Every year, the UK parliament is officially opened by HRH The Queen.
It is an official ceremony dating back hundreds of years, so there is lots of pomp and pageantry involved that makes everything very very British! 🙂
Everything you ever wanted know about this special occasion is explained in the video below and there are more additional interesting facts written out below.
So, next year when the Queen arrives to open Parliament, you will know this part of British culture inside out and you will understand everything that is going on.
What is the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament?
It is tradition that HRH The Queen officially opens the new session of Parliament every year. This is called the State Opening of Parliament. It is a ceremony that has been taking place since the 14th Century. This speech is sometimes called The Throne Speech because the Queen sits on her throne (a big expensive chair that Kings and Queens sit on) as she delivers the speech.
What does the Queen say in the speech?
In the speech, The Queen explains to Lords and Members of Parliament what the government plans to do with policies and proposals in the coming year.
Does the Queen write the speech herself?
The Queen does not write the speech. She just reads it out loud. The speech is written by the ruling government.
Traditionally, the monarch reads out the speech in a neutral voice so that she does not show if she agrees or disagrees with any of the political plans.
Can the Queen change the speech if she doesn’t like it?
Technically, The Queen can say whatever she likes, but in reality, she always reads out the text that the government has written without changing any of the words.
How long does the Queen’s Speech last at the State opening of parliament ?
The length of the speech varies each year according to what is written, but on average it lasts for approximately 10 minutes.
Who is Black Rod?
Black Rod is a top official who works in the UK parliament. His full title is Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. It is a job that was created in the year 1350. His official duties are for the buildings and security of The Palace of Westminster.
Why does Black Rod bang his stick on the door?
Black Rod carries a black stick that has a golden lion on the top. When The Queen has entered the House of Lords and sat down on the throne (which is the queen’s chair), Black Rod walks through the Palace of Westminster to collect the members of Parliament from the house of commons. They are supposed to come and listen to the Queen’s speech.
When Black Rod gets near the House of Commons, they shut the door in his face. This is a gesture to symbolise that the MPs are independent. Then Black Rod bangs on the door three times with his stick, so that they let him come in. Then a House of Commons official announces that Black Rod is approaching by shouting ‘Black Rod!” At this point, the normally very loud House of Commons goes very quiet as everyone shuts up.
Then Black Rod walks into the commons and always says, “Mr Speaker, the Queen commands this honourable house to attend her majesty immediately in the House of Peers”
After that, all the MPs follow Black Rod and the speaker of the House of Commons back to the House of Lords where the Queen is waiting to give the State speech.
When the MPs arrive (there’s not much space for them to stand) an official called the Lord Chancellor gives The Queen the speech to read out.
The end of the Queen’s Throne Speech
At the end of the speech, the Queen outlines any official visits that she will make to other countries around the world. And she also, talks about any official visitors that she will welcome to the UK
The speech always finishes with the words, “Other measures will be laid before you. My Lords and members of The House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God will rest upon your counsels”.
When she finishes, the Queen gives the speech back and walks out with her husband Prince Philip and followed by the heir to the throne, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. When she has gone, everyone can leave.
5 Things you didn’t know about The State Opening of Parliament
The Queen’s coaches
The Queen travels from Buckingham Palace to The Palace of Westminster(about a 15 minute walk) in a horse-drawn carriage. She is accompanied all the way by The Queen’s Guards (called The Royal Consort) who all travel on horseback in full uniforms. In front of the Queen’s carriage is another very expensive horse-drawn coach which transports the Imperial State Crown, which is the what she wears on her head as she is giving the speech.
The Searching of the Cellars
Before the monarch arrives, the cellars in The Palace of Westminster are thoroughly searched. This is a tradition that dates back 400 years to the days of Guy Fawkes and The Gunpowder Plot. This was when a political activist Guy Fawkes (he would be called a terrorist today) tried to blow up Parliament with big barrels of gunpowder that were stored beneath Westminster.
The Delivering of the Hostage
This is another ancient ritual which is all part of the ceremony. An MP is taken hostage by The Queen’s Guards at Buckingham Palace, so that Parliament will return the monarch safely back home. This tradition started at the time of Charles I, who was the King that was executed in 1649 during the time of the English Civil War.
The Humble Address
Immediately, after the Queen has left the State Opening of Parliament, the plans outlined in her speech are debated in The House of Commons. The first point of business in the new Parliamentary session is called ‘The Humble Address’. Two MPs (one is usually a new MP and the other is a senior government MP) give speeches that usually include funny jokes. It is considered to be an honour to give these speeches.
After that, the Prime Minister speaks and there is a response from the leader of the opposition. Then the following debate which inculdes all the MPs can last for 3 or 4 days. Finally, there is a symbolic vote to pass (in other words, agree with) the Queen’s Speech.
Dennis Skinner’s Jokes
Dennis Skinner is a long-serving Labour MP who always sits on the front bench very close to where Black Rod speaks to the House of Commons. It is a new tradition that as soon as Black Rod has issued his summons that Dennis makes a joke that can be picked up by the microphones above Black Rod. In 1992, he said (referring to The Queen) “Tell her to pay her taxes!”
After the famous movie about the Queen starring Helen Mirren came out, he shouted “Have they got Helen Mirren on stand-by?”
This year, Dennis Skinner unusually chose not to say anything, which was slightly disappointing for everyone waiting to hear what he had to say.
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