State Opening shows Parliament’s dual role

The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, Lieutenant-General Sir Freddie Viggers, walks through the Member's Lobby of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London, before Queen Elizabeth II's speech at the State Opening of Parliament.
The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, Lieutenant-General Sir Freddie Viggers, walks through the Member's Lobby of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London, before Queen Elizabeth II's speech at the State Opening of Parliament.
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HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes

The Austrian composer Gustav Mahler said that “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

No single event in the Parliamentary calendar is more emblematic of the conventions and customs which so enrich our national life than the State Opening of Parliament. Last week, when Her Majesty the Queen set out the Government’s legislative agenda for the coming year, she was gracing a ceremony which dates back to the 16th century.

The door to the House of Commons being closed to Black Rod harks back to the ramifications of the Civil War, serving as a reminder of the independence of the people’s representatives from the Monarch. Another ritual involves a Government Minister, the Vice-Chamberlain of the Household, being ‘held captive’ at Buckingham Palace whilst the Queen is in Parliament – a sort of bargaining chip to ensure Her Majesty’s safe return!

The only annual occasion when the Monarch attends Parliament, it is a magnificent exemplar of the timeless splendour which so illuminates our constitutional monarchy. This pageantry makes vivid the State Opening’s most crucial purpose; it marks the start of the new legislative session.

Sometimes in the popular knock-about of Prime Minister’s Questions public attention is distracted from Parliament’s core function as a legislative body. The Commons and Lords start, pass, amend and end laws which affect all of us. That this process is subject to a rigorous timetable, based around ‘term’ times – similar to those of the school year, is an important discipline, giving greater 
clarity and certainty about what happens and when. Timetabling also puts limits on those in Government 
and provides opportunities for Her Majesty’s Oppo-
sition.

This year, in the ‘Most Gracious Address’, Her Majesty announced the Government’s plans for the coming year, including reforms to the prison system, improved access to high speed broadband, and measures to make adoption more straightforward to help give every child the loving home they deserve.

The State Opening showcases the dual role of Parliament as a law making body and a means by which enduring touchstones, which have shaped our nation over hundreds of years, are maintained.

The Monarchy and Parliament; both keepers of tradition’s flame.