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Ques tion (
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 bring about social change; notes that many hon. Members from all parts of the House are actively involved in the work of the UK Youth Parliament; and accordingly resolves that the UK Youth Parliament should be allowed for this year alone to hold its 2009 annual meeting in the Chamber of this House.
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It is wonderful that we have three hours and 40 minutes to conclude the debate on this subject that was begun last week. Ever since
They will have to make a judgment themselves as to what has been happening. This very day, I have been in communication with one of the elected members from the Dorset contingent of the UK Youth Parliament and I have spelt out to him how the Government have been trying to suppress debate on this subject. He is 14 years old and is one of three people from my constituency who were elected for Dorset in the UK Youth Parliament election; indeed, all three of the Dorset full representatives are from my constituency, so I hope that hon. Members will accept that I speak with some knowledge on this subject.
I say that not least because I have been looking at what happened last year when the Youth Parliament held its annual meeting. Contrary to what the Deputy Leader of the House suggested last time we debated this subject, it was not the annual meeting of the Youth Parliament that was held in the Chamber of the other place last year, but a meeting of the Youth Parliament that went on for one morning. When I saw the proposal on the Order Paper that the meeting should take place as part of the "annual meeting", I looked up what had happened at last year's annual meeting of the Youth Parliament, and what I found caused me no little concern.
The report of the opening meeting of the annual sitting of the Youth Parliament, which was held in Exeter university between
"'Awwwright, my luvver?' Josh McTaggart and Lydia Cheyne...Procedures Group representatives for the South West, opened this year's Annual Sitting with some classic South West tradition. Dressed as farmhands, the two worked the crowd up while the Wurzels played into the hall. After welcoming the 300+ Members of Youth Parliament to Exeter University, Josh and Lydia began by introducing the Procedures Group; two representatives from each region...The crowd competed ferociously to give their regional rep the loudest cheers!"
A video was then shown, because the planned speaker who had been announced, none other than the Minister of State, Department of Health, Mr. Bradshaw, had not got there on time. After the video ended, he arrived and delivered his keynote speech. The report states:
"He spoke for little more than 4 minutes, telling the Youth Parliament about Exeter's fantastic bars and nightclubs".
Today, we have the report from the man who is supposedly responsible for the nation's health bemoaning the fact that too many young people are indulging in drinking at an early age, yet none other than a Health Minister was promoting as the sole reason for the Youth Parliament's being welcome in Exeter the fact that it has fantastic bars and nightclubs. We have some good bars in this place, but I am not sure whether they will be open to the members of the Youth Parliament, if it should ever be able to meet in this Chamber.
Apparently, after the speech came questions to the Minister, including some about the credit crunch. The document, which is on the Youth Parliament's website, states that he
"feverishly defended Gordon Brown's recent Government borrowing strategies, saying that these things had to be done in difficult times and it would not cause a significant problem later on. He stated that there would categorically not be a recession, but refused to say when he thought the 'credit crunch' would be over."
It seems as though the Youth Parliament has been attracting people who do not really know what they are talking about, because obviously the Minister's prediction about there being no recession was wishful thinking and was extremely wide of the mark.
Does my hon. Friend's objection to the use of this Chamber by the elected members of the UK Youth Parliament for their debates hinge on the standard of their debate, which he is caricaturing—I base that on the comparison with the meetings of the UK Youth Parliament to which I have been—or the principle of their using this Chamber? Which is his greater concern?
I have concerns on both counts. My hon. Friend refers to meetings, in the plural. He will know that notwithstanding what the Prime Minister indicated—that there would be a meeting of the UK Youth Parliament in this Commons Chamber every year—the proposal now is that this meeting should be a one-off exercise. The question that I have asked one of the UK Youth Parliament representatives from Christchurch is what particular privilege he thinks has been earned by this year's members of the UK Youth Parliament to allow them to sit in this Chamber, given that that is to be denied to its subsequent members, as this is to happen for one year only.
I could understand a case being made for the use of this Chamber by any number of different organisations, but the fact is that we have never used this Chamber for anything other than parliamentary debate. We do not even use it for parliamentary meetings—party meetings. If it had been used for party gatherings, one might have imagined that when Mr. Blair was lauding all the young women Members of Parliament who had been elected on a Labour party ticket in the 1997 general election, he might have chosen to have the photo-shoot in this Chamber, rather than somewhere else on the parliamentary estate. I can imagine a very strong case for an incoming Conservative Government with 400 or 500 Conservative MPs being able to say, "There is nowhere else large enough on the estate where we can meet following our great election victory, so why not take over the House of Commons Chamber for a meeting?" That would be wrong, because we should not abandon or abandon lightly the traditions of this House, which have meant that this Chamber is the one for those who have the privilege of being elected as Members of the real Parliament, not members of a mock parliament, whether it be a youth parliament, a Muslim parliament or any other parliament.
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a very good case. Does he agree that if the UK Youth Parliament were allowed to sit in this place for its annual meeting, it would set a precedent to allow other organisations to hold their meetings here? There would be no reason why other parliaments—the learning disability parliament or parish councils—should not hold their meetings here once we have allowed the Chamber to be used by someone else.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Government have put the cart before the horse. The first principle that we should debate is whether we wish this Chamber to be used for purposes other than those for which it has been used hitherto. If it is decided that we should use the Chamber for other purposes, we can work out whether the applications should be chosen by ballot, such as the one held for exhibitions in the Upper Waiting Hall area; by discussion; or by members of the Administration Committee, who—ironically, and I speak as a member myself—consider the detail of applications for exhibitions in the Palace, but have not been consulted on this point.
I would welcome the opportunity to have a debate on that subject. I would probably oppose such a proposal, but one could make a case for allowing, for example, the Chamber to be used as a film set. We could raise money for charity, for deserving young people across the world. One asks rhetorically, "Who could argue against that?"
We do not yet know the financial cost of using the Chamber for one day for the annual meeting of the Youth Parliament, but we do know that when the Chamber in the other place was used for half a day, the cost was some £30,000 to £40,000. That was funded partly by this House and partly by a grant from the Ministry of Justice. One might wonder whether that was the best use of that money, in terms of educating a wider group of people about what we do in this place.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that some hon. Members who were present to support his view last week argue that unelected Ministers from the other place should be allowed to come to this House to answer questions from its Members. That would bring unelected people into this House to speak. Does he see any inconsistency in that?
I hope that my response falls within the terms of the debate, but I do not think that we should alter the system that we have, which has served this country well. People know that these green Benches can be sat on only by elected Members of the House of Commons. I speak as someone who had the misfortune of being defeated in a general election and I know how sad I was not to be able to come into this great Palace of Westminster and the House of Commons Chamber. But I accepted that, and I imagine that most members of the Youth Parliament would accept that although they may have aspirations to sit in this Chamber, those aspirations are best realised by getting elected to the real Parliament.
It is said that the Youth Parliament is different from any other organisation because it is uniquely representative, but I do not see why it is more representative than any other group, such as the pensioners' parliament. Is not it a corporatist view of society that we have to be sidelined into certain groups—youth, the elderly, trade unionists and employers? Dare I say it, it is almost fascistic, although people will not like me saying that, and that is not what we are about. This Parliament represents everyone in the United Kingdom, not parts of it.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point.
Westminster Hall has been used for special events on several occasions, such as the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution. One could make an argument for making an exception to the conventions, although I would not support it, by saying that last year we should have allowed the Scouts to celebrate their centenary here. Following Baden-Powell's foundation of the Scouts, they have spread the gospel of youth activity not just in this country but throughout the world. Why should we allow the UK Youth Parliament and not the Scouts or the Girl Guides?
We could spend a long time—I suspect that that is the hon. Gentleman's intention—talking about other groups that might hypothetically want to use the Chamber in the future. Perhaps it would be better to turn the debate on its head and ask what would be the harm in letting the UK Youth Parliament use the Commons Chamber.
I hope that the hon. Lady will have a chance to make her own speech in a minute. It is the same with any tradition when people ask, "What would be the harm?" I think that the harm would lie in sending out a message from this Parliament that we were indulging the Youth Parliament and patronising young people in an unhealthy way by leading them to believe that an equivalence existed between being members of a mock parliament and being Members of a real Parliament. There is all the difference in the world between a mock parliament and a real Parliament.
We know that the other place set a precedent when it allowed the final of the English-Speaking Union debating competition to take place in its Chamber. It allowed that once and decided that it would not do so again. Last year, the Youth Parliament was held there and, as I understand it, will not be invited back. I do not know whether that is an answer to the question from Kerry McCarthy, but she might well ask the same question when she brings a group of young people to visit the Palace. What harm would it do if she sat them down on the Front Bench and she went to sit on the Speaker's Chair? It probably would not do any physical harm, but either access to and use of this place is restricted to a particular group of individuals or it is not. If the Youth Parliament could come here, why should that be allowed for only one year? Why are the Government not proposing that every other organisation that wants to make a bid should be able to come here as well?
The hon. Gentleman mentions harm. I know that he loves this place, and admires and respects the workings of the House. Does he appreciate the harm that this debate is doing to the standing of this House in the eyes of the general public and how it is showing us as restrictive and elitist in denying the rights of these young people?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his various complimentary remarks about my involvement in the issue, but I could not disagree with him more. The Youth Parliament is a very young organisation. It was founded by Andrew Rowe—my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent, as he then was. I do not think that he ever envisaged that it would be a rival to this Parliament.
It is interesting that so far in this debate, no one has drawn attention to the report that the Government themselves commissioned on the Youth Parliament, after the issue was considered by the Select Committee to which Martin Salter referred. Part 1 of the report says:
"is not meeting the expectations of many of its stakeholders. Many stakeholders feel UKYP has tried to 'run before it can walk', making claims for itself that it is not able to substantiate, given its level of funding and isolation from much potential support."
The complaints made include the complaint that the Youth Parliament is too English, that it is not in touch with other youth organisations, and that it is a group of people elected from various schools who have an impossible task in trying to represent the interests of young people collectively, because they do not have the time to be in touch with all the different youth organisations.
May I take the hon. Gentleman back to when he said that, because the Youth Parliament is to come here, it may consider itself a rival to this Parliament? I do not see that at all. Without the Mace, which gives the Chamber its constitutional and legal significance, this place is just a set of green Benches. I really do not see the problem, and I do not think that the public do, either.
I respect the hon. Gentleman's view. He says that he does not think that there is a problem, but I happen to think that there is a problem. It is healthy that people will be able to express different points of view when we eventually get to hold a Division on the issue. That is the whole purpose of debate. I am not suggesting that everybody will agree. Earlier, I saw my right hon. Friend Sir George Young in the Chamber. I know that he feels very strongly that the issue should be debated in our Chamber, and that is now happening.
We are having a debate about the right of other people to have a debate here. My hon. Friend mentioned our former and, sadly, late colleague Andrew Rowe, who set up the Youth Parliament almost 10 years ago, in July 1999, in the Houses of Parliament. This is where it started. If he were here today, it would be sad for him to witness us having this debate, 10 years on, about denying a one-off opportunity, to start with, to those people—
I do not think that we are seeking to stifle debate. Indeed, the people who supported the amendment on the Order Paper are people who were determined that there should be debate. The amendment was put in the way that it was to emphasise that we did not have any quarrel with the fact that there is a Youth Parliament, and to emphasise that we wished it well. We did not contradict the main substance of the Government's motion, but we drew attention to the fact that there are other places in the Palace of Westminster where it is possible for the Youth Parliament to hold its annual meeting.
I put it to my hon. Friend Tim Loughton that we are not talking about a special, 10th anniversary meeting. As I understand it, the Government are not saying that because of Andrew Rowe's great achievement in setting up the organisation, for its 10th anniversary it should have the right to meet here on a one-off basis. If that were so, the question that I would put to my hon. Friend is: why were the Scouts not able to use the Chamber last year for their centenary? When he has answered that, we could talk about other youth organisations, too.
My hon. Friend made a good point in the earlier debate, when he said that there is a difference between those from older age groups, who could themselves be elected to Parliament, and those from the under-18 age group, who are not eligible for direct election to Parliament, but my point to him is that there are a lot of other youth groups out there doing extremely valuable work with young people in much larger numbers than the Youth Parliament, and which were established much longer ago than the Youth Parliament. If we want to celebrate a particular landmark in the history of an organisation, there is a case for saying that we should allow some of our facilities to be used by it, but that is not the basis on which the Government have put the case for allowing the Youth Parliament to meet in this Chamber.
I referred to the report that the Government commissioned on the subject. It extends to the best part of 200 pages. I will not refer to it in detail, but the executive summary is basically a cautionary tale to people who might otherwise get carried away with their enthusiasm for the Youth Parliament. It basically says that the Youth Parliament needs to communicate more closely with other young people, and certainly needs to be more representative of all the nations that form part of the United Kingdom.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, at a time when we are trying to encourage participation in the political process and to get young people interested in politics, we are discussing exactly the sort of initiative that would get young people more interested in politics and more likely to be involved in the Youth Parliament?
The event may encourage some people to get interested in politics, but of course we must remember that the Youth Parliament is not party political; in other words, it is non-ideological. Not long ago, I was re-reading the splendid book that our late and noble Friend John Biffen produced on this place. He reminds us of the fact that at the age of 14, he attended his first Conservative conference in Bridgwater and was an active member of the Young Conservatives. Then of course there is my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague, who was, I think, 15 when he took the Conservative party conference's main platform by storm with his fantastic speech. Both those people, who were party members in their teens, went on to serve the nation really well as fully fledged Members of Parliament. They did not need a Youth Parliament to enable them to do that; all that they needed was a receptive party political organisation, namely the Conservative party.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the idea that we have to allow the Youth Parliament to use the Chamber to inspire its members to get into politics is nonsense? The fact that they are already members of the Youth Parliament shows that they are already interested in politics. If the purpose is to try to inspire people to get involved in politics by using the Chamber, surely we should allow youths who are not members of the Youth Parliament to sit here, because it is clearly they who are not interested in politics at the moment.
My hon. Friend, who is the enlightened voice of youth among us this evening, makes an important point. There is a lot to be said for encouraging young people to engage in real politics—that is, politics that involves not only being able to argue the case for a pressure group or interest group, but seeing things on a wider scale, and considering questions such as, "How will we raise the money to pay for this?"
One of the Youth Parliament's campaigns is for subsidised fares for all young people. Obviously, a case can be made for that, but when the members of the Youth Parliament talk about that, they are acting more like a pressure group—a young version of the National Union of Students—than a Parliament. A Parliament would look at the wider context—at, for example, how such a proposal would be funded, where the savings would come from, and to what extent old people's concessionary fares would have to be adjusted to enable young people's concessionary fares to be introduced. Those are all worthy subjects of debate, but they are not quite the same as having a Parliament. Given the keen interest on the part of the Liberal Democrats in the debate, I hope that some of them have read in the Official Report what their hon. Friend Mr. Browne said in our previous debate. He made the point that we were seeking to patronise one particular youth organisation while neglecting other important youth organisations.
My amendment proposes that the Youth Parliament at its annual meeting this year should be able meet in Committee Room 14. I cannot remember whether it was the Deputy Leader of the House or someone else who said that it has already met there, so it does not need to meet there again. However, we are talking about it meeting in that room when the House is not sitting. If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or I wanted to organise a meeting in Committee Room 14 when the House was not sitting, we would be given a firm no, because those facilities are not available when the House is not sitting. It is not like meeting in that room when the House is sitting—we are talking about something quite distinct—and it would be possible for the Youth Parliament to be given a special privilege under my amendment, so that it could sit in Committee Room 14 when the House is in recess.
We do not even know—perhaps some people do—the date on which the annual sitting is expected to take place. Last year, the annual sitting lasted three or four days at Exeter university. This year, the Government propose that the sitting last for only one day. [ Interruption. ] The Minister looks as if he wants to intervene to tell us the date, and I would be grateful if he did.
Yes, I am. However, perhaps the hon. Gentleman wishes to tell the House when he expects the annual meeting to take place. Will he provide us with that information? Perhaps not. That is the extraordinary position in which we find ourselves. We have been kept in the dark by the Government, and I am pretty disappointed by some of the members of my party. I believe that it is the role of the Opposition to hold the Government to account and to try to scrutinise Government proposals. It seemed at one stage as if there were a collusive pact between the Front Benches to try to prevent the issue from being fully debated in the Chamber. However, other Members and I have asked that the Administration Committee look at the proposal, and it was implicit in what my hon. Friend Mr. Vara said in our previous debate that he supported that. If that is not the case, perhaps he will tell us later, but approval of the motion should be subject to advice in advance from the Committees of the House that are charged with that responsibility. That is exactly what happened in the other place. When the proposal was first mooted, it was submitted to the Information Committee for consideration, which resulted in a recommendation to the House as a whole.
I hate to disagree with my hon. Friend, but I understand that Opposition Members have a free vote tonight. I am not sure whether that applies to Government Members. Has he received any indication as to whether this is being treated as a House matter or not?
The Deputy Leader of the House said that he did not regard this as a party political issue, and there was going to be a free vote for Government Members, including Ministers. I hope that is the case, too, for Conservative spokesmen, although earlier indications suggested that that might not be the case. [ Interruption. ] Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, who represents young people as a shadow Minister, can inform us as to whether it is a free vote for all members of the shadow ministerial team.
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear, because he has not quite done so, that the Government motion proposes that only the 2009 annual meeting of the Youth Parliament be held in the Chamber? We could use it as an experiment to see whether it works. We should see how it turns out, then decide how to move forward in future.
We could do so, but that is not what the Deputy Leader of the House said. He did not say that this was some sort of experiment, and if it went well, it would open the floodgates for the Youth Parliament to meet here every year. He specifically ruled out the possibility that the whole annual meeting should be held here. He said that one day of the meeting should take place in the Chamber, thereby leaving in limbo the issue of what would happen on the other days. Will the Youth Parliament use other facilities in the House, and what arrangements will be made?
I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would deal with his amendment in some depth, given that we are discussing the rationale for the traditions of the Chamber and the House—and it is right and proper that we maintain them—and the allegations of elitism from the Government. His proposal goes some way towards addressing that issue, and I would certainly be grateful for some meat on the bones of the amendment.
Committee Room 14 is arguably the most important Committee Room in the House. There is a magnificent painting there that depicts what happened when the House rebuffed those who came along, on behalf of the King, seeking to arrest Members of Parliament, only to be told where to get off. The mere fact of members of the Youth Parliament going into that historic Committee Room and having explained to them the background to that painting would enable them to have a better understanding of the privileges associated with the House.
It is not just a picture on the wall—the room is redolent with history. It is where, for instance, Mr. Parnell lost his battle with the Irish Parliamentary party and lost his job as leader of that party in the 19th century. It is a very important room, and it is not to be sneezed at.
Certainly not—my hon. Friend is absolutely right. When he used the expression, "not to be sneezed at", he picked up a theme from our previous debate that that room was not good enough for some reason. The letter that I have received from a Christchurch member of the Youth Parliament almost suggests, "Well, we have done the House of Lords. Now, let's do the Chamber." Where next?
The hon. Gentleman has just mentioned that while consulting on his amendment he spoke to one of the Christchurch members of the Youth Parliament. Will he tell the House how many young people he consulted across his constituency on a wider basis, what proportion of them were in favour of using the Chamber, and what proportion of them were keener to use Committee Room 14?
I do not know whether the hon. Lady does so, but I have made it my business to try to encourage young people to gain an understanding of the workings of Parliament by taking on gap year students to work in my office. I am lucky to have had two such people working for me this year, and I can assure her that both of them, unprompted, think that the Government proposals are absolutely barking.
I can tell the hon. Lady that I am the proud father of two teenage children and that they have similar views. In situations such as this, the Government would say that I had consulted widely. I would not say that, but I have consulted. I am sure that there are people on both sides of the argument but up to now, with the exception of one person, I have found among young people only those on my side of the argument.
As we know in this Chamber, in order to make a point, it does not need to be made at length. However, it is important to recognise that the amendment is not some sort of wrecking amendment. It is an attempt to find a constructive way forward which would enable us as Members of the House to recognise the important work that the Youth Parliament has done, to applaud Andrew Rowe's founding of it, to hope that it continues to go from strength to strength, and to give it some encouragement by saying that when Parliament is not in Session, the Youth Parliament should be able to hold meetings in Committee Room 14 and thereby enjoy all the history associated with that Room.
I referred to that fleetingly before. Obviously, nothing is without its cost, and the costs of the meeting in the House of Lords were apparently between £30,000 and £40,000. We have not yet heard from the Minister what the costs might be to hold a one-day meeting in this Chamber during the annual sitting of the Youth Parliament, but the costs of security and supervision would be not inconsiderable. I should have thought that we would be entitled to know about that in advance and to discuss whether that represented good value for money. Some people might reach the conclusion that that sum would be better invested in promoting the Youth Parliament in individual constituencies.
I am not an expert, but my hon. Friend might find that a large part of that cost relates to the travel costs of the members coming from various parts of the United Kingdom. Those are standard costs, which would be payable wherever the UK Youth Parliament chose to meet. I should not have thought that the additional staff costs of keeping the Chamber open on a particular day would be prohibitive. He might be slightly cautious before he apportions to this place costs that are fixed for the Youth Parliament.
I am innately cautious; that is why I am a Conservative. I refer to the information that I obtained from the House of Commons Library. The evaluation report carried out following the meeting in the other place stated:
"Parliament's Education Service funded the majority of the costs associated with the event in a grant of £28,120 to the UK Youth Parliament. The Ministry of Justice also contributed £5,000 towards the event. The House of Lords covered certain costs and committed significant resources to the event, including senior staff time and the use of the Chamber itself."
That is a reference to a report done by Lucy Crompton, "UK Youth Parliament Debate in the House of Lords
My hon. Friend is right to say that this is an important issue. I am glad that he recognises that. Surely a proper evaluation of the implications and what is involved should have been carried out in advance of the proposal. That has not happened, and it may mean that there are fewer resources available to fund the cost of travel for school visits to the whole of the Palace of Westminster, for example, rather than individual visits by members of the UK Youth Parliament. If that is the consequence of allowing the Youth Parliament to use the Chamber, we should know about it.
It is significant that the Speaker has not yet made a statement about the matter. It is still somewhat up in the air whether, if the Youth Parliament meets in the Chamber, he will preside over those proceedings in the same way as the Lord Speaker presided in the House of Lords debate. Although the Minister said in the previous debate that the Mace would not be used, there was some suggestion of a mock Mace being used, which was not ruled out.
I am glad to have been able to provoke the Minister to respond. Even if he does not know the date of the proposed meeting, he knows that a mock Mace will not be used for the mock Parliament.
There is an enormous number of details, which I shall not dwell on, but which should be the subject of a proper debate. The debate on the detail should take place not in the Chamber, but in one of the appointed Committees of the House. Before we vote on this motion, we should have considered a motion that this House takes the view that the Chamber should be used for purposes other than those for which it has been used hitherto. If we had established that principle first, and that principle had been agreed, as a democrat I would be the first to accept that we would then have opened ourselves to all sorts of bids from different organisations wanting to make use of our Chamber. All those bids could be the subject of scrutiny and debate by the Administration Committee.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in many ways the House is about promoting democracy, and that by bringing young people here, we would be aiding that role? I have met Croydon, Central representatives of the Youth Parliament, and I believe they would give almost as good a speech as the hon. Gentleman is giving this evening.
My hon. Friend goes down that long-trodden path of trying to use flattery. I know that his intentions are generous, but I will not be seduced by that. I hope that he will have a chance to make his own speech later.
I do not accept my hon. Friend's premise that the promotion of democracy in the Youth Parliament will be enhanced by the Youth Parliament's being able to use the Chamber as opposed to being able to meet in Committee Room 14. If the argument is about giving publicity to the Youth Parliament, he and I are contributing to that process by participating in this debate. In our previous debate, the Deputy Leader of the House suggested that one of the great merits of our debate was that it would give publicity to the United Kingdom Youth Parliament, but nobody could argue that in itself giving young people the right to sit on these green Benches enhances democracy.
Allowing young people to participate in party political activity, conferences and young people's political organisations is very helpful for democracy, and I regret very much the reduced activity in all our political parties, including—I am not sure which political party my hon. Friend Mr. Pelling belongs to now— [Interruption.] Very well, the wilderness political party. I gave the example of the late Lord Biffen and the current example of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, but there have been many other people who gained an appetite for engaging in democracy and debate through the political process, without coming to visit Parliament and without having to sit on the green Benches.
With due deference to my hon. Friend's remark, I was simply agreeing that many of us came up through political youth organisations, and I was paying tribute to the Deputy Speaker's great achievement in one of those particular movements. That was my point.
Order. Echoing the words of Mr. Chope on the idea of flattery getting the hon. Gentleman anywhere, I have to say that it will not work this evening. The Chair should not be brought into the debate, however well-intentioned the hon. Gentleman's comments might have been.
Order. It might not take that kind of intervention; I say to the hon. Gentleman that he must guard against repetitious argument.
I certainly would not want to go down that road.
To sum up my case on the amendment, this is a serious subject that has not been addressed by the Government with sufficient clarity or gravity up to now. Are we on the verge of approving a precedent that this Chamber can be used for other purposes and by other organisations and will there be a free-for-all in future? If that is what is being proposed, I am against it, and right hon. and hon. Members need to have their eyes open to the full implications of the setting of a precedent.
Is the measure meant to enable the Prime Minister to save face because he made a statement—without consulting Mr. Speaker—that this Chamber would be available for the Youth Parliament every year? He has been trying to make that happen since then, and has he now, in some shabby compromise, been forced into allowing it to be used only for one year? If that is the sort of shabby compromise underlying this proposal, let us be clear about it. I have my suspicions, and I think that this motion is probably the result of a shabby compromise.
Underlying it all is the fact that a lot of young people are elected to the Youth Parliament, and aspire to be elected to it, and I have not yet heard why this year's cohort of youth parliamentarians should have exclusive use of this Chamber in a way that will be denied to subsequent cohorts. I fear that this Government's proposal patronises young people in an awful way.
Let us cut to the quick. This proposal is about trying to look trendy and to suck up to the youth vote. In fact, youth find that patronising. The one thing that they cannot stand is politicians who are mutton dressed up as lamb. That is the real truth. The Government will not get any credit at all from the youth of this country for this proposal.
As my hon. Friend would have said, we are not going to be treated as cool by using the expression "cool". My children say, "Whatever else you do, Daddy, don't use the expression 'cool'." The Government are trying to appear to be cool, but as my hon. Friend says, young people will not be taken in. At the end of the day, this proposal would be a craven capitulation to the misguided agenda of the Executive. It would be pandering to what they see as populism, grossly indulgent and an insult to all those people who have honoured this Chamber in times past, who would be nervous about setting a dangerous precedent for the future.
My contribution will be of the briefest nature because I do not intend to compete with Mr. Chope, thus enabling the debate to go on so long that there will not be a vote. It will be a real challenge to democracy if, after last week's debate, we have yet another debate that does not come to a conclusion.
I am unashamedly in favour, not of something that is cool, but of something realistic, fair, reasonable and that shows respect and encouragement to the young people of the UK Youth Parliament. Of course it is a privilege to be in this place. Every one of us, as we enter this building, appreciates that it is a place of great history and great precedent, but at the end of the day, as someone said earlier, it is a row of green Benches—it is a place. That is what matters most. It has that history, but that adds to the reasons why young people should be encouraged and have the opportunity to take part.
The hon. Gentleman expresses the view that this is just a room, a place with green Benches, which has been expressed by one or two other Members during these debates. Does he, therefore, regard the Speaker's Chair as being just a chair, and does he believe that it should be available for members of the Youth Parliament to use?
I have no problem with that, and I hope that Mr. Speaker would not either, although perhaps it would be more appropriate to use the Chairman's chair. But that is not relevant. What matters is respect for the office and the way in which we conduct ourselves, and we certainly do not show respect for this place by talking out an obvious and reasonable proposition. That is what brings this place into disrepute, not whether we sit or stand, or what we do in this place itself.
I will not give way because I intend to make a brief contribution.
It is important that we do not talk down the UK Youth Parliament. Its representatives in my area have contributed significantly, over many years, to advancing the views of young people, which is surely what they are there to do. The fact is that they are not a mock Parliament, as has been suggested by some hon. Members, but a real representative body with reasonable turnouts. And those turnouts of young people are somewhat greater than the ones we sometimes get. That is the truth of it.
Young people do not vote for we fuddy-duddies, as they see us. Wherever we sit, whatever we say, whatever our purpose and whatever our intentions, they do not vote for us. Why is that? They do not vote for us, because we are not connected. I do not believe that we can connect by being "cool", by using certain expressions or by being on Facebook—although I wonder how many of us are—but young people should have the opportunity to talk the real language of the people whom they represent. That is not as partisan, in the narrow sense, as has been suggested. For example, in Hastings, we have an excellent youth council that has recently put together a Myplace bid, and has succeeded. In turn, that council works with the Hastings seniors forum on concessionary bus fares and issues of common concern. Young people are real politicians.
I do not have a problem with the proposal having a wider application. I do not share the view that this matter is precious, or more especially that we are precious. This is an important place, but we are not that important. The truth is that much of this debate is about us. As my hon. Friend Martin Salter said, it is a question of only elected posteriors being allowed to sit on these green Benches. I do not understand that concept. We are just ordinary representatives of people. We got voted for, and it is a great privilege to be here, but the members of the Youth Parliament were voted for, too.
Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that this place is precious? It is special, and the Speaker's Chair is special, but that is only the case when the Mace is in its place, which is what gives it its constitutional and legal significance? Otherwise, it is just a group of green Benches.
Does the hon. Gentleman know of the T.S. Eliot poem that states that there are places
"Where prayer has been valid"?
The argument is that that activity enhances and heightens the place itself. Does he agree that the activity that takes place here "has been valid" and that it heightens the meaning of this place?
It might do and it might not; the truth is that some debates in this place—including this one, perhaps—are evidence of the fact that it can go to lows as well as highs. What really matters is what we do in this place—the decisions that we come to and their relevance to the young and the wider sphere of people.
I will not take another intervention—not out of disrespect, but because I believe that we should show respect and encouragement to young people who want to get involved and I do not intend to take lots of interventions and be party to talking this debate out. I hope very much that the House will make a decision tonight. We expect young people to respect us; I hope that we will not show disrespect to young people through this sort of charade, which has everything to do with preciousness and nothing to do with democracy.
I had not intended to speak on this subject when I was perchance in the Chamber for round one last week. However, there have been many contributions and I thought I would add my own. I support the Government motion, but not without criticism.
I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Chope on four points. I entirely respect his views and those of hon. Friends who agree with him. Like us all, my hon. Friend is engaging in this debate because we respect the Chamber, Parliament and parliamentary conventions, and we do not want anything to dilute or undermine them. We all speak from that perspective.
Secondly, I agree with my hon. Friend that it is right that we should debate the issue. The Government have not been terribly smart in putting the motion on the Order Paper with the intention of sneaking it through at the end of the day. Too many items of business are sneaked through. The Minister might acknowledge in retrospect that there was more interest in this subject than he may have thought when it was timetabled for the end of the day.
That is one of the crucial points. If the Government had provided time for debate and tabled a proper motion that laid out all the different criteria, many Members would have felt more inclined to participate. It is the way the matter has been handled that has annoyed so many Members of Parliament.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right; I shall come to that point in a minute.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch on a third point: Front Benchers did not discuss the matter properly so that everybody knew what was going on and could make arrangements accordingly. If it had been so discussed, the Minister would have received advice saying that there was great interest in there being a proper airing of the issues.
My fourth point of agreement is that the motion lacks detail. I do not know whether the Youth Parliament's sitting here will be a one-off or how much it would cost, although I do not have a big problem with the House of Lords example that has been cited. We have had some clarification on whether the Mace would be here and whether the Speaker would be in the Chair. However, there are still a lot of question marks and the House is entitled to a little respect and to the detail. I do not think that there would be much to alarm us, but we need to know it.
That is giving rise to questions about whether the event will be annual or a one-off. I do not have a problem with that, because we need to experiment; we need to have a pilot and to learn from it. With those riders, I will support the Government motion but not the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch.
We have now spent more time on this debate than is spent on a normal half-day Opposition day debate, so we are giving the subject a good airing. Rather than using this time to discuss whether there should be a Youth Parliament debate in this place, we should be debating the merits of the UK Youth Parliament—whether it is doing a good job, how we could encourage it to do better, whether it should be better funded, why it is not truly representative of the United Kingdom in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and how we could better engage with it. We could discuss how youth parliamentarians could visit more often to speak to Ministers and Opposition Front Benchers and engage with Select Committees and so on.
I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said. He mentioned the length of this debate. It is instructive that this debate is taking a great deal longer and has a much higher participation rate than the debate on the Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Bill, which spent £12 billion of public money and attracted hardly a handful of colleagues. Perhaps nowadays Members of Parliament do not get out of bed for less than £1 trillion of profligacy.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that we do not talk this out and that we get the opportunity to vote this evening. He mentioned Scotland, which sends representatives to the UK Youth Parliament. However, we also have the Scottish Youth Parliament, which meets quite regularly in the Scottish Parliament, with no fuss whatever—even the Conservative group there is totally supportive. What is so different about this place?
The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. My point was that this is a UK Youth Parliament that does not receive funding for its activities north or west of the borders of England. We need a debate on how we can make it a truly representative UK Youth Parliament, drawing perhaps on the good practice and examples of the Scottish Youth Parliament, the Funky Dragon and the Northern Ireland Youth Forum.
We should remember how the UK Youth Parliament was formed. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch duly gave recognition to our late lamented colleague Andrew Rowe, who set up the Youth Parliament 10 years ago—
I said "duly", with a "d".
The Youth Parliament is not a party political organisation, but an independent national charity. After 10 years, there are flaws in it; that is why we should be debating how to make it better. However, after all those years it has surely come of age and deserves a little more respect than has been implicit in some of the caricatures of its activities that we have heard in this debate. Each local education authority in England represents a UKYP constituency. Elections take place every year, and more than 550,000 young people have participated in those elections in recent years. There have recently been elections to UK youth cabinets and parliaments; in my county in west Sussex there were record turnouts. In one school in my constituency there was a 96.5 per cent. turnout to vote in the west Sussex youth cabinet, which went on to elect UKYP members as well.
In June, I shall host an event in which schools with the highest such turnouts will receive an award. Pupils from them are coming to this place to get recognition of that. [Interruption.] They will not come to the Chamber but to one of the meeting rooms, because it is not a UK-wide event.
We should look at the good work that the UK Youth Parliament has done. It is democratically elected and has annual sittings, some of which I have attended. Far from what some of the caricatures have implied, some really impressive work goes on. Last year there were debates about youth transport, the environment, the age of participation in elections and other matters important not just to young people but to the population as a whole.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the debate should not be caricatured so that those who think that the Youth Parliament does a good job are automatically deemed to be in favour of allowing the Chamber to be used, and those who oppose the Youth Parliament's sitting in this Chamber are deemed to be against the Youth Parliament per se? I am happy to accept that the Youth Parliament is a good thing; I just object to the idea of its using this Chamber.
I fear that the debate has been slightly muddied with some caricatures of UK Youth Parliament proceedings in other places. That is unfortunate, unrepresentative and inaccurate. I hope that we will have a debate on the principle of whether its sitting should be held in the Chamber.
I turn now to the UK Youth Parliament's select committees. As a shadow Front Bencher, I have engaged with them, and there is enormous scope for them to engage with our Select Committees. Its select committees draw up manifestos. They have made some important observations on sexual health, for example, which informed the Government's recent decision on the teaching of that subject in schools. They do a very important job.
I declare an interest as a trustee of the UK Youth Parliament. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best examples of its doing good work was its sitting in the other place, where we saw an enormous number of young people coming together to talk about very serious issues in an extremely constructive and productive way? Those of us who had the opportunity to sit in on and watch that debate saw the very best of young people—it was a very good representation.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As a trustee of the UK Youth Parliament, he speaks with great authority on the subject.
The debate went rather well in the other place, so why not have it here? The UK Youth Parliament has sat in the Lords, in Berlin, in Dublin and in the European Parliament, and is about to sit in Sweden. It does not frighten the horses in other chambers around the world where it has similar meetings. Its members did not trash the House of Lords; they were not found swinging from the chandeliers or the Throne, or abseiling from the Public Gallery. They behaved rather well and had a very worthwhile meeting. Let us not be afraid of allowing young people into these hallowed Chambers. Parliament is not just a room or a building, fantastic though it may be—it is an assemblage of political people coming together to discuss and debate. When one takes away the Mace, the Speaker and the hon. Members, one is left with furniture.
It sends a clear message about the importance that we vest in the voices of young people who are interested and have taken the trouble to be elected by their peers and who have something useful to say. We may not agree with it, but they have the right to say it and we should want to hear it.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. I was recently with a Youth Parliament member who acts for the Wellingborough constituency, and he did not mention that it wanted to have its annual meeting here. Is there a huge demand for this, or was it a whim of the Prime Minister's to get some publicity?
Whether it is a whim of the Prime Minister I do not know. What I do know is that the UK Youth Parliament has proposed that it should meet in this Chamber, having had a similar, and successful, outing in another place. Would we not look odd and regressive compared with the House of Lords if we denied them the opportunity in this elected Chamber that they have had in that unelected Chamber elsewhere in this place?
My hon. Friend says, as others have, that these are just green Benches—that without the Speaker or the Mace it is just furniture. When he shows his constituents around this Chamber without the Speaker or the Mace in place, do they say, "Oh, it's just a lot of green Benches, isn't it? Just a bit of furniture"? Is it just my constituents who think that this is a fine institution, the traditions of which should be protected, or do his constituents think that too?
I think that my hon. Friend knows the answer to that question.
Parliament is not about the building, fixtures and fittings—it is about what we as elected Members choose to do in the name of our constituents in representing them in this place. That is the point. We should not get hung up on a building.
My concern does not rest necessarily with the Youth Parliament but with all the other people who may wish to come here thereafter. We have not heard from Government Front Benchers about what restrictions might be imposed on using this place. Does he agree that some such restriction is needed?
Of course there needs to be restriction. We are not opening up this Chamber for just anybody to come here—we are specifically debating one motion, the terms of which are to praise the functions of the UK Youth Parliament and to allow it one sitting here. As I said, the details need to be sorted out. As to whether it becomes a regular meeting in future, the House would have to debate that again. This does not give the UK Youth Parliament a blank cheque to turn up here whenever it likes. Clearly, in using this Chamber it must not inconvenience the normal workings of Parliament—of our going about our normal business of passing legislation here. It must not assume that the various symbols of this Parliament should be employed; that is why it is useful that the Minister has clarified that there will not be a mock Mace and so on.
In the debate the other day, some Members said, "Aren't we opening the floodgates—might not we have the Muslim Council of Britain, the National Pensioners Convention, or whatever, here?" My response was that any of the people in those organisations are entitled to stand in a general election for the privilege of representing constituents and placing their elected posteriors on these green Benches. The 11 to 17-year-olds in the UK Youth Parliament do not have that right at this stage. If we wanted to consider whether an assembly of Scouts should be able to sit here, we would need to have that debate. My own view is that that would not be appropriate. We are talking about a UK Youth Parliament elected along the same lines as those on which we are elected. It is open to all their peers to elect them in a democratic election. That is what is different, and that is why they, exceptionally, should be granted this privilege, initially as a pilot to see whether holding their sitting here would add to their cause of engaging more young people in the political process.
The hon. Gentleman refers to people being allowed to sit and debate in this Chamber if they are not eligible to stand at a general election. Does he think that if a group of prisoners were to put themselves forward as wanting to discuss matters of penal reform, they could gather in this Chamber and we would be encouraging a constructive debate on penal reform? After all, they would not be allowed to participate in an election, so would it be a constructive exercise?
If my hon. Friend is not in favour of prisoners debating here, how about the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association? People from other Commonwealth countries who cannot stand for election to this Parliament because they are not British citizens could come here to see the items of furniture and fittings that their own Parliaments contributed to this Parliament after the war in a sense of solidarity with democracy. Why not have the CPA or Commonwealth Speakers coming to have their meetings in this Parliament? It is not as simple as he seems to think.
The answer, again, is no. To anticipate any similar interventions, I would also be against lunatics or people subject to a section being able to sit in this place on the same basis.
The other day, I mentioned a comment made by a UK Youth Parliament member after the sitting in the Lords. I will quote it again, because it sums up what this is all about. Robert felt that the publicity generated from the House of Lords debates would be a great start. He said:
"This is fantastic press which we've never had before and it's so positive. This is the kind of thing the media really need to focus on."
It is the kind of thing that they clearly have not been getting from holding an assembly, meeting or convention of whatever form in Committee Room 14 upstairs. We must face the fact that there is a serious problem with the image and portrayal of young people, given that 71 per cent. of all stories about them in the media are negative, mostly to do with antisocial behaviour and crime. If we can do something to help to reverse that terrible trend towards the demonisation of young people, in which the Government have been culpable in many of the things they have done in recent years, that will be progress.
What are we scared of? Why do we apparently assume that Youth Parliament members will misbehave? Do we seriously think that they will leave gum under the seats and swing from the chandeliers, or that we will have to install jukeboxes and that there will be a major chav riot? Of course that is not going to happen. We are not going to have to install BMX bike ramps here, or revolving glitter balls on the ceiling. We can go about our normal business without having to move the furniture around, and it will be for one day only. It really is no big deal. The disengagement of young people in this country is a major problem. Allowing the Youth Parliament one sitting is not a panacea, but it would send a helpful and hopeful message.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, and I apologise for arriving slightly late in his contribution.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument about recognising the progress that the UK Youth Parliament has made. I was at the memorial service on Friday for Andrew Rowe, the former Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent, who played something of a leading role in its formation. A young woman stood up to talk about how she had been involved in a gang on the streets of Maidstone and had taken part in shoplifting and various other forms of what we would regard as antisocial behaviour. She spoke about how she had been encouraged to participate in a local youth forum, with the prospect of its leading to her participating in the Youth Parliament, and the transformative effect that it had on her. The last meeting happened in the other place, but we must recognise that the aspiration of all the people involved in the UK Youth Parliament is that the project will develop and gain momentum. Giving it the opportunity to hold a meeting here is an entirely legitimate aspiration, and I support it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am sorry that I was unable to make the memorial service of a late friend, but I heard about precisely that contribution. The UK Youth Parliament's achievements over the past 10 years have been important, although it is not perfect and it needs to achieve many more things, gain much more publicity and engage with more young people.
Similarly, there are youth mayors. I shall be hosting an event—before Members say that it will be in this Chamber, I add that it will be in Portcullis House on
By allowing the use of this Chamber, as a one-off opportunity on a non-sitting day—it will not deprive any Member of the opportunity to park their posterior on these privileged green Benches—we will say to the UK Youth Parliament and to young people in the country at large that their voice is important, too. We will be saying that their views count, and that it is worth our taking a risk and sticking our neck out to invite them to hold their deliberations here. We might find that their contributions are shorter, but just as good or occasionally better, than some that we hear from elected Members. It would be a special occasion and a pilot.
Too often, young people say that politics, Parliament and the ivory tower that is the House of Commons are not for them. They believe that they are populated by people in dark suits who do not understand or engage, and they say, "They are not for us." What better way to send a message that they are wrong, that we do value their voice and views and that we want to hear from them than by allowing them to have their deliberations in that citadel of privilege, that ivory tower? It is a risk worth taking, subject to the many details that needed to be ironed out.
The debate that we appear to be having about procedural detail will give rise to accusations that we can, at times, be out of touch with people in the community in general, and particularly with young people. We continue to go down that trail at our peril if we want to improve the engagement of young people in politics and improve on the appalling statistic from the last general election that the percentage of 18 to 24-year-olds who bothered to turn out and vote was 39 per cent., or barely one in three. That is the biggest challenge that faces us all. For goodness' sake, let us take a step in the right direction and say, "Come here. We want to hear what you say, so let's give it a go."
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, even though I do not agree with many of the points he made. I commend my hon. Friend Mr. Chope, who made an excellent speech and highlighted the many problems that could arise from the motion.
This is not a debate about the merits of the Youth Parliament and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. I am proud of the fact that I spend as much time as I can trying to engage with members of the Youth Parliament in my constituency. When they are elected, I always contact them straight away to congratulate them and make it clear that I am happy to meet them and discuss any issue. I recently attended a debate of the Youth Parliament in the chamber of Bradford council, and what a fine debate it was. Some excellent speeches were made, and the debate was of an extremely high calibre. The idea that anybody who is opposed to the Youth Parliament sitting in this Chamber must therefore be opposed to the Youth Parliament is completely wrong, and it is not particularly generous of people to say that. I have a great deal of admiration for young people who make every effort to stand in an election and want to make a difference in their local community. I am full of admiration for them, but that makes no difference to the debate.
The hon. Gentleman has emerged as the youth wing of the Conservative neanderthals who are opposing the motion. What does he believe that young people think about this debate? Does he believe that it shows us in the best possible light when we are trying to engage young people in voting for us to come this House?
The great thing about this is that we are having a debate. One of the most shameful episodes in this case has been the fact that, day in and day out, the Government have tried to sneak the motion on to the Order Paper and get it through without any debate whatever taking place. What message does the hon. Gentleman believe that sends to the Youth Parliament? It shows this House in a better light when we debate and air things. That is surely the best example that we can send the Youth Parliament, rather than trying to sneak things through at the end of a quiet night and hope that nobody notices what is going on.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. Is not the problem with the Government's attempts to sneak the motion through the fact that this Executive are used to getting things through without proper debate? We need only look at the Northern Ireland Bill, which they forced through in one day. The advantage of this business is that we have some say in it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we are trying to set a good example to the Youth Parliament, which of course we should, because we want to inspire younger people to get involved in politics, perhaps we ought to examine some of the processes of this House and how the Government curtail debate and all too often prevent it from taking place. I will certainly not take any lectures from the Deputy Leader of the House about the importance of encouraging younger people to take part in the parliamentary process, given that it is this Government who have done most to undermine that process.
It may well set this House a good example in many respects, but that does not mean that it should sit in this Chamber. I shall come in a few moments to some of the reasons why I do not believe that it should do so.
I always tell young people that when a politician is given a problem to solve, their solution will incorporate two ingredients. The first is that they have to be seen to be doing something—it is the bane of politicians' lives. I long for the day when a Minister says, "Actually, that's got nothing to do with us." That will never happen, because they never underestimate their power. The second ingredient is that the proposals must not offend anybody. A politician who can find a solution that incorporates the two ingredients of being seen to do something and not offending anybody will dash for it with alacrity. That appears to be the current position: the Prime Minister has got himself into a muddle by making a promise that he found harder to fulfil than perhaps he thought. Wanting to seem trendy and cool to young people, his solution to the problem of his unpopularity with everybody, including young people, is to look as if he is doing something that will not offend anybody: letting the Youth Parliament sit in the House of Commons Chamber. That is typical politician-talk and the sort of thing that brings the House into disrepute.
The Leader of the Opposition is more than capable of speaking for himself. He does not need me to speak for him; I am not sure that he would ever ask me to speak for him. I can tell the hon. Lady what I think, which is probably the safest position for me to adopt. When she meets my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron in the corridor, she can ask for his views—I am sure that he would be more than happy to tell her. Perhaps my right hon. Friend does not agree with me, but that would not be the first time and I suspect that it will not be the last. The hon. Lady's point does not, therefore, make a great deal of difference.
I do not know, but I am sure that it is only a matter of time.
The onus is on the Government and hon. Members who believe that the Youth Parliament should sit here to make their case. The case for change needs to be made; the case for no change does not. I am pleased that my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth is in his place, because I remember his fine speech in the debate on House of Lords reform. He said that, for a Conservative, if it was not necessary to change, it was necessary not to change. That has stuck with me and is an especially good point. It is one thing that makes us Conservatives.
My hon. Friend Mr. Crabb made a point about somebody who had been transformed by sitting in the UK Youth Parliament. I am sure that it is an inspiring story and that we want to encourage such transformation, but it happened without the person sitting in the House of Commons Chamber. That person's life was transformed without a Youth Parliament debate taking place in the House. People do not need to sit in here for their lives to be transformed through the UK Youth Parliament.
My hon. Friend is being slightly unfair to some colleagues who have already spoken. He claims that the case for change has not made, but several hon. Members have presented such a case. However, they have not adequately differentiated the one organisation and the one instance from any others. Would those who say that the Chamber is just another room and that the Benches are just furniture make it available to any worthwhile organisation?
My hon. Friend is right—I should have said that no persuasive case had been made for change. He is also right about the precedent that could be set, and I hope to deal with that shortly.
The best case that those in favour make appears to be that we should allow the UK Youth Parliament in here because its members will not trash the place or leave bubble gum under the seats. Nobody has suggested that they would do that. That is not a persuasive case. Let us hope that they do not trash the place; I am sure that they will not, but surely the case should be slightly stronger.
I accept the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch about being patronising. We have heard much about the low turnout among young people at general elections. Those in favour of the Youth Parliament's sitting in the House of Commons Chamber appear to suggest that, if we let it do so, all of a sudden, that turnout will go through the roof and be sky high. That is simplistic nonsense. Will the Deputy Leader of the House tell us the measure of his success? If the Youth Parliament is allowed to sit in the Chamber for this year only, will he estimate the turnout among young people at the next general election, so that we can judge whether the event has been a great triumph in inspiring younger people to vote?
Younger people do not vote at general elections because we do not inspire them to do that. The onus is on us. Pretending that we can carry on as we have always done and trot out the same meaningless stuff that will not offend anybody, or go around saying nothing and hoping that nobody notices, while claiming that allowing the Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber for one day means that, all of a sudden, the turnout at general elections will go through the roof, is ludicrous. Surely nobody believes that allowing the Youth Parliament to sit here for one day will make a massive difference to turnout at a UK general election.
Young people do not want to vote because they never hear arguments about ideas and politics. I was brought up in the 1980s, when there was a clear difference between the political parties and we could have a battle of ideas. Young people are inspired by that, not the meaningless drivel that people trot out because they are so scared of offending anybody. If we want to inspire young people, let us have a battle of ideas and try to inspire them to get involved in Parliament.
The question that has not been tackled—I do not understand how it can—is: why only the Youth Parliament? Why only for one year? Surely if it is a good thing for the Youth Parliament to sit here, it is good for it to sit here every year.
My hon. Friend is making his usual powerful case. Does he agree that one problem with allowing the Youth Parliament to sit here is that, under European Union law, we would discriminate against other organisations if we did not allow them to sit here?
I know that my hon. Friend shares my enthusiasm for the European Union. He may well be right. In my brief time in politics, I have learned never to be surprised by anything. It would not therefore surprise me if the European Union, which does barmy things day in, day out, interfered in the Chamber. It already decides 80 per cent. of our laws, so it may well want to decide who can sit in the Chamber.
What is so special about the UK Youth Parliament? I am the first to acknowledge that it does good work, that I greatly admire those who stand for election to it and that we want to inspire them to get involved in politics in the long run, but there are other bodies that also get involved in local politics and the political process, which I greatly admire. I recently attended a meeting in Shipley of people who hoped to establish a learning disability parliament. I wish them every success. I hope that it brings greater focus on the issues that affect those people. If such a parliament is established, should its members be able to use the Chamber? If not, why not? Why would that be a worse organisation than the UK Youth Parliament? What is the difference? Why would we want to discriminate against a learning disability parliament?
The National Pensioners Convention has been mentioned. It does a great job in highlighting issues that affect pensioners. Many pensioners in my constituency would argue that we do not pay enough attention to the problems that they face. In particular, many on a fixed income are trying to manage when savings are decreasing and they are struggling to get by. Would we allow the National Pensioners Convention to meet here? If not, why not? Why does it constitute a worse case than the UK Youth Parliament?
We were told earlier that there is a big problem with turnout among young people at elections, that the role of the Youth Parliament is underestimated and that the proposal would give it useful publicity. I can tell hon. Members that there is very little recognition of what my local parish council does. It does a great job. There are people on the council who volunteer their time, putting many hours for the benefit of the local community. The council could certainly do with some useful publicity to raise its profile. Why can my parish council not have its annual meeting in the House of Commons Chamber, if that would give it some useful publicity and highlight the good work that it does? There is a never-ending list of useful organisations that do marvellous things in the local community.
To be fair to the proponents of the proposal, they argue that the Youth Parliament is quite different because those involved cannot vote in a normal election. However, nobody remains 17 for ever. Why should that group, whose disability will vanish, be allowed to sit here, whereas those other people will never be allowed to sit here? I do not see the logic of that.
My hon. Friend is entirely right.
We want to encourage members of the Youth Parliament to come to sit in this House. I was immensely honoured when I was elected to this House. I had a feeling of immense pride. I cannot even explain to people how much pride I felt at being elected to represent my constituents in Parliament. It is the finest thing that could happen to anybody. Surely we should encourage younger people to aspire to that. We do not want them to think, "Well, I've already sat and had a debate in there. I'm not really bothered about standing for Parliament any more—I've already done that."
Those hon. Members who think that that might not happen have already conceded that it could by saying that the reason the Youth Parliament cannot sit in Committee Room 14 or the House of Lords is that it has already done so. If the Youth Parliament is allowed to have its day in the House of Commons Chamber, why would it not think, "We've already done that and we don't want to do it again—we're not interested anymore"? If that is the argument for why neither Committee Room 14 nor the House of Lords can used, surely we will put people off standing for Parliament.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for his kind remarks earlier. He is making a formidable case and I entirely support him. However, surely the fundamental issue is that this Chamber is not a toy. The idea behind the move is a cheap gimmick to try to court the vote of the youth. As he has made clear, however, it is likely to have no such effect whatever. Furthermore, is there not an ancient tradition in this place that when visitors come here, the Doorkeepers and others are religious in insisting that no visitor shall sit on one of these Benches unless he has fought a parliamentary election and won? That is the qualification of being in this Chamber and sitting on these Benches; there is no other.
Following the excellent point made by our hon. Friend Mr. Howarth, has my hon. Friend considered the implications of the arguments that might be deployed by, for example, Sinn Fein MPs who have not accepted the Oath and who currently cannot sit on these green Benches? If we accepted the motion this evening, we would be allowing people from the UK Youth Parliament to exercise a privilege that we do not give to those who have been elected under the Sinn Fein banner.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point is that the motion sets such a precedent that nobody knows where on earth it would end up. The idea that says, "Well, it's a very specific motion—it's only for one year, it's just for the UK Youth Parliament and that's that," is incredibly naive. Whenever anybody wants to use the Chamber, this motion will be used as a precedent to say, "The UK Youth Parliament was allowed in here, so why not us?" The case will be irresistible and everyone will have to acknowledge the logic of the argument. Either people are allowed to use this Chamber or they are not. We cannot say that some people are allowed and some people are not.
On the point that my hon. Friend Mr. Chope made about Members of this House not being allowed to sit in this Chamber unless they have taken the Loyal Oath to Her Majesty, does my hon. Friend envisage members of the Youth Parliament having to take the Loyal Oath before attending?
Because of the repairs required for the House, it is quite likely that we will have to decant in the next few years, possibly to the Queen Elizabeth building across the road. Would the hon. Gentleman be as vigorously opposed to the Youth Parliament sitting there as he is to the motion this evening? Is the issue about Parliament or about this Chamber?
The issue is the Chamber. The Youth Parliament should not be allowed to use the Chamber in which the debates take place. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has made it clear that that argument is not about preventing the Youth Parliament from having its annual meeting in Parliament. I am certainly very happy for the Youth Parliament to have its annual meeting in Parliament. I am happy to play my part by having a discussion with the Youth Parliament about politics, and by even showing people round and trying to inspire them to get involved in politics. However, that can quite easily be done by using Committee Room 14, Westminster Hall, or anywhere else for that matter. The point is about using the Chamber.
Is my hon. Friend aware that when I gave the Deputy Leader of the House the impression earlier that there would be a free vote among Back and Front-Bench Conservative Members, I was not giving the whole picture? Does my hon. Friend understand that Conservative Front Benchers are not being given a free vote in tonight's proceedings?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving that clarification. As he well knows, I cannot speak for the Conservative Front Bench as a whole, let alone the leader of the party. Again, we must leave it to others to explain the position of those on the Conservative Front Bench. All I can do is humbly set out my view. As I do not sit on the Front Bench—nor will I ever—it is probably best if I stick to what I think, rather than predicting what the Front-Bench position is. However, I am sure that everybody will have heard what my hon. Friend said.
Apart from the fact that the Youth Parliament will not trash the place, the whole point of the argument is that the move will inspire young people to get involved in the political process. That appears to be the main thrust of the argument. To elaborate on a point that I made in an earlier intervention, surely the fact that those involved are already part of the UK Youth Parliament means that they have already been inspired to get involved in politics and want to help in their local communities. Having the UK Youth Parliament sit here will therefore make absolutely no difference to inspiring those young people to get involved in politics. They are already involved.
That point was made earlier—I think by Mr. Chope, although it might have been made by the hon. Gentleman in an intervention—but are Opposition Members not aware that the UK Youth Parliament is a movement that involves a far greater number of people than those who are elected to it? People in schools across the country take part in the elections. There are Facebook groups and there are people on Twitter—indeed, I have been sending them messages about what has been happening in the debate over the past week and about how certain Opposition Members are opposing the motion. We are not talking about just the people who would be in the Chamber; a much wider audience of young people would be watching and are aware of what is going on.
I very much hope that the hon. Lady will indeed do that. However, if we are trying to inspire younger people who are not currently involved in the political process to get involved and if we want to use the House of Commons Chamber to do that, surely the people to allow the use of this Chamber are not the members of the UK Youth Parliament. They are already involved. Surely if we want to inspire those who are not already involved in politics to get involved in the political process, we should opening up the Chamber to them and letting them in. Perhaps we could do a trawl of all our marked registers after an election, find all the people who did not vote in the election and invite them to spend a day debating in the Chamber in order to inspire them to get involved in the political process.
As my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy would tell the hon. Gentleman, most young people know the difference between twitter and twaddle. When they look at some of the contributions to this debate, they will well understand that it is mainly twaddle that we are listening to now. When people are trying to get engaged in politics—whether it be a woman, a person from a poor background who wants to break through the barrier or someone from a minority ethnic community—is it not important for us to show them some recognition, respect and encouragement? Is it not possible to let people come in here and use our Chamber to show that we respect and recognise them and encourage them in their endeavours? That brings many in behind them, but to treat them with disdain—and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has been treating them with disdain in his contribution—is, in fact, to insult them.
I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman feels that the only way he can encourage younger people to get involved in politics and the only way to involve people from ethnic minorities is to allow them to use the Chamber. That shows a distinct lack of imagination on his part if he cannot come up with anything better than that. I am afraid that he also showed the typical new Labour trait, which is to be totally intolerant of anybody who happens to have a different opinion. I am perfectly happy to respect the fact that he has a different opinion from me on this particular matter, just as I am happy to respect the fact that he probably has a different opinion from me on virtually every political matter. That is the whole point of democracy. What kind of an example does he think it sets young people when he shows such intolerance to anyone who happens to hold a different opinion? Surely he should respect other people's opinions, even if they happen to differ from his own. He is not setting a very good example to people in the UK Youth Parliament by throwing abuse at the other side of the Chamber just because somebody happens to disagree with his view. I am afraid that that is so typical of the intolerance and authoritarianism of this new Labour Government.
The hon. Gentleman has shown in his earlier interventions and in his speech that he respects the members of the UK Youth Parliament and admires and greatly values what they are doing. He has rightly explained his views on that, but does he not accept that this is not about inspiring members of the Youth Parliament alone? It is about the main debating Chamber and the main Assembly of this country setting an example to the whole of society that the youth out there are our future. We should trust them and respect them. We should show people that we are prepared to give them these green Benches so they can have their say—and we should listen carefully to them.
I hear the hon. Gentleman's point, but I do not understand why we cannot respect the views of young people and encourage them to get involved in the political process without allowing them to sit in the Chamber. I do not see why we are going to revolutionise the engagement of young people in politics simply by allowing one group of people in the UK Youth Parliament to use this Chamber for one day only. If he thinks that is going to make all the difference in the world, I think that he is misguided.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my view that if the Government had allocated the amount of time that we are spending this evening in discussing this issue to debating issues such as our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, global terrorism, climate change and youth unemployment, more young people would have been engaged than by our talking about this narrow issue.?
In that case, I will resist the temptation to comment on the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
Another point raised in the debate was the fact that the UK Youth Parliament—as opposed to all the other groups that do such marvellous work in the community—was a special case because its members are not allowed to stand for election. Both my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Aldershot picked up on that point. I thought that Mr. Browne made the point very well that there are many people who cannot stand for Parliament for particular reasons—prisoners and people with mental health problems, for example. [Interruption.] Yes, peers of the realm are another example, and I could mention the royal family. Are we going to allow all those groups who cannot stand for election to have their day in this Chamber? That seems to be the argument that was pursued—that the Youth Parliament was a special case, because its members could not stand for election. Prisoners cannot stand for election, so why not give them the opportunity to have a day of debate in this Chamber? That goes to show that another one of the arguments being used is completely spurious and does not stand up to any serious inspection.
I do not accept the widely touted view that this place is basically just a row of green furniture that means nothing to anyone without the Mace or the Speaker in place. On the many occasions I have shown people around the Chamber and into the Lobbies, I have found them to be absolutely in awe of this place. They think it is the most marvellous place to come and visit; they queue up to visit. The number of people who visit this place is enormous. They do not see it as just a row of green Benches when they come into the Chamber. They really feel they are entering somewhere special. They do not want to see it devalued in any way; they do not want other people to be able to sit here.
When we think about the common thread and why all the people who come to Parliament want to visit it, what they want to visit and see is our traditions. They certainly do not come in to listen to the debates that go on in this place. They come here to visit because they love to see the traditions, which mean something to them. They do not want to see our traditions in this place continually taken away from them and continually eroded. If we carry on eroding all our traditions in this place, this place will mean nothing. It will mean nothing to the people who come here. People will treat it with increasing contempt. They treat it with contempt at the moment, which is mainly based on the things people say in this place and the lack of respect they have. If we keep eroding the traditions of this House, we will further erode people's confidence and we will increase the contempt they have for this place. We must guard against that at every possible opportunity.
My hon. Friend is speaking in terms not dissimilar from those that our hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack might employ. That reminds me that he particularly asked me to point out that he is unable to participate in this debate because he is working on Select Committee business on Northern Ireland.
I am grateful for that intervention. As my hon. Friend knows, our hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire is a great defender of Parliament as an institution—and Parliament as an institution is worth defending. It is under assault like at no time ever before, so we should not help in the process of treating Parliament with contempt. Rather, we should stand firm and hold up the traditions that people think are very important. When visitors enter Parliament on their visits, they are not allowed to sit on the green Benches. People may argue whether that is right or wrong, but it seems to me that most people I speak to, even those who are in favour of this motion, believe that that should stand and that people should not be able to sit on the green Benches when they come to visit.
How can we stop visitors sitting on the green Benches once we have opened them up to the Youth Parliament? Why are members of the Youth Parliament so special compared with everyone else in the country? Why cannot other people have their moment of sitting on the green Benches if that is what they want to do? It is perfectly clear that we are setting a precedent, which will mean that all sorts of groups and individuals will be allowed to sit on these green Benches. People may agree or disagree with that, but let us at least be open about the implications.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this Parliament is seen across the world, and especially in the Commonwealth, as the mother of all Parliaments? If he does, he would recognise that this, the mother of all Parliaments, should be used as an example. We should follow the example of some of our friends in Commonwealth countries, who are already beginning to let their Parliaments be used by their youth representatives and youth Parliaments. If they can do it, why cannot we, if they are following our example?
I do not entirely follow the hon. Lady's argument. If we are the mother of all Parliaments—a proposition with which I agree—surely the onus is on other Parliaments to copy what we are doing, rather than its being on the mother of all Parliaments to copy what everyone else is doing. I accept the hon. Lady's premise, but not the logic of her subsequent argument.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way yet again. Is not one of the problems the way in which the Government have timetabled the motion today, and the way in which it appears on the Order Paper? Members will not necessarily know that this debate is in progress, because they may not know that the earlier business collapsed. Would it not have been better had the Government given plenty of notice and tabled a proper motion, so that Members could have been present to debate this important issue?
I agree, and I feel that this has set an appalling example to the UK Youth Parliament. The Government have tried, day in day out, to sneak the motion through at the end of the day's business, hoping that no one would notice it on the Order Paper and it would not be laid open to scrutiny. What example does that give to the UK Youth Parliament? It is hardly a fine example, if those young people are led to believe that the Government try to sneak things through without a proper debate.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the public's holding this place, and politicians, in contempt. Does he not feel that his arguments make us appear arrogant, defensive, elitist, restrictive and just a little too precious—a little too full of ourselves, looking for special privileges and special treatment? Does he not accept that that is what breeds the contempt, and that a little understanding, trust, decency and belief in young people might help to destroy the contempt and build trust in the people?
The hon. Gentleman may well have a point. He may well be right. I respect that view if it is the view that he has taken, and it may well be the view that other people have taken. However, I do not personally believe that opening the Chamber to the UK Youth Parliament will transform the public's view of politicians. I do not believe that not allowing the UK Youth Parliament, or anyone else for that matter, to use these Benches is what has undermined confidence in Members of Parliament. I think that it is we, as Members of Parliament generally, who have undermined confidence in ourselves. We must also bear in mind that other people were not allowed to use these Benches in the 1980s and 1990s, when turnouts in elections were far higher. Given that that did not stop people from turning out in huge numbers in the past, I do not see why it should make any difference now.
I entirely respect the hon. Gentleman's views. He expressed concern earlier about whether Labour Members who disagreed with him respected his views, and of course we do, but he is relying on an argument relating to tradition in the House. I wonder whether he could tell us when he believes that the tradition of only Members being allowed to sit in this Chamber began. It certainly did not obtain in the Chamber that was used previously, so it may have existed only since the second world war.
That is a good enough tradition as far as I am concerned. The point that I am making, however, is that the argument that allowing the members of the UK Youth Parliament to sit in the Chamber will transform their view of Members of Parliament, the public's view of Members of Parliament and the view of Parliament held by young people generally is nonsense. Anyone who thinks that allowing the UK Youth Parliament to sit in the Chamber will transform the way in which we are perceived is either naive or disingenuous, because in fact it will make no difference whatsoever.
I challenge all who are in favour of this proposal to define the measure of its success. Let us hear whether a huge increase in political activity on the part of young people will result from this gesture—for a gesture is what it is. Let us hear whether it will bring about a transformation in the extent of political involvement among young people and in turnout at elections. Given that the Government are so fond of targets, let us know the target for this initiative. Let us know the likely turnout. Then we will be able to judge whether it has been a success. I can virtually guarantee that it will not make a blind bit of difference to the turnout at the next election, but let us put the argument on the table so that we can make a judgment.
If we do not allow young people to sit here and take part in a debate for a single day, what does that say about us? It is not a question of what it says about us if we do allow it; I am more concerned about what it says about us if we do not. Earlier, the hon. Gentleman mentioned contempt. I think that he has shown contempt for the UK Youth Parliament by suggesting that its members are no better than criminals or people in lunatic asylums.
The hon. Lady's argument suggests that she is becoming confused. As she knows, no one has compared the UK Youth Parliament to criminals and lunatics. If that is the level of debate at which we have arrived, perhaps we ought to replace the people in this place with the members of the UK Youth Parliament. I have no doubt about one thing: if the UK Youth Parliament does sit here, the calibre of its debate will be far higher.
For the benefit of the hon. Lady, who may not have been present when the argument was being advanced, it was suggested that the reason the UK Youth Parliament was a one-off exception was that, given that its members were aged between 11 and 17, they did not have an opportunity to stand for Parliament, and should therefore be granted the special privilege of sitting in this Chamber. My point, and the point made by the hon. Member for Taunton, was that although there are other categories of people who cannot stand for election, no one has suggested that they should be able to hold a debate here.
I have met local members of the UK Youth Parliament on a number of occasions. As I said earlier, I attended a debate in the Bradford council chamber, and a fine debate it was. No one badgered me about this. No one said "The one thing that we really want to do is sit in the House of Commons Chamber." That idea was not floated. It appears to be an idea that the Prime Minister came up with, and now we are trying to dig the Prime Minister out of a hole that he got himself into totally unnecessarily. If the idea had never been raised, no member of the UK Youth Parliament would ever have mentioned it.
The hon. Gentleman has said several times how much he respects the calibre of the Youth Parliament and the quality of its debate. He has also applauded the speech made by his hon. Friend Mr. Chope. At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Member for Christchurch was very disparaging about the Youth Parliament, very disparaging about west country traditions, and very disparaging about Mr. Bradshaw. Only one of those statements is valid. Can he guess which one?
I agree with the thrust of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, and I commend his speech. I often commend the speeches of Mr. Heath, but that does not mean that I agree with everything that he says. In fact, I seldom agree with what he says, but I always commend the quality of his speeches, even if the content sometimes leaves a great deal to be desired.
This is a very important matter. Some people seem to consider it a trifling matter involving a row of green benches which are just furniture, but I do not take that view. I was immensely proud to be elected to this House. The proudest moment of my life, which will always remain the proudest moment of my life, was when I was enabled to represent my constituents, have the privilege of sitting in this Chamber and have a platform on which to air my views—even if occasionally Labour Members, and even some on my own side, do not always agree with them. That is an enormous privilege to which I would want every young person in this country to aspire, and I will make it my business to try to inspire every young person in my constituency to get involved in the political process.
My hon. Friend said earlier that there is a danger that if we allowed members of the UK Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber the novelty might wear off and they would want to sit somewhere even bigger in future. Has the novelty worn off for my hon. Friend? Has his enthusiasm for this Chamber in any way been diminished by the fact that he has now become a Member of Parliament, and if not, why does he think that the ardour of these young people would be diminished if they were to have the opportunity to sit here once?
Perhaps it is so special to me and my enthusiasm has not diminished because I had to wait so long to become a Member. This argument has already been advanced, and not by me; it has been said that neither Committee Room 14 nor the House of Lords would be good enough because the UK Youth Parliament had already sat in them. The logic of that argument is that if they were to sit in the House of Commons Chamber, they would not want to do so again.
There are far better ways to inspire young people to get involved in politics. I speak in debates and argue about political ideas at my local schools. I take every opportunity to visit schools and have debates with students and encourage them to enter the battle of political ideas. I encourage all of them to get involved at the local level in whichever political party suits best their viewpoint, and to try to do something and to make a difference. I am therefore not going to take any lectures from other people about trying to encourage younger people to get involved in the political process. I am as passionate about that as anybody. This is the most simplistic idea to try to get people involved in the political process, however. If the length and breadth of our imagination about how to get younger people involved in the political process is to allow them to sit in this Chamber, we have an awful long way to go before we really engage with young people and inspire them to get involved in politics.
The following questions remain: why just the UK Youth Parliament, and why just this year? My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made this point particularly well. What is so special about this year's cohort of the UK Youth Parliament? I am sure that they are all fine, upstanding people whom we should be encouraging, but why are they more fine and upstanding than next year's cohort, or the following year's cohort? Why will this inspire this year's members to get involved in politics, but not next year's members?
Does my hon. Friend agree that this proposal might just have been made because this year might be an election year, and that Members on the Government Benches might think there is electoral advantage in it?
My hon. Friend may well be right. Given the cynical view that members of the public have of politicians generally across the political divide, I would not be surprised if many members of the UK Youth Parliament thought that that might be a motivation. I would like to think that it was not, but I would never like to rule out any such motivation, as it may well be the case.
This step will not make any difference to the number of younger people turning out in elections and getting involved in the political process. This is a gesture—it is gesture politics of the worst kind. It is patronising young people to think that if we do this, we can make ourselves look trendy and cool, and we can show we are in touch with the youth in our area because we voted for the UK Youth Parliament to sit in the House of Commons Chamber. If this Parliament really has reached such a level that that is the only argument we can advance, it is very sad indeed. I would have hoped for better than that from this House, but it appears that these are the depths to which we have sunk.
The Deputy Leader of the House must answer this question: why just this year's UK Youth Parliament? What is so special about this year? Why do we not want to encourage future years of the Youth Parliament through their using this Chamber, too? Why, also, did we not want to use it in previous years? The suggestion of my hon. Friend Mr. Binley about the motivation might well be right, or he may well be wrong, but the question must be answered at least.
I fear that this motion is nothing to do with one year only. It might say that it is for this year only and for the UK Youth Parliament only, but how many Members really think that is going to be the end of the matter? This sets a precedent. When other organisations and bodies argue that they should have the right to sit in this Chamber because the UK Youth Parliament did so, who will stand up to their constituents and say, "Oh no, you can't, because the UK Youth Parliament is more special than you are. It is far more deserving than you are"? Which of us is going to stand up and say that to their constituents when they ask to use the House of Commons Chamber? Who will say that to their women's institute, Mothers Union or parish council? Nobody is going to say it. The logic of the argument is unanswerable— [ Interruption. ] I can give way to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham so that he can explain how he will tell those people that. No, he has not yet decided what words he would use.
As always, my hon. Friend makes a good point. The case for allowing other organisations—and the UK Youth Parliament in subsequent years—to use this Chamber would be unanswerable if we allowed this motion to go through tonight. We could never claim again that only Members of Parliament can sit on these Benches and that only Members of Parliament can use this Chamber for debate. That argument would be gone at a stroke. We would never be able to recover it.
Some people think that we should open up the Chamber to other organisations in the future and to the UK Youth Parliament in subsequent years—the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome seems to be one of them. That is fine. I respect that position. It is a perfectly honourable position, but let us have it out in the open. Let everyone put their cards on the table and let us all know what we are entering into. We are setting a precedent that will be repeated year in, year out for all kinds of organisations. At least some Members of this House will have the courage and honesty to say for what they are voting.
What I do not like is the way in which this motion has been dealt with. To start with, it was tabled for consideration at the end of every day, as attempts were made to sneak it through without debate. Now a debate has been forced, we have a pretence that the event will be a one-off. Anybody who believes that is living in cloud cuckoo land. This will happen year after year.
My hon. Friend keeps tempting me down the line of speculating about why those on our Front Bench have taken the stance that they have. I am sure that my party has good reason for taking the stance that it has—it tends always to have good reason for its decisions. I might not always agree with those decisions, but it always has a good reason for them. People in this House have to vote as they feel and that is a matter for them. I am merely explaining how I feel.
I have to take issue with some of those statements. Every vote in this House is a free vote. I have certainly received no instructions from my party on how to vote and I think that we are on a one-line Whip. I am not sure that there is a party view on this—we have heard different arguments across the political divide.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be delighted to see our deputy Chief Whip in the Chamber to hear him say that every vote is a free vote. I am sure that that will not have gone unnoticed. Perhaps the Whips have given up on him in the way that they might well have given up on me. I am not entirely sure.
I am sure that my party has good reasons for the way in which it asks its members to vote tonight. I am merely setting out what I think as well as the fact that I will not support the motion. For me, it is irrelevant what my party decides that it thinks is the right thing to do. In this House, we all have to do what we think is in the best interests of the country, of our constituents and of our party. The issue is much more important than has been given credence by many people.
I just want to clarify something that was said a moment ago. In fact, there are not shades of opinion on both sides of the House. We have heard no negative opinion of the Government motion from the Labour Benches. In fact, every Labour Member who has spoken and intervened has been in favour of the Government motion.
The hon. Gentleman appears to be speculating that every Labour MP will support the Government. I do not know whether they will or not; that is a matter for them. Of course, the hon. Gentleman has the great advantage of being the only member of his party in this House, thus avoiding a split.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I was encouraging us to get off the beaten track. I was merely pointing out that there may well be views in all parties about this issue, but obviously, the UK Independence party does not have that disadvantage.
I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will answer the questions of why the UK Youth Parliament, and why just for this year. Will it set a precedent? What guarantees will he give that no other organisation will be allowed to use the Chamber? What promises can he give? What does he advise me to tell the members of other organisations in my constituency, who will see this and want to use the House of Commons Chamber? What arguments should I advance to tell them that it is not suitable for them, but it is for the UK Youth Parliament? I want to hear all these answers from him, because all those questions need answering. [ Interruption. ] Perhaps the view of Bob Spink about the Labour party's voting has inspired the Chief Whip, Mr. Brown, to come and make sure that everybody votes the way that he wants them to; I am not entirely sure.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many Members have sat through two debates waiting to speak and have important points to make? Would it not be a disgrace to democracy and to the Youth Parliament if a closure motion were moved?
I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says. He will know that I am trying to curtail my remarks, in order not to prevent other people from speaking in this—
Question accordingly 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 bring about social change; notes that many hon. Members from all parts of the House are actively involved in the work of the UK Youth Parliament; and accordingly resolves that the UK Youth Parliament should be allowed for this year alone to hold its 2009 annual meeting in the Chamber of this House.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am one of the two MPs who originally campaigned for the issue just decided; the other was the late Andrew Rowe. Obviously, I am delighted with the outcome of the vote. May I ask that the Speaker's Office and the Leader of the House be given the opportunity to speak with the organisers of the UK Youth Parliament to ensure that the processes and procedures that it uses respect the traditions of the House and enable the very best to come out of this outstanding and inspirational decision tonight?
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Some of us who attended the debates on the use of the Chamber were not able to speak because of the closure motion, but much of the argument has turned on the point of precedent. May I seek a ruling from Mr. Speaker in due course to the effect that a precedent has at least now been established? If the Chamber is to be used by bodies other than the elected House of Commons, we have established that that must follow a debate and vote of the House.