Tuesday 18 May 2010

New Parliament - from the beginning

This afternoon I watched the first acts in this new Parliament from the gallery of the House of Lords. The House was packed by the time that the Lord Speaker entered the chamber at 2.30pm precisely. Lord Strathclyde, the new Leader of the House rose and said -

My Lords, It not being convenient for Her Majesty to be personally present here this day, She has been pleased to cause a Commission under the Great Seal to be prepared in order to the holding of this Parliament.”

He then left the Chamber by the door on the spiritual side near the Throne, the Mace remaining on the Woolsack, followed by the other Commissioners (Baroness Hayman [Lord Speaker]; Baroness Royall [Leader of the Labour Peers]; Lord McNally [Leader of the LibDem Peers]; and Baroness D'Souza [Convenor of the crossbenchers] The Lords Commissioners re-entered in their red robes, and the Commons were summoned with the instruction to Black Rod (who had entered bowing as he came in) “Let the Commons know that the Lords Commissioners desire their immediate attendance in this House to hear the Commission read.” At 2.35 he marched off. The doors of the Lords were closed - and two doorkeepers kept a watch for the representatives of the Lower House.

The Commons arrived with Black Rod and the Father of the House (Sir Peter Tapsell) in the front. Behind them were William Hague; Nick Clegg; Prime Minister David Cameron; Harriet Harman; Jack Straw; and the new Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke. As the Commons advanced towards the Bar of the House of Lords, they bowed three times, the first time at the step, thesecond time midway between the step and the Bar, the third time at the Bar. Each bow is acknowledged by the Lords Commissioners. The two Male Commissioners raised their hats; whilst the three women Commissioners bowed.

Lord Strathclyde then spoke - “My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, We are commanded by Her Majesty to let you know that, it not being convenient for Her to be present here this day in Her Royal Person, she has thought fit by Letters Patent under the Great Seal to empower several Lords therein named to do all things in HerMajesty’s Name which are to be done on Her Majesty’s Part in this Parliament, as by the Letters Patent will more fully appear.”

The Reading Clerk then read the Commssion. Whenever he mentioned a particular member of the Commission they either took off their hat & raised it (men) or bowed (women). Once this had been completed lord Strathclyde said -

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, We have it in command from Her Majesty to let you know that, as soon as the Members of both Houses shall be sworn, the causes of Her Majesty calling this Parliament will be declared to you: and, it being necessary that a Speaker of the House of Commons should be first chosen, it is Her Majesty’s Pleasure that you, Members of the House of Commons, repair to the place where you are to sit, and there proceed to the choice of some proper person to be your Speaker, and that you present such person whom you shall so choose here for Her Majesty’s Royal Approbation.”

The Commons then left - and john bercow was re-elected as the Speaker. The Commissioners then left to disrobe. Members of the public, such as myself, were then told to leave the gallery, A few minutes later the House resumed and prayers were read. [In Britain the public are excluded from parayers - which are read by one of the bishops who sit in the Lords].

When prayers had finished we were readmitted. The new Chief Whip (Baroness Anelay of St Johns set out the procedures for Members to take the Oath of Allegiance to the monarch. The Lord Speaker went first, followed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Some took the oath in the form -

I (name and title) do swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

Others affirmed -

I (name and title) do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Her heirs and successors, according to law.”

A piece of card had the oath on one side and the affirmation on the other - it was turned the appropriate way for the preference of the peer who took it. The Code of conduct was signed; then the Test Roll. As members walked to the end of the chamber they shook hands with the Lord Speaker (while Lord Barnett kissed her hand). The oath taking continued for some time.

I left for a meeting - but the new Parliament is now up and running. Next week the Queen will make her way to Westminster to open the new Parliament.