I am a big admirer of long-kept traditions and I am always happy to see one survive or flourish. Thus, I was happy to discover a British Parliamentary tradition that has been kept for over three hundred years and has been exported to other Commonwealth countries as well.
When a new session of Parliament is opened the Queen (or her representative) makes a speech from the throne in the upper house of Parliament. (According to tradition she is not given entry to the House of Commons.) After the speech is read both chambers of Parliament demonstrate that the Queen is in no position to set the agenda of debate so in defiance they introduce a bill for a first reading (which means they first read the title of the bill and then decide whether to discuss it further in committees). For the last three hundred or so years this bill has been the same in the United Kingdom: in the Houses of Commons it is “A Bill for the more effectual preventing clandestine Outlawries” and in the House of Lords “A bill for the better regulating of Select Vestries”).
The Outlawries Bill basically sets up measures to prevent people from declaring their fellows “outlaws” in secret and also has some extra penalties for sheriffs doing this.
The Select Vestries Bill deals with the rights of “select vestries” to administer poor law.
In Canada the bills are titled “An Act respecting the Administration of Oaths of Office” and “An Act relating to Railways”. It is worthwhile to read the actual texts of these two bills that have been printed maybe for the first time ever in 2009. It is a good indication of the serious thought behind these pro forma bills is that the text stops after a short and one clause reading:
This bill asserts the right of the Senate to give precedence to matters not addressed in the Speech from the Throne.
After this pro forma bill, as far as I can see from the Hansard records I’ve seen online, the Speaker informs the members that he has obtained the Queen’s speech “for greater accuracy” and then a member moves to present an humble address to the Queen along the lines of:
Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament
After some long speeches by the mover and the seconder of this address, the actual work of Parliament begins.