The Government has announced that the next state opening of parliament and Queen’s Speech is due to take place on 11 May 2021. The Queen’s Speech sets out the government’s policy and legislative agenda for the new parliamentary session. As usual, state opening will also be preceded by the prorogation of Parliament.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Government has announced that state opening will be adapted to feature reduced ceremonial elements and fewer attendees. It continued:

The Government, Palace and Parliamentary Authorities, together with Public Health England, are working to develop these plans. The state opening will involve significantly fewer MPs and peers in attendance, a reduced royal procession into the Lords Chamber and no diplomatic or non-parliamentary guests.

In addition, it will be the first state opening since the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh on 9 April 2021. Arrangements for 11 May 2021 have yet to be confirmed.

What happens in a traditional state opening ceremony?

The Buckingham Palace website describes the elements of the state opening ceremony that are customary on most occasions:

  • The Queen travels to Parliament 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.
  • The Queen proceeds to the Robing Room where she is dressed in the Robe of State.
  • The Queen then leads the royal procession through the Royal Gallery to the chamber of the House of Lords.
  • The Members of the House of Commons are then summoned to the Chamber to hear her read a speech setting out the Government’s legislative programme for the forthcoming session. Members of the House of Lords wear ceremonial robes.

Traditionally, the Queen had been accompanied to the ceremony by the Duke of Edinburgh. However, he had not participated in a state opening ceremony since 2016 after taking a step back from public appearances. Instead, she has been accompanied by the Prince of Wales.

Have there been state openings with reduced ceremonial elements before?

Due to the timings of the state opening, state openings with reduced ceremonial elements took place in June 2017 and December 2019. The state opening ceremonies of 1939 and March 1974 also saw the ceremonial aspects pared back.

What was the most recent example like?

For the 2019 ceremony, the Parliament website listed the following differences compared to a traditional state opening:

  • No horse-drawn carriages were used. The Queen and the Regalia of State, including the Imperial State Crown, travelled to and from Parliament by car.
  • The Queen did not wear the usual ceremonial robes or crown. Instead, the Queen wore a day dress and hat. There was a reduced procession.
  • The Prince of Wales attended the ceremony wearing a morning suit rather than a service uniform.

Has the ceremony ever happened without the Queen being there?

During her reign, there have been two state openings that the Queen has been unable to attend. These were in 1959 and 1963. The Queen was unable to attend due to pregnancy.

On these occasions, parliament was opened by the Lords Commissioners, with the royal speech read out by the Lord Chancellor.

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Cover image: Copyright House of Lords 2019 / Photography by Roger Harris.