• Queen's Speech

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    27 May 2016

    Last Wednesday saw the start of a new parliamentary session. A parliament lasts 5 years and each is split into sessions lasting around 12 months. At the end of each session both houses are prorogued (suspended) for a few days. At prorogation all legislation that has not completed its passage through both houses is lost. The end of a session is therefore like a spring clean in which legislative activity is reset and new bills (plus a small number carried over from the previous session) are brought forward. The start of the new session is marked by the State Opening of Parliament when the Queen attends the House of Lords and reads out the Government’s plans for new legislation for the coming session. Her Majesty addresses Parliament from the Lords as she is not permitted to set foot in the Commons – a tradition that emanates from the moment in 1642 when Charles I burst into the Commons chamber seeking to have several of its members arrested but only to find that they had fled – ‘I see my birds have flown’ was his famous observation. He was later to be tried within parliament for treason and executed up the road in Whitehall. So, in the Commons after prayers MPs wait to be summoned by The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod – a position dating back to 1350. He strides from the Lords to Commons only to find the door slammed shut before him. He hammers with his staff and is admitted. He informs us that her Majesty awaits us in the House of Peers. Led by the Prime Minister we process to the Lords and cram in around its entrance to catch a glimpse (if we are lucky) of HRH. This time one of the announcements that most pleased me was on prison reform. I have sustained a keen interest in this since my visits to prisons outside my constituency (Central Devon has none). As a backbencher I led a parliamentary debate on prisoner rehabilitation and led a meeting for MPs and Peers to discuss some of the key work being carried out here in Devon. The bill that will follow in this session will see individual prisons with far greater control over their budgets and the ability to foster new approaches to prisoner rehab. Some prisoners will be tagged and expected to work outside prison for part of their sentence. Performance league tables (highlighting re-offending rates, post release employment rates etc.) will drive the transparency required to champion excellence and tackle under-performance. If we get this right then the prize is vast – a prison place costs more than a place at Eton, around half of prisoners go on to reoffend within a couple of years of release and two thirds of prisoners have a reading age lower than an 11 year old. Many prisoners deserve a second chance and we will all benefit enormously if we get this right. I am looking forward to the new session.