Today saw the State Opening of Parliament, marking the formal beginning of this Parliamentary session.
The Queen travels from Buckingham Palace to Westminster escorted by the Household Cavalry. She arrives at the Sovereign's Entrance and proceeds to the Robing Room, where she puts on the Imperial State Crown and parliamentary robe. A procession then leads through the Royal Gallery to the Chamber of the House of Lords, where the Queen takes the Throne.
The official known as 'Black Rod' is sent to summon the House of Commons. In a symbol of the Commons' independence, the door to the chamber is slammed in his face and not opened until he has knocked on the door with his staff of office. MPs then follow Black Rod and the Speaker to the chamber of the House of Lords, standing behind the Bar of the House at the opposite end from the Throne to hear the Queen's Speech, which contains an outline of the Government's policies and proposed new legislation for the Parliamentary session.
Following the State Opening, a motion proposing that a 'Humble Address' be sent to the Queen thanking her for her Speech is tabled in both Houses. The Speech is then debated by both Houses for four or five days. The debate today was a general one (I sat in for the first two and a half hours or so, which included an excellent speech by John Redwood on the economic situation), with the following days' debates on particular subjects. I am hoping to give my maiden speech in the education debate a week tomorrow.
The Speech itself had three main themes:
- first, reducing the deficit and restoring economic growth;
- second, building a stronger and fairer society by reforming public services and encouraging individual and social responsibility (for example by giving schools more freedom, patients a stronger voice in the NHS, making the tax and benefits system fairer, introducing sanctions against those who refuse available jobs and introducing new measures to tackle alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour); and
- third, restoring trust by reforming Parliament and our political system and rebalancing the relationship between the citizen and the state (for example by reducing the number of MPs, introducing fairer constituency boundaries, having a referendum on whether to replace the first past the post system for electing MPs with the Alternative Vote system, giving electors the right to recall their MP where they are guilty of serious wrongdoing, replacing the House of Lords with a second House that is wholly or mainly elected on the basis of proportional representation, reforming the funding of political parties, abolishing Identity Cards, repealing unnecessary laws and ensuring that in future the British people have their say on any proposed transfer of powers to the European Union).
It also contained good news on a couple of issues that only affect a small number of people but which are understandably important to them and which were raised with me during the campaign - the detention of children for immigration purposes and compensation for Equitable Life policy holders, about which I will post seperately.
All in all, a good programme for the next 18 months that delivers many of the promises I stood for election on.