Today, May 9, 2012, Queen Elizabeth II opened Parliament.
The State Opening of Parliament is the ceremonial and official beginning of the parliamentary session, occurring on the first day of a new parliament session or shortly after a general election. The last State Opening took place on May 25, 2010, making the last session of parliament was the longest in 100 years. The State Opening is a symbolic reminder of the relationship between the monarchy and government.
In addition to formally opening Parliament, the Queen delivers a speech. Generally, this speech reviews the previous session and provide an outline for proposed legislation for the coming session. The Queen delivers her Speech from the Throne in the House of Lords with members of both Houses present. Following the Speech, both Houses began debating the speech, which culminates in a vote by the House of Commons. The House of Lords does not vote.
The State Opening of Parliament is a ceremony loaded with historical ritual and symbolic significance for the governance. It is a rare occasion when all three branches of the government convene at the same time.
Traditions surrounding the State Opening and delivery of a speech by the monarch can be traced back at least to the 16th century. To this day, an official search of the cellars occurs prior to the State Opening as a reminder (but also as a precaution!) of the Guy Fawkes Gunpowder Plot. For pictures of the extracted pages from the Lord Great Chamberlain’s Minute Book, Queen Victoria’s throne, and tickets to the State Opening for George IV see this page from Parliament's Archives.