The State Opening of Parliament marks the start of the parliamentary year, as the Queen reads a speech prepared by the Government setting out the agenda for the next coming session (generally a year).

For over 500 years the State Opening has served as a symbolic reminder of the unity of Parliament’s three parts: The Sovereign; the House of Lords; and the House of Commons. It was very memorable to be part of the line of MPs walking from the Commons to the Lords after being “summoned” by Black Rod and to witness for the first time the Queen deliver what the House refers to as Her Gracious Speech.
 
The House of Commons is currently debating aspects of the Queen’s speech and on Tuesday May 15 I spoke in the debate that focussed more on international development issues and foreign affairs, though any Member may broadly speak on any issue on any day.
 
In my speech I sought to reflect much feedback that I have received since the Queen’s Speech. There were many positives – including aspects of market reform and also reform of the banking system. However many expected and hoped for more from the Queen’s Speech. The ongoing debate is around whether the Queen’s Speech fell short of what Britain needs to support domestic economic recovery, and on Britain’s role internationally.

We are in a double-dip recession for the first time in 37 years and we face the worst unemployment for 16 years. The talents of a million young people are being wasted out of work as we grapple with how to respond more quickly and swiftly. With nearly 3,000 people unemployed in Feltham and Heston and an increase of more than 200% in long-term youth unemployment last year, it is not clear why the Government has decided it is a bigger priority to make it easier to fire people rather than hire people.

Many would argue that the economy is in recession not because of the UK’s employment law regime but because the Government’s cuts are too fast without a corresponding match in private sector development, hitting business confidence and choking off growth. Removing the rights of workers will more likely increase job insecurity and damage work force morale, productivity and therefore the economy.

The needs of small businesses, of which there are more than 6,000 in Feltham and Heston, have also been sidelined in the Queen’s Speech. The measures proposed do not seem to be about making a difference now. Access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises that cannot get money from a bank would have been one useful issue to make progress on. A survey by the Federation of Small Businesses found that 22% of businesses cited access to finance as a barrier to growth in the last quarter. We need to be able to boost lending quickly. The temptation to look more to large enterprises and large business needs as representing the whole business community is one reason why Labour is looking at plans for a British bank for small business for the long term.

An international development related issue that has been the subject of much debate is the Government seeming to row back from enshrining the overseas aid target of 0.7% of Gross National Income in law. The proposal has cross-party support and was included in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos and promised in the coalition agreement, but was missing from the Queen’s Speech.

I believe this is important also because this is not about a level of spend for one year and saying “our work is done”, but it is a statement about Britain’s role in the world and our commitment, as a compassionate nation, to the development of the poorest countries of the world. As countries develop, they will be better able to see their own economies grow and become more self supporting with a healthier population.

The previous Labour Government was a world leader in tackling global poverty and supporting the Millennium Development Goals and progress for women and girls around the world. We know, however, that much more needs to be done not just on spend but on reform of overseas aid to make the necessary difference. That includes structural change, governance and infrastructure to ensure the right trajectory of progress and to help nations better to help themselves in the long run.

I am interested in hearing your views about the Queen’s Speech, especially the concerns of small businesses, and urge you to get in touch. I am working with local enterprise and the wider community to reduce our local unemployment, and make our community a healthier and safer place.