Publications / Briefings

Back to Business: State Opening of Parliament and King's Speech

3 Jul 2024
King Charles III delivers the King's Speech, 7 November 2023. ©House of Lords/Roger Harris
King Charles III delivers the King's Speech, 7 November 2023. ©House of Lords/Roger Harris

The State Opening of Parliament and the King’s Speech will take place on Wednesday 17 July. What are the ceremonial preparations for State Opening? Why is the King's Speech so important? How much time is spent debating the King's Speech? How do MPs vote on it? What other parliamentary business can be conducted in this period? When will the Government present its first bills?

State Opening is the ceremonial opening of the first Session of the new Parliament while the King’s Speech marks the start of the Session’s legislative business. The Speech and the debate and votes which follow it are constitutionally important because it is a public test of the Government’s ability to command the confidence of the House of Commons (although, in practice, it is only really a test for Governments with a slim majority or no majority at all).

On the morning of 17 July, the Yeoman of the Guard will search the basement of the Houses of Parliament. This is a ceremonial tradition that dates back to Guy Fawkes’ ‘gunpowder plot’, the conspiracy to assassinate King James I of England and Members of Parliament on 5 November 1605 and restore a Catholic Monarch to the throne.

While the King travels to Parliament for the State Opening, a member of the Government – usually the Whip accorded the title of Vice Chamberlain of the Household – travels in the opposite direction to Buckingham Palace to be ‘held hostage’ for the duration of the King’s time in Parliament, as a guarantor of his safe return.

Having arrived in the Palace of Westminster via Sovereign’s Entrance, the King is conveyed to the Royal Robing Room to put on the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State. From there he processes to the Lords Chamber via the Royal Gallery. Once he has taken his place on the throne in the House of Lords chamber, a sign is given to Black Rod that she should summon the House of Commons to come to the House of Lords to attend the King.

When Black Rod arrives at the House of Commons, the door is shut in front of her, at which point she strikes the door three times and it is re-opened. This custom is a symbolic demonstration of the House of Commons’ independence from the Sovereign and dates back to the occasion in 1641 when Black Rod entered the Commons without the permission of the House to do so.

The instruction is given for MPs to attend the King and they then proceed to the bar of the House of Lords, led by the Speaker, Prime Minister, and Leader of the Opposition.

From the throne in the House of Lords, the King will outline the Government’s policies and proposed legislative programme for the new parliamentary Session, to the assembly of MPs and Peers. The content of the King’s Speech (which is sometimes also referred to as the ‘Speech from the Throne’) is a matter for the Prime Minister and Government. At the conclusion of the Speech MPs will return to the House of Commons.

Prior to the start of the King’s Speech debate in each House, Members will symbolically assert their right to deliberate regardless of the Monarch’s summons to the Address, by reading a pro forma bill into the record. In the House of Commons the Clerk of the House will announce the Outlawries Bill, and it will be ordered that it be read a second time. However, no date for a Second Reading will be agreed, the Bill will not be printed and there will be no further debate. A similar symbolic proceeding is adopted in the House of Lords, but there the Select Vestries Bill will be read.

The Outlawries Bill was first presented to Parliament in 1727. Historically the Bill provided for the more ‘effectual preventing’ of ‘clandestine outlawries’ – that is, the declaration of someone as an outlaw without due process. The Select Vestries Bill is a remnant of the regular debates that took place in the 18th and 19th centuries about the reform of select vestries (a form of local government based on church parish boundaries which had the church vestry as their meeting place). Property restrictions limited those entitled to vote in these vestries to only a few ‘select’ people. Reform of select vestries was thus an important aspect of the debate about extending the franchise and reducing the power of the Crown and executive. As the House of Lords historically comprised powerful landowners and Bishops, the Bill came to symbolise the need for Members to act in the national interest rather than self-interest.

The number of days spent debating the Address is a matter for the Government, which will advise the Speaker of the number of days it wishes to allocate.

The first day’s debate is general in character and includes speeches proposing and seconding the Address, and contributions from the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Remaining days are allocated to thematic discussions determined between the parties through what are known as the ‘Usual Channels’.[1]

After the 2015, 2017, and 2019 elections, there were six days’ debate following the Queen’s Speech; in 2010 there were four days’ debate and in 1997 five days were set aside. At the start of the last Parliament the debate was split into the following broad thematic areas: ‘Britain in the world’; education and local government; a ‘green industrial revolution’; health and social care; and the economy and jobs.

Peers also debate the King’s Speech for several days on thematic issues although, unlike the Commons, there is no final vote.

The House of Commons debates the Address on the following Government motion:

“That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as follows: Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.”

In both Houses, the motion is moved and seconded by Government backbenchers rather than a Minister. By convention the mover and seconder comprise one long-serving member and one relative newcomer, and their speeches typically avoid controversial political points and may instead include personal or constituency-related matters, usually alongside some humorous remarks.

Under Standing Order 33 the Speaker may select up to four amendments to the motion for debate and decision.[2] Of these, one may be moved on the penultimate day of debate, and up to three on the final day.

Usually, the amendment moved on the penultimate day and one of those moved on the final day are tabled by the Leader of the Opposition. A further amendment tabled by the leader of the third largest party will usually also be moved.

Another could come from Government backbenchers, as happened in the final-day debate on the Queen’s Speech in 2013, when the Speaker selected an amendment regretting the lack of planned legislation for an EU membership referendum, tabled by the Conservative MP John Baron. Although the amendment was defeated the number of Conservative MPs supporting it led the Government to change its position in favour of legislating for a referendum. This was therefore an important early step on the road to Brexit.

While proceedings on the King’s Speech take place, other business – such as Prime Minister’s Questions – is carried on. However, Urgent Questions are not accepted on the first day of the King’s Speech debate, nor may there be any applications that day for an emergency debate. Westminster Hall will not sit for debates until after the conclusion of the King’s Speech debates in the Chamber.

The first Business Questions answered by the Leader of the House are likely to take place the day after the King’s Speech, on Thursday 18 July. This may be the occasion on which key information about the Summer recess dates and related matters is formally provided to the House.

Departmental oral questions generally commence on the third sitting day after the King’s Speech which will likely fall on Tuesday 23 July.

In recent years the House of Commons Table Office has published daily ‘Chamber Information’ papers for the days between the Summoning of Parliament and State Opening in lieu of Order Papers. The first Order of Business and Summary Agenda (the Order Paper) will be published the day after the King’s Speech, on Thursday 18 July.

It is not clear which Bills the new Government will prioritise for presentation to Parliament after the King’s Speech. However, it will almost certainly present some bills in the days immediately following the Speech.

Comparisons with 1997 and 2010 when there was a change of Government after the General Election are instructive.

In 2010 the Queen’s Speech took place on 25 May. The following day three bills – the Identity Documents Bill, the Local Government Bill and the Academies Bill – were laid before Parliament, two in the House of Commons and one in the House of Lords. The Academies Bill was the first to receive its Second Reading on 7 June 2010, a fortnight after it had been presented. By the Summer recess in late July a further seven bills had been presented, five in the Commons and two in the Lords.

In 1997, the Queen’s Speech took place on 14 May. The following day two bills – the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill and the National Health Service (Private Finance) Bill – were laid before Parliament, the former in the House of Commons and the latter in the House of Lords. Less than a week later a further five Bills were presented to Parliament. The Referendums Bill was the first to receive its Second Reading on 21 May 1997, just a week after it was presented to the House of Commons. By the 15 July, just two months after the Queen’s Speech, 19 bills had been introduced and 18 of these had received a Second Reading in the House in which they were presented.

Members of the Panel of Chairs are appointed to chair Public Bill Committees, other general committees (for example Delegated Legislation Committees) and Westminster Hall debates. They may also act as temporary chairs of Committees of the Whole House. It is therefore important that the Panel is in place to deal with the first Bills that appear.

At the beginning of each parliamentary Session, not fewer than 10 Members of the House of Commons are nominated by the Speaker to serve on the Panel of Chairs. The Chairman of Ways and Means (the principal Deputy Speaker) chairs the Panel and the other two Deputy Speakers are also members. The dates for appointment of the Panel members in recent Parliaments has varied considerably, from five to 23 sitting days after Parliament first meets.

[1] Standing Order No.33, House of Commons Standing Orders for Public Business, as at 23 October 2023

[2] Standing Order No.33, House of Commons Standing Orders for Public Business, as at 23 October 2023

©UK Parliament/Maria Unger

The new Parliament will assemble on Tuesday 9 July 2024, five days after the General Election. This guide explains the ceremonial, legislative, organisational and procedural processes that are engaged at the start of the Parliament. It examines the challenges a July General Election poses to the parliamentary calendar over the Summer and looks at the Government's plans with respect to legislation and public finances.

News / What has Keir Starmer got in common with Robert Redford? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 42

The legislative process is underway following the King’s Speech, so what bills are planned? This week, Professor Philip Cowley, an expert on parliamentary rebellions, joins the podcast to discuss managing a mega-majority. Intriguingly, he reveals why Keir Starmer reminds him of Robert Redford.

19 Jul 2024
Read more

Briefings / Back to Business 2024: A guide to the start of the new Parliament

The new Parliament will assemble on Tuesday 9 July 2024, five days after the General Election. This guide explains the ceremonial, legislative, organisational and procedural processes that are engaged at the start of the Parliament.

03 Jul 2024
Read more

Guides / How does Parliament approve Government spending? A procedural guide to the Estimates process

In order to incur expenditure the Government needs to obtain approval from Parliament for its departmental spending plans. The annual Estimates cycle is the means by which the House of Commons controls the Government’s plans for the spending of money raised through taxation.

16 Jan 2023
Read more

Blog / Mock Elections 2024: The results are in!

Results are in for the Hansard Society's nationwide Mock Elections. Thousands of pupils have cast their ballots and the results show that Labour has won the election among pupils across the country, with 27.3% of the vote.

04 Jul 2024
Read more

News / Who will be the stars of the new Parliament? - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 40

With a 50% new intake and 40% female representation, the latest parliamentary group promises exciting new talent. Renowned journalist and 'Tomorrow’s MPs' watcher Michael Crick shares his insights on the standout figures to watch in the coming years.

07 Jul 2024
Read more