|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Reports to||Clerk of the Parliaments|
|Appointer||The Crown (de jure)|
Clerk of the Parliaments (de facto)
|First holder||Walter Whitehorse (known)|
|Deputy||Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod|
|Website||Parliamentary information page|
Black Rod (officially known as the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod or, if female, the Lady Usher of the Black Rod) is an official in the parliaments of several Commonwealth countries. The position originates in the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
In the United Kingdom, Black Rod is principally responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords and its precincts, 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.
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.
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. His or her deputy is the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod.
Black Rod is principally responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords and its precincts, 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).
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 her 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. Her equivalent in the House of Commons is the Serjeant at Arms.
Black Rod, along with her deputy, is responsible for organising ceremonial events within the Palace of Westminster, providing leadership in guiding the significant logistics of running such events.
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.
Black Rod is best known for their part in the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and the Speech from the throne. They summon the Commons to attend the speech and leads 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 the staff, and is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend. From 1980 until October 2019, Dennis Skinner, the former Labour MP from Bolsover, made a quip after Black Rod's summons.
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.
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.
Technically the serjeant at arms attending the Lord Chancellor (the 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.
incomplete before 1660
Since 1971 the office of Serjeant at Arms has been held by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.
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 separation of the Irish Free State in 1922.
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. 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:
As in the United Kingdom, Black Rod is responsible for arresting any senator or intruder who disrupts the proceedings.
The Black Rod for the Senate of Canada is well known in the Canadian public. The Legislatures of Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island have also incorporated Black Rods into their respective parliamentary systems.
Both the Australian Senate and houses in the parliament in each Australian state (except Queensland, which does not have an upper house) have their own Usher of the Black Rod. The current Usher of the Black Rod for the Australian Senate is John Begley. In the Australian Senate, the Usher of the Black Rod assists with the administration and security of the Senate and has the power to arrest or detain Senators.
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. The position is currently held by David Baguley.