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 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.
The motion stands in my name, along with those of the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and the Scottish National party’s shadow Leader of the House.
The United Kingdom Youth Parliament has now met in this Chamber annually since 2009, giving younger people an opportunity to debate motions, which have recently been decided upon by a national poll under the name, Make Your Mark. The number of votes cast in the Make Your Mark ballot increased from 478,632 in 2013 to 876,488 in 2014. Last year, that led to debates on exam resits, the living wage, careers advice and the voting age, as well as a commemoration of world war one.
It is important that our young people learn a sense of respect and ownership of our democracy and its institutions, just as our democratic institutions need to respect them. Giving young people the chance to debate here in this Chamber is a great privilege, which I know they value. The motion would allow the UK Youth Parliament to meet annually for the length of this Parliament, and I commend it to the House.
It is an absolute delight, Madam Deputy Speaker, to see you in the Chair. It is something that I support very warmly. I suppose that it is fitting that you are in the Chair for this debate, as this is a subject that you have always felt very strongly about, for which you have earned the thanks of many young people. I also appreciate how keen you were to get on to my speech, which is probably a first—it will probably be the last time as well.
It is customary for me to speak in these debates on the sittings of the Youth Parliament. It is an unexpected pleasure for us to have the opportunity to debate this motion; earlier today, it appeared unlikely.
It is important to set out the background to how we have ended up in this situation. As many hon. Members will know, I do not support this state of affairs. The use of our Parliament came about as a result of a promise made by the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to some young people at an event. He made an off-the-cuff promise that he would allow them to use the House of Commons Chamber for their annual sitting. It was a promise that he was in no position to make, as it was not his Chamber to give up. It was typical of him. He would say anything and do anything in order to curry favour with a few people so that he could get a few extra grubby votes.
Gordon Brown made a promise that he could not deliver on, could not keep and was not his to make. Basically, he asked Parliament to dig him out of a hole that he had created for himself. As his party had a majority, it decided to pass what was called the “Spare Gordon Brown any embarrassment” motion, in order to allow the Youth Parliament to sit for one year only in this Chamber. It was appreciated that it was quite extraordinary and not really in order.
Therefore, for one year only, we had the “Let’s dig Gordon Brown out of a hole” motion to allow the Youth Parliament to sit here. The House divided on the issue and the motion went through, because of the Labour majority at the time. But it was done on the clear understanding that it would be a one-off occasion. The reason why some of us are against this annual routine is that it brings inconsistency to our proceedings.
I must say at the outset that I am a huge supporter of the Youth Parliament and the people who contribute to the debates. In fact, I have attended Youth Council debates in Bradford Council chamber. To be perfectly frank, the quality of the debate has often been higher than that which normally takes place there. I have attended the Youth Parliament debates in this Chamber as well, and know that no one could argue about the quality of the debate and the passion with which people spoke; no one has a problem with that. This is about not whether Members are in favour of, or against, the Youth Parliament, but whether it is appropriate for this Chamber to be used by other groups.
As the former Prime Minister made a promise that he should not have done, he was dug out of a hole. What I do not understand is why it is only the Youth Parliament that can sit on these Benches like Members of Parliament. My fear is: if it is fine for the Youth Parliament to sit and use these Benches, why not other groups that want to meet and congregate and have a debate here? The Muslim Council of Britain may want to have a debate in the House of Commons Chamber. We have always had a rule that these Benches are only able to be used by MPs and that it is a great privilege to be here. When my constituents come and visit the House of Commons, there is a big sign up that specifically tells them that they are not allowed to sit on these Benches. They are told quite politely by the staff here that these Benches are for MPs only and that they are not allowed to sit on them. If Members of the Youth Parliament can sit on them, why can my constituents not sit on them?
What is the difference? If the Muslim Council of Britain wants to use this Parliament, why can we say no to the Muslim Council of Britain but not to the Youth Parliament? On what basis is it right for one organisation to use it but not another? If one of the parish councils in my constituency decides that this Chamber would be a rather nice setting for its annual general meeting, why should it not be allowed to meet here, given that the Youth Parliament is? There is absolutely no logic or consistency to the current arrangement. Either we let other people use these Benches or we do not. My preference is that we do not, but I do not see why we should have one rule for everybody else and a separate rule for the Youth Parliament.
I am sorry that the debate started so quickly that I missed the beginning of my hon. Friend’s speech, but I probably heard it last year, the previous year and 10 years ago, because it is the same speech every time. The only thing that is different about all the groups that he has mentioned is that all of them are 18 and plus, and have the opportunity to vote. Those Members of the UK Youth Parliament who come here do not have the opportunity to vote or stand in elections. That is what makes them different, amongst many other things.
If my hon. Friend is chastising me for being consistent, that is a chastisement I will take. I know it is a novel concept in politics to actually stick to your guns about something and believe in something and not change your opinion in response to the prevailing political wind. My hon. Friend may think it is a great thing to change one’s mind every five minutes, depending on the prevailing political mood. I rather think that being consistent is a virtue in politics, even if he disagrees.
I am grateful for the interventions of the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend. We were told originally that the Youth Parliament was different because we needed to get more young people interested in politics. By definition, the Members of the Youth Parliament are already interested in politics and political issues and are taking the lead on these things. If we want to find a group of young people that are not already involved in the political process and inspire them to get involved, we should invite everybody other than the Youth Parliament to come and sit on these Benches, because presumably they are the ones we need to reach. Those in the Youth Parliament seem to be the last people we should invite to sit on these Benches if our reason for doing so is to get more people involved and interested in politics. So I am afraid the hon. Gentleman’s arguments disintegrate straightaway.
What we have here is the usual rather sad charade of middle-aged Members of Parliament trying to curry favour with the youth and with the young vote. They ask themselves, “How can we give youthful voters the impression that we are trendy?” Basically, one way is to advocate motherhood and apple-pie tripe like this. They think that by doing these sorts of things they will prove that they are in touch with the youth and are really trendy, and that young voters will all go out and vote for them. I do not think young people are as stupid as hon. Members seem to think they are—that just because they are allowed to sit here once a year, they will all go flooding in and vote for those Members when the election comes. Hope is triumphing over reality, and it does not make them look trendy at all.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one way to call out those people who are trying to court favour is to give the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds? Then they can make their own decision.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not want to test your patience by going off on a tangent about the merits of votes for 16 and 17-year-olds. I do not agree with giving them the vote; I make that clear. I do not want to dodge the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I may be right in saying that Madam Deputy Speaker probably would not tolerate a lengthy debate on that. I think we are really debating whether the Youth Parliament should sit in the Chamber, so I do not want to incur Madam Deputy Speaker’s wrath so early in her career as Madam Deputy Speaker. There will be plenty of other occasions when that happens.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to allow me to curry favour with youth, which I am always aiming to do. I just wonder whether he might be a convert to votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, because on the argument we heard earlier, that would mean that they did not need to come here to have the Youth Parliament.
As ever, my hon. Friend makes a telling point. However, the problem with his point is that that will indicate some kind of logic on the part of those people who so strongly advocate that the Youth Parliament should sit in this Chamber. He has probably missed out on its implication—that once 16 and 17-year-olds had the vote, and therefore that group of people did not need to sit in this Chamber for the Youth Parliament, a group of 14 and 15-year-olds would be exclusively invited to sit here because they did not have the vote, and they could sit here until enough weight built up behind their campaign to grant 14 and 15-year-olds the vote, and so on.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for his earlier intervention. His argument is that members of the Youth Parliament should be able to sit here because they cannot vote. My children are 12 and 10, so they cannot vote either. I will happily go along to my children’s school and suggest, following my hon. Friend’s logic, that they should be able to have their annual debating competition here. They are not allowed to vote and we want to encourage them to get involved in politics, so presumably my hon. Friend would be all in favour of that.
I am surprised that my hon. Friend thinks that regurgitating his argument is absolute rubbish. I was trying to make that point myself, in a spirit of compromise and consensus. He said in his latest intervention that Members of the Youth Parliament should be able to sit here because they cannot stand for election. My 12 and 10-year-old sons cannot stand for election, so presumably, following his logic, and given that we are trying to encourage more young people to get involved in politics, their school should be able to hold its annual debating competition here. Presumably that meets his criteria.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I may not agree with him, but I admire his consistency. If I follow his argument correctly, he is suggesting that any group should be able to use the Chamber if they think that would be worthwhile—for example, a parish council holding its annual meeting. He argues that they paid for it, so they should be able to use it. I do not agree with him, but I admire his consistency. What I cannot understand is the argument that nobody should be able to use the Chamber because it is absolutely sacrosanct and only Members of Parliament who have been elected should have the right to sit on these Benches—apart from members of the Youth Parliament. There is absolutely no logic to it. At least the hon. Gentleman’s position is logical.
I was intrigued by the idea that people should be able to come here and debate if they are not allowed to stand for Parliament. Were that argument to be taken further, I wonder whether we would allow criminals to come here, or Members of the House of Lords.
I do not want to go into the history of the expenses scandal, but many people would argue that criminals did sit on these Benches for a while, so I am not sure that my hon. Friend should push that particular line too hard, because that has already happened. My hon. Friend’s point is that we could have an annual prisoners’ outing to Parliament so that they could sample democracy and be inspired to engage in the political process once they leave prison. It is the same argument. I suspect that the problem with that argument, however, is that whereas those Members who are such strong supporters of the Youth Parliament sitting here think that they can get a few grubby votes by supporting it, they would probably think, even though the logic is the same, that allowing prisoners to sit here would probably not go down so well with their constituents. This is not about high principle at all; it is about people who are prepared to say anything and do anything to get a few cheap votes back in their constituencies at the next election. They think that the best way of doing that is to say, “I am all for the youth. I think that young people should be able to sit in the House of Commons Chamber.”
But why just the Youth Parliament? That is what I want to know. What about all the other young people who would love to use these Benches to sample the atmosphere and further their political ambitions? Why are they excluded? Why are we being so exclusive? What is wrong with all the other young people out there whom we want to inspire?
I want to iron out the anomaly but in a rather different way from the hon. Gentleman, I fear. His way of dealing with the anomaly is to allow all and sundry to use the Chamber; my way is to stop the one group of people who are currently allowed to use it.
We had the Youth Parliament taking part in debates in Parliament before they were allowed to use this Chamber. I think they used Westminster Hall on one occasion. They may even have used the House of Lords, and perhaps Committee Room 14. I am very supportive of that; I have no problem with it whatsoever. One of the arguments made for them moving out of the House of Lords and Westminster Hall was, “Well, they’ve already been there. They’re bored now—they want to go somewhere else.” In that case, why do they need to come and sit in here year in, year out? If they were so bored after just one sitting in the House of Lords, and they want to be on this sort of merry-go-round, they can find somewhere else to go. They must surely be bored with sitting in here by now. I am certainly bored with them sitting in here, and I am sure that they must be too, so let us relieve them of their boredom and let them find somewhere else.
Given that we are having to decide whether we stay here in future years, we will probably end up in the ridiculous position of having the UK Youth Parliament still sitting in here while we have been kicked out. That is probably how politically correct we have got these days. No one will be prepared to tell them that they cannot sit in here any more. We will all be told that we have to move, but they will still be here once a year, every single year, using these facilities. Perhaps they could do us all a favour and go away to try to find somewhere else that we might be able to use ourselves when we might have to be removed. They could do a public service by going out over the next four or five years and looking at different locations to see how they work for these grand debates. That would be much more use than having them sit here.
I do not intend to call a Division; I would not want to test the patience of my hon. Friends in that way. However, we should not just be nodding this through and saying it is absolutely fine for one group of people to be allowed to use these Benches every year without any thought. Let us have a proper rationale. My constituents are not allowed to sit on these Benches when they come to visit Parliament. I have not yet heard anybody argue that they should be; everyone is quite happy for that to continue. Why is this narrow group of people be treated—
It has been fascinating listening to these speeches, but a convoluted argument is being made. Why can we not do one nice thing for the youth? They are very serious about coming here. It is a terrific honour to sit on these Benches, and it really shows that they are interested and encourages them from then on. We should make it a one-off. Let us not bother with any of the arguments and just let it happen.
The hon. Gentleman perfectly sums up the argument—let us just curry favour with a few young people. But why just this group of people? There is no logic to it whatsoever. Either one is allowed to sit on these Benches or one is not. He must accept that there is no logic to his position; it is just a load of motherhood and apple pie guff.
I shall draw my remarks to a close because I do not wish to test the patience of my colleagues any further, but it is important to put on the record the fact that not everybody is happy with this. I am sure it will be agreed, and I genuinely hope that the people who come to speak on that day enjoy themselves and feel inspired to come to Parliament, but I do not accept that the only way a young person—
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I thought I should assure him that he is not testing the patience of the House; the House is thoroughly enjoying his speech. He may not know that while he has been speaking the only people he has been inconveniencing are the Executive, because Back Benchers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries are now on a one-line Whip.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for telling me about the whipping advice. I shall seek him out more often. It may well pay dividends for everybody to know that I know the whipping arrangements.
I do not think it is right to say that the only way we can inspire people to get involved in politics is to allow them to sit in here and have a debate. When I was first elected to Parliament in 2005, it was an absolute honour and privilege—[Interruption.] It absolutely still is a privilege, but to be able to sit on these Benches for the first time was an absolute privilege and an honour, and I thought it was very special.
I know that the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world does not bother with elections, but Shipley, in common with most other places, had an election a few weeks ago. It obviously bypassed the hon. Gentleman, who clearly does not have to worry about trifling matters like elections. What was put to the test in our election was whether I or somebody else should represent the people of Shipley in this House. I can report—I do not think I would be here otherwise—that 50% of the people of the Shipley constituency voted for me, and I am therefore exercising my democratic right to represent them.
The young people of Shipley have different views on different issues. Has the hon. Gentleman canvassed the opinion of every 16-year-old in his constituency? I suspect not, because how would he identify every 16-year-old in his constituency in order to be able to canvass them? In fact, I suspect I probably canvass more people in Shipley than he has in his constituency over the years.
In which case, it is a shame the hon. Gentleman did not realise there was an election on which to canvass a few weeks ago. I am here to represent my constituents in Parliament. If they want someone else to represent them, they know exactly what they need to do at an election and I will always respect their decision.
I thought it was a great privilege to sit here for the first time after I was elected and I do not want young people to feel blasé about the fact that they have already been here and say, “I don’t need to stand for Parliament, because I’ve already sat there—been there, seen it, done it.” It should be something that people who want to get involved in politics aspire to do: they should aspire to come to sit on these Benches and feel as proud as I did when I was first elected in 2005. I fear that this is gesture politics of the worst kind. It is motherhood and apple pie guff. I am opposed to it and I will always remain opposed to having an exemption for one single group.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) is completely right to say that the quality of Youth Parliament debates in this Chamber continues to be exemplary. The hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) was also right to mention the inspiration given to the young people of the Youth Parliament by allowing them to come into this Chamber and debate.
I want to commend the member of the Youth Parliament for my constituency, Aaron Addidle, who attends Regent House school and has all the qualities of a potential MP or Member of the Legislative Assembly. He shows that today’s youth are interested. Sometimes people deride them, but today’s youth in my constituency have great qualities.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to commend that young person, and there are many similar young people up and down the land. School councils meet daily, weekly and monthly for debates and conversations. Indeed, I recently met the school councils of Lincoln Gardens and St Augustine Webster primary schools in my constituency. They are typical examples of what is going on.
The Deputy Leader of the House made a good point when she drew attention to the way in which issues have been raised for debate in the Youth Parliament. There have been regional meetings of young people across the country to discuss a variety of issues, and those issues have eventually been brought here. It is right and proper that the debates happen here as the pinnacle of all those activities, and that is why I am happy to support the motion.
I did not think that we would be debating the motion this evening, so my apologies again for being late, Madam Deputy Speaker.
There is a sense of déjà vu all over again, because we have debated motions such as this several times in my 18 years in the House, and my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has been entirely consistent in speaking against the motion and trotting out the same arguments every single time. I respect his consistency, but I absolutely take issue with the basis on which he has trotted out his view yet again. Indeed, I think it is patronising to young people. To hear comments such as he made may amuse us—it is good knockabout stuff—but there is a serious point. The young people who have made the commitment to put themselves in front of their peers and stand for election, just as he and I did a few weeks ago, have made a sacrifice, often at a very young age, and expect to be taken seriously. When they hear comments like his in this place, it can only serve to undermine their confidence. That is a great shame.
I speak as an absolutely unswerving supporter of the UK Youth Parliament. I was the Children’s Minister responsible for the UKYP, and the Government rescued it when there was a financial problem with it some years ago. It was taken on by the British Youth Council, under whose tutelage it has flourished ever since. I have sat on these Benches along with 400 members of the UKYP in their November sittings, and you have addressed those sittings yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker. It has always been a huge privilege, and we take great pride in what those young people do. We are cutting off our nose to spite our face, though, because when we come back on the Monday, Mr Speaker will remind us without fail how well behaved, well turned out, succinct and concise those young people were on the Friday, and how well they made their arguments. He inevitably says what a shame it is that the Members of Parliament assembled on the Monday cannot act and behave as well as them. They set quite an example.
The UKYP is not some random cluster of young, enthusiastic people who have some interest in politics. It was set up by one of our colleagues, Andrew Rowe, the former Member for Mid Kent, back in about 2000 or 2001. Some years ago, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, we granted it the use of this Chamber, which was recognition of just how important a body it had become.
One of the key things that I wanted to push in my time as Minister responsible for children and young people, and which I continue to push, was the expansion of youth engagement in this country’s political process. Whether or not we believe in votes at 16 or 17, we have a looming crisis, because the number of 18 to 24-year-olds who vote in elections is derisory. In 2010, something like 43% or 44% voted, and early indications suggest that the figure fell in the general election that we have just been through. We have a crisis of engagement among young people who are already entitled to vote, so we should support anything that we can do to encourage bodies such as the UKYP, which can act as a good example of how young people can be engaged in politics and be taken seriously by people in positions of power.
I would like the UKYP to have more powers in this place. You and I have talked, Madam Deputy Speaker, about the Youth Select Committee—I am proud to be one of those who set it up some years ago, and I was the first Minister to appear in front of it. It was the biggest grilling I have ever had in front of a Select Committee. I have appeared as a Minister in front of many Select Committees. None was better prepared, and not prepared to take rubbish for an answer and to be palmed off, than the Youth Select Committee, whose members really did their homework and produced an excellent report—in that case on transport for young people and, subsequently, on education for life and other subjects.
The big issue with those young people—to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley—is that they are not random groups of young people; they have been elected. The turnout to elect UKYP members is rather impressive; in many parts of the country it is better than for Members of Parliament. Hundreds of thousands of young people have voted for members of the UK Youth Parliament and, locally, for youth councils, youth cabinets and, in some cases, the youth mayors that we have in different parts of the country.
Was the hon. Gentleman encouraged in his constituency, as I was in mine, by the young people who put their names forward for election and who were elected? The interest was phenomenal, and some of it spilled over into the elections to Westminster this year, when people voting for the first time introduced themselves to candidates. I am encouraged by that in my constituency. Is he encouraged by it in his?
I am hugely encouraged. It is a big ask, at the age of 13, 14 or 15, for someone to put their name forward, to stand up on a public stage in front of other young people and to strut their stuff—to put forward their manifesto and take questions. We take it for granted—we do it for a living; many of us have done it since we were anoraks in our teens—but doing it for the first time is a big ask. Coming to this place is hugely daunting. I have spoken to many young people, before they have come here and after they have spoken. What a huge privilege it is. They are not going to keep coming back and doing it every year; they get the opportunity only once to sit in this place. They will not have an opportunity again until they are over 18 and may then put themselves forward for public office, which they cannot do when they are under 18.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one thing we could do is ensure that we, here in this Chamber, have a debate about the issues that those young people have discussed? That would give a certain resilience to what they have been doing.
That is exactly the point I was coming to. Something that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I have discussed—alas, you are not now in a position to advocate it so much, certainly from the Benches—is the report that the Youth Select Committee produces with the aid of resources in the House and the advice of hon. Members and House staff. The report receives a formal response from the Department responsible for that policy issue, and it should be automatically debated in this House. We should show that we take it seriously. Those people would take something like that much more seriously, and much better, than the patronising comments that a few dinosaurs—a very few—in this place still trot out every few years in this debate.
I should like to see the role of the UKYP in this House extended. It is always a huge sadness and very frustrating—despite all the time and effort that goes into the meeting every year, as well as the summer sitting which I have been to for many years, where some very grown-up, intelligent debate takes place—to see how little coverage it gets in the media. Today’s proceedings will probably be reported in the press tomorrow. I am pretty sure that some of my hon. Friend’s bons mots will make it into some of the Commons sketches tomorrow, but very rarely do we read anything about the deliberations of the United Kingdom Youth Parliament, even when they come to this Chamber, in the mother of Parliaments, to discuss their issues for the year and when they produce their Select Committee reports. That is a huge sadness, and we should do anything we can do to promote greater awareness among the public at large of the UKYP’s existence, making other young people more confident that it is something they should get involved in if they want to influence things in their community and nationally, and that Members of this Parliament are just as much there for everybody under 18 as they are for everybody over 18 who happens to be able to vote in their constituencies.
I have an electorate of 74,500 in East Worthing and Shoreham, but I always talk about having a constituency of 91,000 because I am there for everybody under the age of 18, whether they are interested in politics or not.
I am absolutely in favour of the motion. I always have been and I have always spoken on this subject.
My hon. Friend has denigrated some of the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), but one of the points that he has not covered is whether there are any other groups he feels would be as well behaved as the Youth Parliament that should also sit in this honourable Chamber?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. There was a lot of denigration going on from my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, as well, although in good odour. The UKYP is unique. One reason is that it is a body of young people who are not yet able to stand for public office, which would entitle them to sit in this place as we do. I can also think of no other national body based on election with an electorate similar to that which elects us, but based on age. They represent constituencies, albeit rather wider constituencies —in west Sussex, we have four constituencies electing four Members of the Youth Parliament, and this Friday I will meet my local MYP, Stephen Gearing. We need to do something to inspire young people to get engaged in the political process and to feel that this place is not something out of their reach that they can never influence. They should not feel that MPs are not there for them and are in some other world; they are just as entitled to have access to us, to have us engage with them and to be taken seriously by us.
I feel that we should extend the remit to allow the Youth Parliament to sit in this House once more. Over the past few years its Members have proved wrong all the scare stories that they would be hanging from the chandeliers or leaving chewing gum under the seats, and they treat this place with rather greater respect than some hon. Members who sit here day after day. They have earned the right to continue to sit in this House once a year and, more than that, I feel that they have earned the right to be taken rather more seriously, so their proceedings should become a matter for automatic debate by this House in future years.
I think that some age solidarity is needed when we talk about young people, and I shall come to that in a moment.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), not because I agree with a single word he said but because of his determination to put his point of view however much he is in the minority. One lesson he teaches us, which we should not forget, is that if someone has a consistent point of view—even though it might be totally wrong—they should put it in the House of Commons. In some respects, I consider the hon. Gentleman’s politics as nearing those of the 19th century and I can well imagine him opposing every reform that came before the House. If he had been a Member 100 years ago, no one would have been more steadfast in opposing votes for women, and I am sure that in the post-1945 era he would have voted against all the social reforms that we now accept. He spoke about middle-aged people and I must confess, though it might not appear so to hon. Members, that I am beyond middle age. My age group could certainly not be considered middle aged, although I was very pleased to be in this place when I was.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and my hon. Friends have mentioned how well behaved the Members of the Youth Parliament are. I am not so concerned about good behaviour. They were hardly going to throw apples at each other and all the rest, but I happened to watch the parliamentary programme about their proceedings, which I knew was going to be on—I am not such an obsessive about being a parliamentarian that I want to watch parliamentary programmes over the weekend—and I was so impressed by the level of debate and the exchanges that took place that I am sure I watched it for one and a half hours or more. The hon. Gentleman and others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), have made the point that it should be a matter of the utmost concern to us, as people involved in politics who want to see our democracy defended at all costs, that the number of people who vote in the 18-to-24 age category is small compared with other age groups. We must encourage such people to vote.
I accept, of course, that having a Youth Parliament as such, and debating, will not necessarily increase voting. I have my own views on how voting should be increased, and I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill in the closing stages of the last Parliament for a voting system more or less modelled on Australia, with an obligation to vote.
On Members of the Youth Parliament coming here, I say to the hon. Member for Shipley that this is not a sacred place. When we are sitting here, we have our privileges, such as the right to debate and to ensure that no one interferes with our debates. That is when we are in session, but when we are not sitting, there is no reason on earth why this place should not be used by the Youth Parliament and perhaps other groups as well. I do not understand his view that in our absence, nothing should occur here and there should be no debates by other groups and the rest of it. I do not accept that view for one moment.
When the matter first came before the House a few years ago, a number of Conservative Members opposed it—certainly no Labour or Liberal Democrat Members did. It is interesting that today, only the hon. Gentleman is opposing it. I have already praised him for putting forward his point of view, however much he appears to be in a minority of one. The fact that what was controversial a few years ago no longer is—it is more or less accepted—is an indication that people now recognise that the Youth Parliament has a role to play in this House.
Incidentally, when I watched that parliamentary programme, one other thing impressed me: the Speaker of the House of Commons was in the Chair. It was not a Deputy Speaker—that is no reflection on any of the Deputy Speakers in the last Parliament, let alone in this Parliament—and it was impressive that the Speaker of the House of Commons chaired the whole sitting. Those who participated in the Youth Parliament also respected the fact that the Speaker took the matter seriously enough to be in the Chair all the time that the proceedings were taking place.
I hope that the motion will be carried. I hope that not only this year, but in future years, the Youth Parliament will sit where we sit. It may well be that after 2020 we will be in a different place for a few years. Wherever that place may be, it will be the House of Commons, and the Youth Parliament is most welcome.
My age is such that I, perhaps more than other Members, look around the Chamber and see Members of ages that are nowhere near my own. As someone who has reached their 80s, I want to make it absolutely clear that, as my colleagues have said, younger people should have the vote. That the people involved in the Youth Parliament are so interested to come here and to participate in political debate—hopefully some of them will become Members of Parliament and, even more hopefully, Labour Members of Parliament—is an encouragement to me.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman. He is but a boy in this House, and it would be unthinkable for this Parliament to be without his presence in his traditional place.
It is obviously a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). I commend him for his work as children’s Minister and for his work with the Youth Parliament. He has been a massive supporter of the UKYP and, like him, I hope to continue to see many more such meetings in the House of Commons.
It is also the first time I have been able to address the House with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, so this is my opportunity to pay congratulations to you on your rightful assent. I served under you when you were the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, so it is a pleasure to serve under you as Madam Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons.
This debate would not happen in Scotland, because we are going to give the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds. I pay tribute to my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, who last week passed legislation to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in Scottish parliamentary elections. It is such a shame that probably in the same year as those young people go and vote in a Scottish parliamentary election, this House will deny them the opportunity to vote in the EU referendum.
If 16 and 17-year-olds were given the vote, it would not make sense for 16 and 17-year-olds to meet here as a sub-Parliament.
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would take a cursory glance at the galvanising effect of involving young people in the democratic process. All of us on the SNP Benches are recipients of the engagement that we have seen in Scotland. Like all my hon. Friends, I visited most of my local schools during the referendum campaign. People would not believe the outlook that those young people had. Being questioned by 16-year-olds about “sterlingisation” and Barnett consequentials is something that I will never forget. That was a feature of the involvement of young people in the referendum campaign.
We felt that it was important to continue that involvement for every election to come. Where we have jurisdictional responsibility, 16 and 17-year-olds will continue to have the vote. It is just such a shame that they will be deprived of the opportunity to participate in the EU referendum and in elections to this House, when they should have that opportunity.
I am a signatory to the motion. I think that I speak on behalf of all my colleagues in saying that we really enjoy the fact that the young people of the UK can come to this Parliament and participate in debate. Like the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, I observed their proceedings in this House and saw their mature response, the effective and real debate that they had on a variety of issues, the way that they conducted themselves, and their sheer joy and pleasure at being in this House with Mr Speaker in the Chair, directing the debate. It is something that I am sure none of those young people will forget. Now that they have had that taste of democratic, electoral politics, I am sure that they will play a full part in the democratic process.
I am so grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting me right. How could I possibly get his constituency wrong? Of course he is the hon. Member for Walsall North, and a distinguished Member at that.
I am very fond of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), as he knows. I hope that he comes to Perth racecourse this year, where he and I can have a little flutter on the gee-gees at Scone Palace. However, I have heard him make the same speech again and again. When he started making it, he was dinosaur junior. Now, he is dinosaur senior, such is his elevated position among right-wing Conservative Members of Parliament. He is almost the sole and exclusive representative of one of the most dwindling clubs of Conservative Members of Parliament. It is heartening to see him in a minority of one in addressing the House on this issue because he is totally wrong.
This place should be opened up to young people. This is a fantastic opportunity for them to come to the House of Commons and participate in its debates and proceedings. I hope that, in years to come, we will continue to open our doors to the young people of the United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is the first contribution that I have made with you in the Chair and it is good to see you there.
I am not somebody who talks in this place for the sake of talking, but I feel motivated to participate in this debate because it is on an important issue that goes to the heart of our democracy and its future. I hope that I do not cause offence to anyone but, having looked around the Chamber, I think that I might be the youngest Member here. It is a sad state of affairs when the youngest Member in the Chamber is someone with quite as much grey hair as I have and someone who has very recently celebrated their 40th birthday.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), and the hon. Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), for their excellent contributions. I agree with all they said.
I put on record my full support for the UK Youth Parliament using the Chamber. I find it utterly remarkable that we are having this debate at all. The fact that we repeat this debate almost yearly will seem anathema to many of my constituents. It is a no-brainer that the UK Youth Parliament can use the Chamber. It has my full support in doing so.
It is important that hon. Members remember just how remote we are to many people. I hope I will not cause offence, but when people look around the Chamber today, they could be forgiven for thinking that it is quite male and pale, and some people would say it is quite stale. The same could not be said when people watch debates of the UK Youth Parliament and the people who sit on these Benches. We have had some excellent Members of the Youth Parliament from Lewisham. The current Member, Saffron Worrell, was out campaigning during the general election. They bring great energy to this place. Long may it continue.
It is a crying shame that, when I have work experience students visit the House of Commons and sit in the Public Gallery, often, one of the first things they say to me is, “Do you have to be posh to be an MP?” Lots of people watch the debates in this Chamber and think that it is an episode of “Downton Abbey”. We have to change that. Making the Chamber accessible to young people is one way we can do so.
I do not want to detain the House. I just wanted to put on record my strong support for the UK Youth Parliament using the Chamber.
It is a pleasure to reply to the debate. I thank my hon. Friends the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for their speeches. I also thank for their contributions the hon. Members for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), the youngest person in the Chamber, although, as we know, not the youngest Member of Parliament elected in 2015.
All I can say to the Scottish National party Members is that, to some extent, they have been treated to a bit of a taster, if not a short masterclass, of Friday sittings. Five years ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley spoke for 77 minutes, but today he spoke for only 24 minutes. In that regard, this has been a shorter debate. Nevertheless, he has shown consistency and, I would say, intellectual rigour. It pains me to think that I might be supporting a dig-Gordon-Brown-out-of-a-hole motion, but that is not the case today. Just as the House did five years ago, we are giving permission to another group of special young people to participate in a debate in the Chamber.
The point about other groups has been made. I am not aware of any other groups that have asked to use the Chamber. It would be for them to approach the House and for the House to decide, but I recognise that the House has, on the previous two occasions it has debated this matter, endorsed having the Youth Parliament sit in the Chamber.
I was intrigued by the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. He spoke passionately about the UK Youth Parliament and behaviour. I am sure Mr Speaker will be looking to him to be a role model to colleagues during Prime Minister’s questions for the next five years.
I want to say something that might jar. It is not strictly accurate to say that Members of the UK Youth Parliament could not be elected to the House, which addresses the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Karl MᶜCartney) made. The UK Youth Parliament is open to anybody from age 11 to 18 and their term lasts for two years, so we could technically just about have a 20-year-old being a Member of the Youth Parliament, which, as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Ms Black) proved, is young enough to be elected. Nevertheless, I recognise that the majority of Members of the Youth Parliament are under 18.
I was taken by the comments of the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan), who is no longer in his place—he is probably off answering his trendy ringtone. He extended across the Chamber the branch of friendship to look at this particular situation, but I come back to the fact that it is a special occasion for the Members of the Youth Parliament. The hon. Member for Lewisham East was perhaps the first hon. Member in the debate to refer to a Member of the Youth Parliament. Five years ago, lots of Liberal Democrats did the sycophantic thing of naming every one they could. I had a Deputy Member of the Youth Parliament campaigning for me in the general election. It was good to see people getting involved in the campaign.
I hope that the House, having had a wide-ranging debate, endorses the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
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 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.