I mentioned last week how The Queen had opened the new session of Parliament and had made a speech from the throne in the House of Lords setting out what the Government intends to do and the proposed pieces of legislation it hopes to push through in the next year.
As usual, Parliament was full of the usual pomp and ceremony for the occasion.
The Queen was accompanied in her procession by men (all men, incidentally) with such titles as Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary, Bluemantle Pursuivant, Maltravers Herald Extraordinary , Gold Stick in Waiting and the Master of the Horse.
I’m not making these up. Somehow, I don’t think these men were thinking about buying oven chips down the Asda after they had finished.
Pomp and ceremony aside, what is important is what The Queen said in terms of her Government’s intentions and priorities for the next year.
The House of Commons has had a week of debating what was (and wasn’t) in The Queen’s Speech and I was fortunate to be called in the first day of debate.
Since that time, we in Parliament have had the extraordinary sight of the Conservative Party actively ripping each other to shreds over the subject of Europe.
We have what I think is an unprecedented turn of events, whereby about 70 Conservative MPs have tabled an amendment to the Government’s motion, stating that there should be an EU referendum bill included in The Queen’s Speech.
Whatever your views on Europe – and I know people have very strong views – it does seem astonishing that a large part of the governing party defies the Prime Minister’s leadership on this matter and essentially says that The Queen’s Speech is wrong.
It’s just like John Major in the 1990s all over again, except even John Major wasn’t so weak as to say to his rebels that it is OK to vote for an amendment to the Government’s motion in the House of Commons.
In terms of the actual contents of The Queen’s Speech, it was a bit underwhelming, to be honest.
It was telling in terms of what wasn’t mentioned: the EU referendum of course, but also industry, engineering, manufacturing or even the NHS.
In my contribution to The Queen’s Speech debate, I welcomed the inclusion of a Mesothelioma Bill, which could help many sufferers in Hartlepool from painful asbestos-related diseases.
Given our heavy industrial legacy, especially in the shipyards, we are the 16th most badly affected area in the country for this horrific ailment and any assistance the Government could provide to alleviate sufferers and their families would be welcome.
I am concerned, in the days since The Queen’s Speech, that it looks like the devil is in the detail and that help will not be forthcoming, but I will want to contribute to this debate on behalf of Hartlepool. Elsewhere, there was no sign of a Jobs and Training Bill which could have helped to address the single biggest social and economic problem facing the town: unemployment.
I mentioned in my contribution how the town was still suffering too much from high unemployment and that long-term jobless figures had increased by a massive 560 per cent since the Government came to office.
I would have liked to have seen proposals in The Queen’s Speech which would promote enterprise and job creation for Hartlepool.
We didn’t get that and at a time when our competitors around the world are gearing up for an intense economic battle, this Queen’s Speech seemed another missed opportunity to promote competitiveness and enterprise in the UK and measures to benefit Hartlepool.