Anthony Ridge, parliamentary intern to Lord Trees, witnesses the State Opening of Parliament for the first time and realises it carries a lot more significance than he had previously thought.
- British Veterinary Association
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During my time in Westminster I have experienced a fair share of Parliament's quirks and conventions, but when it comes to sheer pomp and ceremony one day stands far out from the rest.
In mid-May there were clear signs about Westminster that something big was about to happen. The road outside the palace was closed, a huge outdoor TV studio was built and the familiar security barriers were moved, giving the palace an oddly naked look. The Queen was coming for the official State Opening of Parliament and I was going to be there. When I filled in my application for vet school this was not an eventuality I had ever anticipated. What followed was perhaps the most British of ceremonies, complete with resplendent golden carriages, marching bands, excitable horses, flag-waving, torrential rain, beautiful sunshine and, of course, the Queen.
In previous years I have regarded the State Opening as little more than a grand occasion where the Queen arrives in Parliament to say a few words and it always seemed strange to me that Parliament should be opened every year when I wasn't aware that it was ever closed. I was therefore surprised to discover that the State Opening carries with it a lot more contemporary significance than I had previously imagined. Parliament is indeed closed (or ‘prorogued’) every year by the Queen, a few days before the State Opening. This is important as it places a deadline on almost all parliamentary activities. Virtually all bills in progress lapse, effectively wiping the slate clean and allowing Parliament to retain its focus on current affairs. The Queen's Speech is also far from being just a formality. It is written by the Government and explicitly lays out the policy priorities for the coming year. For most of us, both inside and outside Parliament, this is the first time these intentions are made clear.
This year, a significant component of the Queen's Speech was the referendum on our membership of the EU. By the time this article appears we will know the results of this pivotal decision. The outcome may change many things including how our country is structured, but it will not change the causes we believe to be important. Lord Trees chose to speak in the debates following the Queen's Speech, but broke away from the crowd by not mentioning the EU or, indeed, any of the bills alluded to by the Queen. He instead focused his speech entirely on animal welfare.
I'm sure Lord Trees spoke for many veterinarians when he argued why this topic deserves greater recognition. He spoke about the importance of setting evidence-based national priorities and recognising the true welfare implications of animal diseases. He also spoke on welfare at slaughter (including a call for compulsory CCTV in abattoirs) and on regulating the trade in companion animals. There are both practical and moral reasons why animal welfare is important and, for me, recognising the importance of animal welfare is no less than a gateway to a richer, more compassionate and more sustainable future. I feel lucky to have witnessed the State Opening first hand and very proud of my part in helping Lord Trees to raise the profile of animal welfare at a crucial moment in the Parliamentary calendar.