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An Usher of the Black Rod knocks on the door of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom

The usher of the Black Rod is an official in the parliaments of several countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. The title is often shortened to Black Rod, and in some countries, formally known as Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod if male, or Lady Usher of the Black Rod if female. The position originates in the House of Lords in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Equivalent positions also exist in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

The position is similar to one known as a serjeant-at-arms in other bodies.

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 adopted 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.

A ceremonial rod or staff is a common type of symbol indicating the authority of the office holder. Depictions of ancient authority figures in many cultures include such a rod (alternatively called a sceptre). Another early example was the fasces (literally a bound bundle of rods) carried by guards ("lictors") who accompanied certain high-level officials in the Roman Republic and later Empire.

United Kingdom

Lady Usher of the Black Rod
Incumbent
Sarah Clarke
since 12 February 2018[1]
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Reports toClerk of the Parliaments
AppointerThe Crown (de jure)
Clerk of the Parliaments (de facto)
Formation1350
First holderWalter Whitehorse (known)
DeputyYeoman Usher of the Black Rod
WebsiteParliamentary information page

In the United Kingdom, the Black Rod is principally responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords and its precincts,[2] as well as for ceremonial events within those precincts. Since early 2018, the post has been held for the first time by a woman, Sarah Clarke.[3]

Appointment

Black Rod is formally appointed by the Crown based on a recruitment search performed by the Clerk of the Parliaments, who is the employer of all House of Lords officials. Prior to 2002, the office rotated among retired senior officers from the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. It is now advertised openly. Black Rod is an officer of the English Order of the Garter, and is usually appointed Knight Bachelor if not already knighted. Their deputy is the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod.[4]

Official duties

Black Rod is principally responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords and its precincts,[2] as well as for ceremonial events within those precincts. Previous responsibilities for security, and the buildings and services of the Palace of Westminster, have been passed, respectively, to the Parliamentary Security Director (as of the post's creation in January 2016) and Lords Director of Facilities (as of that post's creation and the retirement of the then-Black Rod in May 2009).[5]

Black Rod's official duties also include responsibility as the usher and doorkeeper at meetings of the Most Noble Order of the Garter; the personal attendant of the Sovereign in the Lords; as secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain and as the Serjeant-at-Arms and Keeper of the Doors of the House, in charge of the admission of strangers to the House of Lords. Either Black Rod or their deputy, the Yeoman Usher, is required to be present when the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, is in session, and plays a role in the introduction of all new Lords Temporal in the House (but not of bishops as new Lords Spiritual). Black Rod also arrests any Lord guilty of breach of privilege or other Parliamentary offence, such as contempt or disorder, or the disturbance of the House's proceedings. Their equivalent in the House of Commons is the Serjeant at Arms.

Former Black Rod David Leakey said that 30% of his work as Black Rod was within or for the House of Commons.[6]

Black Rod, along with their deputy, is responsible for organising ceremonial events within the Palace of Westminster, providing leadership in guiding the significant logistics of running such events.

Ceremonial duties

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. The mace was introduced in 1876.

State Opening of Parliament

Black Rod is best known for their part in the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and the Speech from the throne. Black Rod summons the Commons to attend the speech and lead them to the Lords. As part of the ritual, the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons are slammed in the approaching Black Rod's face. This is to symbolise the Commons' independence of the Sovereign. Black Rod then strikes the door three times with their staff, and is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend.[7]

This ritual also happens whenever the Lords have a commission to be read and Black Rod summons MPs to hear it. For example, on Tuesday 17 December 2019 this ritual happened twice.[8]

This ritual is derived from the attempt by King Charles I to arrest Five Members in 1642, in what was seen as a breach of the constitution. This and prior actions of the King led to the Civil War. After that incident, the House of Commons has maintained its right to question the right of the monarch's representative to enter their chamber, although they cannot bar them from entering with lawful authority.

List of Black Rods in England, Great Britain and the UK from 1361

This list is derived from one published by the Parliamentary Archives in 2011, with alterations from later research.[9]

List of Serjeants-at-Arms of the House of Lords

Technically the serjeant at arms attending the Lord Chancellor (the former presiding officer of the House of Lords) was regarded as an officer of the House of Lords. He was appointed for life until 1713 and during good behaviour thereafter, originally receiving a daily remuneration and from 1806 an annual salary. The post was merged with that of Black Rod in 1971.

The following is a list of Serjeants-at-Arms of the House of Lords since 1660:

Since 1971 the office of Serjeant at Arms has been held by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

Black Rods outside the UK

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

Australia

The Australian Senate and the upper houses in five Australian states and territories have their own Usher of the Black Rod. (Queensland abolished its upper house and the assemblies of the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory have always been unicameral.)

The current Usher of the Black Rod for the Australian Senate is John Begley.[26] In the Australian Senate, the Usher of the Black Rod assists with the administration and security of the Senate and has the power to take anyone into custody who causes a disturbance in or near the Senate chamber.[27]

Canada

Kevin MacLeod, the former Canadian Usher of the Black Rod, stands in front of the 1878 Senate thrones

The Usher of the Black Rod for the Senate of Canada is the equivalent to the Black Rod office for the House of Lords. The position was also known as the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod until 1997, when the appointment of the first female Black Rod prompted the word gentleman to be dropped from the title.

The provincial legislatures of Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island have also incorporated the position of the Black Rods into their respective parliamentary systems.[28]

Cook Islands

In the Cook Islands the Usher of the Black Rod is the messenger of the King's Representative at the ceremonial opening of parliament.

In 2023, the Cook Islands adopted a black rod (Cook Islands Māori: Te Mato Mana) carved from mato wood salvaged from the gallery of the Ziona Tapu Church in Avarua. The black rod was designed by Tangata Vainerere, the clerk of the Cook Islands parliament, and carved by Wireless Tomokino. The piece of wood it was carved from is thought to be over 160 years old.[29] It was first used at the ceremonial opening of the 18th parliament on 22 March 2023.[30]

New Zealand

Usher of the Black Rod Sandra McKie at the State Opening of the New Zealand Parliament in 2023

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.[31] It is not a full-time position.

Arthur Bothamley was the first person to hold the role;[32] he was usher of the black rod for 45 years from 1892 until August 1937. In September 1937, he was succeeded by Captain Douglas Bryan, who retired in June 1957.[32][33] John Everitt Seal took over from Bryan in June 1957[34] and held the role until his death on 1 November 1964.[35] Alexander John Mackay Manson was appointed in May 1965 to succeed Seal in time for the opening of the second term of the 34th New Zealand Parliament later that month.[36] Manson retired in June 1971.[37] In May 1972, Melville Harvey Scott Innes-Jones was appointed to succeed Manson.[38] Innes-Jones retired in 1991.[39]

William Nathan, appointed in 1993,[40] was the first Māori Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.[41] Colonel Nathan retired in 2005,[42] and was followed by David Baguley.[43] David Williams was appointed as the acting Usher of the Black Rod in 2017 for the opening of the 52nd New Zealand Parliament.[44] Sandra McKie was appointed to act in the role in 2020 for the opening of the 53rd Parliament, the first woman to hold the position.[45][46][47] McKie was permanently appointed to the role effective from 17 October 2022, following the formal retirement of Baguley.[48][49][50]

The ceremonial black rod was presented to Parliament by Governor-General Lord Bledisloe in January, 1931. Made of polished black ebony, it is topped by a golden lion rampant holding a shield bearing the royal cypher of King George V and has a 1931 gold sovereign set in its base. Due to the fragility of the original 1931 black rod, alternative black rods are now used during the official openings of Parliament.[51]

Former

Ireland

Before the Act of Union of 1800, which united the Kingdom of Ireland with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, there was also a Black Rod in the Irish House of Lords. From 1783 the Irish Black Rod was also Usher of the Order of St Patrick, so the office continued after the Union. No one was appointed to the office after the creation of the Irish Free State in December 1922.

The Senate of Northern Ireland had a Black Rod throughout its existence,[61] until the disbandment of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1972.

South Africa

The Senate of South Africa had a Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod from its inception in 1910 to abolition in 1980. When the Senate was restored in 1994 the renamed position of Usher of the Black Rod returned with it, continuing in the new National Council of Provinces.[62]

Related ushers

Before the Acts of Union 1707 united the English and Scottish parliaments, there was a Heritable Usher of the White Rod who had a similar role in the Estates of Parliament in Scotland.[63] This office is currently held by The Rt Rev. John Armes, Bishop of Edinburgh, but the role carries no duties.

Gentleman ushers exist for all the British orders of chivalry, and are coloured as follows:

References

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  6. ^ "'Scandal' if Bercow got peerage - ex-Parliament official", BBC News, 5 February 2020, retrieved 6 June 2020
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External links

2 Annotations

First Reading

Nix  •  Link

Black-Rod, Gentleman Usher of. In England, the title of a chief officer of the king, deriving his name from the Black Rod of office, on the top of which reposes a golden lion, which he carries. During the session of Parliament he attends on the peers, summons the Commons to the House of Lords; and to his custody all peers impeached for any crime or contempt are first committed.

Black's Law Dictionary (Revised 4th edition 1968)

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References

Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.

1664

  • Apr

1668

  • May