The State Opening of Parliament is one of the grand occasions in the Parliamentary year. The Queen comes to the Palace of Westminster, the Royal Standard is hoisted aloft as she arrives, and she proceeds to the House of Lords to read the Queen’s speech.
The speech is actually written by the government and details their plans for legislation for the forthcoming year.
The Speech is delivered by Her Majesty from the throne in the House of Lords: it’s an interesting fact that the sovereign is not permitted to enter the House of Commons. But that’s a story for another day!
Later on, the Commons reconvenes for the start of the debate. It is typically opened by a senior backbencher on the government side, and then a junior backbencher on the government side. It’s a big honour to be asked to do this. The Leader of the Opposition then replies and his speech usually starts with some light hearted jokes at the expense of the two MPs who have opened the debate.
We then move into five days of debate culminating in a vote on the Queen’s Speech next week.
As with so much in life, this year’s pageantry was scaled back. Very few MPs were allowed to walk to the House of Lords to hear the speech in person, and the limits in place in the Commons chamber mean only 50 MPs could sit down there.
The ballot for private member’s bills also takes place this week. Normally there is a clerk sitting at a desk in one of the voting lobbies next to the chamber. She has a book with a list of numbers and MPs entering the ballot pick a number and write their name next to it. I like to choose 93 – the number of my majority when I was first elected. It was lucky for me in 2015, but not since as I have never been pulled out the hat! This year, we simply had to email the clerk’s office with a chosen number.
At the end of the week, these numbers are selected by the Deputy Speaker pulling tokens out of a bag, and if you are in the first 20 selected, you get the chance to present a bill. Normally only the top few have a realistic chance of making it into law because of the limited amount of time available.
With around 30 government bills this year, it’s going to be busy. And I remain grateful to Chester that I have the chance to play my part.