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Backbench Tories fail to stop UK Youth Parliament from being able to use House of Commons chamber

Christopher Chope MP was unsuccessful yesterday in his bid to block the UK Youth Parliament from ending centuries of exclusive use of the Commons by elected MPs. Here are some of the MP for Christchurch's arguments:

"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.

...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."

...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."

...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 the Member for Croydon, Central (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."

Tim Loughton MP dissented from the party's frontbench:

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.”

The following MPs, mainly Tory, backed Mr Chope's stance:

  1. Atkinson, Mr. Peter
  2. Bacon, Mr. Richard
  3. Binley, Mr. Brian
  4. Bone, Mr. Peter
  5. Brady, Mr. Graham
  6. Browne, Mr. Jeremy
  7. Burgon, Colin
  8. Campbell, Mr. Gregory
  9. Chope, Mr. Christopher
  10. Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
  11. Davies, Philip
  12. Davis, rh David
  13. Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
  14. Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
  15. Hollobone, Mr. Philip
  16. Leigh, Mr. Edward
  17. Luff, Peter
  18. McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
  19. Ottaway, Richard
  20. Russell, Bob
  21. Steen, Mr. Anthony
  22. Swire, Mr. Hugo
  23. Whittingdale, Mr. John


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