The State Opening of Parliament is a particularly special day and it made me think of last year’s when places were limited for MPs - we were still wearing masks and were required to be socially distanced too.
This year is different, thank goodness, but tinged with sadness that Her Majesty The Queen was unable to attend due to mobility issues. What an incredible woman she is at 96 and it really is quite a distance to walk for her.
I left the flat, togged up in my finery - I am representing the people and businesses of Hastings and Rye, of course, so must dress accordingly!
The Queen’s Speech marks the start of a new Parliamentary session, and it does somewhat feel like the start of a new school term. The House met in the Commons Chamber at 11.25am; there were Prayers and then MPs followed the Speaker and party leaders to the House of Lords where we crammed in, straining our necks to catch a glimpse of the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince William. I thought the Prince of Wales spoke rather sombrely – perhaps to be expected in the absence of his mother and the seriousness of the Speech. The House was then suspended until 14.30, and after introductory statements by the Speaker, the Outlawries Bill received its first reading.
This is a formal proceeding whereby the House asserts its right to deliberate on matters of its own choosing before those proposed by the Government in the Queen’s Speech – no Outlawries Bill is ever produced nor is there any debate; it is not intended to make any progress. The debate on the Queen’s Speech was opened and we heard speeches from Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness, who proposed the motion for an address thanking the Queen for the Speech and Fay Jones, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, who seconded it. These speeches are meant to be light-hearted, and they certainly were with chuckles across the Chamber. We then heard speeches from Sir Keir Starmer (whose speech, whilst it started off quite well, hit the wrong note entirely), as current Leader of the Opposition, and then the Prime Minister, who rightly focused on the economy and easing the cost of living crisis. After this follows five to six days of debating the Queen’s Speech.
Later in the day, I went to the US Ambassador’s residence in Regent’s Park for a reception hosted by Dr Liam Fox MP and the National Down Syndrome Policy Group to celebrate the passing of the Down Syndrome Act. I had proudly supported the Bill earlier in the year and was delighted that it received Royal Assent in April, thereby becoming an Act. This Act creates a duty on the Health Secretary to issue guidance to the relevant authorities for health, education, social care, and housing on how to meet the specific needs of people with Down Syndrome, as well as for those authorities to have due regard to the guidance in the provision of services. There is now a Department of Health and Social Care consultation to gather evidence and views for this guidance. This Act is really important as it plans to ensure that people with Down Syndrome receive lifelong care which is especially pertinent as many people with Down Syndrome are starting to outlive their parents and the worry of not being there for your vulnerable adult child has been palpable for too many older people.
Quite a day really – one of tradition framed against a background of political smear campaigns, gameplaying, and politicking over the past few weeks. The traditions are worth keeping and the rest, in my opinion, can go.