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Alan Duncan: Indeed. It is as if we were to treat it with the same respect with which the throne of the sovereign might be treated in another place. I do not
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think that the symbol of the Queen’s authority, the Mace, should appear if this place is used by anybody else. People should have to dress properly. They should meet our standards. They should do their best—they will be young—to follow our forms of debate. Obviously, basic rules such as no mobiles and no food should follow. The standards that we are required to meet should be met by them.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I understand the hon. Gentleman’s observation about the Mace, but the parliamentary education service uses a mock Mace. Would its use in the Chamber be acceptable?

Alan Duncan: No. I am negotiating very hard to try to allay the fears of some of my colleagues.

The broadcasting issue is important. The House of Lords event was broadcast on the BBC Parliament channel, but as the Deputy Leader of the House said, if the proposal goes ahead, it is essential that the House retains all editorial control. If anyone misbehaves, that should be expunged from the record. We are not going to allow anyone to carry out a little stunt, and then somehow parade it in their literature, or give it publicity in the years ahead by, say, putting it on YouTube. Nothing like that must be allowed to emanate from the event. [Interruption.] Not like the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter); he has missed many opportunities to do that.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): My hon. Friend says that he will not allow any stunts to be shown. If the event is broadcast on the BBC Parliament channel, and someone makes a recording, how can he stop that from happening?

Alan Duncan: The recording will have been edited for any nonsense, so that it will not be shown.

Mr. Bone: I agree with certain remarks made by my hon. Friend so far. As the BBC Parliament channel broadcasts live, can he explain how any remarks will be edited out?

Alan Duncan: It need not be broadcast live; I believe that it was not on the last occasion. There are other issues, such as access and the use of any Galleries. My personal view is that only the secure Gallery should be used; parents may want to watch their children perform in the debate. There is the question whether the Division Lobbies should be used. Frankly, if the proposal goes ahead, it would be illogical not to allow the young people to learn how to vote.

Mr. Leigh: To get the complete experience, should they not be allowed to use all the bars of the House, too?

Alan Duncan: Many of them will be under age, so I fear that that may be thoroughly inappropriate. There are of course administrative issues, such as the policing of the event, and what happens to access for the public on the day, but I think that they are fairly obvious and easy to overcome.

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Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is being extremely constructive about the terms of engagement. Has he spoken to members of last year’s Youth Parliament about how things went in the House of Lords, and does he accept that most of the points that he described were properly observed by the debaters last year?

Alan Duncan: I have not spoken to any of the individual participants, but I have spoken with a number of people who observed their proceedings, and every single person to whom I spoke said that that the participants behaved in an impeccable and impressive way, and were excited and thrilled. Everything that they did was a credit to them, and indeed to the sort of processes that we would like to see them observe. As an experiment, it was 100 per cent. successful and laudable.

The question remains whether this House would like those young people—youth parliamentarians, as they see themselves—to be able to sit on the leather Benches, which all of us have fought very hard to do. It ends up being a decision on whether we think that what we have done is so fantastic that no one else should be allowed just to get that little tingle of excitement from feeling that they might one day be able to do what all of us have done.

We are not the permanent stewards of this place. We are passing through it, and for democracy to survive, other generations will have to replace us. Why, under the right terms and conditions and following the right rules, do we not allow them that thrill and excitement and hope that perhaps in a few years a genuinely elected Member of Parliament will say that their inspiration for politics derived in part from that day when they were experimenting, sitting here and getting the excitement of this place, and they suddenly realised that politics does matter, that Parliament does matter, and that a senior group of elected parliamentarians gave them the privilege and the permission to do it for just a day?

Mr. Leigh: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Alan Duncan: In my closing exciting moments, I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Leigh: It is not about us. It is not as though we were speaking about some cosy club in St. James’s that we want to reserve for ourselves. It is about our constituents. It is their right and no one else’s. For more than 1,000 years it has been the right of the entire people of the United Kingdom to send Members here. That is why, in my hon. Friend’s words, the Chamber is not any old room. It is a sacred part of the constitution.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab) rose—

Alan Duncan: I will give way, then I will conclude.

Lyn Brown: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that his constituents, like mine, would totally agree with the position that he has just put before the House?

Alan Duncan: Some of the greatest moments in history arise from wise people deciding that just occasionally a rule is designed to be broken, and that exceptions should be made in order to allow something special to happen.

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This should happen only once. We do not want the Chamber to be taken over, to become a venue for parties or a favoured catering place. This is a one-off, to try to say to young people, “Parliament matters. If you get elected, go for it.” We should let them do it, on the right terms and conditions. I shall support the motion tonight, should we get to a vote.

5.17 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): In this instance, it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), because I agree with the points that he put forward. This is a matter for every individual Member of the House. It is not appropriate for it to be party political, and Members will take their own decision.

We have an opportunity to do something of immense value for an institution which we should respect and for which we should have great ambitions. I have been in contact with people in my constituency who have been seeking election to the Youth Parliament. I have given them assistance and helped with the process of election. I felt that it was a significant addition to our political system. It encourages young people to understand the democratic process, to participate in the democratic process, and to participate in the right way, understanding how our systems work.

The opportunity to give those young people the opportunity, just for one day, to experience this place is precious and in our gift. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton spoke about the tingle of coming into this place for the first time. I admit that I am a romantic about the Chamber. I still feel a buzz and a privilege every time I am permitted to sit here and to say what I believe in the Chamber of the House of Commons.

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): Why did the hon. Gentleman walk out?

Mr. Heath: I did not. The hon. Gentleman is making a silly intervention.

I hope that we all feel that way about the Chamber. When we cease to feel it, that is the time to pack up and find another career.

Mr. Brady: So far speakers from both Front Benches have given an indication that, although they believe that allowing young people to come here on one occasion is an important opportunity to inspire them, they believe that it should happen once and once only. Does the hon. Gentleman share that view, or would he like to see it happen every year?

Mr. Heath: I shall come to that point in a moment.

First, like the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton, I deprecate the fact that there was no proper consultation on this issue. That, I am afraid, is so typical of how the Government do these things. [Interruption.] I hear the word “arrogance” spoken from a sedentary position, and it is appropriate. That lack of consultation is so unnecessary; it does not take much to consult properly and make sure that people are happy with arrangements before plonking before the House a motion to which people are expected to agree without debate. That is an unfortunate way of doing business, and it is important to say that. Having said it, I should add that some hon. Members—as I shall explain, I respect their position in some ways—would never agree if they were consulted
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for the next decade on the subject. There is a point at which we have to stop consulting and start deciding. Perhaps one of the Government’s besetting faults is that sometimes they consult for too long and do not decide sufficiently.

Mr. Greg Knight: Is not the Government’s position worse than the hon. Gentleman has indicated? This is not a case of their failing to consult; they promised to consult, and failed to do so.

Mr. Heath: That is not unfamiliar when it comes to matters in the House, and as we keep on saying, it is unfortunate. I hope that the day will arrive when there is machinery to allow the various parties to be consulted properly about the business of the House in advance of its being placed before them. We could then organise our affairs efficiently and effectively, people could have time to discuss what needs to be discussed, and time would not be wasted on what does not need to be discussed. That, however, is a matter for another day; what I am talking about now is the opportunity for the UK Youth Parliament to use the Chamber.

I said that I respected the view contrary to mine. I do; Members should not be insulted or assumed to be an irrelevancy because they have strongly held views on this subject. They adduce two arguments—neither of which I agree with, but which are respectable. The first is almost theological: it is about the sacred nature of the Chamber, and the notion that it is consecrated by its history and traditions and that nobody under any circumstances should be allowed to violate the holy of holies and sanctum sanctorum that is the House. I understand that position, but do not agree with it. As far as I am concerned, this chamber becomes the Chamber of the House of Commons when the Mace is in position, the Speaker or Deputy Speakers are in their seat and the House is sitting. I am sorry, but the rest of the time it is a building with great history, but it is just a building. There is a distinction between the House when it is sitting and otherwise.

The point is understood by almost every other legislature in the world. I am a Member of the British Parliament, but I have sat in seats in the Assemblée Nationale, the Bundestag and the Chamber of the House of Commons of Canada, which is similar to this Chamber. I have sat in the Lok Sabha in India and in a whole host of examples of the Sobranije or Majlis across eastern Europe and central Asia. There has been no intrinsic problem with my doing so. I do not believe that any one of those legislatures believes that its sovereignty or traditions were destroyed by my sitting in one of its seats for a few moments.

Chris Bryant: Apart from this one.

Mr. Heath: Possibly apart from this one, as the hon. Gentleman says. I think that we can dispose of that first argument.

The second argument is about precedent, and it was touched on earlier. It is that once we allow one organisation to use the Chamber, the floodgates will open and we will be unable to deny any requests. What a lack of self-confidence in this sovereign House’s ability to decide its own affairs! As far as I am concerned, we decide what happens here, and if we decide that the UK Youth
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Parliament will use the Chamber for one occasion and one occasion only, that will be the decision. If we decide at a future stage that it was a great success in building confidence in and understanding of democracy in this country among the young, as it was in the House of Lords, we may repeat the experience. That is in the hands of this House. I do not have so little confidence in the House’s ability to take decisions on this matter that I fear that the slippery slope of precedent will somehow sweep all before it and we will be unable to take any decision in future.

Mr. Chope: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heath: I will give way, but for the last time. I believe that the hon. Gentleman might wish to make a speech himself.

Mr. Chope: I will hope to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one argument that could be deployed if the motion were accepted is that in future the majority party in the House should be able to have party meetings in this Chamber comprising solely Members of Parliament? That could be pushed through by a majority vote. Does he concede that precedent argument?

Mr. Heath: One could make all sorts of conjecture or imagine all sorts of extraordinary goings-on. In my constituency there is a twinning meeting between the town of Wincanton and Ankh-Morpork, which some Members will know is an imaginary place in the world of science-fiction, in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. The people who attend that meeting sit in the chamber of Wincanton town council once a year. I do not anticipate that the House of Commons will invite the denizens of Ankh-Morpork to come and sit here; nor do I expect the Labour party to use it as its constituency headquarters for the Cities of London and Westminster, although one never knows.

This decision is one that Members of all parties should make. I believe that it is a one-off, and that the precautions that were suggested by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton and agreed by the Deputy Leader of the House make perfect sense. I will support the motion. I invite colleagues to do so, but it will be a free vote.

royal assent

Madam Deputy Speaker: I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Appropriation Act 2009

Northern Ireland Act 2009

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Use of the Chamber (Youth Parliament)

Debate resumed.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I can see many Members hoping to catch my eye, and I want to enable as many as possible to participate in the debate. Time is limited, and I would therefore ask Members to exercise some self-discipline in the length of their remarks.

5.27 pm

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I rise to support the motion as a member of the Modernisation Committee. I first wish to put on record a correction of what I am sure is a genuine misunderstanding on the part of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). He said that this matter had not been before a Committee of the House, but that is patently untrue. In fact, the proposal has come not from the Executive but from an all-party Select Committee that includes the hon. Gentleman. It was agreed to without a vote in 2004. Recommendation 9 in “Connecting Parliament with the Public”, the Modernisation Committee’s first report of Session 2003-04, stated:

Mr. Greg Knight rose—

Martin Salter: I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I believe that he was a member of the Modernisation Committee at the time. We debated the matter at length and heard compelling evidence from the youth development officer at Lewisham council, the parliamentary education service and the UK Youth Parliament. All our witnesses said clearly what a fantastic opportunity it would be for young people to come into this Chamber—the cockpit of the mother of Parliaments—and be treated with maturity and respect, not patronised in the way that they have been in some of the contributions that we have heard. Of course the UK Youth Parliament is capable of a mature, sensible debate. Its members are the future citizens of our country and deserve to be treated with respect. That is what is intended in the motion.

Mr. Greg Knight: The hon. Gentleman has a point, but it is not relevant. On a point of order, I raised a written question, which was tabled in 2007—some three years after the report from which he quoted—and the reply that the then Deputy Leader of the House gave was that the Leader of the House “will be raising”—not “has raised”—the issue with the Modernisation Committee. I am afraid that that has not happened.

Martin Salter: That does not alter the facts of the case. It is a question of how many Tory backwoodsmen can dance on the head of a pin. They will use any procedural ruse to prevent the matter from being put to a vote, because they know perfectly well that they would be defeated and the UK Youth Parliament would have an opportunity to debate here.

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