminster Hall last year.

Aung San Suu Kyi came and addressed members of both Houses and an invited audience in Westminster Hall. So there are other events and all of these things require all those elements I mentioned before which have to be drawn together and coordinated.

So those are the three substantive business parts of my role and you might be asking, ‘What size of staff do I have to manage all of that?’ It is a huge staff: myself and my deputy - the Yeoman Usher - and the three ladies who sit in my outer office. That's it! We run it on that.

And when there are major events that take place then we matrix-manage the rest of the staff in the Houses of Parliament. So for example in preparation for major events the Parliamentary Estates department project managers and craft team all work to a plan under Black Rod and we matrix-manage.

The Serjeant at Arms team in the House of Commons works closely with Black Rod and I often have to draft in teams - even of the Clerks - who come and help particularly with some of the complex diplomatic and protocol issues which are all part of these plans. So we expand and contract the staff according to the scale and nature of the event.

I've only mentioned three parts of my job if you've been looking at the structure of my talk and the fourth part of my job doesn't really have a title but in a way I go back to 1348, to when Edward III appointed his first Black Rod to do those things which I described: to keep order amongst the knights.

And to a certain extent in some respects that's what Black Rod does in the House of Lords. I'm not responsible - nobody has tasked me to be responsible - for the discipline of the peers. In fact I am not responsible for the discipline of the peers. I do not make the rules up in the House of Lords either.

If a peer steps outside the rules of the House in a major way - breaches the Code of Conduct - as I'm sure you'll know from reading the media, then the peers are dealt with by their peers, by the Conduct Committee and the Privileges Committee and by the House Committee that disciplines peers for breaches of the rules or the Code of Conduct. That's how the peers are disciplined.

But nonetheless in the House there are some 780 peers who come and work regularly in the House, and on a daily basis the attendance is round about 500 peers. The average vote when the House divides is around 400-500 depending on the contentiousness of the bill in question and on the big contentious bills the votes will attract more than 600 members.

For those of you who know the physical premises of the House of Lords it's quite a small place and if you can imagine 400 or 500 people working in that space every day it's a little bit like - and I'm always worried about this analogy - but it's a bit like 600 school boys and girls coming into a small school.

Take for example the cloak room - for those of you who've been through the Peers’ Entrance, the peers’ cloakroom, as several peers have commented to me, is rather like a school cloakroom - rows of pegs where the peers come in and hang their hat and coat, take their outdoor shoes off, put on their elegant indoor shoes.

And you can imagine 500 peers coming through that cloakroom every day - it's quite small - the entrance is quite small and they want to bring their guests in through the Peers’ Entrance because it's a fast-track entrance. It's a privilege for peers to use that entrance and peers as a consequence have set their own rules and say a peer may only bring a maximum of six personal guests through the Peers’ Entrance. If he or she has more than that then they go through Cromwell Green or Black Rod’s Garden entrance.

And do you know it's a funny thing but just occasionally the peers seem to forget that rule.

And so you say - well what does that matter? Well it probably doesn’t matter if it's 8 or 9 - but if it's 15 or 20 or 30, then it clogs up Peers’ Entrance and instead of it being a slick private, privileged place where the peers can get in quickly themselves and bring in their personal guests quickly, it becomes rather like the Heathrow Airport queue trying to get through security.

And the peers get pretty irritated about it when other peers bring in more than the six. That’s just to give you an example - but there are lots of other examples of minor conventions and rules which the House themselves have made and they look to Black Rod to remind peers - I put in no more strongly than that.

Except that I discovered, when I hadn't been in the job very long, that peers come to me and say:

"Listen, Black Rod. Could you have a word with Baroness so-and-so or Lord so-and-so? Me and some of my colleagues are pretty irritated that he or she consistently brings 13 people through Peers’ Entrance and it was a real nuisance - I'd got some very important guests - I'd got the president of so-and-so or ambassador so-and-so or the chief executive of something -for an important meeting over lunch and they got held up. Goodness knows who they were! Probably undergraduates.."

So I say to the peers,

"Well why don't you have a word with the Baroness or peer yourselves?"

And they say - and I do understand this - they say: “No - I'd rather not do that because it might be perceived that I'm perhaps politically motivated for having a complaint against them.” – or, “I'm sitting on the same committee with them and we're working through a bill collaboratively and so I don't want to fall out over a matter like that. So please can you deal with it?”

And then I said: “Why don't you go to the whips about it and get the whips to sort it out?” And of course they respond: “No, we don't want to elevate this to the whips because again it might be seen as political point-scoring”, or “The whips have got other important things to do and, Black Rod, get on and sort it! That's what you're here for - isn't that what Edward III appointed you to do?”

And so I usually try and find the peer or leave a note for him or her - and the peers are I must say extremely biddable - and they usually turn up in my office within a day or so of getting a message and normally they come into the office very humourously, with their hands already up saying: “Black Rod - I know, I know.. I promise I'll never do it again!” And the matter is dealt with very privately, between the two of us. I tell the peer concerned that it's been dealt with and so on and that's it.

So I describe part of my role as Black Rod - and it’s not just uniquely me of course, there are others doing the same thing round the House: the Clerk of the Parliaments, the Yeoman Usher, other members of staff - our job in the House is to squirt oil into the machinery to make the House a convivial, slick place where members can go about their parliamentary business.

Part of our job is to pick grit out of the machinery of the House. I would describe that as being not just my role but the role of all of the administration in the House of Lords and the same in the House of Commons too - the enablers who enable members to go about their business and to go about their business in an ordered and convenient way.

I said I'd say something more about the State Opening of Parliament and the symbolism of it.

The Palace of Westminster was a royal palace - it still is partly a royal palace - from the time that Henry VIII moved out in the early 16th Century until 1964. It was this Queen who decided, given the climate at the time in the 1960s - an anti-monarchist, republican sentiment in the country, a strong left-leaning socialist movement in the country - that it was somehow inappropriate that the monarch should own the premises of, particularly, the elected chamber.

And so it was the Queen's idea herself that she would give to the House of Commons and to the House of Lords their respective premises and not retain them as part of the royal palace. That was agreed to and strongly supported by the Prime Minister of the day, Harold Wilson, and was very simply implemented – in fact through a statement in the House of Commons that that was indeed what had happened.

So it was only as recently as the mid ‘60s that the House of Commons has actually owned its own premises - I'm not sure they have the freehold as such - but they have control of their own premises, around the Palace of Westminster, where there's green carpet and green upholstery..

There are some anomalies in fact: Central Lobby is divided into half. Half is owned by the Commons and half by the Lords even though the upholstery all around Central Lobby is green. If you go to the Pugin Room I think it's got a red carpet but green upholstery; in fact the room belongs to the House of Lords but has been lent to the House of Commons. But generally speaking, what's green is Commons territory, what's crimson or red is Lords territory.

And then if you look carefully you will see that the carpeting in parts of the House of Lords is not crimson where you'd expect it to be - its blue. And blue is the royal colour for carpet.

You'll see that the House of Lords chamber has blue carpet in there. Why? Because the Queen comes and walks into that chamber and so the privilege of the House of Lords is to have a blue carpet. When the Royal Gallery is carpeted for the State Opening it’s carpeted in blue. And if you go into the Robing Room, which has a permanent carpet, it's blue.

When the Queen gifted to the House of Commons and the House of Lords their respective premises she retained some royal apartments in the palace - she retained the Sovereign’s Entrance and the Norman Porch staircase, the Robing Room and the Royal Gallery.

The Robing Room is very special to the Queen because it is where she robes at the State Opening of Parliament - it's where she comes and puts on the state robes. It's where she puts on the crown. And indeed for the State Opening of Parliament, the Robing Room is set up as a dressing room for the Queen with mirrors and appropriate furnishings.

The Queen also retained Westminster Hall and the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.

So there is still quite a lot of royal palace within the Palace of Westminster and responsibility for looking after the royal apartments in the Palace of Westminster- that responsibility has remained with the Lord Great Chamberlain who I mentioned earlier.

The Lord Great Chamberlain is the Marquess of Cholmondeley, as I mentioned earlier, who has considerable business interests and estates. He's a very busy man - to the extent that he's taken leave of absence from sitting in the House because of his commercial and other interests and occupations. In fact he only comes to the House really when he has to attend the Queen at ceremonial and state occasions.

And so the Lord Great Chamberlain has a secretary in the House of Lords who is responsible and looks after on his behalf the royal apartments, Westminster Hall and the Chapel. And the secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain is Black Rod!

So the two roles have come together. That historical evolution of competition and tension between the two roles of Lord Great Chamberlain and Black Rod in a way have been neatly reconciled since 1971 when Black Rod not only became the secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain - he took that role to relieve the Lord Great Chamberlain of the day to day management of the royal apartments - but the Black Rod of the day also was given the role of Serjeant at Arms; there had been previously a Serjeant at Arms as well in the House of Lords. So all those three roles are now rolled into one.

At the State Opening of Parliament the Commons, the Lords and the Crown all come together.

These are three constitutional elements to the parliamentary legislature - the Commons the Lords and the Crown. Each of those three elements owns part of the Palace of Westminster and at the State Opening of Parliament all three of those elements are present in the Palace of Westminster.

They start in their own premises: the Queen in the Robing Room, the Commons in the Commons and the Lords in their chamber. And when the Queen has come to the chamber of the House of Lords and sits on the throne in the House of Lords with the royal blue carpet there, she then sends Black Rod off to the House of Commons to summon the Commons to hear the Queen's Speech, which is the outline of the government’s legislative programme for the next session of Parliament.

I've expired my time for speaking - I think we have half an hour for questions. I have left a huge amount unsaid because in an hour it's hard to cover everything. One of the things you might want to tax me on is how Black Rod is appointed nowadays; what is the nature of the contract? Another is what is the relationship with the Queen and what is the tradition of knocking on the door? What's behind all that? I'm very happy to take any questions on a topical matter; as a tax-payer and a servant of the House of Lords I'm happy to say something about the work of the Lords as I still consider myself a relative newcomer to the job having only done it for about three-and-a-half years.

Thank you.


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