State Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament marks the beginning of the parliamentary session. Its main purpose is for the monarch formally to open Parliament and, in the Queen's Speech, deliver an outline of the Government's proposed policies, legislation for the coming session and a review of the last session.

When is State Opening?

State Opening takes place on the first day of a new parliamentary session or shortly after a general election. The last State Opening took place on Tuesday 25 May 2010, shortly after the last general election. The date for the next State Opening is Wednesday 9 May 2012. Once a date has been fixed, it will be announced by the Government in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The Fixed Term Parliament Act, which sets out new rules on the timing of general elections, received Royal Assent (became law) on 15 September 2011. This means that the next general election will be on 7 May 2015. There will be a state opening soon after this date.

The State Opening

State Opening is the main ceremonial event of the parliamentary calendar, attracting large crowds, both in person and watching on television and the internet. The Queen's procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster is escorted by the Household Cavalry.

The Queen arrives at the Sovereign's Entrance at about 11.15am, and proceeds to the Robing Room, where she puts on the Imperial State Crown and parliamentary robe. A procession then leads through the Royal Gallery to the Chamber of the House of Lords, where the Queen takes the Throne.

The official known as 'Black Rod' is sent to summon the Commons. In a symbol of the Commons' independence, the door to their chamber is slammed in his face and not opened until he has knocked on the door with his staff of office. The Members of the House of Commons follow Black Rod and the Commons Speaker to the Lords Chamber and stand behind the Bar of the House of Lords (at the opposite end of the Chamber from the Throne) to hear the Queen's Speech.

Queen's Speech

The Queen's Speech is delivered by the Queen from the Throne in the House of Lords, in the presence of Members of both Houses.

Although the Queen reads the Speech, the content is entirely drawn up by the Government and approved by the Cabinet. It contains an outline of the Government's policies and proposed new legislation for the new parliamentary session.

Debate on the Queen's Speech

Following the State Opening, a motion that the House sends a 'Humble Address' to the Queen thanking her for the Speech is introduced in both Houses. The Government's programme, as presented in the Queen's Speech, is then debated by both Houses for four or five days. The debate on the first day is a general one, with the following day's debates on particular subjects (such as health or foreign affairs). The Queen's Speech is voted on by the Commons, but no vote is taken in the Lords.

History of State Opening

Traditions surrounding the State Opening and delivery of a speech by the monarch can be traced back at least to the 16th century. The current ceremony dates from the opening of the rebuilt Palace of Westminster in 1852 after the fire of 1834.

Related information

Prorogation (pro-ro-ga-tion): Term for the formal end of the parliamentary year.

Watch BBC Parliament's short film on the State Opening

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What is the difference between a parliament and a session?

A parliament can last a maximum of five years and runs from one general election to the next. Due to the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 the date of the next general election is 7 May 2015.

A session of Parliament runs from the State Opening of Parliament, in the past this has usually been in November through to the following November. However, in 2010 the Leader of the House announced the Government's intention to move towards five 12-month sessions over a Parliament, beginning and ending in the spring.

See a slideshow of images from previous State Openings.

The State Opening for the 2013-13 session will take place on Wednesday 9 May 2012.