Each Parliamentary year begins in May when The Queen officially opens Parliament with a colourful series of events steeped in tradition. The State Opening is the only regular event to unite the three elements of legislature – the House of Lords, the House of Commons and The Queen – together as the Crown in Parliament.
What happens during the State Opening?
The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh travel to the Palace of Westminster in a State coach, escorted by the Household Cavalry. The Imperial State Crown and regalia travels in front of The Queen in a carriage of its own.
Upon arrival, The Queen proceeds to the Robing Room where she is bedecked in the long crimson velvet Robe of State and the Imperial State Crown. The Queen then leads the Royal Procession through the Royal Gallery, which is packed with guests, to the chamber of the House of Lords.
Members of the House of Lords wear appropriate ceremonial robes, and judges of the High Court of Justice wear their wigs.
The House of Lords official known as 'Black Rod' is then sent to summon the House of Commons. The door to the Commons is first symbolically slammed in his face, which 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 Queen's Speech
Before either House can proceed to public business, The Queen must officially open Parliament by addressing both Houses in The Queen's Speech. The Speech is not drafted by The Queen, but by the Government, outlining plans and future legislation. The speech is carried by the Lord Chancellor in a special silk bag, and presented to The Queen on bended knee.
Once The Queen has departed, members of both Houses debate the content of the speech and agree an 'Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Gracious Speech'.
Watching the State Opening
Spectators can view the procession to Parliament from The Mall and Whitehall. The ceremony is also broadcast live on television.