Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL 2009
Dina Chowdhury, Mr Haysam Agabani, Mr Majid Aljassas,
Mr Mahmoud Hassan and Mr Jake Ross
Q180 Earl of Erroll:
Just something else that came out about knowing who to contact,
thinking about the Lords as opposed to MPs, this thing came up
knowing who your local Lords might be, which I suspect is probably
not as useful as knowing who are the Lords who are interested
in education and younger issues. Would that be helpful if you
knew someone to contact or where you should start tackling the
Mr Aljassas: I believe that there should be
more of a reach-out from the Lords and MPs themselves to us since
we are so limited on education from Parliament.
Q181 Earl of Erroll:
What age do you think you should vote at?
Mr Agabani: I think it should be lower. I think
the easiest way to encourage people to learn more about Parliament
is to show them that they have an effect. It is okay learning
about it from younger but you think okay I can learn about it
but I cannot really change any, whereas having the vote, and not
just having the vote but having lessons about the vote, you can
hit 18 without having information about what your vote means or
that sort of thing. Much like a driving test, maybe there should
be lessons beforehand as to these are the processes and you are
voting for your local MP not for the leader or the party. But
I think a lower voting age would open doors and people would want
to be interested about what they are voting for rather than just
Q182 Lord Selsdon:
A political question: should we force people to carry identity
cards? Maybe we could have a vote one, two, three, four and five!
Mr Agabani: I think if there is significant
evidence that it would actually improve security, personally I
do not have any objection to having an identity card. Whether
it actually does improve security is another matter. I think maybe
if there was evidence I would not have a problem with carrying
an ID card.
Mr Ross: I am more inclined to oppose it only
because it requires you to give a lot of data to the government
and then if something happened that they needed to access anyone's
information it is almost a breach of your rights. Also, but it
is just an assumption, that it might lead to suspicion for young
people by, say, the police and if you happen to leave your ID
card at home and then you got in trouble with the police, I do
not think that would be fair.
Mr Hassan: I would probably go with Jake. I
would mostly oppose it. There is no reason why I should hold my
ID on me all the time.
Q183 Lord Taylor of Warwick:
About three years ago I met a young black chap in Washington DC
and we exchanged cards and we talked about our ambitions and so
forth and I thought, "That kid could possibly go far."
His name was Barack Obama and apparently he is now the President
of the United States! You talked about the ethnic question earlier
that things have not really improved much. Does the fact that
he is the President inspire you to get involved in politics or
do you think there are things about Britain which make it more
difficult for black and Asian people to get through in politics?
He came through with two years' experience.
Mr Agabani: I personally think it gave massive
inspiration because what you had got before, with neither Britain
nor America having a President or Prime Minister from a different
ethnic background, you got the feeling that there were barriers
and even if you had the ability and you had the experience there
might be barriers to you doing it. The fact that in America, for
probably I would be guessing students in America, or those in
universities, seeing that it is possible means that they are not
dismissing it. To have a black person or a person from a different
ethnic minority as Prime Minister here I think would show that
it is possible.
Lord Taylor of Warwick: Would it be easier
here or more difficult here because we have a different political
system, we have more of a party system?
That is a difficult one.
Mr Ross: I think partly the black population
in America is a lot bigger so that might have affected it. As
an inspiration he has been an inspiration to not only young people
but everyone. Yes, for me, he is something of a hero but that
is just me.
Q185 Lord Puttnam:
You may be interested to know that there was a poll last weekend
in the United States that indicated that 80 per cent of the American
population think that race relations have significantly improved
since Barack Obama became President, a really interesting finding.
You all touched on this to a degree and it really fascinates me.
To what extent do you feel you are encouraged to see yourselves
as citizens of this country? Given that, are you also taken through
the notion that that involves significant rights and significant
responsibilities? Are you allowed into a debate about the offset
between rights and responsibilities?
Mr Agabani: In secondary school we had very
limited citizenship lessons. I am trying to remember. There was
no general discussion about being a citizen of this country and
,just like you said, your rights or responsibilities. I think
if there was more of an input into that and an understanding of
what your rights as a citizen of Britain are, and some of the
responsibilities you may have in the future, without being introduced
into it, you are not going to know about it, it is as simple as
that, so that first input is important.
Q186 Lord Puttnam:
Without putting words into your mouth, do you not think that it
is quite extraordinary that given the complexity of this country
and the challenges over the next 30 or 40 years, that you are
not introduced to the whole concept of rights and responsibilities?
Mr Agabani: Without a doubt. I said before on
the vote you could go through without any introduction and suddenly
you are 18 and that is it, you can go to the ballot box and it
will be, "What am I supposed to do here?" Just like
you said with the complexity, I think it is a must really. Some
of the other schools were talking about the gap between the House
of Lords and I think that having that introduction would close
that gap because you start to understand things that you would
not have known before and you would have had no reason to take
an interest in.
Ms Chowdhury: I agree with Haysam, I think there
should be more of an introduction. Until now I did not know that
we had our own Lord in our constitution, which is quite surprising.
We should be more aware of who it is and what their thoughts are
and what they think we should do, their ideas on the rights and
the Acts going through, and maybe more based on education and
stuff like that.
Mr Agabani: The fact that there are Lords that
specialise in education, I do not think I have ever heard that
before, so it is a bit of surprise that there are Lords who are
specifically focusing on young people and we have not heard about
Chairman: We have run out of the time
and I think we are in danger of becoming very philosophical, and
quite rightly too. Again, many thanks to all of you for coming.
I would just like to point out that if you have things to communicate
with us further you can send us a YouTube video. Lucy at the back
there will give you a flier which gives you all the details about
that. We would love to hear more from you. Again, thank you all
very much indeed for coming. Can I take the opportunity of thanking
Lucy herself for managing the education session and Clare for
arranging the outreach session and Becky also for delivering the
sessions in Essex. I think for all of us it has been a remarkable
two hours. We have very great gratitude to those of the staff
here who have organised it but, above all, I thank all of you
for coming. I hope you all vote for your MP!