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May this be the only time the State Opening of Parliament has to be so pared down.

In December 2019, the last time this ceremony took place, everything was normal, with peers, MPs and distinguished guests filling every available space.

My post from that year explains how the ceremony and the Queen’s Speech — written by the Government — unfolds and concludes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021, was the 67th occasion on which the Queen has opened Parliament. This was her first formal engagement since the death of Prince Philip:

Steeped in tradition, the State Opening brings together all three parts of Parliament: the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Monarch.

Prince Charles accompanied the Queen, as he did in 2019. This was the first year that the Duchess of Cornwall attended.

Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, who are at Clarence House in St James, arrived by car at the Monarch’s Entrance to the Palace of Westminster.

The Queen left Buckingham Palace by car and arrived a short time later.

Inside the House of Lords, the throne for the Queen’s Consort — Prince Philip — had been removed and is in safekeeping. There was one throne and, off to the side, two plush chairs for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

Once the Queen enters the Palace of Westminster, the Union flag on top of the building is lowered and her standard is raised. Upon her departure, her standard is lowered and removed and the Union flag raised.

The Queen entered the House of Lords with Prince Charles. The Duchess of Cornwall walked behind them, socially distanced.

This video might be geo-localised, however, for those fortunate enough to see it, it has the whole ceremony. The Lords must wear their formal robes (a sign language version is also available):

Other participants must also wear ceremonial dress or robes for their office, including the Speakers of the Commons and the Lords:

These are the robes the Lords Spiritual — Church of England bishops — wear:

Here is the Speaker of the House of Commons along with his deputy speakers:

Yeoman warders from the Tower of London are part of the ceremony:

They are shown below in the Royal Gallery, which leads to the House of Lords:

On Tuesday, socially distanced MPs sat on one side and Lords on the other. Those who wished to attend submitted their names, and the requisite number of persons was chosen by lottery:

The Queen makes her entrance to the House of Lords via the Royal Gallery and exits in the same manner:

Here she is prior to giving her speech, awaiting the arrival of members of the House of Commons, summoned by Black Rod:

Normally, the speech is handed to her, but because of health restrictions, it was already sitting on the table next to her.

The transcript is available online:

To allow for flexibility, allowance is made for any additional legislation that might arise. One example of this from the previous parliamentary year was the infamous Coronavirus Act 2020, which is still in effect:

The Queen ends her speech with a blessing:

This is a summary of the new legislation:

In addition, there will be legislation on repealing the Fixed Term Parliament Act so that elections can be more easily called (rather than every five years), an anti-hate speech online law (Online Harms Bill) and a measure to introduce voter ID. Why we need voter ID, I have no idea; we receive electoral roll cards prior to every election. Those work perfectly well. There was only ONE case of voter fraud in 2019. Postal voting is a bigger cause of any electoral fraud.

Only a small number of MPs were allowed to be in the Lords chamber for the speech: Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer and the party whips. Any other MPs showing up in person had to remain in the Commons chamber.

A new Lord Speaker was in attendance, Lord McFall (Labour) who succeeds the recently retired Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, who returns to the Conservative bench in the chamber:

After the Queen delivers her speech and leaves, parliamentary business can begin.

Both Houses debate the contents — proposed legislation — of the Queen’s Speech. The debate is called the Humble Address:

Once back in the House of Commons, the Serjeant at Arms replaces the mace and a new set of debates on future legislation can begin. The next two tweets explain the relationship between the Commons — the locus of legislation — and the Lords, who debate the proposed laws and suggest changes — amendments — before the various bills return to the Commons:

There is also the ceremonial matter in the Commons of the ‘release’ of an MP who, traditionally, is held at Buckingham Palace while the Queen’s Speech takes place. This year it was Marcus Jones (Conservative), who is also Vice Chamberlain to Her Majesty’s Household:

In addition to new legislation, there are three upcoming by-elections:

The SNP MP for Airdrie and Shotts, Neil Gray, has been elected to the Scottish Parliament. The Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham died a few weeks ago; Cheryl Gillan had participated regularly in Commons debates until just before her death. Labour MP Tracy Brabin has just been elected as the first Mayor of West Yorkshire.

Speaking of by-elections, Tuesday was the day when Harlepool’s new MP, Jill Mortimer (Conservative), took her oath of office:

She is probably the only MP in living memory who could not shake the Speaker’s hand. However, depending on how long coronavirus restrictions are in place, she might not be the last:

Both Houses have changed their typeface for their call lists. Why? The old version is on the right — and has more gravitas:

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has instituted a flag representing the House of Commons, which made its debut today and will fly every day when the House is in session. Hmmm:

In closing, today marks the sad anniversary of a Prime Minister who was assassinated in 1820:

Thank goodness such events have been rarities in Britain. Long may they remain so.

May the Lord guide both Houses through the new parliamentary year.

Parliament is entering Easter recess on Thursday, March 25, 2021.

A few notable news items follow from both Houses — and the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Parliament — MSPs standing down

A number of MSPs are standing down from their seats in Holyrood. Scots will elect new MSPs in May.

The Scotsman has a useful list, complete with photos, cited below. Emphases mine:

While all 129 of Holyrood’s seats will be contested at this year’s ballot, more than a quarter of the current crop of MSPs are standing down – including high profile figures like Ruth Davidson, Iain Gray and Jeane Freeman.

Highlights follow.

Independent

I will miss Ken Macintosh, who was a faultless convener presiding over fractious debates during the past year:

Ken Macintosh has been an MSP since the opening of the parliament in 1999, before unsuccessfully seeking the Labour leadership twice. He was elected as the parliament’s fifth presiding officer in 2016, but announced in September that he would not be seeking re-election as an MSP.

Scottish Conservatives

Ruth Davidson will be elevated to the House of Lords:

The former Scottish Tories leader took over the party’s reins at Holyrood once more when MP Douglas Ross was elected as the new leader last year. Ms Davidson will now take up a seat in the House of Lords.

Scottish Labour

Iain Gray is ending a long career as an MSP:

Former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and is currently Labour’s education spokesman at Holyrood.

SNP

Here is the list of SNP MSPs who are standing down. Many have been in Holyrood for a number of years:

Jeane Freeman was in charge of health during the coronavirus crisis. Many residents of Scottish care homes died during that time.

One wonders what she will do next:

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed she will not seek re-election. The Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley MSP said she had “more she wanted to do” outside of politics.

The Scotsman has an interesting article from 2018 about her career history at that time:

Jeane Freeman, for it was she, has moved on to greater things as Health Minister in the Scottish Government. In the first half of this decade, she was a useful cog in the SNP machine as a former Labour apparatchik who, when the wind changed, discovered she was really a Nationalist.

Long a habituée of the quango circuit, Ms Freeman’s new appointments included the disastrous Scottish Police Authority. In her peak year of 2013-14, she pulled in £57,000 from that source alone. There were a couple of NHS roles, not forgetting the Judicial Appointments Board.

All this added up to 376 paid days in the financial year. One might have thought the Scottish Commissioner for Public Appointments (for such a person exists) might have done the arithmetic and asked questions but that is to over-estimate the vigilance of our non-barking watchdogs.

At the same time, Ms Freeman fronted “Women for Independence” and ran a lobbying firm which targeted the public sector. When a member of the public tabled a Freedom of Information request in 2015 about her business meetings with Scottish Ministers and officials, he was given the classic brush-off – the question would cost too much to answer.

Not unreasonably, he then wondered how lobbying activity could be monitored if ministers refused to provide information about their contacts on such implausible grounds. Another of our civic protectors, the Freedom of Information Commissioner, dismissed his complaint. Scotland really is a village …

There are still individuals floating around the Scottish quango circuit who were being put up for every chairmanship that occurred 20 years ago. The qualifications are that they challenge nothing, remain anonymous and nod their heads when directed by ministers. Political influence is as prevalent as it ever was – just much less transparent. Ask Ms Freeman.

This all fits into the wider pattern of centralisation which has systematically downgraded every other centre of influence within Scotland – public bodies, local government, police boards, funding-dependent third sector organisations – in order to create a closely integrated structure which brooks no challenge.

There is a powerful political agenda waiting to be created around the need to restore diversity and scrutiny within Scotland in order to challenge the power of the centre. Some might see that requirement as a paradoxical outcome of devolution while others recognise it as depressing – but largely predictable.

Linda Fabiani was the convener for the Holyrood inquiry examining the way Alex Salmond’s case was conducted. Hmm. Interestingly, The Scotsman makes no mention of this:

Ms Fabiani was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as an MSP for Central Scotland, but since 2011 she has represented East Kilbride.

Then there’s Mark McDonald:

The Aberdeen Donside MSP resigned from the SNP after sending a woman an inappropriate text message which referenced a sex act.

House of Commons news

Historic Westminster by-election in Scotland

A historic by-election will be taking place in Scotland as the SNP’s Neil Gray announced he would be standing down. He made his final speech in Westminster — the mother of all Parliaments — on Tuesday, March 23:

An arcane parliamentary point needs to be explained:

Although the actual Manor of Northstead in Yorkshire no longer exists, the estate has been redeveloped as a park.

In political terms, this is a temporary position for MPs who have resigned and is given out at the pleasure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Wikipedia explains:

By virtue of the fact that it became and was retained as a Lordship of the Crown beyond the sale and eventual disappearance of the estate, since the nineteenth century the post of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead has played a role in the procedure for effecting resignation from the British House of Commons by Members of Parliament (MPs). While no longer having any actual role or responsibility, it remains a nominal paid office of the Crown, a sort of sinecure, appointment to which is one of the things that by law disqualify an MP from the House. This principle goes back to the Act of Settlement 1701, and is now regulated by the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Since 1624, MPs have not been permitted to resign their seats directly. While several such offices have been used for this purpose in the past, in the present day only two are used: the Northstead post and that of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham.[1][2]

Appointments to the posts are made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Using two posts allows more than one MP to resign simultaneously, although more commonly, single resignations are effected by alternating appointments to the Northstead and Chiltern Hundreds offices. One of the most recent MPs to be appointed to the Northstead office was former Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his decision to resign from his Parliamentary seat of Witney on 12 September 2016.[5]

Neil Gray was praised again in the House of Commons today during Business Questions, including by Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg. Here are more compliments from Tuesday:

This means there will be a by-election in Gray’s former constituency of Airdrie and Shotts:

This is the first time there will be a Commons by-election in an SNP-held seat:

Boris reasserts his position as Prime Minister

On March 24, Prime Minister Boris Johnson appeared before the Liason Committee, comprised of heads of the parliamentary Select Committees.

The session lasted around 90 minutes and covered several topics, one of which was devolution.

Scotland and Wales are trying to whittle away the significance of the UK government.

Stephen Crabb (Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire) asked Boris how he saw his position. He confirmed that he is the Prime Minister of Scotland as well as the United Kingdom:

Part of the answer is to employ civil servants with the ability to accommodate the interests of the United Kingdom as well as those of the devolved nations:

House of Lords news

Two notable things happened in the House of Lords this week.

Unusual tie vote

The Lords voted on an amendment to a Government bill, only to find the result was tied. As such, the amendment failed, meaning that the Government won that round:

Hereditary peer says old biscuits perfectly edible

The House of Lords still has 90 hereditary peers.

One of them is Lord Palmer, whose family part owns the famous biscuit manufacturing firm Huntley and Palmers Ltd.

If anyone in the Lords should know when a biscuit is past its best, it would be he.

I’m bookmarking this for future reference:

With Parliament in recess, I’ll be able to do some springtime projects around the house. If I find a stale biscuit, I’ll let you know.

The State Opening of Parliament on Thursday, December 19, 2019 is the last we will see for a while.

We had a State Opening of Parliament on Monday, October 14, after the last prorogation.

Two State Openings in one year — and so close together — is a highly unusual situation.

I watched both on television. The symbols and pageantry are tremendous.

Parliament’s website states:

The Queen’s Speech sets out the government’s agenda for the next session of Parliament and outlines proposed policies and laws …

State Opening is the main ceremonial event of the parliamentary calendar, drawing a significant audience online, on television and in person.

In the days preceding the State Opening, both Houses of Parliament — the Lords as well as the Commons — swore in all members individually for this new session following the General Election of Thursday, December 12:

Once complete, the State Opening could take place.

It is the only time the three elements of British government are brought together in one place, in the Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Commons and the Lords:

Yeoman warders from the Tower of London do a symbolic inspection — centuries ago, it was a real inspection — to ensure there are no saboteurs or explosives lurking:

This recalls the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, involving a handful of rebellious Catholics, the most famous of which was Guy (Guido) Fawkes, although Robert Catesby was their leader. They attempted to blow up the House of Lords. The explosives were already there.

Today, after the inspection, each of the Yeoman Warders (‘Beefeaters’) is rewarded with half a pint of port.

Meanwhile, the Queen prepares to leave Buckingham Palace for the short ride to the Palace of Westminster. Prince Charles accompanied his mother for both State Openings this year, as Prince Philip has retired from public duties:

October’s State Opening was much more formal. The Queen wore a crown and was dressed in a full length white gown with an ermine cape:

This time, she wore a dressy coat and a hat. Her mode of transport was a Bentley rather than a carriage. The photo on the left shows her walking with Prince Charles in the Royal Gallery in the Palace of Westminster, eventually into the House of Lords to deliver her speech, written by her government:

While the Queen is preparing to give the speech, Black Rod walks from the House of Lords to the House of Commons to summon MPs to the Lords to hear the monarch. We have seen quite a lot of Sally Clarke, the first female Black Rod, this year.

This video explains Black Rod’s duties, which are more than ceremonial:

When Black Rod arrives at the House of Commons, the door is slammed in her face. This symbolises:

the Commons’ independence from the monarchy. Black Rod then strikes the door loudly three times with his ebony staff, or rod, before it is opened, and the 250 Members of the House of Commons follow him back to the Lords Chamber, to stand at the opposite end to The Queen’s Throne.

The video in the second tweet shows the route MPs take to the House of Lords, with Black Rod leading them. The first video dispels the myth that the Lords wear their ceremonial robes every time they meet:

MPs stand in the back of the House of Lords to listen to the Queen’s Speech, which the Lord Chancellor presents to her in a special silk pouch.

During the State Opening, one MP is ‘held hostage’ at Buckingham Palace. I do not know who the two MPs were this year:

Afterwards, MPs return to the Commons:

When the Queen leaves, a new parliamentary session starts and Parliament gets back to work. Members of both Houses debate the content of the speech and agree a reply, known as the ‘Address in Reply to Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech’.

Each House continues to debate the planned legislative programme for several days, looking at different subject areas. The Queen’s Speech is voted on by the Commons, but no vote is taken in the Lords.

Friday, December 20, was MPs’ last day in session before Christmas recess. Brexit was at the top of the agenda.

They approved the second reading of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal from October:

They also approved the timetable — programme motion — for the second reading:

They meet again on Tuesday, January 7, 2020:

We have much to look forward to in the New Year.

On the evening of Tuesday, October 8, a second prorogation of Parliament took place:

Prorogation proceeded as normal, unlike the first one on September 10, which Baroness Hale and the Supreme Court declared unlawful.

Not illegal, unlawful: done for political reasons.

Apparently, Baroness Hale has eyes into Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s soul. Could it be the spider brooch what done it?

It has been said that Spiderwoman took down the Hulk with that decision. She isn’t denying it.

The Baroness spoke to the Association of State Girls’ Schools, covered by TES (Times Educational Supplement) event on October 4. Clearly, she took exception to Boris’s use several weeks ago of the phrase ‘girly swot’. He once referred to former PM David Cameron as a ‘girly swot’. The anti-Boris/anti-Brexit brigade are still running with it.

It is unclear whether the slide below came from the Association or the Baroness herself:

Now on to the orderly prorogation that took place on Tuesday evening:

This is what happened:

People were sympathetic towards Black Rod, remembering the events of September with Speaker Bercow and Labour MP Dennis Skinner (language alert):

Norman French is still used as part of this ceremony — ‘The Queen wishes it’:

Unlike last time, all of the MPs filed out of the chamber to walk to the House of Lords:

The same clerk from the Lords read out the lengthy achievements of the government and Parliament in terms of legislation:

The government writes the clerk’s speech, which is presented on the Queen’s behalf, hence the usage of ‘my government’:

In the photo at the top right, you can see Black Rod (Sarah Clarke) on the left and the Speaker of the House (John Bercow) next to her:

After the clerk finished the long list of accomplishments, she announced the prorogation of the House of Commons, required before a Queen’s Speech, which will take place on Monday:

The ‘zombie Parliament’ is over …

… although the same MPs will convene on Monday.

At the end:

The MPs then returned to the House of Commons for a few minutes:

Then everyone left and the chamber was locked.

On Monday, it will be interesting to see if MPs reject the content of the Queen’s Speech. They vote on it:

Even if they vote to approve it, the Lords — most of whom are life peers, not hereditary — can vote against subsequent legislation, e.g. Brexit. As the Twitter user below points out, Remainer Lords did not show up for September’s prorogation:

The last PM to have a Queen’s Speech rejected was Stanley Baldwin in 1924:

The last time this happened was in January 1924 to Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin after he proceeded with a King’s Speech, under George V, despite having lost his majority in the previous month’s general election.

Mr Baldwin subsequently resigned and a minority Labour government took over.

Oh, my. The circumstances, minus the general election, sound very similar to Boris Johnson’s. That said, Boris, being a keen student of history, already knows that.

He won’t resign. If MPs vote against the Queen’s Speech, all he has to say is that opposition MPs turned down his two previous motions for a general election. This is why Labour and the Lib Dems don’t want one:

More next week.

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