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I rise to support the motion as a member of the Modernisation Committee. I first wish to put on record a correction of what I am sure is a genuine misunderstanding on the part of Sir Nicholas Winterton. He said that this matter had not been before a Committee of the House, but that is patently untrue. In fact, the proposal has come not from the Executive but from an all-party Select Committee that includes the hon. Gentleman. It was agreed to without a vote in 2004. Recommendation 9 in "Connecting Parliament with the Public", the Modernisation Committee's first report of Session 2003-04, stated:
"We believe there is a case for reconsideration of the long-standing convention that only elected Members of Parliament may ever sit in the Chamber, which is in contrast to the practice of many other legislatures".
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I believe that he was a member of the Modernisation Committee at the time. We debated the matter at length and heard compelling evidence from the youth development officer at Lewisham council, the parliamentary education service and the UK Youth Parliament. All our witnesses said clearly what a fantastic opportunity it would be for young people to come into this Chamber—the cockpit of the mother of Parliaments—and be treated with maturity and respect, not patronised in the way that they have been in some of the contributions that we have heard. Of course the UK Youth Parliament is capable of a mature, sensible debate. Its members are the future citizens of our country and deserve to be treated with respect. That is what is intended in the motion.
The hon. Gentleman has a point, but it is not relevant. On a point of order, I raised a written question, which was tabled in 2007—some three years after the report from which he quoted—and the reply that the then Deputy Leader of the House gave was that the Leader of the House "will be raising"—not "has raised"—the issue with the Modernisation Committee. I am afraid that that has not happened.
That does not alter the facts of the case. It is a question of how many Tory backwoodsmen can dance on the head of a pin. They will use any procedural ruse to prevent the matter from being put to a vote, because they know perfectly well that they would be defeated and the UK Youth Parliament would have an opportunity to debate here.
I have always believed that the definition of treason should be elastic, so I am not in a position to advise my hon. Friend.
One of the pleasures I derived from serving on the Modernisation Committee was seeing how apoplectic the hon. Member for Macclesfield got whenever it was suggested that anything other than an elected posterior should be allowed to grace the leather.
I express my views with conviction—whether that constitutes apoplexy is a matter of individual judgment. If the proposal had come forward as a recommendation for the Modernisation Committee, I would not have supported it. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight said, the then Deputy Leader of the House answered a question in 2007 by saying that the matter would be referred to the Modernisation Committee. That has not happened. I also emphasise that the Modernisation Committee has not met since the summer recess.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If hon. Members who are present and interested in the matter have not spoken, is there any reason for holding a Division rather than carrying over the matter so that further time can be found for a clearly important debate?
I think that we are witnessing the first tremors of apoplexy from the hon. Gentleman. The minutes of the report that I cited clearly show that the membership of the Modernisation Committee in 2003-04 included him. The report includes recommendation 9 about reviewing the case for reserving use of the Chamber for elected Members of Parliament, and the minutes also show that there was no Division. It is therefore disingenuous for members of that Committee to claim that the matter was not discussed and that they sought to oppose the recommendation.
There are times when I am proud to be a Member of the House and there are times when I am slightly saddened. I am sad when young people are patronised and an organisation as worthy as the UK Youth Parliament is traduced in the way that some hon. Members have tried to do. The UK Youth Parliament is an excellent institution. I grew up in the '60s and '70s, when young people were energised by the political process. A lot of us feel despair at the lack of turnout and engagement among young people in the party political process and in the general political process. For us, as a Parliament, to be shutting our doors on a small group of young people who wish to participate and engage in our democratic process is disgraceful.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, although I counsel him against his serious tendency towards understatement, which he has developed over a period of years. Is it not sad that we have already been beaten to it by the House of Lords, and would it not at least be graceful of us to follow now with due haste?
I commend the hon. Gentleman on his statesmanlike intervention. I never thought that I would say this as an old lefty, but the longer that I am in this place, the more I look across at the other place and think that there are more lessons to be learned there than I ever envisaged. [ Interruption. ]
I have another problem for Opposition Members who feel that their traditions, their security or even their very being would be threatened by some young people meeting once a year in this place. The records show that the House authorities have identified the fact that asbestos exists in this building. As you will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, they have been considering the possibility of relocating us across the road—I think to the Queen Elizabeth centre—while the work takes place. I am afraid that the traditions of this place may yet be subject to health and safety legislation. When we are away and the contractors are in this place removing the asbestos, goodness knows, treason may happen. A building worker—a working-class person—may end up sitting on the green Benches, and what a terrible thing that would be.
Surely the current state of affairs is clear-cut. If someone is an elected Member of Parliament, they are entitled to sit here and if they are not, they are not. All the arguments that the hon. Gentleman is putting forward seem to be equally good arguments in favour of the General Synod, the Muslim Council of Britain or the women's institute sitting here. I cannot see from the logic of his argument why he would not have a sitting from some exterior group take place every weekend.
If I am ever elected to the Muslim Council of Britain or the women's institute, I may make similar arguments, but I am not. I am an elected Member of this place and I want to open it up to the next generation of voters, who I hope will form a House of Commons that is more progressive, liberal and open-minded than what we have heard from Members in some parts of the Chamber—I use the word "liberal" advisedly.
The arguments are so clear and overpowering that we do not need to get stuck in process. In the few minutes before I conclude, I want to give those in the UK Youth Parliament a voice. We have been talking at them, rather than about what they might do, what they might get out of the experience or what they might feel. Let me read into the record what the chief executive of the UK Youth Parliament said only a couple of days ago. He is a gentleman called Andy Hamflett and he gave evidence to the Speaker's Conference in Parliament, highlighting how politicians could be doing more to reach out to young people. Speaking about the Speaker's Conference, Andy said:
"It was a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the great work that Local Authorities and young people undertake as part of the UKYP partnership...Many ideas were discussed, but for me the unifying theme was that young people from diverse communities often feel disconnected from Parliament because they cannot see role models representing them in the House. They need to see people like themselves in representative positions to believe that it can be done.
I therefore made the point that if Parliament really wants to open its doors to young people, a very simple first step would be to allow Members of Youth Parliament to sit in the House of Commons chamber. It would be the perfect opportunity for young people across the country to see the fantastic diversity of Members of Youth Parliament, and to inspire them to take their own steps to get involved in politics and decision making."
No, I will not give way. I have been very generous in giving way.
One of my political mentors was a gentleman called Mr. Hogben. He was, I think, a leader writer for The Times, as well as being my British constitution teacher at school—we did not have politics in those days. He spotted in me and in other young people in our class an interest in the world around us, and he sought to develop and inspire it. He ensured that we came to the Chamber of this place, where I was privileged to see Barbara Castle tearing into the industrial relations legislation of the time. My teacher also took me to see Ralph Miliband at the politics society at Kingston; he nurtured my interest and my passion. I have to say that he, as a democrat, would be spinning in his grave if he had to listen to some of the arguments being put forward today to shut young people out of this place. We should be doing everything we can to inspire the next generation of democratic representatives. We should vote in favour of this motion, because it is called progress.
We have just heard a diatribe from Martin Salter, which did not add anything at all to the debate. I was particularly taken, however, with the intervention by Mr. Browne, because the matters that he raised have not, in fact, been properly addressed.
May I say to the House that I have taken legal advice informally, and I am advised that if we set a precedent of enabling people who are not elected to this place to meet in this place, a precedent will be set? A precedent will be set if the House decides to take that decision. The hon. Member for Taunton referred to a number of organisations, such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the women's institute—he could have mentioned the National Pensioners Convention. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House why he does not believe that the people in this country who turn out most in elections—namely, the grey vote—should have as equal an opportunity as the Youth Parliament to have a meeting in this place. They are a very important part of this country.
By the way, the UK Youth Parliament represents only a small number of young people in the United Kingdom. I know this because in my own county of Cheshire, I have taken a very active interest in the UK Youth Parliament. Along with my wife— my hon. Friend Ann Winterton who represents Congleton—and other Members of Parliament representing Cheshire constituencies, I have attended the annual gatherings of the Youth Parliament in county hall in Chester. We have met many of the representatives who have been elected in their particular areas.
I very much respect the points that my hon. Friend is making, but there is a fundamental difference between the Muslim Council of Britain, Age Concern or the other groups that he has mentioned and the Youth Parliament. People from any one of those groups could stand for Parliament and place themselves on these Benches by election, but the 11 to 17-year-old members of the UK Youth Parliament cannot do so because of their age— [Interruption.]
Sitting in front of me, my hon. Friend Mr. Brady, who represents a seat very close to mine in Greater Manchester, has just said from a sedentary position: "What about Polish workers?" They are probably unrepresented and they would like to have a meeting. There is a very large number of Polish workers in this country. I say sincerely to this House that a very dangerous precedent might well be set.
I was thinking about some of the meetings of the Youth Parliament that the hon. Gentleman and I have attended. Has any problem occurred due to the fact that when the Youth Parliament meets in Cheshire's county hall, its members sit on the benches—the seats—that are normally allocated to elected councillors? What on earth is the difference? They are seats. The important thing, surely, is the status of the institution. We should be proud of the fact that we are extending the facility of being able to come here to the young people of this country.
I must confess to the hon. Gentleman that when I was present, the members of the Youth Parliament were not sitting on the benches occupied by councillors. They were sitting round tables, drinking and eating. Therefore, to an extent, behaviour that would not be allowed here appears from time to time to be practised by the Youth Parliament, certainly when it meets in county hall in Chester.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I am not a lawyer, and I say that as a matter of considerable pride, but he has said that he has taken legal advice without disclosing his source. May I politely suggest to him that the idea that this is some sort of slippery slope and that we will tie our hands is, frankly, nonsense on stilts? He cannot say, on the one hand, that he believes in and asserts parliamentary sovereignty and, on the other, that we do not have such sovereignty. He really cannot have it both ways.
Oh but I can. What is more, I say to my hon. Friend that at one time he would have been shoulder to shoulder with me on these matters. When I went to his constituency before he was elected, he indicated that I was not really positively enough centre-right in speaking for him. So, there has been something of—
I know. I am being interrupted, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am seeking to make progress. I say to my hon. Friend that I have been in this place—good or bad, right or wrong, whether people like it or not—for nearly 38 years and I have been utterly consistent.
I think that the hon. Gentleman rather likes it—being rude, that is. He bemoans the fact that the UK Youth Parliament does not stretch to every community in the country, which is true, but I would have thought that the opportunity to sit in the House would make it far easier for the Youth Parliament to spread across the whole country and to recruit more members, including in his constituency.
Nobody wants to keep young people out of this Palace. Like people in all parts of the House, we want to encourage more and more young people to take an interest in politics and party politics. I spend considerable time in my constituency going round secondary schools in particular, although I also visit junior schools, to meet fifth and sixth-formers, because they are developing an interest in politics. We have a free and encouraging exchange of questions and answers. I believe—
I was shoulder to shoulder with the hon. Gentleman on the Modernisation Committee when we wrote the report recommending that we consider using this Chamber for young people to debate, set in the context, if I may remind him, of supporting citizenship education in this country. I know that he is about to say, "Let's put them Upstairs in a Committee Room," so let me put the following argument to him. The youngsters of the Youth Parliament debated in Committee Room 14 and performed in an exemplary way. They were rewarded by next being able to debate in the House of Lords, where, as we have heard, they also behaved in an exemplary way. What is wrong with now rewarding them with the pinnacle of our Parliament, being able to debate in this Chamber?
The hon. Gentleman always expresses his arguments in a most persuasive and constructive way, but he and I differ. I believe that either Committee Room 14 or the Grand Committee Room would be ideal chambers for the Youth Parliament to meet in and to have debates. Let me pick up the moving remarks of the Liberal shadow Leader of the House, who said that nobody is more loyal to this Chamber and believes more strongly in its integrity and that of the House than him. Looking at him eye to eye, let me say that I do not think anyone could fault my support for the Chamber of the House. In recent times, almost my sole raison d'être for remaining in this place has been to restore to the House more authority over the conduct of its business. For that reason and my total commitment to the integrity—and, yes, sovereignty—of the House, I take the position that I do.
I am not against young people in any way. I have eight grandchildren, and seven of them are boys—one girl. In fact, the latest boy— [Interruption.] Does the Deputy Leader of the House want to intervene?
What I am saying is that people fight elections to enable them to sit on these green Benches, and we should not underestimate the status of being elected to come and take a seat in this House. The House is easily carried away, perhaps on what people believe to be political correctness and appealing to young people. If there were the referendum that Labour Members have talked about, I wonder whether its result would be what they believe.
I say, in particular to the hon. Member for Reading, West, who, sadly—I say this with emphasis and sincerity—is leaving the House at the next election, and we will be deprived of his outspoken comments that occasionally enliven debates in this place—
I am most grateful to my hon. and young Friend. Does he agree that if the debate does not conclude today and is resumed on another day, it would help many of us if the Deputy Leader of the House were to circulate a list of the conditions that he considers appropriate to attach to the use of the Chamber by the Youth Parliament? None of those conditions are mentioned in the motion. The Deputy Leader of the House has gone some way towards allaying many fears today, but there should be a list of his proposed rules of the game, as it were, if the matter proceeds further.
Before the Deputy Leader of the House intervenes, let me give a commitment. If such an undertaking is given, I will myself examine the criteria that will form part of the information provided by the Leader of the House about the basis on which the Chamber could be made available to the UK Youth Parliament, and I will certainly review the position that I am currently taking.
I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman means that he will not only review his opinion but revise it. I suspect not, but I am more than happy to make the commitment suggested by Mr. Knight, who chairs the Procedure Committee. Let me add that I think it right for there to be no still photography in the Chamber. That applies to us when we sit here, and I think it should also apply to the UK Youth Parliament if it does so.
The Leader of the House has given a very fair response, but I cannot give a commitment to revise my opinion; I would review it. The hon. Member for Reading, West read out an extract from a 2004 Select Committee report which referred to reviewing the matter, rather than making a decision to use the Chamber.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In view of slightly conflicting statements that have been made, including some from the Chair, will you clarify whether it is your intention to put the question at 6 pm regardless, or whether there will indeed be an opportunity for the debate to be resumed on another day? My hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton is basing his excellent speech on the assumption that that is the case, and my hon. Friend Mr. Chope, who has not yet moved the amendment selected by Mr. Speaker, obviously believes it to be the case. You yourself said that the proceedings had to conclude at 6 pm. Will you kindly confirm, for the benefit of us all, that we can resume the debate on another day?
The ruling that I gave was that the debate had to conclude by 6 pm. That is why I have urged Members to make their contributions brief. The hon. Gentleman will, however, be aware of the procedures of the House. If the debate is still continuing at 6 pm, it will be adjourned.
In the light of the helpful intervention by the Deputy Leader of the House, does my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield accept that the Administration Committee, which is already keen to have a report on the subject, is the appropriate vehicle for consideration of the detail of this proposal?
I think that I have made the position clear. I am not sure whether the Deputy Leader of the House is actually sympathetic to the idea that there should be further debate on the subject in the light of additional information that the Government will provide on the basis that, once a year, the Chamber might be made available to the UK Youth Parliament.
Let me return to my fundamental objection. I fought long and hard to get into the House. There are people who fought many more elections before they got into the House, and I respect them for their determination and commitment to serve this nation as Members of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. I repeat that I take the views expressed by the Liberal spokesman, Mr. Heath, very seriously indeed.
The debate stood adjourned (
Ordered, That the debate be resumed tomorrow.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This point of order is not in relation to the debate we have just had. The shadow Leader of the House raised a point of order earlier this afternoon about the publication of the list of Ministers' interests, which he was concerned might have been leaked to newspapers before it was made available to the House. In fact, the report in the Evening Standard refers to matters that have been published in the Register of Members' Interests and are not in the list of Ministers' interests, but I thought it would be useful for all Members to know that it is available in the Library and the Vote Office.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to transgress on your time again, but as there is great interest in the subject we have just been debating, I think it would be extremely helpful to all those present if the Leader of the House were able to indicate when "tomorrow" will be.