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That is a reference to a report done by Lucy Crompton, “UK Youth Parliament Debate in the House of Lords 2 May 2008”.

My hon. Friend is right to say that this is an important issue. I am glad that he recognises that. Surely a proper evaluation of the implications and what is involved should have been carried out in advance of the proposal. That has not happened, and it may mean that there are fewer resources available to fund the cost of travel for school visits to the whole of the Palace of Westminster, for example, rather than individual visits by members of the UK Youth Parliament. If that is the consequence of allowing the Youth Parliament to use the Chamber, we should know about it.

It is significant that the Speaker has not yet made a statement about the matter. It is still somewhat up in the air whether, if the Youth Parliament meets in the Chamber, he will preside over those proceedings in the same way as the Lord Speaker presided in the House of Lords debate. Although the Minister said in the previous debate that the Mace would not be used, there was some suggestion of a mock Mace being used, which was not ruled out.

Chris Bryant: I am happy to rule that out.

Mr. Chope: I am glad to have been able to provoke the Minister to respond. Even if he does not know the date of the proposed meeting, he knows that a mock Mace will not be used for the mock Parliament.

There is an enormous number of details, which I shall not dwell on, but which should be the subject of a proper debate. The debate on the detail should take place not in the Chamber, but in one of the appointed
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Committees of the House. Before we vote on this motion, we should have considered a motion that this House takes the view that the Chamber should be used for purposes other than those for which it has been used hitherto. If we had established that principle first, and that principle had been agreed, as a democrat I would be the first to accept that we would then have opened ourselves to all sorts of bids from different organisations wanting to make use of our Chamber. All those bids could be the subject of scrutiny and debate by the Administration Committee.

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in many ways the House is about promoting democracy, and that by bringing young people here, we would be aiding that role? I have met Croydon, Central representatives of the Youth Parliament, and I believe they would give almost as good a speech as the hon. Gentleman is giving this evening.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend goes down that long-trodden path of trying to use flattery. I know that his intentions are generous, but I will not be seduced by that. I hope that he will have a chance to make his own speech later.

I do not accept my hon. Friend’s premise that the promotion of democracy in the Youth Parliament will be enhanced by the Youth Parliament’s being able to use the Chamber as opposed to being able to meet in Committee Room 14. If the argument is about giving publicity to the Youth Parliament, he and I are contributing to that process by participating in this debate. In our previous debate, the Deputy Leader of the House suggested that one of the great merits of our debate was that it would give publicity to the United Kingdom Youth Parliament, but nobody could argue that in itself giving young people the right to sit on these green Benches enhances democracy.

Allowing young people to participate in party political activity, conferences and young people’s political organisations is very helpful for democracy, and I regret very much the reduced activity in all our political parties, including—I am not sure which political party my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) belongs to now— [Interruption.] Very well, the wilderness political party. I gave the example of the late Lord Biffen and the current example of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, but there have been many other people who gained an appetite for engaging in democracy and debate through the political process, without coming to visit Parliament and without having to sit on the green Benches.

Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): The Deputy Speaker himself.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend indicates that the Deputy Speaker might want to join in the debate, but unfortunately I do not think he is allowed to do so. Perhaps that is another of the conventions or rules that will soon be waived.

Mr. Binley: With due deference to my hon. Friend’s remark, I was simply agreeing that many of us came up through political youth organisations, and I was paying tribute to the Deputy Speaker’s great achievement in one of those particular movements. That was my point.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Echoing the words of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) on the idea of flattery getting the hon. Gentleman anywhere, I have to say that it will not work this evening. The Chair should not be brought into the debate, however well-intentioned the hon. Gentleman’s comments might have been.

Mr. Chope: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I congratulate my hon. Friend on succeeding in getting you to your feet in this debate—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It might not take that kind of intervention; I say to the hon. Gentleman that he must guard against repetitious argument.

Mr. Chope: I certainly would not want to go down that road.

To sum up my case on the amendment, this is a serious subject that has not been addressed by the Government with sufficient clarity or gravity up to now. Are we on the verge of approving a precedent that this Chamber can be used for other purposes and by other organisations and will there be a free-for-all in future? If that is what is being proposed, I am against it, and right hon. and hon. Members need to have their eyes open to the full implications of the setting of a precedent.

Is the measure meant to enable the Prime Minister to save face because he made a statement—without consulting Mr. Speaker—that this Chamber would be available for the Youth Parliament every year? He has been trying to make that happen since then, and has he now, in some shabby compromise, been forced into allowing it to be used only for one year? If that is the sort of shabby compromise underlying this proposal, let us be clear about it. I have my suspicions, and I think that this motion is probably the result of a shabby compromise.

Underlying it all is the fact that a lot of young people are elected to the Youth Parliament, and aspire to be elected to it, and I have not yet heard why this year’s cohort of youth parliamentarians should have exclusive use of this Chamber in a way that will be denied to subsequent cohorts. I fear that this Government’s proposal patronises young people in an awful way.

Mr. Leigh: Let us cut to the quick. This proposal is about trying to look trendy and to suck up to the youth vote. In fact, youth find that patronising. The one thing that they cannot stand is politicians who are mutton dressed up as lamb. That is the real truth. The Government will not get any credit at all from the youth of this country for this proposal.

Mr. Chope: As my hon. Friend would have said, we are not going to be treated as cool by using the expression “cool”. My children say, “Whatever else you do, Daddy, don’t use the expression ‘cool’.” The Government are trying to appear to be cool, but as my hon. Friend says, young people will not be taken in. At the end of the day, this proposal would be a craven capitulation to the misguided agenda of the Executive. It would be pandering to what they see as populism, grossly indulgent and an insult to all those people who have honoured this Chamber in times past, who would be nervous about setting a dangerous precedent for the future.

I beg to move, as an amendment to the motion, leave out “the Chamber” and insert “Committee Room 14”.

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7.14 pm

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): My contribution will be of the briefest nature because I do not intend to compete with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), thus enabling the debate to go on so long that there will not be a vote. It will be a real challenge to democracy if, after last week’s debate, we have yet another debate that does not come to a conclusion.

I am unashamedly in favour, not of something that is cool, but of something realistic, fair, reasonable and that shows respect and encouragement to the young people of the UK Youth Parliament. Of course it is a privilege to be in this place. Every one of us, as we enter this building, appreciates that it is a place of great history and great precedent, but at the end of the day, as someone said earlier, it is a row of green Benches—it is a place. That is what matters most. It has that history, but that adds to the reasons why young people should be encouraged and have the opportunity to take part.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): The hon. Gentleman expresses the view that this is just a room, a place with green Benches, which has been expressed by one or two other Members during these debates. Does he, therefore, regard the Speaker’s Chair as being just a chair, and does he believe that it should be available for members of the Youth Parliament to use?

Michael Jabez Foster: I have no problem with that, and I hope that Mr. Speaker would not either, although perhaps it would be more appropriate to use the Chairman’s chair. But that is not relevant. What matters is respect for the office and the way in which we conduct ourselves, and we certainly do not show respect for this place by talking out an obvious and reasonable proposition. That is what brings this place into disrepute, not whether we sit or stand, or what we do in this place itself.

Mr. Bone rose—

Michael Jabez Foster: I will not give way because I intend to make a brief contribution.

It is important that we do not talk down the UK Youth Parliament. Its representatives in my area have contributed significantly, over many years, to advancing the views of young people, which is surely what they are there to do. The fact is that they are not a mock Parliament, as has been suggested by some hon. Members, but a real representative body with reasonable turnouts. And those turnouts of young people are somewhat greater than the ones we sometimes get. That is the truth of it.

Young people do not vote for we fuddy-duddies, as they see us. Wherever we sit, whatever we say, whatever our purpose and whatever our intentions, they do not vote for us. Why is that? They do not vote for us, because we are not connected. I do not believe that we can connect by being “cool”, by using certain expressions or by being on Facebook—although I wonder how many of us are—but young people should have the opportunity to talk the real language of the people whom they represent. That is not as partisan, in the narrow sense, as has been suggested. For example, in Hastings, we have an excellent youth council that has
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recently put together a Myplace bid, and has succeeded. In turn, that council works with the Hastings seniors forum on concessionary bus fares and issues of common concern. Young people are real politicians.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If the measure is passed, would the hon. Gentleman hope that other organisations and other Parliaments would also take advantage of the offer, or would he see it as strictly a one-off, with no other such examples following in future?

Michael Jabez Foster: I do not have a problem with the proposal having a wider application. I do not share the view that this matter is precious, or more especially that we are precious. This is an important place, but we are not that important. The truth is that much of this debate is about us. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) said, it is a question of only elected posteriors being allowed to sit on these green Benches. I do not understand that concept. We are just ordinary representatives of people. We got voted for, and it is a great privilege to be here, but the members of the Youth Parliament were voted for, too.

Bob Spink: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that this place is precious? It is special, and the Speaker’s Chair is special, but that is only the case when the Mace is in its place, which is what gives it its constitutional and legal significance? Otherwise, it is just a group of green Benches.

Michael Jabez Foster: I agree entirely. The Mace is important, of course; it symbolises the supremacy of the House. The hon. Gentleman’s point is a good one.

Mr. Binley: Does the hon. Gentleman know of the T.S. Eliot poem that states that there are places

The argument is that that activity enhances and heightens the place itself. Does he agree that the activity that takes place here “has been valid” and that it heightens the meaning of this place?

Michael Jabez Foster: It might do and it might not; the truth is that some debates in this place—including this one, perhaps—are evidence of the fact that it can go to lows as well as highs. What really matters is what we do in this place—the decisions that we come to and their relevance to the young and the wider sphere of people.

Philip Davies rose—

Michael Jabez Foster: I will not take another intervention—not out of disrespect, but because I believe that we should show respect and encouragement to young people who want to get involved and I do not intend to take lots of interventions and be party to talking this debate out. I hope very much that the House will make a decision tonight. We expect young people to respect us; I hope that we will not show disrespect to young people through this sort of charade, which has everything to do with preciousness and nothing to do with democracy.

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7.21 pm

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I had not intended to speak on this subject when I was perchance in the Chamber for round one last week. However, there have been many contributions and I thought I would add my own. I support the Government motion, but not without criticism.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) on four points. I entirely respect his views and those of hon. Friends who agree with him. Like us all, my hon. Friend is engaging in this debate because we respect the Chamber, Parliament and parliamentary conventions, and we do not want anything to dilute or undermine them. We all speak from that perspective.

Secondly, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is right that we should debate the issue. The Government have not been terribly smart in putting the motion on the Order Paper with the intention of sneaking it through at the end of the day. Too many items of business are sneaked through. The Minister might acknowledge in retrospect that there was more interest in this subject than he may have thought when it was timetabled for the end of the day.

Mr. Bone: That is one of the crucial points. If the Government had provided time for debate and tabled a proper motion that laid out all the different criteria, many Members would have felt more inclined to participate. It is the way the matter has been handled that has annoyed so many Members of Parliament.

Tim Loughton: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right; I shall come to that point in a minute.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch on a third point: Front Benchers did not discuss the matter properly so that everybody knew what was going on and could make arrangements accordingly. If it had been so discussed, the Minister would have received advice saying that there was great interest in there being a proper airing of the issues.

My fourth point of agreement is that the motion lacks detail. I do not know whether the Youth Parliament’s sitting here will be a one-off or how much it would cost, although I do not have a big problem with the House of Lords example that has been cited. We have had some clarification on whether the Mace would be here and whether the Speaker would be in the Chair. However, there are still a lot of question marks and the House is entitled to a little respect and to the detail. I do not think that there would be much to alarm us, but we need to know it.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman raised one issue on which there is no lack of clarity: the motion on the Order Paper refers to only one event.

Tim Loughton: That is giving rise to questions about whether the event will be annual or a one-off. I do not have a problem with that, because we need to experiment; we need to have a pilot and to learn from it. With those riders, I will support the Government motion but not the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.

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