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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con):
Will the Deputy Leader of the House acknowledge two things? First, one is not elected to the House of Lords; it is wholly different from this Chamber, which is unique. I think I speak for almost all, if not all, my colleagues
who have reservations about this proposition. We have nothing but support for the Youth Parliament. We are delighted that it should meet in many places in the Palace of Westminster. Many of the young people involved aspire to come here, and we believe that when they come here to take their seats, it should be the unique experience it was for the Deputy Leader of the House, for me, and for everybody else.
The hon. Gentleman said that we are unique because we are elected. The Scottish Parliament, which is elected, has just gone through exactly the same process, and it was an enormously welcome experience to see many young people, who would never have had any experience of active political engagement before, taking part in that Chamber, and the use of the Chamber made a significant difference to the quality of the opportunity available to those young people.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I invite my hon. Friend to reflect on his exchange with the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). The last recorded policy of Her Majestys Opposition on reform of the other place was for a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber. Are we to conclude that should there be a Conservative Government, and should there be a 100 per cent. elected second Chamber, the UK Youth Parliament would be thrown out and not ever have another opportunity to debate in that place?
In the fascinating debates held in the House of Lords, the young people involved voted on which policies they thought were the most important to advance as part of their manifesto. The first concerned recycling and their environmental campaign, which received 490 votes. The second concerned a national public transport concessionary card for young people under the age of 18, which received 425 votes. The abolition of university tuition fees received 252 votes, and they also considered the matter of fair and accurate representation of young people in the media, lowering the voting age to 16 and having one single age at which young people are deemed to become an adult. These were adult debates.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House because I want to support his cause, and speak for anti-crustiness. It was such an excellent debate in the House of Lords, and as important as the subjects that were discussed was this comment from a delegate who felt that the publicity generated from the House of Lords debate would be a great start:
This is fantastic press which weve never had before and its so positive. This is the kind of thing the media really need to focus on.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): The hon. Gentleman knows I do not agree with him on this point. He advances arguments as to why the proposal for the Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber might be beneficial to it and to the cause of getting young people involved in Parliament. If he believes it is so beneficial, why does his motion make it possible for that to happen on only one occasion?
Chris Bryant: I was going to come to some of the restrictions that I think will be important if this sitting were to happen, as we have not put them all in the motion. I have spoken to the shadow Leader of the House and I think it would be fair to put some matters concerning how the event would proceed on the record. For instance, I think it would be inappropriate for anybody other than Mr. Speaker to sit in the Speakers Chair. Similarly, it would be inappropriate for the Mace to be in place. I think that the session should be chaired by a senior Member of this House as opposed to any other person. The normal rules of the House should apply in terms of parliamentary language, dress code, mobile phones and the one issue that particularly worried the shadow Leader of the Housenamely, whether students would be chewing gum or not. It is important, too, that the broadcasting rights would remain with us, as would control over how the session would be broadcast. The fact that the debate in the House of Lords was broadcast on BBC Parliament gave an enormous sense of occasion to the young people, which is something that could never be achieved in Committee Room 14, which is a far clumsier environment and in no sense has the same cachet and significance as this Chamber.
We would, of course, be able to ensure that access to other parts of the House was restricted so that all security issues were covered. As the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West has just said, this would be a one-off. If hon. Members wanted to return to the issue thereafter, it would be for them to do so. The other most important and significant point is that this would happen on a non-sitting day.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): To be entirely consistent, if there is a request from the Muslim Council of Britain, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Catholic Union of Great Britain, Age Concern or any other representative body that was as representative of this country as the Youth Parliament is, should not they be allowed to sit here, too?
Chris Bryant: No, because the Youth Parliament is representative of the whole of the United Kingdom. A significant aspect of the Youth Parliament is that it is attempting to bond rather than disunite, and that is why I think that this should be a unique opportunity that is offered to the Youth Parliament.
Chris Bryant: I shall give way to the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Bacon), but I shall not give way to longest-standing Member of the Modernisation Committee, the hon. Member for Macclesfield, again, because I know that other Members, including him, want to speak.
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): The Youth Parliament is representative of the UK, but so is Age Concern. Why, if we were to allow such sittings at all, would one not allow them for pensioners? Where would one stop?
Chris Bryant: The shadow Leader of the House is trying to be helpful, but I think that some of the people sitting behind him will attack him just as much as they attack me, so he need not worry about me too much.
Chris Bryant: I am keen not to give way too often, because I am sure that hon. Members will manage to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, the hon. Gentleman is looking querulously at me and very grumpy, so I shall give way.
Consultation will take place with...Mr. Speaker, and through the Leader of the House, with this House as to whether the Youth Parliament should be invited here in this Chamber once a year, on a non-sitting day.[ Official Report, 3 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 819.]
Chris Bryant: There have been informal consultations around the House and that is why we have tabled a one-off proposal this afternoon. If the hon. Gentleman had wanted to amend it so that it was more in tune with what the Prime Minister originally intended, so that these sittings happened once a year, that course was open to him.
At the core of this argument is how hon. Members consider their ownership of the Chamber. I believe that it is of course a great privilege to be a Member of Parliament, but we should not stand on ceremony. The old politics of MPs surrounding themselves in special favours and anything that makes this place seem like a gentlemens club put off not just young people but the vast majority of voters.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con):
On a number of occasions, my children, like many other children, have been in this place with me, their father. They have asked me whether they can sit on the green Benches and I have said no, because it is not in my gift to give them that permission. I have said no to my children, whose ages range between four and 12, on two occasions. The
right to sit here is conferred on me by licence by my constituents in Broxbourne. It is not a gift for me to give to others.
Chris Bryant: But it is not only the hon. Gentlemans children who should be allowed to come into the Chamber. All the children of this country should be able to do so, because the Chamber [ Interruption. ]
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The Deputy Leader of the House is responding to the point made by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker). If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a further intervention, that will be a matter for the Deputy Leader of the House to decide.
Mr. Walker: Numerous children from my primary and secondary schools have visited this Chamber. I have gone to speak to them subsequently and they have told me that they have had a wonderful time here. The idea that Charles Walkers children have a privilege that other children in my constituency do not have is nonsense. Charles Walkers children have no more and no less in the way of privilege than any other children in my constituency.
Chris Bryant: I am sorry if I have offended the hon. Gentleman, who I think has misunderstood the point that I was trying to make. Quite simply, the decision about who can and cannot sit on these Benches is for the whole House, not any individual Member. Personally, I would like those elected to the Youth Parliament to be able to sit in this Chamber, on one occasion in the coming year.
Martin Salter: Does the Deputy Leader of the House think it might be helpful to conduct some referendums in random constituenciesReading, West and Broxbourne, perhapsto see what people think of Members of Parliament who want to deny young people the fantastic opportunity to debate in this place? If such referendums were conductedand they may well bedoes he agree that hon. Members who take that position might be honour bound to listen to the views of their constituents?
Chris Bryant: I do not think that this is a party-political issue. This should be something that unites all those who want to ensure that young people have an opportunity to take an active part in modern British politics and to value the British parliamentary tradition. All too often, the young people who do get involved in politics have nothing to do with that tradition because they are engaged only with single-issue campaigns. I think that allowing them to use the Chamber has a significant value, and I am certain that any referendum of young people in my constituency of Rhonddaor in that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Housewould show them to be surprised to hear Members of Parliament say that only they can ever be allowed to sit in this Chamber. For that matter, I expect that I would find the same were I to ask pensioner groups in my area the same question.
Mr. Knight: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. I have a genuine point that I hope he will clarify before he concludes his remarks. He said that he wanted the Youth Parliament to sit here for one day, yet the motion before us refers not to one day but to its annual meeting. Last year, the Youth Parliaments annual meeting ran over four days, from 19 to 22 July. Is he seeking to allow four days or one day of debate in the Chamber?
Chris Bryant: The right hon. Gentlemanmy right hon. Friend, indeedwho chairs the Procedure Committee makes a helpful contribution. The truth is that we are talking about only one day. [ Interruption. ] I hear Opposition Members ask why, and the answer is that we believe this should be a one-off, unique opportunity.
I believe that this Chamber is not ours but is merely on loan from the people whom we represent. The young people of the UK Youth Parliament do not just own this countrys futurethey are also a vital part of our present, and we should not exclude them. We should definitely welcome them in, and I very much hope that the House will allow a vote to be held and the UK Youth Parliament to use this Chamber.
I have a few observations to start with, one of which is that the inspiration for much of the Youth Parliament came from the late Andrew Rowea former Conservative Member of Parliament known to many if not all of usso its origins lie in a colleague who sat on this side of the House.
At its best, the Youth Parliament is something that we all ought to applaud. In an age when too many young people think, Oh, politicians are all the same, and we dont want anything to do with politics, to see enthusiastic youngsters acting in a replica of the House, having been elected in their schools and elsewhere, is something that we ought to applaud. To encourage young people to enjoy the idea of Parliament and to participate in its concepts and merits is something that we should all do if we possibly can.
I came to the issue very much in the middle, after the reshuffle, and quite a lot of water had gone under the bridge before I understood quite what was going on, even though I raised it on 12 February in the second of my encounters with the Leader of the House. It is a pity that this has been mishandled. The trouble is that the motion on the Order Paper is very broad and no terms and conditions are attached, and there has been no consultation with Front Benchers or, as my right hon.
Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) has said, with any of the relevant Committees, despite assurances that that would happen.
We have an open motion, no consultation and basically a vacuum of understanding about what is really proposed. There are no understood terms and conditions, no rules of engagement and no basic details, which we all understand lie behind the motion. It is therefore fully understandable that a number of right hon. and hon. Members have found the whole process objectionable and are fearful of what we are being asked to vote for, and therefore object to it in principle. I fully understand their annoyance, which is felt mostly by hon. Members who have a fervent and long-standing appreciation of the courtesies and proprieties of the House. It may not be sacred, but it is a supremely important place. It is not just any old room. It is a symbolic and working Parliament, looked at across the world as the seat of democracy. It is the pinnacle of democracy in our country, and therefore its use cannot be treated lightly.
The experiment in the Lords worked rather well. It was broadcast on the Parliament channel. As the Deputy Leader of the House has said and even as Members of the House of Lords have said, it really did go extremely well, and it was a credit to the participants who debated and were televised there. When I discovered in the midst of all this that I was very much in the crossfire, I undertook to try to broker at least some understanding of what might be involved. Having asked for some sort of discussion a couple of days ago, so that we could have an exchange of letters or comments about what would be involved, I finally spoke to the hon. Gentleman today, and he has kindly referred to what was basically my checklist of what I thought should be at least explained to the House.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I stated in an earlier intervention that my hon. Friend had told me only yesterday that there had been no consultation with the Leader of the House or, for that matter, the Deputy Leader of the House. However, in response the Deputy Leader of the House indicated that there had been consultation. I made it clear in my intervention that I spoke to my hon. Friend about the matter yesterday. Now, my hon. Friend, whose remarks so far I entirely endorse, has said that, in fact, no consultant took place until today. Has not the Deputy Leader of the House been slightlyhow do I put itdisingenuous in replying to my intervention? In fact, yesterday, there had been no consultation.
Alan Duncan: No, my hon. Friend may have misheard the Deputy Leader of the House, who used the word today, and if one were to read the record, he was absolutely accurate in what he said. [ Interruption. ] That is exactly what he said, and his account was fully honest and accurate. His comments certainly reflect my knowledge of what we have and have not discussed. It was indeed today that we discussed a basic checklist. I will rattle through it.
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