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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 186)

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 people?

  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 learning it.

  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?

  Q184  Chairman: 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 them.

  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!



 
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