THE CROWN AND PARLIAMENTARY SESSIONS
Opening of Parliament
2.01 The proclamation dissolving the old Parliament
appoints a day and place of meeting of the new Parliament. Certain
preliminary proceedings must take place before that day. Accordingly,
the new Parliament is summoned to meet a few days, usually a week,
before the Queen'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:
relating to the election of a Speaker of the House of Commons,
which takes place on the first and second days (see appendix D,
page 241), and
the oath of allegiance to members of the House.
2.02 New members of the House of Lords may be
introduced after the first day.
2.03 A notice is circulated to members before
these sittings, informing them of the time of sitting and the
time when the House is likely to adjourn and advising them of
the need to take the oath before sitting or voting.
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.
2.04 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 Queen's Speech without
any preliminary proceedings. The Queen usually delivers the Speech
in person. In her absence the presiding Commissioner delivers
it. The procedure for delivery of the Queen's Speech is described
in appendix E (page 245).
First meeting after State Opening
2.05 At the time appointed for the sitting of
the House the Lord Speaker takes her 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
Until this has taken place, no other business is done.
2.06 Immediately after the Select Vestries Bill
has been read a first time, the Lord Speaker informs the House
that the Queen delivered The Gracious Speech earlier in the day
to the two Houses of Parliament. She says:
I have to acquaint the House that Her 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
2.07 A government backbencher chosen by the Leader
of the House then moves:
"That an humble Address be presented to Her
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."
2.08 The mover then makes a speech and at the
end says "I beg to move that an humble Address be presented
to Her Majesty." He then proceeds to the Woolsack with
the Address and bows to the Lord Speaker, who rises and bows in
return and receives the Address. When the mover has returned to
his seat, the Lord Speaker rises and says:
"The Question is that an humble Address be
presented to Her Majesty as follows"
and reads the text of the Address.
2.09 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 he and the
other party leaders congratulate the mover and seconder and comment
generally on the Queen'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
Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees are nominated
on the motion of the Leader of the House. 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 Standing Order 10 (Hereditary peers:
by-elections), 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. 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 no amendment
has been moved to the Address, the Lord Speaker declares the Question
decided "nemine dissentiente". The House then
orders the Address to be presented to Her 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. By current
practice Parliament is prorogued by Commissioners acting in the
2.13 On the day appointed for prorogation, prayers
are read and any necessary business is transacted. The procedure
followed at prorogation, with or without Royal Assent, is given
at appendix G (page 250). Parliament is always prorogued to a
definite day. Prorogation for further periods may be effected
Parliament, while prorogued, can be summoned by proclamation pursuant
to the Meeting of Parliament Acts 1797 and 1870
and the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.
2.14 No Parliament may continue to sit for more
than five years from the day on which, by writ of summons, it
was appointed to meet.
Parliament is nowadays dissolved by Royal Proclamation under the
Effect of termination of session
2.15 Prorogation has the effect of putting an
end to all business before the House, except:
bills, personal bills, provisional order confirmation bills and
hybrid bills which may be "carried over" from one session
to another (including dissolution);
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";
papers, statutory instruments and Statutory Rules of Northern
Ireland (apart from those which may be laid only when the House
is sitting) may be laid during prorogation, but not dissolution;
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);
by the Commons which may be carried on from one session to another
and from one Parliament to another. The jurisdiction of the Lords
in such impeachments has fallen into disuse.
2.16 Government public bills may also be "carried
over" from one session to the next. See paragraph 8.08.
Demise of the Crown
2.17 A demise of the Crown no longer brings a
session or a Parliament to an end.
2.18 The Succession to the Crown Act 1707
provides that in the event of the demise of the Crown, Parliament,
if adjourned or prorogued, must meet as soon as possible
and if sitting must immediately proceed to act without any summons
in the usual form.
2.19 By the Representation of the People Act
in 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 fourteen days. If the demise occurs on or after the date of
the election, Parliament meets in accordance with the proclamation
summoning the next Parliament.
2.20 When Parliament meets under either of these
Acts, there is no speech from the Throne. All members of both
Houses take the oath of allegiance to the new Sovereign. 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. The House votes an Address
to the new Sovereign in answer to the message, expressing condolences
upon the death of his predecessor and loyalty to him upon his
2.21 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.
Emergency recall of the House
2.22 The Lord Speaker, or, in her absence, the
Chairman of Committees, may, after consultation with the government,
recall the House whenever it stands adjourned, if she is satisfied
that the public interest requires it
or in pursuance of section 28(3) of the Civil Contingencies Act
Addresses to the Crown
2.23 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 Queen's Speech. Other forms of Address are those
requesting the Queen to make an Order in Council in the form of
a draft laid before the House or praying the Queen to annul a
negative instrument. There has been an Address for the exercise
of the prerogative of mercy.
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.
2.24 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
2.25 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.
ADDRESS PRESENTED BY THE WHOLE HOUSE
2.26 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).
2.27 After prayers on the day appointed for the
presentation of the Address, the House proceeds to the designated
place. 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; in either case the Commons Speaker
arrives first. Both Houses sit facing the Queen, the Commons on
Her left and the Lords on Her right. As soon as the Queen has
arrived, the Clerk of the Parliaments hands to the Lord Speaker
the Lords' Address, which the Lord Speaker reads and presents
kneeling to the Sovereign. The Clerk of the Commons hands the
Commons' Address to the Speaker, who likewise reads and presents
it. The Queen delivers Her reply to the Addresses and withdraws.
The Lords withdraw followed by the Commons. The House then adjourns
during pleasure and resumes its sitting later in the Chamber.
Messages from the Crown
2.28 Messages from the Crown 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 Queen'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 Queen's Household. A message from
the Crown has precedence over other business, except for introductions,
oaths and the Lord Speaker's leave of absence.
2.29 The member bearing a message announces to
the House that he has a message under the Queen's Sign Manual
that the Queen has commanded him to deliver to the House. He reads
it at the Table, and then gives 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.
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.
63 SO 75(1). Back
Procedure 1st Rpt 1970-71. Back
SO 75(2). Back
Parliament was last prorogued by the monarch in person in 1854. Back
Prorogation Act 1867 s. 1, amended by the Statute Law Revision
Act 1893. Back
As amended by the Parliament (Elections and Meeting) Act 1943. Back
Septennial Act 1715, as amended by s. 7 of the Parliament Act
1911. 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. Back
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. Back
See paragraph Error! Reference source not found.. Back
SO 64. Back
See Erskine May, p. 73. Back
Representation of the People Act 1867, s. 51. Back
s. 5. Back
Notice of the time of meeting is given by any means available. Back
s. 20. Back
SO 17(1), (2). Back
The case of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, HL Deb. 20 July 1998,
cols 653-72. Back
e.g. HL Deb. 13 July 2000 col. 379, 19 July 2000 col. 1003 (100th
birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother). Back
LJ (1994-95) 387, LJ (2001- 02) 657. Back
SO 41(1). Back
Such as those received following the end of the debate on the
Queen's Speech or replying to an Address to annul a statutory