State Opening, with the King’s Speech at its centre, is the key ceremonial and constitutional event at the start of a new Session of Parliament. Our 3 short guides below set out what the occasion is, what happens on the day, and how the King’s Speech is then debated.
State Opening is the ceremony that takes place to formally mark the start of a new Session of Parliament. It is a historic ceremony rich in constitutional symbolism. Most importantly, it is the only regular occasion on which all three of Parliament's constituent elements – the Sovereign, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons – normally meet together.
The King’s Speech is the vehicle through which the Government sets out its legislative programme for a new Session of Parliament. The Speech is the central element of the State Opening of Parliament. The King’s Speech may also be referred to as the 'Gracious Speech'. It is written by the Government; the Monarch simply reads it out. However, the references which the Monarch makes in the Speech to 'my Government' reaffirm the constitutional fact that, formally, the Government is the King's Government and is appointed by him.
After the King's Speech has been delivered, each House must respond to it. This response takes the form of a 'humble Address' from the House to the King, thanking him for the Speech. The debate on this motion is properly called the 'Debate on the Address'. The debate lasts for several days in each House and provides an occasion for a wide-ranging and constitutionally significant discussion about the Government's policies and programme.
For each Government Department, the House of Commons has a dedicated departmental Select Committee to scrutinise it. But changes to the line-up of Select Committees, to reflect machinery-of-government changes to Departments, do not take place automatically. There is some scope for discretion and negotiation – with, in practice, the Government ultimately deciding whether and how to make changes.