If there is one annual event in Westminster that most of will have heard of, it is the spectacular State Opening of Parliament.
The checklist of the horses, carriages, the crown, all get ticked off in this gala of pageantry.
And, seated on the throne, the Queen reads out a speech outlining her government’s proposals for the coming year.
But we have not had a state opening of Parliament in two years – and it looks as if we might not get one until the autumn.
Annual sessions of Parliament have been long been the norm – you can count the number of occasions we have not had annual sessions since Queen Victoria’s reign on one hand.
A session is a parliamentary year. Sessions normally begin in the spring with the state opening, and run for around 12 months, ending with prorogation.
They provide the rhythm to parliamentary and government life. Governments know they have a year to get their new laws through and the House of Lords and oppositions know that the ticking clock provides them with opportunities to win concessions.
However, there seems to be no legal necessity to have annual sessions and we might be getting out of the habit.
There is one notable reason why a government may require a new session – in the case of a government bill being rejected by peers in the House of Lords.
If the government wishes to press the case, it can do so under the terms of the Parliament Act, allowing it to re-introduce the bill in the next session of Parliament in exactly the same wording.
But it is not ideal, and the Lords has always found the rapidly advancing end of a session a very good time for brokering compromises with the government on contentious bills.
For the government, it is a preferable way of achieving the bulk of a bill, but without having to wait until the next session.
In the Commons, the opposition can also gain extra strength as the session draws to a close by threatening to withdraw co-operation “through the usual channels” – that is the informal agreements with party whips.
Having annual sessions does ensure that most of a government’s bills are passed in a reasonable time frame. If sessions were endless, bills might just hang around for ages.
The exception would be “Money Bills”. Under the terms of the Parliament Act 1911, a bill so certified by the Speaker will pass into law one month after leaving the Commons, regardless of whether the Lords vote against.
And there’s one more consideration. As the Conservative MP Christopher Chope mentioned in the Commons, we have had all the private members’ bills for this session. Who knows when the next raft of them will be introduced.