15 NOVEMBER 1946, Page 5


IT was odd to see so many vacant places on the red benches when the King opened Parliament in the House of Lords (reclaimed for half a day from the Commons) on Tuesday. Apparently party divisions were fairly strictly observed, and the Labour peers came far from measuring, girth by girth, the equivalent of the space allotted to them. Though only semi-state was observed—there were no peeresses with tiaras—it was an imposing pageant, with the judges in velvet and ermine or black and gold, the bishops in their lawn, the officials of the College of Heralds grouped in brilliant gold and scarlet to the west of the throne. The King came in uncovered with the Queen, but he read his Speech seated and covered, and he tilted his naval hat well to the back. The Lord Chancellor has the most delicate job on these occasions, for he has to mount the steps of the throne, hand the Speech to His Majesty on one knee, and then retire down the steps backwards, ex- tremely encumbered by his voluminous robes. At least one Chan- cellor in history has come to grief during this operation, but Lord Jowitt, groping for his skirts and gripping them firmly like a lady crossing a muddy road, got safe back to the common level without loss of either dignity or balance, both when handing the King the Speech and when receiving it back after delivery. Then Their Majesties retired; so did their Excellencies, their Lordships and the faithful Commons, and by four in the afternoon the House of Lords had become the House of Commons once more for another twelve months or so. (As to the Commons' own Chamber, I am told that the proof of progress is not that the walls are going up—which they are not—but that the foundations are going deeper down.)