Black Rod

Black Rod

The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, generally shortened to just Black Rod, is an official in the parliaments of a number of Commonwealth countries. The position originates in the House of Lords of the British Parliament. His equivalent in the House of Commons is the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Origin

The office was created in 1350 by royal letters patent, though the current title dates from 1522. The position was adopted by other members of the Commonwealth when they copied the British Westminster system. The title is derived from the staff of office, an ebony staff topped with a golden lion, which is the main symbol of the office's authority.

Black Rod in the United Kingdom

Appointment

Black Rod is formally appointed by the Crown based on a recruitment search performed by the Clerk of the Parliaments, to whom he reports. Prior to 2002 the office was held by a retired senior officer from the British Army, the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force and was rotated between each service. It is now advertised openly. Black Rod is an officer of the English Order of the Garter, and takes the rank of knight bachelor. The present Black Rod is Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Willcocks. His deputy is the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod.

Official duties

Black Rod has a number of official duties: he is the personal attendant of the Sovereign in the Lords; as secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain is responsible as the usher and doorkeeper at meetings of the Order of the Garter (stemming from the Garter Statute 1522); and, as the Sergeant-at-Arms and Keeper of the Doors of the House he is concerned in the admission of strangers to the House of Lords. Black Rod further has the task of arresting any Lord guilty of breach of privilege or other Parliamentary offence, such as contempt or disorder, or the disturbance of the House's proceedings. He is also responsible, as the representative of the Administration and Works Committee, for more important services; the black rod is used to tap the governor's shoulder as a blessing from the Queen and security of the Palace of Westminster. Either Black Rod or his deputy, the Yeoman Usher, is required to be present when the House of Lords, upper house of Parliament, is in session, and plays a role in the induction of all new Lords Temporal into the House (but not of bishops as new Lords Spiritual).

Ceremonial duties

The Mace

Black Rod is in theory responsible for carrying the Mace into and out of the chamber for the Speaker of the House of Lords (formerly the Lord Chancellor, now the Lord Speaker), though this role is delegated to the Yeoman Usher and Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms, or on judicial occasions, to the Lord Speaker's deputy, the Assistant Serjeant-at-Arms.

State Opening of Parliament

Black Rod is best known for his part in the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and the Throne speech. He summons the Commons to attend the speech and leads them to the Lords. As part of the ritual, as Black Rod approaches the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons to make his summons, they are slammed in his face. This is to symbolise the Commons' independence of the Sovereign. Black Rod then strikes the door three times with his staff, and in reply to the challenge "Who is there?" answers "Black Rod". He is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend. This ritual is derived from the attempt by Charles I of England to arrest five members in 1642, in what was seen as a breach of privilege, though strictly the King was entitled to enter the chamber. After that incident, the House of Commons has maintained its right to question the right of the monarch's representative to enter their chamber, though they can not bar him from entering with lawful authority.

In recent years, Black Rod has 'suffered' a friendly jibe on this annual occasion from the outspoken Labour MP Dennis Skinner.

Scottish Parliament

Before the Acts of Union 1707 united the English and Scottish parliaments, there was a Gentleman Usher of the White Rod who had a similar role in the Scottish Parliament. This office no longer exists.

See also Gentleman Usher for other colours.

Black Rod in other Commonwealth countries

As in the United Kingdom, Black Rod is responsible for arresting any senator or intruder who disrupts the proceedings.

Canada

See Usher of the Black Rod of the Senate of Canada

Australia

The Australian Senate has Ms Andrea Griffiths as Usher of the Black Rod and Mr Nick Tate as Deputy Usher of the Black Rod. One of these is present for the induction of all Senators. Each bicameral Australian state (that is, all but Queensland) also has its own Black Rod.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, where the Legislative Council was abolished in 1951, the Usher of the Black Rod continues to summon MPs to the chamber for the Throne Speech. It is not a full-time position. Colonel William (Bill) Nathan, OBE ED, was Usher of the Black Rod 1993 to 2005, and a successor has been appointed.

Black Rods (UK) from 1361

Black Rods (Canada) from 1867

  • 1867–1875 René Kimber
  • 1875–1901 René Edouard Kimber
  • 1902–1904 Molyneux St. John
  • 1904–1925 Ernest John Chambers
  • 1925–1946 Andrew Ruthven Thompson
  • 1947–1970 Charles Rock Lamoureux
  • 1970–1979 A. Guy Vandelac
  • 1979–1984 Thomas Guy Bowie
  • 1984–1985 Claude G. Lajoie
  • 1985–1989 René M. Jalbert
  • 1989–1990 Rene Gutknecht
  • 1990–1997 Jean Doré
  • 1997–2001 Mary C. McLaren
  • 2001–2002 Blair Armitage (Interim)
  • 2002–2008 Terrance J. Christopher
  • 2008 Blair Armitage (Interim)
  • 2008- Kevin S. MacLeod

References

External links

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