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First female Black Rod appointed in House of Lords after 650 years

Black Rod is responsible for maintaining order at the House of Lords and bangs on the door of the House of Commons at the State Opening of Parliament.

The first female Black Rod in the House of Lords in the 650-year history of the role has been approved by the Queen.

Sarah Clarke will formally take over the position when its current holder David Leakey steps down at the end of this year, and will be known as the Lady Usher of the Black Rod.

Currently responsible for the organisation of the annual Wimbledon tournament as championships director at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club, Miss Clarke has previously held roles at four Olympic Games, the London Marathon and UK Sport.

Black Rod is the senior official responsible for maintaining order at the House of Lords, and is thrust into the spotlight each year at the State Opening of Parliament, when sent to bang on the door of the House of Commons to summon MPs to hear the Queen’s Speech.

Black Rod is appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of a selection panel chaired by the Lord Speaker.

Male holders of the position are formally known as the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

As well as organising access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords, Black Rod acts as secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain, with responsibility for major ceremonial events in the Palace of Westminster.

Miss Clarke said she was “both 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.”

Lord Fowler added: “People are most familiar with Black Rod for the part they play at State Opening, but the job is much more than that.

“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.

“Sarah’s fantastic record at Wimbledon and elsewhere shows she is the right person for the task.”

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