Are the Lords listening? Creating connections between people and Parliament - Information Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 170)

WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL 2009

Ms Jaimini Patel, Ms Akua Yeboah, Ms Samira Ahmed, Ms Laurette Kitoko and Ms Parminder Rathore

  Q160  Chairman: Be frank!

  Ms Ahmed: What they were saying about citizenship in school. We know a fair bit about the House of Commons. That is probably because the people are elected and so through their campaigns and all those kinds of things we are more aware of what they do and who they are, but the Lords are not elected, and that is probably why we do not know much about them. We know a fair bit about the people in the House of Commons through elections and campaigns because the publicise themselves better. That is probably how you could make yourselves more aware to us.

  Ms Rathore: We found out that you could also write in to be a Lord.

  Q161  Baroness Coussins: You can nominate yourselves.

  Ms Ahmed: Is there an age limit? How old do you have to be to be in the House of Lords?

  Q162  Baroness Coussins: I do not think there is any prescribed limit but you do have to show that you have been around the block a few times first!

  Ms Ahmed: If you get a few younger Lords in.

  Baroness Coussins: I think the youngest peer is 30-something.

  Earl of Erroll: When it was hereditary, when it ran in families you could be much younger.

  Lord Selsdon: I was 25.

  Lord St John of Bletso: I was 21.

  Q163  Earl of Erroll: But it has changed now because with appointments people tend to get appointed when they are at the end of their careers. Some are much younger. Do you find the language and ceremonial bit puts you off at all? Is that a barrier to communication?

  Ms Yeboah: Yes, it was a bit too formal for our level but then it also gave us an insight of what is done and it helped us to inculcate the spirit of being more mature in what we do. It also set good examples for our peers who do not look up to older people as role models but we children ourselves could create role models in our society.

  Ms Ahmed: It was a bit alien to us. It was very, very formal but to a certain extent we would like it to stay like that because it would not help, you know when you get politicians that try and act really young, that is really offputting because we cannot relate to that at all.

  Ms Patel: We like to see them get straight to the point.

  Ms Ahmed: Yes, get straight to the point and be themselves. When they try and act really young it is really offputting. With their status we cannot really take them seriously because we are thinking about the way they are acting rather than what they say.

  Ms Yeboah: Sometimes we expect you to stoop to our level of thinking. That way we can also think more clearly.

  Ms Ahmed: Without patronising us.

  Ms Yeboah: Yes because sometimes we find it really hard to really get what you say. I think that way it will help us.

  Q164  Earl of Erroll: So do you find the language barrier and some of the words that people use in Parliament are just complicated?

  Ms Ahmed: Yes.

  Chairman: I think Lord St John wants to come in.

  Q165  Lord St John of Bletso: There is a small point on perception and reality. Are you aware that we in the House of Lords try and specialise in certain subjects? There are certain Members here who specialise in the interests of young persons. That is all they do. They look at every facet of life from a young person's point of view, so your voice is heard. We would like to know how we can do a better job in having your interests represented here and whether you feel that by making representations we can make a difference to your lives, because when you say you vote you do not know if your votes really counts, that means a lot to us and we want to know that you feel your vote does count and that you feel as young people that you are being heard and that you can make a difference, or we can make a difference to make your lives better.

  Ms Rathore: I think that younger people probably think that the Lords are the elite society, they are really upper class and higher than us. Maybe whether you can come into secondary schools and primary schools and try and get involved in the schools. Obviously, we have MPs that are there but we want Lords there.

  Ms Ahmed: There is no direct link to the House of Lords so we have an MP for Hackney, for example, and we can write to her or whatever. If we had, say for example, a Lord for each constituency, they come to our school to see how we are, then we would feel closely connected and we would feel involved, and that is what is going to make us want to vote in the future because we know that our vote counts and will be heard and you are not that different to us.

  Q166  Lord Taylor of Warwick: I have a 14-year-old daughter, my youngest child and she asked me last week, "Daddy, were you ever young?" I had to think about that! When you went to the Women in Parliament event you said that you did not get a chance to talk about the subjects that you are really passionate about. What are those subjects that you are really passionate about?

  Ms Ahmed: We are passionate about women in politics, that was really important, so for example we wanted to find out loads about how it is not very equal when you get paid in the workplace, and that was mentioned. Something we are really, really passionate about is for example climate change. We can carry on working and carry on passing bills about the here and now but there is no point in doing that if we are not going to have a very bright future anyway.

  Q167  Lord Taylor of Warwick: Was there anything about the event that stopped you from talking about the issues you wanted to? I got the impression that you were a little frustrated by that event?

  Ms Ahmed: It was focused mainly on what they wanted to say. The only chance we did get was the one-to-one, which was very good, but even then it was very limited and every MP we spoke to said we should speak to our local MP.

  Q168  Lord Puttnam: Samir, you mentioned and Akua also mentioned climate change. I chaired the joint Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change and in a sense I share the same frustration. We were just beginning to get somewhere after 18 months and of course the Committee gets disbanded and business moves on, but of course your issues have not moved on at all. What interests me a lot is the degree to which you feel—and I hope that you are going to say that you feel you have got a voice—these issues are going to affect you much more than they are going to affect me. It is about your future. Do you feel that you are being given a voice in your future and a sense that your concerns are being adequately represented? If you do, what routes are there or, if you do not what routes should we create to make sure that your voice gets heard?

  Ms Ahmed: We know that bills take a long time and they are passed on from the House of Lords back to the Commons and back to the Lords. Most young people like to see immediate change because we are not very patient at times. We know that it takes a long time for the bills to be passed but maybe if you could do something about action being taken much sooner. When we are focused and passionate about something we like for it to be done straight away because we feel we are waiting and waiting and we tend to lose that passion for it. If we are fighting for it at the time that is when we want to see change because afterwards something else happens and we move on to the next phase or whatever. So if something can be done so action is taken faster.

  Q169  Earl of Erroll: What do you call a long time just to clarify?

  Ms Ahmed: How long does it usually take for bills to get passed?

  Q170  Earl of Erroll: How long do you think it does?

  Ms Ahmed: Does it not take a couple of months?

  Earl of Erroll: The answer is six months.

  Chairman: Lord Selsdon and then we must move on.

  Lord Selsdon: It is only a quick one. You probably realise that 19 million people did not vote in the last election. If you could encourage people to vote that would help. I am forever grateful to Hackney. I was President of what was called Hackney Quest which took young people out on holidays with the police. I thought I was good at ping pong and I got beaten by a nine-year-old!

  Chairman: Thank you all very much for coming. Could I just say to you, as I did to other groups, that if there is anything you would like to add, if there is anything that you have not said that you think, "Gosh, I wish I had told them that," do not hesitate to write in. We are very grateful to you for coming. Thank you for giving us your views frankly and we hope to see you again. Thank you so much.



 
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