NEWS
17/11/2017 13:39 GMT | Updated 17/11/2017 18:43 GMT

Sarah Clarke Appointed First Female Black Rod In 650 Years

'A historic moment for the house.'

After more than 650 years, the first female Black Rod in the House of Lords has been approved by the Queen.

Sarah Clarke will take over the position when its current holder David Leakey steps down at the end of this year, it was announced Friday. 

“I am both deeply honoured and delighted to be invited to take up the role of Black Rod,” Clarke said. 

“Over many years I have been fortunate to work at the heart of some of the world’s most complex events and institutions. 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.”

Clarke will will be known as the Lady Usher of the Black Rod and will be the senior official responsible for maintaining order at the House of Lords. The title is usually, the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. 

What the Black Rod does:

Black Rod is a senior official in the House of Lords who, as well as their famous role in summoning the House of Commons to hear the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, heads a department that includes the Yeoman Usher and the House of Lords Doorkeepers. Black Rod also leads on business resilience and continuity planning for the House of Lords. 

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

Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House, said he was “very pleased” to welcome Clarke to the role in what is a “historic moment for the house”.

He said: “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.

“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.”

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

Other notable moments for women in UK politics include: 

* Baroness Margaret Thatcher was the first female British Prime Minister and the longest serving PM - from 1979-1990 - for over 150 years.

* Theresa May became the second woman to become Prime Minister after taking over as Conservative leader from David Cameron in July 2016.

* Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor, was the first female Member of Parliament to take her seat in 1919. 

* The first women in the House of Lords took their seats in 1958, forty years after women were granted the right to stand as MPs in the House of Commons.

*Suffragist Millicent Fawcett is to become the first female statue in Parliament Square after being approved in September.