Her Majesty The Queen is set to open this year’s session of Parliament on Wednesday 4th June. This will be the final session for the present Parliament before the elections next year.
The State Opening of Parliament is an extremely important event that marks the formal beginning of the Parliamentary year. It is the only occasion that brings together the three components of the legislature – The Sovereign, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The State Opening is mainly a ceremonial event, and attracts large crowds and television audiences.
The ceremony begins when Her Majesty, along with the Duke of Edinburgh, travel from Buckingham Palace to Westminster in a carriage, escorted by the Household Cavalry. However, before The Queen can leave Buckingham Palace, a few traditional precautions take place to ensure her safety. To begin with, the Yeoman of the Guard, the official Royal bodyguards, search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster with lanterns. This practice dates back to Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when, during the reign of King James I, the cellars were stuffed with gunpowder in an attempt on the King’s life. Nowadays, after this search is complete, a more thorough search of the building and the surrounding areas is conducted by the police.
Another custom is the holding of a hostage, where a Member of Parliament is held at Buckingham Palace to guarantee the safe return of The Queen. This tradition began under Charles I’s rule, at a time when the relationship between the monarch and Parliament was less than cordial. Nowadays, this ritual is simply ceremonial and the MP taken hostage is extremely well treated.
When Her Majesty arrives at the Houses of Parliament, she enters through the Sovereign’s Entrance and goes to the Robing Room, where she puts on the Robe of State and the State Imperial Crown, which travels to Westminster in it’s own coach. The Opening of Parliament is the only time of the year The Queen gets to wear the Crown. Once Her Majesty is ready, she leads the Royal Procession to the chamber of the House of Lords, where she takes the throne.
It is from the throne that The Queen delivers her famed speech, also known as ‘The Queen’s Speech’. The speech is handed to Her Majesty by the Lord Chancellor in a special silk bag, and although it is read by The Queen, the speech is written entirely by the government, outlining it’s policies and proposed legislation for the coming year. After the completion of the speech, The Queen leaves and the Parliament goes back to work.
Throughout her reign, The Queen has attended all the State Openings except for on two occasions where, in 1959 and 1963, she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. The State Opening did not take place in 2011 as a result of introduction of five-year terms for the Parliaments, with elections held in every year divisible by 5. This caused the shifting of the ceremony from the month of November to May. For that reason, the date set for this year’s Opening, 3rd June, is an unusual one.
Her Majesty’s attendance at the event was announced by the leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Lansley. As with last year, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall are expected to accompany The Queen to the State Opening of Parliament this year.