I beg to move,
That this House welcomes the work of the United Kingdom Youth Parliament in providing young people with an opportunity to engage with the political process; notes that the House agreed on 16 March 2009 to allow the Youth Parliament to meet once in the Chamber; recalls that this meeting took place on 30 October 2009; and accordingly resolves that the UK Youth Parliament should be allowed to meet once a year in the Chamber of this House for the duration of this Parliament.
I am glad that it is now past 10 o’clock.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you confirm that a Division on the motion would be deferred, but that if the closure were moved tonight, a Division on it would take place here and now? Many people watching these proceedings would think it quite strange that we would have a Division on a closure motion, but that there would be no Division on the substantive motion. Will you confirm that?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; his point of order helpfully confirms the factual position. In the event that there were a closure motion, it would, as with all closure motions, as he perceptively interprets, be subject to an immediate vote. In the event that the decision on the substantive motion is a matter of dispute when the voices are collected, a deferred Division will be held tomorrow. The hon. Gentleman therefore, as usual, has an exquisite understanding of procedure. That fact is now known not only to me but to all Members of the House here present.
There are requisite numbers for these matters, but I tend to take the view of the late Lord Whitelaw that it is advisable to cross a bridge only when one comes to it. Rather than speculate on the hypothetical, we will address that matter when we get there. The hon. Gentleman need not allow his brow to furrow or make himself anxious. He is too big a man for that.
It is splendid that there is so much careful consideration of the procedure that accompanies this motion.
The motion would allow for the UK Youth Parliament to sit in this place for its annual meeting this year, and annually for the rest of this Parliament, repeating the successful exercise of last October. It is probably not in order for me to say at this stage how much I appreciated the debate that we have just had under the auspices of the Business Committee, but the Government would now expect debates of this nature to be scheduled by that Committee. However, because of the time constraints on the House agreeing this motion and the availability of time before the summer recess, the Government have decided to facilitate the House in reaching a decision by providing time after the moment of interruption.
Can the Deputy Leader of the House explain why we need to do this before the summer recess? If he knew a week ago that we needed to do it before the summer recess, why was it not put on the Order Paper below the line so that we had advance notice of the Government’s intention?
I have just said that the Government are facilitating a process. This is not Government policy: it is for the House to determine. I see no reason why we should not debate this issue tonight. We have plenty of time to debate it tonight—possibly as much time as any Member could reasonably expect to debate an important issue such as this. It is important that we take a decision, for the obvious reason that if we could not decide, we could not allow the UK Youth Parliament to make use of the facilities at the time when we would invite them to do so if this motion were passed. It would therefore seem to be entirely sensible, even within the constraints of procedure in this place, to table a motion to agree to invite the Youth Parliament to use the facilities and, if that is agreed, for it then to do so—rather than the other way round.
The Deputy Leader of the House claims to be facilitating a debate and says that he believes there is no reason why a debate should not take place. If that is the case, can he explain why yesterday the Government tried to get this motion through on the nod at the end of the day, without any debate? If the Government were so keen on facilitating a debate, why did he not schedule a debate in the first place?
May I let the hon. Gentleman into a secret? If the House agrees on an issue, we do not need to take up debating time. If the House agreed on a matter, it would be sensible not to schedule a debate on the Order Paper, because we could use the time for more important things, such as those statements that hon. Members have said they want to hear in the Chamber. We could ensure that Ministers come here to explain their policies, and have more time for legislation, rather than debating matters on which the whole House agrees. But it would appear that there are some in the House who do not agree, which is why we are happy to provide time for the debate this evening.
Last time we debated this matter, I was on the Opposition Benches and supporting the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley)—no, it was not her; it was the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
I beg the hon. Lady’s pardon. It was her who put forward the motion. I said then that if we were to decide in the future that the first occasion had been a great success in building confidence in democracy, and an understanding of democracy, among the young in this country, we might repeat the experience. I hope that hon. Members who were in the House during the previous Parliament and who actually saw the debate—I attended the whole of it—would agree that those tests were met, and that the experience should be repeated. I hope that new Members in the House, who worked hard to ensure they could take their seats, will feel it right to encourage young people to express themselves and take part in the process of politics, and I can think of no better way of doing so than this particular suggestion.
May I help my hon. Friend, and colleagues on both sides of the House who were positive about the experiment last time, by saying that the feedback from the young people who participated, particularly some brilliant young women, and brilliant black young women, was that it had transformed their lives and that they had left this place reinvigorated to argue for British democracy in a way that I honestly do not think any of us envisaged? So I hope that there will be no backwoods objection to that fantastic innovation made only a few months ago.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments, because they are well founded and speak for the experience that many of us have had in speaking to young people who were involved that day. Let us remember that the debate took place at a time when Parliament’s reputation was severely damaged, and when young people were increasingly disaffected with politics and society. I do not think that any hon. Member would argue that either of those problems has gone away, but I believe that we are making progress. In 2005 the turnout for 18 to 24-year-olds was estimated at 37%. Five years later, turnout is believed to have risen to about 44%. It is only by continuing and increasing young people’s engagement with politics that we can continue to see those numbers grow.
For those who either watched it or were present, last year’s debate showed us young people from across the country discussing the issues that they felt were most important—youth crime, cheaper transport, free university education, job opportunities for young people, and lowering the voting age to 16. Without trespassing on the territory of the Backbench Business Committee and the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), may I say that if those suggestions were put to her Committee, they would not be out of order as matters of vital importance to the House.
Was I hearing the Minister correctly when he tried to claim that the increased turnout among young people at the last election from 38% to 44% was due to young people having a debate in the Chamber last year? Is that really what he is claiming? I thought that his party was claiming beforehand that it was the televised debates with all the leaders that were encouraging young people to turn out. Has he changed his mind, or is he just coming out with a load of guff and a spurious argument?
The hon. Gentleman was correct neither in the figures he quoted me as saying nor in the causal connection, which I did not seek to make. So the simple answer is: no, he is not correct.
I shall deal with some of the objections that might come up during the debate, because they came up at length last year. Last year’s debate by the UK Youth Parliament was the very first time that anyone other than Members of Parliament had sat on these green Benches.
I hear the word “outrageous” from a sedentary position behind me. The fact that last year’s debate was the first time that anyone other than a Member of Parliament had sat on these green Benches seemed to be the issue for some hon. Members. They held the view—and obviously still do—that to sit on these Benches is a privilege that can be exercised only by Members who have been elected to this House. In my view, that is to confuse the institution of Parliament, which is an enormously important institution to this country, and the fabric of the building. The two are not identical. Were it to sit in another chamber, this Parliament would still be the Parliament of the United Kingdom, just as much as it is when it sits in this Chamber. This Chamber in itself does not constitute the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
I am glad that the hon. Lady has raised that issue, because it was the next objection that I thought might be raised. Her argument is what I would characterise as the slippery slope argument: that because we have allowed the UK Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber once, and because we now propose that the experiment might be worth repeating, there is no way that we can prevent any Tom, Dick or Harry, from anywhere in the country, from coming in here and, by precedent, using this Chamber. However, that is patently not the case, because the decision is taken by this Parliament.
However, there is another reason, which is this. The UK Youth Parliament fulfils two criteria that no other organisation in this country can fulfil. First, its members are elected democratically; secondly, it comprises citizens of this country who, by statute, cannot seek election to this House. Therefore, I believe that the UK Youth Parliament has a unique position, and we have a clear function in encouraging young people to take an interest in politics and become involved in the political process.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I certainly celebrate the fact that young people are interested, as she clearly does, and as I think most sensible people do. There are a small minority who perhaps do not, but I think that Parliament has a clear view on such issues.
May I briefly congratulate Oliver Warne, MYP, on his re-election to the Youth Parliament? Does my hon. Friend agree that he and the other youth MPs conducted the debates in this place last year with enormous dignity, good sense and restraint, which is something from which some Members of this House could perhaps learn?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the other objections raised is that if we allowed members of the UK Youth Parliament in here they would be swinging the Mace round their heads, swinging from the chandeliers and causing mayhem—after all, they are youth; some of them probably wear hoodies. I have to say that, in all honesty, that was not the experience last time—not by a long way.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for so generously giving way again. I recall one of the Tory backwoodsmen with whom he is in such happy coalition these days saying that those young people would come in here and put chewing gum on the seats and use penknives to carve them up. Could he report back to the House on how many such incidents occurred?
Of course no incidents of that kind occurred at all. Indeed, the behaviour of the young people in the Youth Parliament was impeccable in every sense. Indeed, there were staff and Officers of the House who confided in me after the event that they had had real reservations about the invitation being issued. They had been worried about what would happen, but they were astonished at the maturity, good sense, good manners and proper behaviour of those young people—young people who engaged in debate that was often of a higher quality than what we hear in this Chamber on a normal working day. That is a testament to the maturity and good sense of those young people.
It seems to me that we have effectively formed a Backbench Business Committee this evening, but I wonder whether in future it would be better if this sort of issue were brought forward by the Backbench Business Committee rather than in Government time. There were great results from what took place here, which I do not think many of us would deny, but this is not really prime Government business. Would it not be better dealt with by the Backbench Business Committee?
Does my hon. Friend recall that in the previous Parliament, it was somewhat embarrassing that the House of Lords allowed the UK Youth Parliament to sit on their red Benches, which is what shamed us into allowing it to sit on our green Benches? This House made rather a spectacle of itself in the last Parliament and we made ourselves very unpopular. We are in grave danger of doing exactly the same thing again, and looking increasingly out of touch.
I think it is always a matter of concern when the House of Lords looks comparatively youthful, progressive and forward thinking in comparison with the elected House, so I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.
Let us deal with some of the apparently very important logistical questions raised in last year’s debate. They were clarified then, but it is worth repeating them for the avoidance of any doubt. The rules of order that the UK Youth Parliament will follow in this Chamber will be the same as our own. As I suggested earlier in response to the intervention by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), there are strong arguments for us to follow its lead in how we interpret procedure rather than it following ours.
The Mace will not be in its place and the Speaker’s Chair will not be occupied by anyone other than Mr Speaker or the Deputy Speakers. As for broadcasting, the rights will remain with us. I believe that the parliamentary broadcasting unit should be encouraged to film the proceedings, and I am sure that the broadcasters will need no encouragement to show it.
I should declare that I am a trustee of the Youth Parliament. I would like some clarification from my hon. Friend as to whether the transmission of proceedings will be live or, as I have heard in some reports, there will be a delay. Given that so many have noted that the Youth Parliament was exceptional in its proceedings, it should not be required to have a delay in its live broadcasting.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has played a large part in championing the role of the UK Youth Parliament in this House and elsewhere. I cannot answer her question because it is not within the gift of the Deputy Leader of the House—despite my manifest powers of persuasion. I will inquire and write back to my hon. Friend, but I am afraid that I do not know the answer without making further inquiries of the parliamentary broadcasting unit.
I entirely support the use of the Chamber for the Youth Parliament, but I am puzzled by one piece of logic. Why is the hon. Gentleman content for the Prime Minister’s Chair to be used by the UK Youth Parliament, while the Speaker’s Chair is somehow regarded as sacrosanct? Why should that Chair not be used equally by the Youth Parliament?
For the very simple reason that this appeared to be a bone of contention last time we debated it, and rather than have yet another argument with colleagues who felt otherwise, it was felt appropriate for the Speaker’s Chair not to be occupied by anyone other than Mr Speaker or the Deputy Speakers. We will keep to that protocol, because there is no objection on the part of the UK Youth Parliament to it. Indeed, how could it object, when it is here at our invitation? There is no reason for changing the protocol.
At the end of last year’s debate, Rhys George, a Member of the Youth Parliament for the South East, rose on a point of order to say:
“I would like to say thank you to all the MPs who voted overwhelmingly for us to be debating here today for the first time. Without them, we would not be here and the people of Britain would not be able to see what we mean and what we are trying to do to benefit young people.”
Mr Speaker was in the Chair at the time, and he rather deftly avoided noting that this was not, in fact, a point of order or a matter for the Chair. I am not sure that he would have been quite so tolerant had it been raised in our normal business.
I believe that this is a matter for the whole House. We must decide whether we want to continue to encourage young people to be involved in politics. We must decide whether we want to give them an opportunity that will be theirs perhaps once in a lifetime, and which I think will make a lasting impression not just on them personally but on the people whom they represent and the people to whom they report back—the people who know that they have had that opportunity. I hope that Members will join me in supporting the motion and welcoming the UK Youth Parliament back to this place to continue its excellent work.
The question of whether young people engage in politics should concern Members because of its potential impact on the fabric of democracy in future years. Labour Members are very proud that in March 2009, the Government set the very good precedent of tabling a motion to allow the UK Youth Parliament to sit in the Chamber at a time when the House was not sitting.
The hon. Lady has made the point that the Government established a precedent. However, in our last debate on the subject it was made clear to the House that it would not be a precedent: that it would be a one-off for the annual meeting of the UK Youth Parliament on its 10th anniversary. Is this not the slippery slope that many of us feared?
I would not call it a slippery slope, but I will come to the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
As some Members have observed, the meeting that took place last October was a great success. These Benches were packed with 300 young men and women, many from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and it was a fantastic debate. One of the young people described how she felt about it, saying:
“It is an outstanding example of how democracy among young people is alive and kicking. Tackling debate topics such as tuition fees, transport, crime, the economy AND lowering the voting age really shows that anyone who thinks young people aren’t interested in politics is extremely misinformed.”
We want to encourage young people to see democracy as important, and to see the House of Commons as relevant to their lives and to the future. It would be very odd for us not to continue to let young people use the Chamber when we are not using it—on a Friday, during a weekend, or when the House is in recess. It would be very odd indeed for us to say now, after all the success of the debate last October, that we were raising the drawbridge on the use of Parliament by young people. Instead, we should be opening the windows to the breath of fresh air that they will bring in.
It would indeed. Members are clearly concerned about the issues affecting young people. We regularly discuss in the Chamber the same issues that the young people discuss themselves, and it is important for us to hear their angles and views as well. The engagement of the UK Youth Parliament—whose members are themselves elected from all parts of the country, often on a bigger turnout than some Members here—is very important.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a poor show when, although it is apparently so important for the Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber, the main Opposition party can find only about two minutes’ worth of things to say about it. It clearly cannot be all that important to them if they have nothing to say in support of it.
The hon. Lady talked—very briefly, I must say—about the views of young people, and the importance of their perception of the House of Commons and its relevance to them.
May I tell the hon. Lady something that she might want to bear in mind when considering what people think of the House of Commons? It comes back to something that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) said in his earlier intervention, which was not dealt with particularly well. The hon. Lady started off by saying that the previous Labour Government set a precedent with last year’s debate.
We are very grateful in this place that we have our Hansard reporters, and we can all read tomorrow what the hon. Lady actually said. We certainly heard that she said that it was a precedent.
The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said that it was an experiment last time. However, if anyone wants to cast their eyes back on the account of last year’s debate, they will see that it was made abundantly clear by the Government and others who supported the principle that the debate was a one-off.
Therefore, the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and those supporting her stance are saying that what the young people in the Youth Parliament should learn from the House of Commons is that we cannot believe a word anybody in this House says, because they say one thing one year and they then go and completely reject the solemn promises they made at that time. If that is the kind of message they want to give to young people, that is very interesting.
Given that no previous Parliament can bind a future Parliament, perhaps it is not the young people who need to do their homework about this place. Does my hon. Friend not agree that that decision was for that Parliament to take, and what we do in this Parliament is for us to decide?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. However, I would point out that those people who were here in the previous Parliament and who said that the debate was a one-off—that it would only take place once and it would not be repeated—should bear that in mind when they come to decide how to vote on the issue tonight, unless, of course, they want to go against absolutely everything they said.
I was in the last Parliament and in fact I hope that it does set a precedent. I am slightly confused, however. In a spirit of honesty and transparency, will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether or not he opposes the use of these Benches by the UK Youth Parliament?
Of course I do. The hon. Gentleman must have been living on Mars for the past year. He said he attended last year’s debate; I spoke for about an hour and a quarter on the subject then, although I cannot remember the exact length of time. He claims he was present, but I made it blindingly obvious that I am against this. For the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, who obviously cannot remember the debates he takes part in, I will try to rehearse tonight some of the same arguments I made then so that he can get a better understanding that I am actually opposed to this.
I thank my hon. Friend for saying that, as I was going to ask him to rehearse those arguments. Also, does he agree that this is possibly the most vibrant, passionate and sincere debate we have had in this Parliament, and that that is, perhaps, a case for ending the system of whipping?
I am sure my hon. Friend’s comments will have been noted diligently by the Whip on duty, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill). Some of us in this House believe that all votes are free votes really, and that, at the end of the day, Members can vote entirely as they please. They might want to take heed of what the Whips are encouraging them to do, however, as I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) that usually their advice is very sound, but occasionally it is not, and I suspect that on this issue it may not be quite as sound as it usually is.
I am sure my hon. Friend’s suggested innovation will be taken seriously by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby. Indeed, he is sitting in his position on the Front Bench and writing diligently as I speak, so I think the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe has gone in the book. I wish him well for his future career, but I fear it may be as elevated as mine.
I have no desire to encourage the hon. Gentleman to speak for a long time, but may I just ask him a question? I understand why backwoods Conservatives might have been against this before we tried it the first time, but given the success of what happened and the clearly positive response, can he not understand that it is bizarre, extraordinary and very sad that he is continuing his opposition as the Youth Parliament itself was clearly far more successful than his argument a year ago?
I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman outlining at length his measure of success for that particular debate. We can have a debate at length this evening about what the measure of success is for the Youth Parliament sitting here. It was clearly more successful than I thought it was and perhaps even more successful than he thought it was, because the Deputy Leader of the House told us that the turnout at the election was so much higher. That was something that I had never thought of as a measure of success, but clearly it was; it had nothing to do with any of this.
Mention has been made of how much the young people enjoyed the experience and benefited from it. Does my hon. Friend agree that that was probably due in no small part to the fact that they had heeded the debate and thought that the occasion they were taking part in was unique? It now turns out that it was not as unique as they thought.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. A system of overkill may well be in operation here; these debates may become ten a penny to members of the Youth Parliament and they may not treat them as seriously as they did last time. That may or may not be the case—I guess time will tell.
I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman, but would he say that the Youth Parliament debate that took place in Westminster Hall in a previous year was a success? Or was it a great failure? I think that it was a success, but perhaps he thinks it was a failure. If it was a success, why can they not go back to Westminster Hall? They had a very successful debate there before. They had a very successful debate—he mentioned this or perhaps one of his hon. Friends did—in the House of Lords. Does he say that that debate was a failure and that they therefore have to come in here because it failed in the House of Lords? Or was it a success? They do not really need to come here to have a successful debate. We have proved in this House on many occasions that they can have very successful debates elsewhere.
I might add that when we were debating this last time round and we were asking why they could not go back to have their debate in Westminster Hall, the argument given by the proponents of this was, “They have already been there once and they do not want to go back again.” When we asked why they could not go back to the House of Lords, we were told, “They have been there once and they need somewhere different.” Why does not the same argument apply on this occasion? They have been here once and presumably they want to move on to somewhere else. I can think of nowhere better than the European Parliament, where I am sure they would be welcomed with open arms.
We say that we are trying to improve the quality of debate in the Parliament in which they speak. It may well be that the Deputy Leader of the House is right in saying that they improve the quality of debate in this Chamber and the decision-making qualities in this Chamber, but believe you me, if they were to have a debate in the European Parliament, they would transform the quality of debate that takes place over there and the quality of decision making. Perhaps they ought to go somewhere else. Perhaps they ought to go to Buckingham palace, because they have not been there before for a debate. They seem to want to go to somewhere only once, so why are we now presuming that they want to keep coming back to the same place year after year?
Everyone in the Chamber knows of the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for the European Parliament, but does he agree that our Parliament is a remarkable institution and it is not comparable to sitting, speaking and standing in Westminster Hall? We should be proud of the fact that young people are interested in the politics of this country. I regret the cynicism expressed by some, but not all, hon. Members on the Benches opposite and the fact that they take such a distasteful approach to this matter. Why are they not proud of the fact that young people want to come here to debate things and look at how our Parliament works? Why are they ashamed of that?
I am very sorry that the hon. Lady takes that view. I am sure that all the members of the Youth Parliament will have tuned in late at night to watch this debate to see their fortunes unfold before them. What they will probably be slightly concerned about is that in this Chamber that they all cherish there are people such as the hon. Lady, who is clearly so intolerant of anyone who happens to have a different opinion from her. I thought that the whole principle of free speech and free debate in this House was that we accepted each other’s arguments and respected them equally and that although we might come to different points of view, we would respect them. I perfectly respect the hon. Lady’s point of view, but it is just a shame that she seems so intolerant of anybody who happens to disagree with her. I am not entirely sure that that is the kind of lesson we should be teaching the members of the Youth Parliament.
I am perfectly respectful of people who have a different view from me, but I also respect that young people have different views from one another and want to take the opportunity to debate them in this place. This is the first of the hon. Gentleman’s speeches on this subject that I have listened to and I ask him to forgive me, as I have not listened to hours of his former speeches on it. Why is he ashamed of this place being used when we are not using it? What does he oppose? Why does he not think that young people should use this place when we are not here? I do not understand his argument.
If the hon. Lady did not keep intervening, we might get on to the arguments so that we could outline them for her. She is far too impatient—she obviously wants to get on with it. I want to get on with it, too, but I am trying to be generous with people who want to intervene. I shall try to outline the arguments, but I am surprised that she seems to think that the only place that a debate of the Youth Parliament can take place is in this Chamber. Why cannot a debate of the Youth Parliament take place in other forums? They can have a very good debate in Westminster Hall and in the House of Lords. Why do they have to be here to have a debate? That is the point that the hon. Lady is making, which I do not really follow.
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the big complaints at the meeting of the Youth Parliament last year was that debates were truncated? The Youth Parliament member for Christchurch, for example, was not called and so he was unable to participate. Would it not be better if the Youth Parliament met not just one day a year but several days each year, so that there was time for every member of the Youth Parliament to participate and to stand on their feet in this wonderful Chamber?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point and he is living proof that people can change their mind in this place. He seems to be articulating the view that we should have more Youth Parliament debates in this Chamber, an argument with which I am sure that many hon. Members would agree. Many might agree with it secretly because they do not want to let the cat out of the bag now, just like last year when they did not want to let the cat out of the bag that this would be an annual occasion. They now do not want to let the cat out of the bag that they want this to happen more than once a year—in fact, that they want it to happen a few times a year. Perhaps it could happen every week, or every Friday that we did not sit. Perhaps that is what they really think, but they do not have the courage of their convictions to say so.
How would the hon. Gentleman respond to the suggestion that his speech inadvertently presents the only decent argument against the Youth Parliament’s sitting on these Benches, namely that the quality of their debate so far exceeded his that they would put him to shame?
I have no doubt that Members of the Youth Parliament will put my speeches to shame and I equally have no doubt that they will put the hon. Gentleman’s speeches to shame, too. The only difference is that I know it and, perhaps, he does not. The same rules still apply.
I am hosting a visit of all the members of the Youth Parliament from Suffolk tomorrow, and is it not a crying shame that the authorities of this House would not find it fit to find tickets for Prime Minister’s Question Time, because they said that they could not accommodate members of the Youth Parliament? And yet they seem happy to say that we should have them here. I believe that this place is special for setting the legislation of this country, and yet apparently it would be a better use of their time to watch more debates in the Committee Rooms or in Westminster Hall. Is it not a crying shame that they have been denied access to see Question Time?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It comes down to the point about what we can do in this House to encourage younger people to participate in politics and become active in politics—I am sure that that is something with which we all agree. I hope at a later point to discuss matters to do with the cost of this event. The Deputy Leader of the House was going through all the rigmarole about what will happen, but he did not say how much it will cost. Perhaps we ought to think about whether that money could be better spent out in each Member’s constituency on trying to encourage younger people to participate in politics, rather than on this grand gesture. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Perhaps we should take stock and think about what we can do to encourage people to participate in and get excited about politics. She has hit the nail on the head.
I was sceptical about the Youth Parliament but the cure for my scepticism was seeing it in action and realising that at least one future parliamentarian was almost certainly there on that day. The Stormont Assembly has been doing this for years and not only are there absolutely no problems in Stormont but Ministers respond to the Youth Parliament in the Northern Ireland Assembly. As with many issues, we could look across the water and learn from them.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point for which I have a lot of sympathy. If Ministers are so enthusiastic about the Youth Parliament sitting here, I am sure that they will have no objection to volunteering their time to respond to its debate in the way that he suggests. I am sure that that would be a worthwhile innovation. He is known for his ingenuity and his innovations, and I am sure that that one might catch on. He is certainly right that we could learn a great deal from our friends in the Province who often have more sensible views on things.
Just in case the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is genuinely suggesting an unusual innovation, let me tell him that the acting Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I were all present for the entire day at the last meeting of the UK Youth Parliament and that the acting Leader of the Opposition spoke in the debate. I would certainly think it a privilege to attend this year if it is the will of the House that its meeting should take place in the Chamber.
It is a red letter day for the Youth Parliament, because not only do we seem to be on the verge of allowing its members to use the Chamber again, but the Deputy Leader of the House has offered to play a full part in their proceedings. I am sure that that promise will have been bagged by them and that they will look forward to that with excitement.
The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) said that he was concerned about the quality of my speech, but my generosity in dealing with interventions has meant that I have not yet started. However, I intend to do so now.
I am sure that the House is grateful for that clarification.
The first point that I want to make is that the debate is not about the merits of the Youth Parliament. One weakness of the argument put forward by those who support the motion is that they try to characterise the debate so that if you are in favour of the motion you are in favour of the Youth Parliament and that if you are against it you must be against the Youth Parliament.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of the House and I know that he does not mean to drag me into what is an obvious disagreement among some in the Chamber. Given that he is so keen on procedure, I know that he will want to stick to it exactly.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Surely it is not sensible to suggest that people who support the motion must be in favour of the Youth Parliament and that those who are against it must be against the Youth Parliament. Nobody could be more supportive of the UK Youth Parliament than I am.
Once again, the hon. Lady springs up like a jack-in-the-box. [Hon. Members: “Jill-in-the-box.”] Indeed. I am not entirely sure whether there is a wasp on that Bench or something else that is prompting the hon. Lady to jump up at every opportunity. If she will allow me to advance the arguments, she might learn why I think as I do. I am very proud of the fact that I spend an awful lot of time meeting people who are members of the Youth Parliament in my area. I am very proud of the fact that I went to visit Bradford council chamber, where an excellent debate took place involving the Youth Parliament in my locality, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to those arguments and that debate. I am all for engaging with members of the UK Youth Parliament.
If Bradford council is happy for the UK Youth Parliament to use its chamber, that is a matter for it. Perhaps it had this kind of debate before it allowed it to do so; and equally, as someone who believes in democracy, if the will of the House is to allow the UK Youth Parliament to use the Chamber, I will respect that decision, just as Bradford councillors presumably respected the decision of the majority there.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. I met those members straight after their election. I made a point of contacting them all when they were newly elected to their positions. We all had a meeting in Shipley, and the interesting point, which is the one that she was making, is that not one of them mentioned the fact that they wanted to hold a debate in Parliament. In fact, all the times that I have met members of the Youth Parliament in my locality—
I am dealing with the hon. Lady’s intervention. Even if she wants to intervene again, she may at least listen to the answer to the first one. She asked what view members of the Youth Parliament had of meeting here and what my response was to that. My answer—it is perfectly clear, although it might not be the one that she wants, but it is the answer to her question—is that not one of them mentioned that they wanted to hold a debate in the Chamber. In fact, when I visited their debate at Bradford council chamber, not one of them mentioned doing so either.
I am still dealing with the hon. Lady’s previous intervention. The wasp appears to have moved places. If holding a debate here is so important to all the Youth Parliament’s members, perhaps she will explain when she comes back for a second bite of the cherry why none of them mentioned it to me.
Perhaps the Youth Parliament’s members are not as avid readers of Hansard as everyone else and had not read or heard the hon. Gentleman’s previous more-than-one-hour peroration on this issue. Given that he had spoken for more than an hour, I find it strange that he did not mention that to the Youth Parliament’s members when they came to meet him and that they had no response to it. Will he confirm that he met them after he had made his hour-long speech in the Chamber and that he chose not to mention it?
I did meet the Youth Parliament’s members after I made that speech in the Chamber. I have never hidden my views on the issue. I have no idea what the hon. Lady does, but I know for a fact that she is an incredibly diligent local MP. She can learn nothing from me about being a good constituency MP, but I will explain my approach just for clarity. When I meet local members of the Youth Parliament, my approach is to ask them about the issues that they are interested in and to ask them to tell me about the things that concern them. Clearly, her approach, which is obviously better than mine, because she is a diligent constituency MP, is for her simply to lecture them about what she thinks. I did not think that that was an appropriate way to deal with them, so I allowed them to raise the issues that they were concerned about, and those issues happened not to include holding a debate here. In fact, many of them were much more interested in local issues, such as crime and job opportunities, and debates about going to university, tuition fees and so on. Not one of them felt that holding a debate in the Chamber would be revolutionary to their lives.
The debate is not about the Shipley youth council or the West Yorkshire youth council, but about the UK Youth Parliament. Young people want to meet young people from other parts of the country and to debate issues with them. If this was just a local matter, one could appreciate that they would feel the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests, but it is not; it is a UK-wide Youth Parliament.
No one is arguing that the UK Youth Parliament should not have a national meeting, but that is not what is before the House. We are discussing where it should have its meeting. I am sure that the hon. Lady will concede that the Youth Parliament members could meet in Westminster Hall or the House of Lords. If her prime purpose is that they should meet, that is not an argument for why they should meet here.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way in this waspish debate. He is making a long and pained contribution about why the UK Youth Parliament is important and the many issues that it considers, but he has not set out why those things cannot be considered in the Chamber. He makes a strong case about the many things that young people talk to him about, and I would be worried if the only thing that they discussed was the use of this place, but he has not explained why that should be ruled out. He needs to be clearer about why not this place, rather than why somewhere else.
The problem with the hon. Lady’s intervention is that I have been able to speak for only a few seconds before people like her have tried to intervene. I have generously taken hon. Members’ interventions to allow them to have their say, but that has prevented me from setting out my argument. The solution to her dilemma is for her to allow me to continue my speech without intervening because she may then hear my arguments. It appears, however, that she is not interested in listening to anyone else’s point of view because she has already made up her mind. She might wish to pass on that lesson to members of the UK Youth Parliament, but I am not sure that it is particularly healthy.
I am all for the UK Youth Parliament and for encouraging young people to participate in politics, but is it not sad that the best way that the assembled brainpower of the House can think of to get more young people involved in politics, engaged in the political process and inspired to want to become MPs is to allow them to hold a debate once a year in the House of Commons Chamber? Is that the depth of our imagination?
My hon. Friend touches on the crucial point that simply holding a debate—a one-off debate or annual debates—in the Chamber runs the risk of taking away these people’s lifelong interest. Does he agree that one’s interest in politics over a long time is driven by the desire to sit on these green Benches?
Order. May I remind Members of the procedure of the House? Interventions are supposed to be brief, not speeches in their own right. I know that everyone is really interested in the debate and that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has said that he would like to make progress on his main points, so if interventions were a little briefer, that would help.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point in the sense that the people who proposed using the Chamber last time round argued that the Youth Parliament could not go back to the House of Lords or Westminster Hall because, having already been there, its members were bored of them. The logic of that argument, as my hon. Friend says, is that the more time they stay here, the more bored of it they will become, so they might feel less inspired to want to come here as MPs because they have already done so.
Representing one’s constituency in Parliament is a tremendous privilege. Everyone in the Chamber will have worked incredibly hard to achieve what for many is a lifetime ambition of representing their constituency in Parliament. It is a great privilege finally to take one’s seat. Why would we want to undermine that achievement by allowing people who have not gone through the rigmarole of getting here to take their seats in the Chamber? To come back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), why is the UK Youth Parliament, worthy as it is, so special? If the argument is that young people do not feel that there is sufficient focus on their issues and, therefore, such a debate gives them an opportunity to advance them, I should argue that many of my constituents feel that pensioners’ issues are not particularly well covered in Parliament.
The hon. Lady seems to advance the argument that these seats are no more than furniture and that they of are no importance. She nods her head, so she clearly agrees that we are sitting on furniture that is neither here nor there. That may be her view, and it is perfectly respectable, but I do not share it. When she shows her constituents around this place, does she say to them, “We’ll not bother going into the main Chamber, because it’s just a row of seats, a few benches, a bit of furniture, to be honest. We’ve got furniture all over, and these seats are no more important than any other, so we’ll miss out the Chamber and go somewhere else because we’re not interested”? I suspect not, because these seats represent a bit more than what she just indicated—furniture.
I disagree with my hon. Friend, but he is making a fine speech. The hon. Lady is being wholly illogical, is she not? If she is arguing that these Benches are merely bits of furniture and it does not matter who sits on them, why are they so special to the Youth Parliament? It could equally well sit in Westminster Hall, the House of Lords, Church House or anywhere else. The point about this Chamber is that it is an incredibly special place; it is an incredible privilege to be here; and, therefore, for the young people it is an incredible privilege to come here. To try to contend that these Benches are merely nothing seems to me to miss the logic of the argument altogether.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and, although we approach the issue from different perspectives, I applaud at least the consistency of his argument. He is absolutely right to suggest that those people who say that, on the one hand, it is a special gesture to allow the UK Youth Parliament to sit here and, on the other, that it is just a row of benches, directly contradict themselves.
The hon. Gentleman’s first argument, therefore, rests on his own sense of self-importance. However, on his question about what is so special about the UK Youth Parliament as opposed to the other candidates who might use this Chamber, does he accept that many of its members were not even entitled to vote in the elections in which we all stood as candidates, and, indeed, were not eligible to be candidates themselves?
The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable and fair point, and I do not decry his position, but I ask him to reflect on the fact that prisoners are not allowed to vote in elections. Is he saying that we should hold a debate here just for prisoners? The royal family are not allowed to vote at elections, so perhaps he is suggesting that we open up the Chamber so that they can have a debate. Members of the House of Lords are not allowed to vote, so perhaps we should open it up to them if they get bored of their Chamber. The UK Youth Parliament became bored of its chamber and we allowed its members in here, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that, if the House of Lords gets bored of its Chamber, we should make room for its Members on these Benches.
Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that anybody who does not have a right to vote in elections in this country should be eligible to hold a debate here? What about all foreign nationals? They are not allowed to vote. Should we have an annual debate for foreign nationals in this Chamber because they have the misfortune of not being eligible to vote in elections? I respect the hon. Gentleman’s point of view, but his argument is nonsensical.
After half an hour, we have come to the absolute crux of my hon. Friend’s argument. He said that the work that all of us had done to get here was undermined by allowing other people to sit in this Chamber. Is he really suggesting that he, himself, and his status as an MP have been undermined by what happened last year, and that all other Members have been similarly undermined? To do him credit, it seems to me that based on his performance tonight he has not changed at all.
I am not sure whether to take that as a compliment or an insult, although knowing my hon. Friend as I do I shall take it as a compliment. He would not wish to suggest anything else.
The point that I am making is that the motion is wholly illogical. It makes absolutely no sense whatever, because all the justifications for allowing the Youth Parliament to sit here are justifications for allowing lots of other organisations to do the same. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South and the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark made the great point that one of the great features of the Youth Parliament debate last year was that so many people from ethnic minorities took part. If that is the rationale for allowing it to be here, presumably the hon. Lady will advocate that the Muslim Council of Britain should have its meetings here. If we want lots of people from ethnic minorities here, the council would be a prime candidate.
That may well be the case, but is the hon. Lady really suggesting that any organisation that happens to have a more diverse make-up than the House should therefore be entitled to have a debate here? That is the logic of her position. The make-up of the Youth Parliament may well be more diverse, but that is no argument for allowing it to have a debate in this Chamber.
Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that the UK Youth Parliament is elected on a system based on constituencies? Each local authority area has a certain number of places at the Youth Parliament. The young people fight elections against other young people, so they have some legitimacy as members of that Parliament. What would be better than for the UK Youth Parliament to come to the mother of Parliaments and sit here to debate for one day? I cannot understand why some Government Members are resistant to that.
The hon. Lady raises a perfectly valid point, and I do not wish to decry it. If her argument is that we should allow all organisations with democratic legitimacy to debate in the House, it is perfectly reasonable—I am sure that all my local parish councils will look forward to their day in the sunshine, when they have their debate. I suspect that many people in my parishes feel that national significance is not given to all the issues that they debate. Perhaps members of my local authority in Bradford will look forward to their day in the spotlight when they can have a debate here. If the hon. Lady’s argument is that all organisations with some democratic accountability should have a debate here, it is perfectly valid, but she still has not given any reason why that should apply only to the UK Youth Parliament.
I must first apologise to the hon. Gentleman for having forgotten his speech from last year; I cannot think what erased it from my memory.
Is not what makes the UK Youth Parliament so special that it is so closely modelled on this place? As the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) pointed out, it has contested elections for constituencies closely modelled on our own and the procedure is based on ours. UK Youth Parliament members have therefore expressed great respect and gratitude for this place. Does the hon. Gentleman not think it a bit mean-spirited and churlish for us not to return the compliment?
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech as usual. I had not intended to intervene, but on the last point I should say that the difference between the Youth Parliament and this Parliament is that we are allowed to stand under party labels, whereas Youth Parliament members cannot. It is not the same as this Parliament.
My hon. Friend is right about that technical difference between the Youth Parliament and this one. I am not sure that that negates the point made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood); any Parliament should be made up as it sees fit. However, I do not particularly accept his premise to start with. He is scrabbling around trying to find what is different about the UK Youth Parliament as opposed to any of these other worthy bodies.
I will tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, what is different about the UK Youth Parliament and its relationship with this Chamber. What is different is that we have, in my opinion, the sight of a lot of very sad people trying pathetically to ingratiate themselves with young people in their constituencies, which is absolutely painful to behold. They think that this is a trendy course to follow. If they want to try to look trendy with their constituents, they will argue that they want to have the UK Youth Parliament sitting here so that they can go back and say, “I’m trendy, I supported you.” It is frankly rather pathetic. That is the only difference between the UK Youth Parliament and all these other bodies, however hard hon. Members scrabble around for differences between it and anything else.
I am not sure that there are that many young people in my constituency judging from many of the meetings that I go to. I think that my hon. Friend is being quite disingenuous towards those of us who are taking this debate very seriously. I came here this evening to hear what he had to say, in all seriousness, to persuade me that I should not vote to let young people come and sit here for one day to express their respect for British democracy. I must say that after all I have heard from him, I am increasingly persuaded that we should let young people come and sit here.
My hon. Friend is perfectly entitled to take that view. He said that he wants to listen to the arguments; well, I have got on the record only one paragraph of my speech because I have been dealing with hon. Members’ interventions. My hon. Friend is a very diligent local MP, but I am sure that if he looks a bit harder, he will find some young people in his constituency, and then he can ask how many of them are desperate to come and have a debate in this Chamber. I think he will find that that is not near the top of their list of priorities. I could be wrong.
It seems to me that my hon. Friend is going through a tick-box list of variables and characteristics of the various different organisations, and then going through the arguments one by one and trying to discount each individual argument, or arguing that that single variable is not the variable on which we should make the judgment. In sophisticated argument, and in making sophisticated judgments, one takes multiple variables and judges them all together in the round, not one by one. As he goes through each of the variables, he is agreeing that that variable is pretty much true or valid, but then saying that that on its own it does not seal the decision to make the judgment. I put it to him that if one is a little more sophisticated, one makes the judgment by taking all the variables and saying, in a combined fashion, that that therefore tips the judgment in favour of allowing them to be here.
I applaud my hon. Friend’s honesty. In effect, he appears to be accepting the point that I have been making in dealing with interventions—that there is nothing unique about the UK Youth Parliament and its composition that means that it should uniquely be able to use this House—but exercising his judgment in believing, taking everything into account, that theirs is a different and special case compared with everyone else. That is a perfectly valid point and a perfectly respectable argument, but I am delighted that he appears to be agreeing with the thrust of my argument that there is nothing unique about the make-up of the UK Youth Parliament that means that it should uniquely be able to do this.
Does my hon. Friend accept that at this hour, and bearing in mind how many hon. Members have now left the Chamber, it seems a little unfair to be monopolising the debate when he has been such a strong proponent of a clear, honest and open debate about this very important subject? Does he agree that there may be others in the Chamber who wish to look at this more as an opportunity for young people to promote democracy and to understand their democratic rights, and less about his desire to keep this Chamber specifically for the benefit of its Members?
My hon. Friend makes a curious point. She says that I am monopolising the debate, but what I am actually doing is giving way to Members who want to intervene. It seems strange to make the case that I am monopolising the debate by allowing Members to intervene. If I were trying to monopolise it, I suspect that I would not allow any interventions.
If my hon. Friend looks at the motion on which we divided earlier, she will see that she supported a motion to allow this debate to last until any hour. I think I am right in saying that she walked into the Aye Lobby to vote for that. It is no good voting to allow a debate to continue until any hour and then complaining when it lasts until any hour. I suspect that in future, she might wish to vote no so that the debate does not last until any hour. I am sure she will look more closely at the Order Paper in future.
I think I am right in saying that it was to allow any Member to speak until any hour. I will be delighted to allow my hon. Friends to speak until any hour later on. I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that if anything I have said so far had been out of order, you would have told me so. From the fact that you have not, I suspect that you are content that the things I am saying are relevant to the debate.
I am exceedingly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. May I ask him a question on what I think is the crux of his speech? Does he believe that these green Benches and the right to use them belong to us as Members, or does he believe, as I do, that they and all of Parliament belong to the people who send us here?
The hon. Gentleman may feel that, in which case tomorrow during Prime Minister’s questions he will presumably invite one of his constituents to sit in his place. It is not the case that by definition, any of our constituents can come and sit themselves here on these Benches. In fact, he may have noticed that usually, as he gives his constituents tours, there are signs up on the seats saying, “Please don’t sit here”. He appears to be on the verge of supporting the principle that some of his constituents can come and sit on these Benches but others cannot. There is plenty of time for the debate, so I am sure he will wish to tell us in his own words why he believes that and why some of his constituents are second-class citizens.
When a young person comes to me and asks me to talk about Parliament and politics, I always tell them that when a politician is given a problem to solve, their solution will always incorporate two ingredients. The first is that they have to be seen to be doing something, which is the bane of politicians’ lives. I long for the day when a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says, “Well, actually, that’s got nothing to do with me. It’s for other people to sort out for themselves.” They never want to underestimate their importance. The second ingredient is that their proposals must not offend anybody. If hon. Members have not already worked that out for themselves, I ask them to look out for what happens whenever a politician is given a problem. If a politician can find a solution that incorporates looking as though they are doing something and not offending anybody, they will jump on it at the first possible opportunity.
That appears to be what we are doing this evening. We want to engage more young people in politics, so what is being proposed is, “We have to look as though we are doing something, so we should let young people sit in the House of Commons Chamber. That does not particularly offend anybody, so let’s go for it.” However, that does not deal with why young people are so disengaged with the political process. If any Member really thinks that this sticking plaster will mean that young people will start turning out in droves at elections or engaging in the political process all of a sudden, I believe they are mistaken.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so far into his speech. As parliamentarians, we exist to inspire people to come here—I think we would all accept that. Knowing that this debate was coming up, I spoke to the representatives of my area, who were desperately looking forward to the opportunity to come here and have their say. Did he consult his representatives, and what did they have to say?
I do not doubt that my hon. Friend had good reason to be asleep when I dealt with a similar intervention earlier—I am sure that my speech sends everybody to sleep. It might seem a long time ago, but I remind him that I said that I had spoke to the MYPs in my area, and they did not mention that they wanted to have their debate in the Chamber.
I rise again to ask a specific question. Knowing that this debate was coming up, did my hon. Friend consult the people who are elected to come here and have their say? The point is that young people who have fought elections for the opportunity to come here are keen to take it up, and we as parliamentarians should not stop them.
My hon. Friend’s experience may be different, but his intervention would have been better directed at the Deputy Leader of the House—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) will control herself, I can finish my point. If my hon. Friend were so desperate for every hon. Member to speak to their MYPs before the debate, he should ask the Deputy Leader of the House why the Government tabled the motion this morning without any warning. He is quick off the mark—as ever—but if he wanted all hon. Members to hold a wide consultation with their MYPs, he should suggest that his and my hon. Friends do not support the motion tonight, but allow themselves to take stock and revisit the situation at a later date. If that is his suggestion, I will not disagree with him—it would be a perfectly valid argument—but if he is worried that there has been insufficient consultation with MYPs, he should address that to the Deputy Leader of the House, because the motion was put on the Order Paper only today.
Far be it from me to suggest that hon. Gentleman did not begin writing his speech before today given that it is has lasted nearly an hour, but the motion was on the Order Paper yesterday. Given the medium of e-mail, the fact that he is such a strong supporter of the Youth Parliament and that he is speaking at such length, I am surprised that he could not find time in the past 48 hours to consult MYPs from his area.
The reason we are having this debate tonight is not the fact that the Government have given it time, but the fact that they were unable to sneak the motion through at the end of play yesterday without any objection. As the hon. Lady is so keen to debate such matters, I am surprised that she was not here last night to object to the motion going through on the nod. If she wants to give a lesson and set a good example to MYPs, she should advocate debates. Why was she not up complaining that we were setting a bad example by simply nodding a motion through at the end of play without debating it? I am slightly concerned that she is not doing enough to set a good example to MYPs.
Does my hon. Friend genuinely believe that those MYPs who have stayed up to watch the debate tonight will be amazed by the proceedings, the quality of the debate, and how we spend time to debate such motions when other important matters of the day go by undebated here, or are given rather less time and significantly less attention?
I am certain that MYPs who are avidly watching tonight will have been impressed by my hon. Friend’s intervention, and that he has enhanced their opinion of the House. However, I hope he is not suggesting that we should not debate this motion. If he thinks that the debate should not be till any hour, I presume that he did not vote for previous the motion. The Government could have tabled a motion to limit the debate so that it could last only an hour, an hour and a half, two hours or three hours, but they did not do so. It appears—I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong—that he voted for the debate lasting till any hour. Given that, I am sure that he will happily live with the consequences. Perhaps in future he will not listen so avidly to the Whips when they tell him how to vote. He may be signally disappointed again in the future.
I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend’s concise speech for nearly an hour and he has taken a fair few interventions. He has made two germane arguments. The first is that this gathering could take place anywhere other than in this Chamber and, second, that it sets a precedent. If it does set a precedent, we will have to have another debate and a full chance to debate it. I would be grateful if he would now address himself to the actual harm that he sees in allowing the members of the Youth Parliament to debate in this place when the Chamber is not being used for the legitimate business of this House.
The point is that I am a Conservative—as is my hon. Friend—and the principle of Conservatism is embodied in the saying, “If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.” As a Conservative, I believe that the onus is on those who propose change to make the case for that change. The case for no change does not need to be made. The point that I am making in my contribution—if I am allowed to get on with it—is that the case for change is a poor one. All of the arguments that have been given are spurious and do not stand up to much scrutiny. I urge my hon. Friend to ask other people to make the case for change, because they have not done so thus far.
We were told earlier that allowing members of the Youth Parliament to sit here will inspire them to get involved in politics. That is one of the arguments that was made last time. It was said that we must allow the UK Youth Parliament to sit here, because if we do so they will be inspired and become interested in politics. That is a curious argument because, by definition, those people who are members of the Youth Parliament are already interested in politics. That is why they are there. If our motivation is to try to inspire more young people to get involved in politics, we should be asking those young people who are not members of the Youth Parliament to come and have a debate here, because that might encourage them to get involved in the Youth Parliament. Why would we want to limit the opportunity to those members of the Youth Parliament who are already interested in politics?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because obviously we have not heard much from him this evening. Will he clarify that there are some instances in which he would allow young people to use the Chamber? In which case, it would appear that his objections are to the UK Youth Parliament rather than to young people sitting in this Chamber. That would be a useful clarification of his views.
The point that I am making is that there is no logic to the case for allowing only the UK Youth Parliament to use this Chamber. If people take the view that no one else should be allowed to use the Chamber, it would be a sensible and rational point of view. If someone takes the view that anyone should be allowed to use the Chamber, that would be an equally valid point of view. For the life of me—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady makes an intervention, but she does not seem to be particularly interested in the argument. I can only reiterate that she must have already made up her mind.
The argument that has not been made, and which the hon. Lady must make later, is why the UK Youth Parliament alone should be allowed to use the Chamber once a year for the duration of the Parliament, and why she wants to exclude every other organisation from using the Chamber. Why is that the case? Why is she making that point? It is the point that I, for the life of me, cannot understand. The Minister did not set out particularly well why the Government believe that only the UK Youth Parliament should be able to use the Chamber.
The hon. Gentleman asked the difference between the Youth Parliament and any other. He has heard—although he may not have listened to it—the response given three times this evening: every other group has a right to stand for Parliament, but those in the Youth Parliament do not, by virtue of their age. They are precluded from doing that. That is why they should have the opportunity to come and debate these things here.
The hon. Gentleman seems to think that members of the UK Youth Parliament are unique in not being able to vote or stand for Parliament at a general election. That, I am afraid, is not the case. They are not unique. No young people have the opportunity to participate in general elections, not just members of the UK Youth Parliament. As I made clear earlier, the royal family do not have the opportunity to vote in elections. [Hon. Members: “Sit down!] Well, this is a repetition of an intervention. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept my point? Prisoners do not have the opportunity to vote or stand for Parliament. People who are bankrupt do not have the opportunity to stand for Parliament. Again he has failed to say why the UK Youth Parliament is unique. Yet again, he has spectacularly failed to answer that point.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am shocked that my hon. Friend is making a socialist point and saying that just because everyone cannot do it, nobody should be doing it. That is the antithesis of Conservatism. May I also correct him when he says that members of the royal family cannot vote? Our sovereign lady cannot vote, but members of the royal family who are not peers in their own right can vote.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who certainly is not the antithesis of Conservatism. I am checking whether the Whips are still writing notes, because it would be helpful if they have noted that I am not the antithesis of Conservatism: that would be helpful for my career prospects. I am grateful that he made the point that I am the antithesis of Conservatism. Thank you for that, Madam Deputy Speaker.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) made the most salient point: younger people do not vote at general elections, not because we do not allow them to use the Chamber or because we do allow them to use it, but because we do not inspire them to vote. The onus is on us. [Interruption.] I note the laughter from the Liberal Democrat Benches, but the point I am making is that what inspires people to vote in elections is people who stand up and have clear views and beliefs and are prepared to stand on matters of principle. That is what inspires people to vote. Perhaps Liberal Democrats might wish to consider that.
It is delusional to pretend that we can carry on as we always have done and trot out the same meaningless stuff that will not offend anybody, or that we can go around saying nothing worth while or meaningful and hope that nobody notices, while claiming that allowing the Youth Parliament to sit in the Chamber will inspire young people to vote. Young people do not want to vote because they never hear arguments and ideas; they never hear a battle about ideas. I was lucky enough to be brought up to be interested in politics in the 1980s, when there was a clear difference between the main political parties. Whichever side of that divide one happened to be on, it was perfectly clear where we were. I was a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister. She was the person who inspired me to enter politics. No doubt lots of Opposition Members felt exactly the opposite. They knew exactly which side of the fence they were on.
The problem that we now have with inspiring young people to vote is that when they listen to debates, they are not entirely sure which side they agree with, or even which side sticks up for their principles. Indeed, when Tony Blair was the leader of the Labour party and my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) was the Leader of the Opposition, it was sometimes difficult for young people who were just getting interested in politics to know which side of the political divide they were on, or which way they should vote in an election. My point is that if we want to inspire young people to go out and vote in elections, the onus is on us to start having a battle of ideas and stand up for what we believe in, rather than just saying what we think might be popular or politically expedient.
To all those people who have been grandstanding in here about how important it is for the Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber, let me say this. I hope that they will go away from this debate and think about what else they can do. Part of that battle might be about standing up and saying something controversial or unpopular every now and then—standing on a point of principle, arguing their point of view and trying to change public opinion, rather than just trying to follow it and saying “motherhood and apple pie” things, in order to get a nice little press release in their local papers. That is not what inspires young people to get involved in politics, and if people think that they can cover all that with an annual debate in this Chamber, they are sadly mistaken.
Other people may want to have debates in this Chamber—other people whose issues do not—
Order. This may be a good opportunity to remind the hon. Gentleman and the House of Standing Order No. 42, and to draw hon. Members’ attention to the need not to allow their contributions to become somewhat tedious through repetition of the same arguments. I hope that in continuing the debate this evening, the hon. Gentleman and others will pay attention to that Standing Order.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, although I am not entirely sure to what in my speech you were referring. I am certainly open to clarification, but I hope that you will also accept that if an intervention is repetitive, I will still want to answer the question. If other Members mention a point that has already been mentioned, I will feel obliged to deal with it, but perhaps you could give me some guidance on that point.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for a long time, and as he has pointed out, he has done his best to stay in order. However, staying in order does not include questioning the Chair with regard to the proceedings. I therefore hope that he will now continue to make the important points that he says he wants to make to the House, but which he has not already made.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I take your intervention, which I absolutely accept, as a signal not to accept any more interventions. I will try to work on that basis, so that I can set out the arguments that I wanted to set out, but which I have been deterred from setting out by lots of people wishing to intervene in my speech. I hope that other people are just as generous when they make their speeches.
One of the arguments put forward for the Youth Parliament last time was that having its debate in this Chamber would raise its profile around the country. Hon. Members might have done some detailed survey work on that, but I would be interested to see all the opinion polls that show that the public now have a better grasp of the UK Youth Parliament than they did last year, before its debates took place. That was supposed to be one of the key measures of success last year, so I was surprised that neither the Deputy Leader of the House nor the shadow Deputy Leader of the House—nor, indeed, any of the many hon. Members who have made interventions—made the case by saying where it is clearly stated that the UK Youth Parliament’s profile is now much higher.
If we want to raise the profile of certain issues—youth issues may well be one of them—perhaps we can also raise the profile of other issues. I do not understand why we need the Youth Parliament to have a debate in this Chamber in order to raise its profile. Why would a debate held elsewhere not also raise its profile? I hope that Members who are in favour of the motion will deal with that point.
I would also like to talk, Madam Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] Oh, Mr Speaker, I apologise. I want to deal with one of the interventions made by a Liberal Democrat Member who spoke about members of the UK Youth Parliament being unique in not being able to vote. The Liberal Democrats might like to have a word with their hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne) who in last year’s debate made the same point that I have—that many people, including prisoners, do not have the right to vote. If my point of view is so unacceptable, Liberal Democrat Members might like to speak to the hon. Member for Taunton Deane.
Does my hon. Friend remember the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne) saying in last year’s debate that he thought that the proposals for the Youth Parliament to sit here were seeking to patronise one youth organisation while neglecting other important ones?
I think that is absolutely right, which brings me back to the thrust of my argument. What is so special about the UK Youth Parliament? Why is it so much more important than any other organisation? That is a particular point.
I want to move on to the point about cost. The Minister did not mention the cost. I hope that he will. I will certainly give way to him if he wants to make it clear. What estimate has been made as to how much it will cost for the House authorities to open up the Chamber for a day for the Youth Parliament? In last year’s debate, the figure bandied around—I have no idea whether it was accurate or not—was between £30,000 and £40,000. If the Minister would like to confirm or deny those figures, I am sure it would be particularly helpful. If that is an appropriate figure, I think that we should be discussing whether that is a necessary use of public funds in this age of austerity, and whether the money could be spent in a better way.
The views of members of the Youth Parliament were mentioned earlier by the Minister. Perhaps I can issue a challenge to him. He might like to go out and speak to young people in his constituency and ask them how they would like to see £30,000 to £40,000 spent for the benefit of the Youth Parliament. Would they want it spent on having a debate here? The answer may well be yes—I do not know—or would they prefer the money to be spent on other ways of engaging young people to take part in debates and engage in the political process? Is there no better use of money to deliver what we all want at the end of the day—more young people engaged in political activity and debate?
I was issued a challenge earlier about whether I had asked my MYPs about their views on having a debate here, but I would issue the same challenge to all hon. Members. Have they asked their MYPs how they would like to spend the money that is to be spent on this debate if they had a choice? If we ask people, “Would you like a Rolls-Royce?”, most will say yes. If we say, “Would you like a Rolls-Royce if you had to spend the rest of your life living in a tent to pay for it?”, they might say no. Before we say to people, “Would you like a debate in the House of Commons Chamber?”, we should put the pros and the cons and the costs to them, and then ask them for their view. It might well be a different view. Young people are just as sophisticated as other people here. They may well weigh up the pros and cons and come to a different opinion if all that is put before them.
I am not entirely sure what antics the hon. Gentleman is referring to. If he means giving way to lots of interventions, I would be very disappointed if he thought that that was some kind of antic. I thought that the whole point of a debate in this Chamber was that when people are making a speech and other people wish to intervene, they give way and allow them to make their point. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he does not think that that is an appropriate thing to do in a debate, I find that very disappointing. I think I have been very generous in giving way to people’s interventions in order to allow them to make their point. I would not give way if people were not seeking to catch my eye. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we should curtail this debate, too, in order to save costs. If he is, I should point out that I did not observe him in the No Lobby when he was invited to vote for a motion to keep the debate going “until any hour”. I presume that, like many others, he voted to allow it to last “until any hour”. If he does not want it to last until any hour, perhaps he should not have voted for that a few moments ago. Again, he has not thought through the consequences of his voting.
I knew that it would be a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps we can have a chat in the Tea Room later and he can tell me exactly what his intervention meant, because for the life of me I could not understand a word that he was saying. I am sure that that is a reflection on me rather than on the hon. Gentleman, however, because I know that he always makes pertinent points.
One of the reasons why many of us would like to curtail this debate is that it is no longer shedding any light on what we are supposed to be discussing. The hon. Gentleman has asked several times what inspires young people. May I suggest that what inspires them is debates about things that really matter—debates about withdrawal from Afghanistan, financial cuts and Trident—not debates about things that simply should not be controversial? I know a young person who is watching the debate now, and I know that he is horrified that we are sitting here at 12.20 am thinking that this is a good way to spend our time. May I please suggest that we do curtail the debate?
Question put forthwith,
That the Question be now put.
The House divided: Ayes 103, Noes 3.Division No. 34][12.21 amAYESAfriyie, AdamAndrew, StuartBaker, SteveBarwell, GavinBebb, GutoBerry, JakeBlackman, BobBlenkinsop, TomBray, AngieBryant, ChrisBuckland, Mr RobertBurley, Mr AidanBurns, ConorCarmichael, Mr AlistairClifton-Brown, GeoffreyCooper, RosieCreasy, StellaCrockart, MikeCunningham, AlexDavid, Mr WayneDocherty, ThomasDodds, rh Mr NigelDoyle-Price, JackieDunne, Mr PhilipEllison, JaneEngel, NataschaEvans, GrahamFarrelly, PaulFarron, TimFrancois, rh Mr MarkGardiner, BarryGarnier, MarkGilbert, StephenGlindon, Mrs MaryGoodwill, Mr RobertGreatrex, TomGreen, KateGriffith, NiaHames, DuncanHeath, Mr DavidHilling, JulieHodgson, Mrs SharonHorwood, MartinHowell, JohnHughes, SimonJones, AndrewKawczynski, DanielKeeley, BarbaraLee, JessicaLeech, Mr JohnLong, NaomiLoughton, TimLucas, CarolineMcCabe, SteveMcCarthy, KerryMcCartney, JasonMcCrea, Dr WilliamMcGovern, AlisonMcIntosh, Miss AnneMcLoughlin, rh Mr PatrickMenzies, MarkMiliband, rh EdwardMunt, TessaMurray, IanNewton, SarahOllerenshaw, EricPaice, Mr JamesPawsey, MarkPercy, AndrewPhillipson, BridgetPincher, Christopher Pound, Stephen Randall, rh Mr JohnRees-Mogg, JacobReid, Mr AlanReynolds, EmmaReynolds, JonathanRussell, BobShannon, JimShelbrooke, AlecSimpson, DavidSkidmore, ChrisSkinner, Mr DennisSmith, rh Mr AndrewSmith, Miss ChloeSpellar, rh Mr JohnStephenson, AndrewStewart, IainStunell, AndrewSwales, IanSwinson, JoTomlinson, JustinVara, Mr ShaileshWallace, Mr BenWharton, JamesWhite, ChrisWiggin, BillWilliams, StephenWilliamson, ChrisWinterton, rh Ms RosieWright, Mr IainYoung, rh Sir GeorgeTellers for the Ayes:Angela Watkinson andStephen CrabbNOESBebb, GutoRees-Mogg, JacobWharton, JamesTellers for the Noes:Mr Philip Hollobone andMr David NuttallQuestion accordingly agreed to.
Main Question put accordingly.
The Speaker’s opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 21 July (Standing Order No 41A).
The hon. Gentleman asked whether that was in order, and the simple answer is yes. If there are no further points of order, we shall proceed to the presentation of public petitions. I call Mr Peter Bone. [Interruption.] Order. I know it has been a long evening, and I am grateful to hon. and right hon. Members for their forbearance and good humour. May I just appeal to hon. and right hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly, because others will want to hear, as I certainly do, the presentation by Mr Peter Bone of the public petition in relation to the matter on the Order Paper.