Last week was the start of the new Parliamentary session and, as is traditional, the Queen opened Parliament with all the pomp and circumstance that this country can muster.
Although the ceremony was devised by King Edward VII a little over a century ago, the actual practice of the monarch opening the new session of Parliament is genuinely ancient.
It has been held, on and off, since 1536 and the reign of Henry VIII. Although it is classed as the Queen’s Speech, the Queen doesn’t actually write the contents of the speech – this is done by the Government of the day.
Indeed, she doesn’t need to read the speech out at all, doesn’t have to attend and can have someone else perform the task instead.
The present Queen has presided over 57 state openings, although when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward she, quite understandably, didn’t turn up and had the Lord Chancellor of the day read out the speech.
The Speech itself is written not on paper but on goat skin parchment, and apparently the ink used to write the Speech requires three days to dry, which does sort of lend itself against the possibility of a hasty rewrite in the light of events.
So much for the history and tradition. How are the measures in the Queen’s Speech going to affect Britain and Hartlepool? How will people in the town, presently struggling with ever rising bills, a poor economic situation and the threat and reality of rising unemployment, benefit from the proposed changes to the law?
The answer is: very little. The impression in the aftermath of the Queen’s Speech is very underwhelming, a case of “is that it?”
I spoke in the Queen’s Speech debate that followed and mentioned that there was very little in it for Hartlepool.
There was nothing, for example, to tackle the growing and ominous threat of unemployment, especially youth unemployment in the town.
There was nothing to give me confidence that economic growth and job creation was a top priority for the Government. At a time when one in four young people are out of work in Hartlepool, the Queen’s Speech didn’t even refer to the word “job”.
I would have liked to have seen measures put in place which really helped people retrain and obtain the skills and qualifications to get a decent career.
I also expressed the hope that some of the Speech’s references to repealing unnecessary legislation will not mean stripping away workers’ rights.
I mentioned in Parliament my belief that making it easier to fire people does not create jobs, employment or the conditions for economic growth or improved consumer confidence.
Speaking of workers’ rights, I was also concerned that the Queen’s Speech made reference to limiting state inspection of businesses.
I hope that this was not code for cutting the budget of the Health and Safety Executive or allowing a relaxed attitude to workers’ safety. This is especially relevant given it is only a couple of weeks since Hartlepool did so well by leading the North-East in commemorating Workers’ Memorial Day.
The State Opening of Parliament is a glorious and glittering occasion, but beneath the sparkle there is an important task for the Government of the day to undertake: making sure the package of proposed laws make Britain safer, healthier and wealthier. This Queen’s Speech was a missed opportunity to do that.