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16 Mar 2009 : Column 697

Lorely Burt: I appreciate that trade credit insurance is a complex matter. However, Members from all parts of the House have been asking about this for a number of months. Can the Minister give any indication of when the Government might produce some proposals on that?

Ian Pearson: The best that I can say to the hon. Lady is that we continue to examine these issues very closely. It would not be appropriate to make announcements, and I would only be criticised by the Conservative party for making them and then—well, it is just not the right thing to do at the moment.

The hon. Member for Bromsgrove talked about what she felt was a double guarantee. On the enterprise finance guarantee, we have a specific provision whereby it will not be appropriate for lenders to take any form of direct charge against the principal residence of someone who is being loaned to. She also mentioned the capital for enterprise fund. As I said, fund managers have been appointed and we are looking to explore with the fund how it can help businesses. I hope that they will be making investments shortly.

Before I finish, I want to make two points, the first of which is on value for money. I think it important to recognise that, in a Bill such as this, which provides cover for the provision of future expenditure, we are not actually incurring that expenditure. The normal parliamentary accountability processes still have to be gone through. There are also the normal processes of Government, and I want to assure the House that all expenditure is subject to Treasury Green Book approval requirements, which involve clear objective setting, monitoring and evaluation of programmes. Through all the programmes that we are introducing, we are looking to make sure that we introduce these measures in a thorough way that protects the taxpayer’s interests.

Lastly, I want to re-emphasise that, in doing all this, the Government believe that it is right to act. We need to provide real help to businesses now. We should not be protecting industry from international competition; we should not be propping up failed companies, nor seeking to run them from Whitehall. However, we can and must act in a strategic way to provide support where necessary to our businesses and where it can be used well, and in a way that will help us to get through this recession in the best possible shape and to come out the other side fighting for Britain’s interests, ensuring that we have a strong business base for the future. We want to maximise the benefits for UK society of the investment that we make in UK companies. We want to do so in a way that delivers for the taxpayer, but that also delivers our companies in a healthy state, so that they can continue to weather this recession and come out the other side fighting, prosperous and successful.

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Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

Question agreed to.

Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

Question agreed to.

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Use of the Chamber (United Kingdom Youth Parliament)

Debate resumed.

Ques tion (12 March) again proposed,

6.20 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): It is wonderful that we have three hours and 40 minutes to conclude the debate on this subject that was begun last week. Ever since 11 February, the Government have been intent on trying to prevent this matter from coming before this House for proper discussion. It is a great pity that they did not respond to the strong advice given to them by Mr. Speaker that the subject should be given specific allocated time in Parliament for debate—that has not happened and it has come on as a tail-end Charlie in successive debates.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): What sort of signal does my hon. Friend think the way in which the Executive have been behaving gives potential young parliamentarians?

Mr. Chope: They will have to make a judgment themselves as to what has been happening. This very day, I have been in communication with one of the elected members from the Dorset contingent of the UK Youth Parliament and I have spelt out to him how the Government have been trying to suppress debate on this subject. He is 14 years old and is one of three people from my constituency who were elected for Dorset in the UK Youth Parliament election; indeed, all three of the Dorset full representatives are from my constituency, so I hope that hon. Members will accept that I speak with some knowledge on this subject.

I say that not least because I have been looking at what happened last year when the Youth Parliament held its annual meeting. Contrary to what the Deputy Leader of the House suggested last time we debated this subject, it was not the annual meeting of the Youth Parliament that was held in the Chamber of the other place last year, but a meeting of the Youth Parliament that went on for one morning. When I saw the proposal on the Order Paper that the meeting should take place as part of the “annual meeting”, I looked up what had happened at last year’s annual meeting of the Youth Parliament, and what I found caused me no little concern.

The report of the opening meeting of the annual sitting of the Youth Parliament, which was held in Exeter university between Saturday 19 July and Tuesday 22 July 2008, begins by stating:

A video was then shown, because the planned speaker who had been announced, none other than the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), had not got there on time. After the video ended, he arrived and delivered his keynote speech. The report states:

Today, we have the report from the man who is supposedly responsible for the nation’s health bemoaning the fact that too many young people are indulging in drinking at an early age, yet none other than a Health Minister was promoting as the sole reason for the Youth Parliament’s being welcome in Exeter the fact that it has fantastic bars and nightclubs. We have some good bars in this place, but I am not sure whether they will be open to the members of the Youth Parliament, if it should ever be able to meet in this Chamber.

Apparently, after the speech came questions to the Minister, including some about the credit crunch. The document, which is on the Youth Parliament’s website, states that he

It seems as though the Youth Parliament has been attracting people who do not really know what they are talking about, because obviously the Minister’s prediction about there being no recession was wishful thinking and was extremely wide of the mark.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend’s objection to the use of this Chamber by the elected members of the UK Youth Parliament for their debates hinge on the standard of their debate, which he is caricaturing—I base that on the comparison with the meetings of the UK Youth Parliament to which I have been—or the principle of their using this Chamber? Which is his greater concern?

Mr. Chope: I have concerns on both counts. My hon. Friend refers to meetings, in the plural. He will know that notwithstanding what the Prime Minister indicated—that there would be a meeting of the UK Youth Parliament in this Commons Chamber every year—the proposal now is that this meeting should be a one-off exercise. The question that I have asked one of the UK Youth Parliament representatives from Christchurch is what particular privilege he thinks has been earned by this year’s members of the UK Youth Parliament to allow them to sit in this Chamber, given that that is to be denied to its subsequent members, as this is to happen for one year only.

I could understand a case being made for the use of this Chamber by any number of different organisations, but the fact is that we have never used this Chamber for anything other than parliamentary debate. We do not even use it for parliamentary meetings—party meetings. If it had been used for party gatherings, one might have imagined that when Mr. Blair was lauding all the young women Members of Parliament who had been elected
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on a Labour party ticket in the 1997 general election, he might have chosen to have the photo-shoot in this Chamber, rather than somewhere else on the parliamentary estate. I can imagine a very strong case for an incoming Conservative Government with 400 or 500 Conservative MPs being able to say, “There is nowhere else large enough on the estate where we can meet following our great election victory, so why not take over the House of Commons Chamber for a meeting?” That would be wrong, because we should not abandon or abandon lightly the traditions of this House, which have meant that this Chamber is the one for those who have the privilege of being elected as Members of the real Parliament, not members of a mock parliament, whether it be a youth parliament, a Muslim parliament or any other parliament.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a very good case. Does he agree that if the UK Youth Parliament were allowed to sit in this place for its annual meeting, it would set a precedent to allow other organisations to hold their meetings here? There would be no reason why other parliaments—the learning disability parliament or parish councils—should not hold their meetings here once we have allowed the Chamber to be used by someone else.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Government have put the cart before the horse. The first principle that we should debate is whether we wish this Chamber to be used for purposes other than those for which it has been used hitherto. If it is decided that we should use the Chamber for other purposes, we can work out whether the applications should be chosen by ballot, such as the one held for exhibitions in the Upper Waiting Hall area; by discussion; or by members of the Administration Committee, who—ironically, and I speak as a member myself—consider the detail of applications for exhibitions in the Palace, but have not been consulted on this point.

Mr. Bone: If the Chamber is just a hall, why do we not rent it out on a commercial basis in this time of economic difficulty?

Mr. Chope: I would welcome the opportunity to have a debate on that subject. I would probably oppose such a proposal, but one could make a case for allowing, for example, the Chamber to be used as a film set. We could raise money for charity, for deserving young people across the world. One asks rhetorically, “Who could argue against that?”

We do not yet know the financial cost of using the Chamber for one day for the annual meeting of the Youth Parliament, but we do know that when the Chamber in the other place was used for half a day, the cost was some £30,000 to £40,000. That was funded partly by this House and partly by a grant from the Ministry of Justice. One might wonder whether that was the best use of that money, in terms of educating a wider group of people about what we do in this place.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): The hon. Gentleman will recall that some hon. Members who were present to support his view last week argue that unelected Ministers from the other place should be allowed to come to this House to answer questions from its Members. That would bring unelected people into this House to speak. Does he see any inconsistency in that?

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has cast his net fairly wide so far, but he should not go as wide as the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) is encouraging him to do.

Mr. Chope: I hope that my response falls within the terms of the debate, but I do not think that we should alter the system that we have, which has served this country well. People know that these green Benches can be sat on only by elected Members of the House of Commons. I speak as someone who had the misfortune of being defeated in a general election and I know how sad I was not to be able to come into this great Palace of Westminster and the House of Commons Chamber. But I accepted that, and I imagine that most members of the Youth Parliament would accept that although they may have aspirations to sit in this Chamber, those aspirations are best realised by getting elected to the real Parliament.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): It is said that the Youth Parliament is different from any other organisation because it is uniquely representative, but I do not see why it is more representative than any other group, such as the pensioners’ parliament. Is not it a corporatist view of society that we have to be sidelined into certain groups—youth, the elderly, trade unionists and employers? Dare I say it, it is almost fascistic, although people will not like me saying that, and that is not what we are about. This Parliament represents everyone in the United Kingdom, not parts of it.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes a very good point.

Westminster Hall has been used for special events on several occasions, such as the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution. One could make an argument for making an exception to the conventions, although I would not support it, by saying that last year we should have allowed the Scouts to celebrate their centenary here. Following Baden-Powell’s foundation of the Scouts, they have spread the gospel of youth activity not just in this country but throughout the world. Why should we allow the UK Youth Parliament and not the Scouts or the Girl Guides?

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): We could spend a long time—I suspect that that is the hon. Gentleman’s intention—talking about other groups that might hypothetically want to use the Chamber in the future. Perhaps it would be better to turn the debate on its head and ask what would be the harm in letting the UK Youth Parliament use the Commons Chamber.

Mr. Chope: I hope that the hon. Lady will have a chance to make her own speech in a minute. It is the same with any tradition when people ask, “What would be the harm?” I think that the harm would lie in sending out a message from this Parliament that we were indulging the Youth Parliament and patronising young people in an unhealthy way by leading them to believe that an equivalence existed between being members of a mock parliament and being Members of a real Parliament. There is all the difference in the world between a mock parliament and a real Parliament.

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