Parliamentary history has been made today, as a woman was appointed to the position of Black Rod: Sarah Clarke will take on the role.
Ms. Clarke will formally take on the duties as ‘Lady Usher of the Black Rod’ early next year, succeeding current ‘Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod’, David Leakey, who leaves the post at the end of this year.
This is the first female appointment to the position in 650 years of its existence.
The role is that of a senior official in the House of Lords. Black Rod is responsible for managing the State Opening of Parliament as well as other state events, knocking on the door of the Commons to invite MPs to hear The Queen’s speech. Traditionally the door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod’s face to symbolise the Commons’ independence, and an MP is also ‘taken hostage’ at Buckingham Palace to ensure the Monarch’s safety within the Palace of Westminster.
The Monarch is not allowed to enter the House of Commons, since Charles I did so forcefully in 1642, arresting members of the House whilst Parliament was sitting.
Organising access to and maintaining order within the Lords Chamber and the precincts also falls within the role’s duties. Black Rod, appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of panel chaired by the Lord Speaker, is responsible for The Queen’s residual estate in the Palace (eg the Robing Room and the Royal Gallery).
Prior to 2002, the office rotated among retired senior officers from the Navy, Army and RAF, but now is now a job that is advertised openly. Black Rod is an officer of the English Order of the Garter, and is usually appointed Knight Bachelor – or soon a Lady – if not already knighted.
“Black Rod is also responsible for business resilience and continuity planning for the House of Lords, and leads a department that includes the Yeoman Usher and the House of Lords Doorkeepers,” explains Parliament’s website.
Clarke was previously Championships Director at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (aka Wimbledon), of which The Duke
of Kent is president and The Duchess of Cambridge patron.
She has also worked with the Olympic Games, the London Marathon and UK Sport.
Miss Clarke said she was ‘deeply honoured and delighted’ to be offered the post: “Over many years I have been fortunate to work at the heart of some of the world’s most complex events and institutions,” she said.
“To be given the opportunity to join such an experienced and dedicated team is a great privilege. The House of Lords is a place where the smallest detail is as important as the big picture and the depth of heritage and tradition is second to none. I am truly looking forward to starting work.”
The Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, said: “I am very pleased to welcome Sarah Clarke to the role of Black Rod. As the first woman to take on the role, this is a historic moment for the House.
“The Lords has a great record of women taking on senior political roles. Five of the last seven Leaders of the Lords and the current Leader of the Opposition have been women as well as both my predecessors as Lord Speaker.
“I am sure Sarah will continue that tradition and do an exemplary job as Black Rod.”
He added: “Some of the most important work happens behind the scenes in organising addresses to Parliament by visiting heads of state and other state events, as well as ensuring we have appropriate plans in place to keep the important work of the Lords going in a crisis.”