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House of Lords Library

The Sovereign's Ceremonial and Formal Role in Parliament Today

Published Friday, March 4, 2016

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.

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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.

Queen's Speech at State Opening May 2015 (Copyright House of Lords 2015 / Photography by Roger Harris. This image is subject to Parliamentary copyright,

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.

Lord Speaker, Baroness D’Souza, reads the address from the House of Lords to Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Hall. Diamond Jubilee ‎20 March‎ ‎2012 (Parliamentary copyright / Chris Moyse. This image is subject to parliamentary copyright.

Celebration of the Seventh Centenary of the Parliament of  Simon de Montfort, Presentation of Addresses to Queen Elizabeth II by both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall, 22 Jun 1965 (Parliamentary Archives, PIC/P/1220)


Lords Library notes LLN-2016-0011

Author: Mary Santo

Topics: Constitution, Crown, House of Commons, House of Lords, Members of Parliament, Parliament, Parliamentary procedure

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House of Lords Library

The House of Lords Library delivers research and information services to Members and staff of the House in support of parliamentary business.