The State Opening of Parliament

This slideshow tells the story of the State Opening of Parliament, an event steeped in history and the start of a new session of Parliament.       

What is the State Opening of Parliament?

During the State Opening of Parliament the Queen and Members of the Lords and Commons come together in this centuries-old tradition to mark the start of a new session of Parliament.

Who's in session?

The House of Lords and House of Commons are responsible for making UK law and keeping a check on how well the government is managing the country. Members of both houses carry out their day-to-day business over the course of sessions, which usually last about a year.

Each session begins with the grand State Opening ceremony where Parliament's three parts - the monarch, the Lords and the Commons - come together. The Queen's Speech is an important part of the day's activities because it sets out the government's plans for the new session.

State Opening ceremony

You may have seen this colourful ceremony on television. Queen Elizabeth is escorted from Buckingham Palace through the crowd-lined streets to the Palace of Westminster. Wearing the Imperial State Crown and parliamentary robe she takes the throne in the House of Lords. Here she delivers the Queen’s Speech to the members of the Lords and Commons, and other distinguished guests.

The history of the State Opening can be traced back to at least the 16th century.

The Queen’s Speech

Part of our monarch’s responsibility in Parliament includes delivering the Queen’s Speech. The speech is actually written by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet and sets out the government’s plans for managing the country in the coming session. It will propose laws and policies the government wishes to present to Parliament for debate and approval.

Urgent and controversial matters affecting the country will be addressed. The Queen’s Speech in 2007 included the Labour Government’s plans to change the laws to allow police greater powers to investigate suspected terrorists. The government’s proposals created a lot of conflicting opinions about how the law should be changed.

Parliament's three parts - the monarch, the Lords and the Commons come together...


Debating the government's plans

After the ceremony Parliament immediately begins its work of holding the government to account by debating the contents of the Queen’s Speech. Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords will discuss and debate the government’s policies and agenda for five days. These debates are intended to test and challenge the ideas and policies presented by the government in its plans for the coming session.

At the end of the debate in the Commons, your MP will vote on any amendments proposed by the leader of the opposition. The Lords debate is concluded without a vote.