Yesterday was the State Opening of Parliament, the main ceremonial event of the Parliamentary year.
The day saw glorious sunshine in London and The Queen opening Parliament drew a huge crowd in the capital.
The State Opening is full of pomp and ceremony, and you would be forgiven for thinking it goes back centuries.
It doesn’t actually; although the King or Queen has traditionally opened a new session of Parliament, largely to ask the House of Commons to vote for more taxes to fund a war, the present ceremony only goes back to Queen Victoria and 1852.
Victoria hated opening Parliament – she had to take most of the rest of the year off to recover – but the present Queen has been far more diligent, only missing two State Openings in her 63 year reign, on both occasions when she was heavily pregnant.
The ceremony is heavy with symbolism. Once The Queen arrives in Parliament, the House of Lords official, known as Back Rod, is sent to summon us MPs from the Commons.
The doors to the Commons chamber is slammed in his face, something which represents the House of Commons’ independence from the monarch.
This is more important than is sometimes given credit: it is a huge point of principle as to whether where power sits – should it reside with the people of the country via the Commons or should it sit with the monarch – and Britain has fought a civil war over this.
Previous Speakers of the House of Commons have been beheaded on this issue. The slamming of a door is a bit trivial in comparison, but represents a lot.
Yesterday was full of colourful pomp and ceremony, but there is a serious business to the day.
The Queen’s Speech indicates the Government’s legislative programme for the forthcoming session. The next week or so will see the House of Commons debate in more detail the objectives of the Government.
The key test of The Queen’s Speech for me is how the planned Acts of Parliament will affect Hartlepool. There is much to digest – at the time of writing this, The Queen has just left Parliament and the House of Commons will resume its business at 2.15pm – but there are a couple of things which stand out.
First is the EU referendum bill, which sets in law a vote as to whether we stay in or pull out of the European Union. This is planned to take place before the end of 2017.
The issue of Europe very rarely came up in the General Election, but my view is that if we are to have the vote, as a lot of people want, we should probably have it sooner rather than later, so that all of government is not paralysed for years on this single issue.
The other thing is devolution. In her speech The Queen mentioned passing an act devolving wide ranging powers to Scotland.
In Wales, the national assembly will get new powers over transport and energy. Areas of England like Manchester will get increased powers and resources, but only if they sign up for elected mayors.
I don’t think this should be the deal and I am concerned Hartlepool and the North East will miss out. I don’t believe in a revival of Cleveland County Council and I don’t think there is an appetite for a Tees Valley or North East Mayor. I certainly wouldn’t agree with it.
In the first year of a new Parliament there is always a lot of legislative business. I intend to spend the time in House of Commons scrutinising the Government’s proposals and seeing how they help, hinder or ignore Hartlepool.