Publications / Briefings

What happens in Parliament following the death of Her Majesty the Queen?

9 Sep 2022
Color transparency of Queen Elizabeth II on her Coronation Day, 2 June 1953, by Cecil Beaton. Royal Collection Trust / ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022
Color transparency of Queen Elizabeth II on her Coronation Day, 2 June 1953, by Cecil Beaton. Royal Collection Trust / ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

Parliament has a central role in the Demise and Accession of a Monarch constitutionally, and as a site for, and participant in, public ceremonies of mourning, tribute and renewal. Following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, this briefing explores the procedural and ceremonial plans that will now be implemented and their impact on parliamentary business.

Dr Ruth Fox, Director , Hansard Society
Dr Brigid Fowler, Senior Researcher, Hansard Society
Director , Hansard Society

Dr Ruth Fox

Dr Ruth Fox
Director , Hansard Society

Ruth is responsible for the strategic direction and performance of the Society and leads its research programme. She has appeared before more than a dozen parliamentary select committees and inquiries, and regularly contributes to a wide range of current affairs programmes on radio and television, commentating on parliamentary process and political reform.

In 2012 she served as adviser to the independent Commission on Political and Democratic Reform in Gibraltar, and in 2013 as an independent member of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee Review Group. Prior to joining the Society in 2008, she was head of research and communications for a Labour MP and Minister and ran his general election campaigns in 2001 and 2005 in a key marginal constituency.

In 2004 she worked for Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign in the battleground state of Florida. In 1999-2001 she worked as a Client Manager and historical adviser at the Public Record Office (now the National Archives), after being awarded a PhD in political history (on the electoral strategy and philosophy of the Liberal Party 1970-1983) from the University of Leeds, where she also taught Modern European History and Contemporary International Politics.

Senior Researcher, Hansard Society

Dr Brigid Fowler

Dr Brigid Fowler
Senior Researcher, Hansard Society

Brigid joined the Hansard Society in December 2016 to lead its work on Parliament and Brexit, as well as contribute to its ongoing research on the legislative process, parliamentary procedure and scrutiny, and public political engagement. From 2007 to 2014 she was a Committee Specialist for the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, where she led on the Committee’s EU-related work. In the first six months of 2016 she was on the research team of Britain Stronger in Europe. She has also worked as assistant to an MEP in Brussels and as an analyst and researcher on EU and European affairs in the private sector and at the University of Birmingham and King’s College London.

After completing BA and MPhil degrees at the University of Oxford in PPE and European Politics, respectively, she spent the first part of her career focusing on the politics of post-communist transition and EU accession in Central Europe, and completed her PhD at the University of Birmingham on the case of Hungary. She has given media comment, appeared before select committees and published several journal articles and book contributions.

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Like other organisations, Parliament has long had plans in place for this event. Such plans are always subject to a degree of uncertainty. In the present case, the uncertainty is particularly high, because of the exceptionally long period of time since the previous such occasion in 1952, and the major constitutional and social changes that have therefore taken place during the Queen’s reign and that may affect the nature of the arrangements.

Nevertheless, the precedents of 1952 and 1936 may inform and help guide decision-making. The ultimate nature of the arrangements that unfold will reflect where the balance is struck between these precedents and newer considerations.

What happens in Parliament in the coming days depends, in particular, on:

  • the timing of the Accession Council;

  • whether the new Monarch wishes to receive the Addresses of both Houses in person;

  • arrangements for Members to make their Oath of Allegiance to the new Monarch; and

  • the dates for the Lying-in-State in Westminster Hall and the State Funeral that will follow.

The relevant procedural requirements in the Commons and Lords differ in a few respects, although the two Houses will make every effort to co-ordinate their arrangements.

From Parliament’s perspective, the period following the death of a Monarch can be broken down into three phases:

  1. The Demise to the start of Lying-in-State. In this phase, special parliamentary business takes place for at least some of the time, but normal business is suspended (unless there are exceptional circumstances).

  2. The start of Lying-in-State to the State Funeral. In this phase, both Houses are adjourned throughout.

  3. After the Funeral, when the Houses may sit again, but their early business may again include proceedings connected to the Demise.

Following a Demise of the Crown, except in exceptional circumstances no normal parliamentary business takes place until after the Funeral. Other activities on the parliamentary estate are also suspended. That is:

  • Select Committees will be barred from meeting formally.

  • No legislative committees will be convened.

  • Sittings in Westminster Hall will be suspended.

  • All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) will not meet.

  • Members on overseas visits and delegations to international assemblies will be recalled to London.

  • Inward parliamentary visits will not take place.

  • The publication of Select Committee reports and Library briefings will be deferred.

  • All public, commercial and construction activities will be suspended.

Except in exceptional circumstances, the only formal parliamentary business that will take place before the Funeral is the special business connected to the Demise that takes place in the Chambers of the two Houses (as outlined below).

In the House of Lords, Black Rod has indicated that normal parliamentary business is suspended until at least two days after the Funeral. At the time of writing (1:00pm on Friday 9 September), it is unclear whether this will also apply to the Commons.

The change of Sovereign also has practical implications for Parliament. For example, it necessitates the reprinting of various texts (not least to replace the words ‘Her Majesty’ with ‘His Majesty’), including but not limited to: the Journal of each House, the Standing Orders of each House and the Lords Companion to the Standing Orders; Oath-taking cards used at the Table; and prayers read by the Bishops in the House of Lords.

In time, anything bearing the Royal Court of Arms, such as the Despatch Boxes at the Table, may need to be replaced once the new Sovereign’s Coat of Arms is settled.

If at any point the Government deems the current economic crisis to be of sufficient magnitude that measures cannot wait until after the Funeral, then Ministers - in consultation with the Speaker and the Opposition - could initiate proceedings, including legislative measures. In the House of Commons, Standing Order No. 13, which grants precedence to Government business, would still apply.

In the House of Lords there are precedents for the resumption of business before the Funeral: in 1936 the Law Lords resumed the hearing of appeals on the third day after the Demise; and in 1952 the Appellate Committee resumed hearings on the second day. However, these relate to the House discharging the judicial role which it had then but does not have now.

Following the death of the Monarch, the immediate key decision with respect to Parliament is to set the time at which the two Houses should meet. Article V of the Succession to the Crown Act 1707 requires Parliament, if it is adjourned, to meet immediately:

And…if there be a Parliament in being at the time of the death of her Majesty her heirs or successors but the same happens to be separated by adjournment or prorogation such parliament shall immediately after such demise meet convene and sit and shall act notwithstanding such death or demise.”

The way in which this requirement is to be fulfilled is not defined in statute but is informed by precedent. Since 1707, Parliament has always met within 24 hours of the death of the Sovereign (except on the death of George I, who died abroad).

However, the two Houses cannot undertake either of the two substantive tasks that follow from the death of a Monarch – namely Members’ swearing of the new Oath of Allegiance, and the agreement of Addresses to the new Sovereign – until after the Accession Council has met and formally proclaimed the new Monarch. If the Houses wish to meet before the Accession Council, therefore, they have previously held only a short preliminary meeting and quickly been adjourned or suspended.

In 1952, when King George VI died in the early hours of 6 February and the House of Commons was due to sit that day at 2:30pm, the House met at its appointed time, Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked the Speaker to "guide the House as to our duties” (having noted that “we cannot at this moment do more than record a spontaneous expression of our grief"), the Speaker announced the timetable for the following days, and then the House was almost immediately suspended until after the Accession Council had taken place at 5:00pm that afternoon. The House then met again at 7:00pm.

In 2022, at the time the Queen’s death was announced on the evening of Thursday 8 September, both Houses had already adjourned for the day. They were both scheduled to sit again on the morning of Friday 9 September, before the meeting of the Accession Council had taken place. If Standing Orders and the precedent of 1952 had been observed, therefore, both Houses would have reconvened at their appointed times on Friday morning for a short, preliminary, meeting pursuant to the 1707 Act.

However, on this occasion, the Speaker of the House of Commons decided that, rather than reconvening on Friday at 9:30am as planned, the House would instead reconvene at 12:oo noon. This decision was made “under [the Speaker’s] authority”. The House of Lords is sitting at the same time. The Houses will sit for the purpose of ‘tributes’ and are expected to sit until 10:00pm.

Both Houses will also sit on Saturday 10 September from 1:00pm, until an expected rising time again of 10:00pm.

In announcing that the two Houses would sit on Saturday 10 September, the two Speakers may have had in mind the possibility that the Accession Council might meet only on that day. This has now been confirmed: the Accession Council will meet at 10:00am on Saturday 10 September.

There is precedent for the two Houses to meet on a Saturday.

The Speaker of the House of Commons has confirmed that proceedings on Friday 9 September will be confined to tributes, but that when the House reconvenes on Saturday 10 September “a small number of senior Members will take the oath to His Majesty the King”, after which tributes will continue.

This represents a departure from previous precedents, when tributes at this stage have been paid by only the most senior MPs and office-holders. In 1952, there were only four speeches in tribute: from the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Liberal Party, and Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Elliot on behalf of the Father of the House, who was absent.

In the House of Lords in 1952, six speeches were given – by the leaders of the four main parties, the Archbishop of York (on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was absent through illness) and the Lord Chancellor.

This time, in the House of Lords, the first tributes will be offered by “key office-holders”, with backbenchers following. On Saturday 10 September, the sitting will begin with the opportunity for Oath-taking by key office-holders, after which tributes will resume.

It therefore appears that in both Houses many more tributes will be permitted than was the case in 1952. There is some risk in providing for hours and hours of tributes rather than the two hours set aside for the purpose in the Commons in 1952. The desire of each Member to place their tribute on the record, recounting anecdotes about a meeting with the Queen or a visit she made to their constituency, risks diluting the impact of the moment and could look undignified and even self-indulgent.

The Speakers will receive many messages of condolence from Parliaments around the world. They will notify the Houses of these messages, and some will be read out in the Chambers at appropriate moments. The Speakers will respond to them on behalf of each House in due course.

The Oath of Allegiance or solemn affirmation that MPs and Peers swear at the start of a Parliament refers to the Monarch by name. The Accession of a new Monarch therefore raises a potential need to take a new Oath.

Under the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866, an MP who votes or sits during any debate without having taken the Oath vacates their seat “as if he were dead”. This underpins the process at the start of a new Parliament, when swearing-in must be the first item of business following the election of the Speaker.

However, the broad consensus is that an Oath taken in accordance with the provisions of the 1866 Act continues to have effect for the duration of the Parliament, notwithstanding any supervening demise of the Crown. It follows that the penalties contained in the 1866 Act will not attach to an MP who does not take the Oath again on the Demise of the Crown. The taking of a new Oath in the Commons following the Accession of a new Monarch is therefore voluntary and not a requirement.

However, it is likely that many MPs may wish to re-take their Oath. Senior MPs are to have the opportunity take the Oath on Saturday 10 September, and at least one further day will then likely be set aside on Monday 12 and/or Tuesday 13 September to enable other Members to do the same.

In the House of Lords, the situation is different. The Companion to the Lords Standing Orders state that the Oath “must be taken or solemn affirmation made by all members before they can sit and vote in the House… after a demise of the Crown”. Members will not be required to take the Oath or make a solemn affirmation in order to take part in the tributes. However, Peers will be required to take the oath before taking part in or tabling any substantive parliamentary business following the Funeral. Key office-holders in the Lords are to have the opportunity to do so at the start of the sitting on Saturday 10 September.

This timetable represents a departure from previous precedents, when the swearing of the Oath has begun on the first day after the Demise, immediately on the reconvening following the Accession Council.

The new King will send a Gracious Message to Parliament. The exact timing of this is not yet known, although it will presumably be on Saturday 10 September after the Accession Council. In the Commons, the Message will be received by the Prime Minister or another senior Minister on her behalf at the Bar of the House. It will be read to MPs once it has been conveyed to the Speaker. The same Message will be read to Peers in the House of Lords.

After the King’s Message has been received, each House will consider an Address in response.

Agreement of the motions on the Addresses will take place in each House at the end of their sittings on Saturday 10 September. In the House of Commons, the Address will take the form of an humble Address to His Majesty, expressing the House’s sympathy on the death of his mother. The House of Lords’ Address will similarly be one of condolence to His Majesty.

Previously, the two Houses’ Addresses to the new Monarch have normally been delivered without the Monarch being physically present in Parliament. In 1952, after the Commons’ motion had been agreed, a small delegation of MPs led by the Prime Minister was tasked with presenting the Address to the Queen. The Lords’ Address was presented on behalf of the House by the Lords with White Staves (the Lord Steward and the Lord Chamberlain).

In 2022, it has been suggested that the new King may come to Parliament to receive the Houses’ Addresses in person, as the ‘England’ element in the tour of the nations of the UK that it has been reported he wishes to make very soon after his Accession. This event would most probably take place in Westminster Hall. The most likely dates are Monday 12 September or Tuesday 13 September (the Speakers having indicated that they do not expect either House to sit on Sunday 11 September). The Houses would meet in their Chambers before any such ceremony and then proceed to Westminster Hall, in the same manner as they did, for example, for the Diamond Jubilee Addresses on 20 March 2012.

If the Addresses to the new Monarch are presented in person in Westminster Hall, parliamentary officials will then need time to prepare the Hall for the reception of the Queen’s coffin for Lying-in-State.

In the House of Lords, the Earl Marshal will inform the House about the arrangements for the Lying-in-State at the earliest possible opportunity. In 1952, shortly before the start of the proceedings for the Lying-in-State, a motion for the House of Lords to attend was moved and agreed. No such motion was moved or agreed in the Commons; the Speaker simply made a statement setting out the arrangements.

At the appointed time, MPs and Peers will process in pairs from their respective Chambers to Westminster Hall, where they will await the arrival of the Royal Coffin, which will be accompanied by members of the Royal Family. Following a short service, and after the Royal Party has left the Hall, Members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons will process either side of the catafalque. The Speakers of each House will then meet to ascend the steps at the south end of the Hall together, before returning to their respective Chambers.

After this ceremony, the sitting in each House may be resumed to enable Members who have not already done so to take the Oath. It is anticipated that both Houses will then adjourn until after the Funeral.

The date of the Funeral is unlikely to be formally confirmed until after the Accession Council. Based on previous timetables it is anticipated that it will be Sunday 18 or Monday 19 September.

The House of Lords was due to rise for recess on Thursday 15 September, and the House of Commons to do likewise on Thursday 22 September. These recess dates may now need to be varied.

A notice to Peers from Black Rod following the announcement of the Queen’s death stated that normal business would be suspended until at least two days after the State Funeral. It is not yet known whether the same will apply in the Commons.

We are grateful to the current and former Clerks of both Houses of Parliament who have advised us on the content of this briefing. Any errors are naturally the responsibility of the authors.

Fox, R. and Fowler, B. (2022), What happens in Parliament following the death of Her Majesty the Queen? (Hansard Society: London)

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