Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords - Contents



2.01  The proclamation dissolving the old Parliament appoints a day and place of meeting of the new Parliament. Certain preliminary proceedings must take place before that day. Accordingly, the new Parliament is summoned to meet a few days, usually a week, before the Queen's Speech. During this period the House of Lords usually sits for two or three "swearing-in" days. Only business which does not require the House to take a decision on a motion may be taken on these days. The principal business is:

  • proceedings relating to the election of a Speaker of the House of Commons, which takes place on the first and second days (see appendix D page 260), and
  • administering the oath of allegiance to members of the House.[61]

2.02  New members of the House of Lords may be introduced after the first day.

2.03  A notice is circulated to members before these sittings, informing them of the time of sitting and the time when the House is likely to adjourn and advising them of the need to take the oath before sitting or voting.[62] Members may attend to take the oath at any time the House is sitting during the swearing-in days. The House sits long enough (sometimes with short adjournments "during pleasure") to enable those who are present to take the oath.


2.04  The election of a Commons Speaker and the swearing-in of members occur only in the first session of a Parliament. Each subsequent session is opened with the Queen's Speech without any preliminary proceedings. The Queen usually delivers the Speech in person. In her absence the presiding Commissioner delivers it. The procedure for delivery of the Queen's Speech is described in appendix E (page 256).


2.05  At the time appointed for the sitting of the House the Lord Speaker takes her seat on the Woolsack. Prayers are read and members of the House may take the oath. A bill, for the better regulating of Select Vestries, is then read a first time pro forma on the motion of the Leader of the House, in order to assert the right of the House to deliberate independently of the Crown.[63] Until this has taken place, no other business is done.

2.06  Immediately after the Select Vestries Bill has been read a first time, the Lord Speaker informs the House that the Queen delivered The Gracious Speech earlier in the day to the two Houses of Parliament. She says:

"My Lords,

I have to acquaint the House that Her Majesty was pleased this morning to make a Most Gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament assembled in the House of Lords. Copies of the Gracious Speech are available in the Printed Paper Office. I have for the convenience of the House arranged for the terms of the Gracious Speech to be published in the Official Report."

2.07  A government backbencher chosen by the Leader of the House then moves:

"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."

2.08  The mover then makes a speech and at the end says "I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty." He or she then proceeds to the Woolsack with the Address and bows to the Lord Speaker, who rises and bows in return and receives the Address. When the mover has returned to his or her seat, the Lord Speaker rises and says:

"The Question is that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows"

and reads the text of the Address.

2.09  A government backbencher also chosen by the Leader then seconds the motion for an Address. It is customary for the speeches of the mover and seconder to be uncontroversial. After the speech of the seconder the Leader of the Opposition moves the adjournment of the debate. On this motion the Leader of the Opposition and the other party leaders congratulate the mover and seconder and comment generally on the Queen's Speech. After the Leader of the House has responded, the debate on the Address is adjourned.

2.10  Certain formal business is then taken. The Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees are nominated on the motion of the Leader of the House. Formal entries in the Minutes of Proceedings record the laying before the House by the Clerk of the Parliaments of a list of members of the House, a list of hereditary peers who wish to stand for election as members of the House of Lords under Standing Order 10 (Hereditary peers: by-elections), and the sessional order for preventing stoppages in the streets.

2.11  The general debate on the Address is resumed on the next sitting day. The principal topics for debate (e.g. foreign affairs, home affairs, economic affairs, agriculture, transport) are taken on different days. Amendments, of which notice must be given, may be moved to the Address at any time in the debate, and are disposed of at the end of the day on which they are debated or at the end of the whole debate. If no amendment has been moved to the Address, the Lord Speaker declares the Question decided "nemine dissentiente". The House then orders the Address to be presented to Her Majesty. This is usually done by the Lord Chamberlain.


2.12  The prorogation of Parliament, which brings a session to an end, is a prerogative act of the Crown. By current practice Parliament is prorogued by Commissioners acting in the Sovereign's name.[64]

2.13  On the day appointed for prorogation, prayers are read and any necessary business is transacted. The procedure followed at prorogation, with or without Royal Assent, is given at appendix G (page 261). Parliament is always prorogued to a definite day. Prorogation for further periods may be effected by proclamation.[65] Parliament, while prorogued, can be summoned by proclamation pursuant to the Meeting of Parliament Acts 1797 and 1870[66] and the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.


2.14  No Parliament may continue to sit for more than five years from the day on which, by writ of summons, it was appointed to meet.[67] Under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, a general election will be held on 7 May 2015; future general elections will be held on the first Thursday in May in the fifth calendar year following the previous general election, and Parliament will be dissolved at the beginning of the 17th working day before polling day.[68] Parliament is nowadays dissolved by Royal Proclamation under the Great Seal.


2.15  Prorogation has the effect of putting an end to all business before the House, except:

  • private bills, personal bills, provisional order confirmation bills and hybrid bills which may be "carried over" from one session to another (including dissolution);[69]
  • proceedings on Measures, statutory instruments and special procedure orders laid in one session, which may be continued in the next, notwithstanding prorogation or dissolution. Prorogation and dissolution are disregarded in calculating "praying time";[70]
  • certain sessional committees which remain in existence notwithstanding the prorogation of Parliament until the House makes further orders of appointment in the next session (but this does not apply to a dissolution, when all select committee activity must cease);[71]
  • impeachments by the Commons which may be carried on from one session to another and from one Parliament to another. The jurisdiction of the Lords in such impeachments has fallen into disuse.[72]

2.16  Government public bills may also be "carried over" from one session to the next, but not over a dissolution. See paragraph 8.10.


2.17  The Succession to the Crown Act 1707[73] provides that in the event of the demise of the Crown, Parliament, if adjourned or prorogued, must meet as soon as possible[74] and if sitting must immediately proceed to act without any summons in the usual form.

2.18  The Representation of the People Act 1985[75] provides that, in the case of the demise of the Crown after the dissolution of one Parliament and the proclamation summoning the next, but before the election, the election and the meeting of Parliament are postponed by fourteen days. If the demise occurs on or after the date of the election, Parliament meets in accordance with the proclamation summoning the next Parliament.

2.19  When Parliament meets under either of these Acts, there is no speech from the Throne. Members take the oath of allegiance to the new Sovereign. In the course of a few days a message under the Sign Manual is sent formally acquainting the House with the death of the Sovereign, and stating such other matters as may be necessary. The House votes an Address to the new Sovereign in answer to the message, expressing condolences upon the death of his predecessor and loyalty to him upon his accession.

2.20  If the demise of the Crown has taken place during the session, business is resumed and proceeds as usual; but if it has occurred during an adjournment or prorogation, both Houses again adjourn as soon as the Addresses have been presented.


2.21  The Lord Speaker, or, in her absence, the Chairman of Committees, may, after consultation with the government, recall the House whenever it stands adjourned, if satisfied that the public interest requires it[76] or in pursuance of section 28(3) of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.


2.22  The ordinary method by which the Houses communicate with the Sovereign is by Address. Addresses may be agreed by both Houses and jointly presented, or agreed separately but presented together, but are more commonly agreed and presented separately. From the House of Lords, they may be presented by certain designated members, by members who are members of the Royal Household or Privy Counsellors, or by the whole House. The most common form of Address occurs at the beginning of every session in reply to the Queen's Speech. Other forms of Address are those requesting the Queen to make an Order in Council in the form of a draft laid before the House or praying the Queen to annul a negative instrument. There has been an Address for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy.[77] There are also Addresses of condolence or congratulation to the Sovereign on family or public occasions. An Address may also be presented in response to a Royal Message, concerning for example the Civil List or the declaration of a State of Emergency

2.23  The Sovereign's reply is communicated to the House on the first convenient occasion. The member reporting the reply to the House (usually the Lord Chamberlain or another member of the Royal Household) does so at the beginning of business.


2.24  The congratulations or condolences of the House are communicated to a member of the Royal Family other than the Sovereign by a message, and not by an Address. In such a case certain members of the House are ordered to present the message, and one of them reports the answer or answers.[78]


2.25  On occasions of particular importance an Address may be presented by the whole House. Until 1897 (the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria's accession) such Addresses were presented at Buckingham Palace or another royal residence. Since then Addresses by the whole House have been presented, together with Addresses from the House of Commons, within the Palace of Westminster. Thus Addresses were presented in Westminster Hall to mark the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II (1995) and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee (2012).[79]

2.26  After prayers on the day appointed for the presentation of the Address, the House proceeds to the designated place. The motion that the House do now proceed to the designated place also provides that the House do thereafter adjourn during pleasure and meet again in the Chamber at an appointed time. The Lord Speaker and the Commons Speaker either lead their respective Houses or arrive with their processions after the members of both Houses are seated. The Commons Speaker usually arrives last. Both Houses sit facing the Queen, the Commons on Her left and the Lords on Her right. As soon as the Queen has arrived, the Lord Speaker reads the Lords' Address and then presents it to the Sovereign. The Commons Speaker likewise reads and presents the Commons' Address. The Queen delivers Her reply to the Addresses and withdraws. The Lords withdraw followed by the Commons. By virtue of the terms of the motion moved earlier in the Chamber, the House then adjourns during pleasure and resumes its sitting at the appointed time.


2.27  Messages from the Crown are rare. They are formal communications relating to important public events that require the attention of Parliament, for example, the declaration of a State of Emergency. A message from the Crown is usually in writing under the Queen's Sign Manual. It is brought by a member of the House who is either a minister, for example the Leader of the House, or one of the Queen's Household. A message from the Crown has precedence over other business, except for introductions, oaths and the Lord Speaker's leave of absence.

2.28  The member bearing a message announces to the House that he has a message under the Queen's Sign Manual that the Queen has commanded him to deliver to the House. He reads it at the Table, and then gives it to the Lord Speaker at the Woolsack, who hands it to the Clerk of the Parliaments. When the message has been read, it is either considered immediately on motion or, more usually, a later day is appointed.[80] An Address is then moved in reply, usually by the Leader of the House. However, the House takes no further action on messages from the Crown in reply to an Address from the House.[81]

61   SO 75(1). Back

62   Procedure 1st Rpt 1970-71. Back

63   SO 75(2). Back

64   Parliament was last prorogued by the monarch in person in 1854. Back

65   Prorogation Act 1867 s. 1, amended by the Statute Law Revision Act 1893. Back

66   As amended by the Parliament (Elections and Meeting) Act 1943. Back

67   Septennial Act 1715, as amended by s. 7 of the Parliament Act 1911. A bill containing any provision to extend the maximum duration of Parliament beyond five years is exempted from the restrictions imposed on the powers of the House of Lords by the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949. Back

68   Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, s. 1 and s. 3. Section 1 of the Act enables the Prime Minister to postpone the set polling day, by means of an affirmative instrument, for up to two months; s. 2 of the Act sets out the circumstances in which an early general election may be held, following the passing of motions to that effect by the House of Commons. Back

69   The procedure by which this is done provides for the waiving of certain Standing Orders by agreement between the two Houses in order that the bills may be taken pro forma up to the stage that they had reached in the previous session. Back

70   See paragraph 10.09. Back

71   SO 64. Back

72   See Erskine May, p. 182. Back

73   s. 5. Back

74   Notice of the time of meeting is given by any means available. Back

75   s. 20. Back

76   SO 17(1), (2). Back

77   The case of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, HL Deb. 20 July 1998, cols 653-72. Back

78   For example HL Deb. 8 June 2011 col. 255, 13 June 2011 col. 541 and 30 June 2012 col. 1855 (90th birthday of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh).  Back

79   LJ (1994-95) 387, Minutes of Proceedings, 20 March 2012. Back

80   SO 41(1). Back

81   Such as those received following the end of the debate on the Queen's Speech or replying to an Address to annul a statutory instrument. Back

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