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We know that the other place set a precedent when it allowed the final of the English-Speaking Union debating competition to take place in its Chamber. It allowed that once and decided that it would not do so again. Last year, the Youth Parliament was held there and, as I understand it, will not be invited back. I do not know whether that is an answer to the question from the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy), but she might well ask the same question when she brings a group of young people to visit the Palace. What harm would it do if she sat them down on the Front Bench and she went to sit on the Speakers Chair? It probably would not do any physical harm, but either access to and use of this place is restricted to a particular group of individuals or it is not. If the Youth Parliament could come here, why should that be allowed for only one year? Why are the Government not proposing that every other organisation that wants to make a bid should be able to come here as well?
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman mentions harm. I know that he loves this place, and admires and respects the workings of the House. Does he appreciate the harm that this debate is doing to the standing of this House in the eyes of the general public and how it is showing us as restrictive and elitist in denying the rights of these young people?
Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his various complimentary remarks about my involvement in the issue, but I could not disagree with him more. The Youth Parliament is a very young organisation. It was founded by Andrew Rowemy hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent, as he then was. I do not think that he ever envisaged that it would be a rival to this Parliament.
It is interesting that so far in this debate, no one has drawn attention to the report that the Government themselves commissioned on the Youth Parliament, after the issue was considered by the Select Committee to which the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) referred. Part 1 of the report says:
this Review suggests that UKYP
is not meeting the expectations of many of its stakeholders. Many stakeholders feel UKYP has tried to run before it can walk, making claims for itself that it is not able to substantiate, given its level of funding and isolation from much potential support.
The complaints made include the complaint that the Youth Parliament is too English, that it is not in touch with other youth organisations, and that it is a group of people elected from various schools who have an impossible task in trying to represent the interests of young people collectively, because they do not have the time to be in touch with all the different youth organisations.
Bob Spink: May I take the hon. Gentleman back to when he said that, because the Youth Parliament is to come here, it may consider itself a rival to this Parliament? I do not see that at all. Without the Mace, which gives the Chamber its constitutional and legal significance, this place is just a set of green Benches. I really do not see the problem, and I do not think that the public do, either.
Mr. Chope: I respect the hon. Gentlemans view. He says that he does not think that there is a problem, but I happen to think that there is a problem. It is healthy that people will be able to express different points of view when we eventually get to hold a Division on the issue. That is the whole purpose of debate. I am not suggesting that everybody will agree. Earlier, I saw my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) in the Chamber. I know that he feels very strongly that the issue should be debated in our Chamber, and that is now happening.
Tim Loughton: We are having a debate about the right of other people to have a debate here. My hon. Friend mentioned our former and, sadly, late colleague Andrew Rowe, who set up the Youth Parliament almost 10 years ago, in July 1999, in the Houses of Parliament. This is where it started. If he were here today, it would be sad for him to witness us having this debate, 10 years on, about denying a one-off opportunity, to start with, to those people
Tim Loughton: It is for us to debate whether there should be only that one event, or whether it could be the first of subsequent similar episodes. It is sad that although the organisation started here, we are seeking to stifle that debate 10 years on.
Mr. Chope: I do not think that we are seeking to stifle debate. Indeed, the people who supported the amendment on the Order Paper are people who were determined that there should be debate. The amendment was put in the way that it was to emphasise that we did not have any quarrel with the fact that there is a Youth Parliament, and to emphasise that we wished it well. We did not contradict the main substance of the Governments motion, but we drew attention to the fact that there are other places in the Palace of Westminster where it is possible for the Youth Parliament to hold its annual meeting.
I put it to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) that we are not talking about a special, 10th anniversary meeting. As I understand it, the Government are not saying that because of Andrew Rowes great achievement in setting up the organisation, for its 10th anniversary it should have the right to meet here on a one-off basis. If that were so, the question that I would put to my hon. Friend is: why were the Scouts not able to use the Chamber last year for their centenary? When he has answered that, we could talk about other youth organisations, too.
My hon. Friend made a good point in the earlier debate, when he said that there is a difference between those from older age groups, who could themselves be elected to Parliament, and those from the under-18 age group, who are not eligible for direct election to Parliament, but my point to him is that there are a lot of other youth groups out there doing extremely valuable work with young people in much larger numbers than the Youth Parliament, and which were established much longer ago than the Youth Parliament. If we want to celebrate a particular landmark in the history of an organisation, there is a case for saying that we should allow some of
our facilities to be used by it, but that is not the basis on which the Government have put the case for allowing the Youth Parliament to meet in this Chamber.
I referred to the report that the Government commissioned on the subject. It extends to the best part of 200 pages. I will not refer to it in detail, but the executive summary is basically a cautionary tale to people who might otherwise get carried away with their enthusiasm for the Youth Parliament. It basically says that the Youth Parliament needs to communicate more closely with other young people, and certainly needs to be more representative of all the nations that form part of the United Kingdom.
Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, at a time when we are trying to encourage participation in the political process and to get young people interested in politics, we are discussing exactly the sort of initiative that would get young people more interested in politics and more likely to be involved in the Youth Parliament?
Mr. Chope: The event may encourage some people to get interested in politics, but of course we must remember that the Youth Parliament is not party political; in other words, it is non-ideological. Not long ago, I was re-reading the splendid book that our late and noble Friend John Biffen produced on this place. He reminds us of the fact that at the age of 14, he attended his first Conservative conference in Bridgwater and was an active member of the Young Conservatives. Then of course there is my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who was, I think, 15 when he took the Conservative party conferences main platform by storm with his fantastic speech. Both those people, who were party members in their teens, went on to serve the nation really well as fully fledged Members of Parliament. They did not need a Youth Parliament to enable them to do that; all that they needed was a receptive party political organisation, namely the Conservative party.
Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that the idea that we have to allow the Youth Parliament to use the Chamber to inspire its members to get into politics is nonsense? The fact that they are already members of the Youth Parliament shows that they are already interested in politics. If the purpose is to try to inspire people to get involved in politics by using the Chamber, surely we should allow youths who are not members of the Youth Parliament to sit here, because it is clearly they who are not interested in politics at the moment.
Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend, who is the enlightened voice of youth among us this evening, makes an important point. There is a lot to be said for encouraging young people to engage in real politicsthat is, politics that involves not only being able to argue the case for a pressure group or interest group, but seeing things on a wider scale, and considering questions such as, How will we raise the money to pay for this?
One of the Youth Parliaments campaigns is for subsidised fares for all young people. Obviously, a case can be made for that, but when the members of the Youth Parliament talk about that, they are acting more like a pressure groupa young version of the National Union of Studentsthan a Parliament. A Parliament would look at the wider contextat, for example, how such a proposal would be funded, where the savings
would come from, and to what extent old peoples concessionary fares would have to be adjusted to enable young peoples concessionary fares to be introduced. Those are all worthy subjects of debate, but they are not quite the same as having a Parliament. Given the keen interest on the part of the Liberal Democrats in the debate, I hope that some of them have read in the Official Report what their hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) said in our previous debate. He made the point that we were seeking to patronise one particular youth organisation while neglecting other important youth organisations.
My amendment proposes that the Youth Parliament at its annual meeting this year should be able meet in Committee Room 14. I cannot remember whether it was the Deputy Leader of the House or someone else who said that it has already met there, so it does not need to meet there again. However, we are talking about it meeting in that room when the House is not sitting. If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or I wanted to organise a meeting in Committee Room 14 when the House was not sitting, we would be given a firm no, because those facilities are not available when the House is not sitting. It is not like meeting in that room when the House is sittingwe are talking about something quite distinctand it would be possible for the Youth Parliament to be given a special privilege under my amendment, so that it could sit in Committee Room 14 when the House is in recess.
We do not even knowperhaps some people dothe date on which the annual sitting is expected to take place. Last year, the annual sitting lasted three or four days at Exeter university. This year, the Government propose that the sitting last for only one day. [ Interruption. ] The Minister looks as if he wants to intervene to tell us the date, and I would be grateful if he did.
Mr. Chope: Yes, I am. However, perhaps the hon. Gentleman wishes to tell the House when he expects the annual meeting to take place. Will he provide us with that information? Perhaps not. That is the extraordinary position in which we find ourselves. We have been kept in the dark by the Government, and I am pretty disappointed by some of the members of my party. I believe that it is the role of the Opposition to hold the Government to account and to try to scrutinise Government proposals. It seemed at one stage as if there were a collusive pact between the Front Benches to try to prevent the issue from being fully debated in the Chamber. However, other Members and I have asked that the Administration Committee look at the proposal, and it was implicit in what my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) said in our previous debate that he supported that. If that is not the case, perhaps he will tell us later, but approval of the motion should be subject to advice in advance from the Committees of the House that are charged with that responsibility. That is exactly what happened in the other place. When the proposal was first mooted, it was submitted to the Information Committee for consideration, which resulted in a recommendation to the House as a whole.
Mr. Bone: I hate to disagree with my hon. Friend, but I understand that Opposition Members have a free vote tonight. I am not sure whether that applies to Government Members. Has he received any indication as to whether this is being treated as a House matter or not?
Mr. Chope: The Deputy Leader of the House said that he did not regard this as a party political issue, and there was going to be a free vote for Government Members, including Ministers. I hope that is the case, too, for Conservative spokesmen, although earlier indications suggested that that might not be the case. [ Interruption. ] Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, who represents young people as a shadow Minister, can inform us as to whether it is a free vote for all members of the shadow ministerial team.
Bob Spink: Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear, because he has not quite done so, that the Government motion proposes that only the 2009 annual meeting of the Youth Parliament be held in the Chamber? We could use it as an experiment to see whether it works. We should see how it turns out, then decide how to move forward in future.
Mr. Chope: We could do so, but that is not what the Deputy Leader of the House said. He did not say that this was some sort of experiment, and if it went well, it would open the floodgates for the Youth Parliament to meet here every year. He specifically ruled out the possibility that the whole annual meeting should be held here. He said that one day of the meeting should take place in the Chamber, thereby leaving in limbo the issue of what would happen on the other days. Will the Youth Parliament use other facilities in the House, and what arrangements will be made?
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would deal with his amendment in some depth, given that we are discussing the rationale for the traditions of the Chamber and the Houseand it is right and proper that we maintain themand the allegations of elitism from the Government. His proposal goes some way towards addressing that issue, and I would certainly be grateful for some meat on the bones of the amendment.
Mr. Chope: Committee Room 14 is arguably the most important Committee Room in the House. There is a magnificent painting there that depicts what happened when the House rebuffed those who came along, on behalf of the King, seeking to arrest Members of Parliament, only to be told where to get off. The mere fact of members of the Youth Parliament going into that historic Committee Room and having explained to them the background to that painting would enable them to have a better understanding of the privileges associated with the House.
It is not just a picture on the wallthe room is redolent with history. It is where, for instance,
Mr. Parnell lost his battle with the Irish Parliamentary party and lost his job as leader of that party in the 19th century. It is a very important room, and it is not to be sneezed at.
Mr. Chope: Certainly notmy hon. Friend is absolutely right. When he used the expression, not to be sneezed at, he picked up a theme from our previous debate that that room was not good enough for some reason. The letter that I have received from a Christchurch member of the Youth Parliament almost suggests, Well, we have done the House of Lords. Now, lets do the Chamber. Where next?
Kerry McCarthy: The hon. Gentleman has just mentioned that while consulting on his amendment he spoke to one of the Christchurch members of the Youth Parliament. Will he tell the House how many young people he consulted across his constituency on a wider basis, what proportion of them were in favour of using the Chamber, and what proportion of them were keener to use Committee Room 14?
Mr. Chope: I do not know whether the hon. Lady does so, but I have made it my business to try to encourage young people to gain an understanding of the workings of Parliament by taking on gap year students to work in my office. I am lucky to have had two such people working for me this year, and I can assure her that both of them, unprompted, think that the Government proposals are absolutely barking.
I can tell the hon. Lady that I am the proud father of two teenage children and that they have similar views. In situations such as this, the Government would say that I had consulted widely. I would not say that, but I have consulted. I am sure that there are people on both sides of the argument but up to now, with the exception of one person, I have found among young people only those on my side of the argument.
As we know in this Chamber, in order to make a point, it does not need to be made at length. However, it is important to recognise that the amendment is not some sort of wrecking amendment. It is an attempt to find a constructive way forward which would enable us as Members of the House to recognise the important work that the Youth Parliament has done, to applaud Andrew Rowes founding of it, to hope that it continues to go from strength to strength, and to give it some encouragement by saying that when Parliament is not in Session, the Youth Parliament should be able to hold meetings in Committee Room 14 and thereby enjoy all the history associated with that Room.
I referred to that fleetingly before. Obviously, nothing is without its cost, and the costs of the meeting in the House of Lords were apparently between £30,000 and £40,000. We have not yet heard from the Minister
what the costs might be to hold a one-day meeting in this Chamber during the annual sitting of the Youth Parliament, but the costs of security and supervision would be not inconsiderable. I should have thought that we would be entitled to know about that in advance and to discuss whether that represented good value for money. Some people might reach the conclusion that that sum would be better invested in promoting the Youth Parliament in individual constituencies.
Tim Loughton: I am not an expert, but my hon. Friend might find that a large part of that cost relates to the travel costs of the members coming from various parts of the United Kingdom. Those are standard costs, which would be payable wherever the UK Youth Parliament chose to meet. I should not have thought that the additional staff costs of keeping the Chamber open on a particular day would be prohibitive. He might be slightly cautious before he apportions to this place costs that are fixed for the Youth Parliament.
Mr. Chope: I am innately cautious; that is why I am a Conservative. I refer to the information that I obtained from the House of Commons Library. The evaluation report carried out following the meeting in the other place stated:
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