On 9 September 2015, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning sovereign in British history. This House of Lords Library briefing focuses on the Sovereign as part of the constitution of Parliament. It captures key aspects of the role of the Sovereign as it relates, in practice, to Parliament today, with an emphasis on the House of Lords. It does this through addressing a selection of the ceremonial and formal roles of the Sovereign: the State Opening of Parliament and its prorogation and dissolution; the calling of a new Parliament, in light of the Fixed-term Parliament Act 2011; Royal Commissions and royal assent; and Queen’s consent. The briefing also addresses a number of aspects of the Sovereign’s communications and relationship with Parliament more broadly, through Addresses and messages and the Palace of Westminster itself. It provides facts and figures relating to Queen Elizabeth II including: the number of Acts that have received Royal Assent during her reign, Addresses given by the Queen to both Houses in Westminster Hall, and the wording of Queen Elizabeth II’s first message to Parliament on her accession to the throne in 1952.Jump to full report >>
The Sovereign fulfils a number of ceremonial and formal roles with respect to Parliament, established by conventions, throughout the parliamentary calendar. The State Opening of Parliament marks the beginning of each new session of Parliament. It is the only routine occasion when the three constituent parts of Parliament—that is the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons—meet. The Queen’s Speech during State Opening is the central element around which the ceremony pivots, without which no business of either the House of Lords or the House of Commons can proceed.
Each ‘Parliament’ lasts a maximum of five years, within which there are a number of sessions. Each session is ‘prorogued’ to mark its end. An announcement is made in the House of Lords, to members of both Houses following the Queen’s command that Parliament should be prorogued by a commissioner of a royal commission. At the end of the final session of each Parliament—which is immediately prior to the next general election—Parliament is also dissolved. Following the Prime Minister’s advice, the Sovereign issues a proclamation summoning the new Parliament, appointing the day for the first meeting of Parliament.
All bills must be agreed by both Houses of Parliament and the Sovereign before they can become Acts of Parliament. Once a bill has passed both Houses, it is formally agreed by the Sovereign by a process known as royal assent. Additionally, Queen’s consent is sometimes required before a bill completes its passage through Parliament, if the bill affects the Sovereign.
Lords Library notes LLN-2016-0011
Author: Mary Santo
The House of Lords Library delivers research and information services to Members and staff of the House in support of parliamentary business.