Explainer: What Is Prorogation And What Does Black Rod Do?

Both of the terms 'prorogation' and 'Black Rod' have gone viral this week - but, what do they mean?

Amid all the chaos during Monday night's parliamentary debates before the Commons was suspended for five weeks, one woman made a star appearance – Black Rod. 

Also known as the Gentleman Usher/Lady Usher of the Black Rod, this person is the senior officer in the House of Lords.

He/she is the Royal Family's representative on a daily basis in Parliament and is, in essence, responsible for maintaining order within the House.

Think of her as the Queen's right-hand woman. 

Sarah Clarke was appointed as the new Black Rod on 17 November 2017. She formally took on the duties as Lady Usher of the Black Rod on February 2018.

She was the first woman to be appointed to the office in its more than 650-year history.

The role seems to hail from the 1700s – which makes sense, given that the majority of Black Rod's roles are soaked in baffling traditions. 

Black Rod's parliamentary duties are as follows:

  • Organising access to and maintaining order within the Lords Chamber and the precincts
  • Organising and participating in the major ceremonial events in the Palace of Westminster
  • Summoning of the members of the House of Commons (lower house - akin to our Seanad) to the House of Lords (upper house - akin to our Dáil) to hear a speech from Royal Family
  • Ensuring that the Queen's residual estate in the Palace is in order

Prorogation

The British parliament loves a piece of archaic procedure and prorogation is no different.

Prorogation is essentially a fancy word for suspending parliament. Under the British Constitution, it is the Queen who has to formally approve it. 

This is where Black Rod, as the Queen's representative, comes in. 

Black Rod informs the House of Commons that prorogation (immediate suspension) is kicking off. Her speech will finish with the Norman-French phrase 'La Reyne le veult' (meaning: the Queen wishes it) and then parliament if officially closed. 

Once parliament is prorogued, members of the House of Commons will not sit again until the middle of October – very close to the current deadline of the UK leaving the EU of October 31. 

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