Youth Parliament

Friday 30 October 2009

The UK Youth Parliament, sitting in the House of Commons, met at twenty minutes past Eleven o’clock

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

11.20 am
Mr. Speaker: Good morning and welcome. This is an historic occasion. It is one that I hope you will enjoy and all of us will treasure.
On 13 March this year, Parliament decided that this great event should take place. In the whole history of the House of Commons, you are the first body of people other than Members of Parliament themselves to be allowed to use this Chamber. I, however, am not entirely new to the Youth Parliament and the Youth Parliament is not entirely new to me. I had the great privilege of visiting Canterbury on 27 July this year, just after the House had gone into recess, to speak to the annual conference of your Parliament, and I am conscious of the strength of the Parliament, the skills that it embodies and the future opportunities that it will create.
I want to say at the outset, by way of tribute to you as Members of the Youth Parliament, that I and my colleagues the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, the deputy shadow Leader, Shailesh Vara, and the Liberal Democrat shadow Leader, David Heath, all greatly respect, among other things, just how inclusive your Parliament is, not merely in the obvious sense that it brings together young people from right across the country but in the sense that it is substantially more representative of the country as a whole than the House of Commons as presently constituted.
I know—and it is hugely to your credit—that consistently, 50 per cent. of your Members are women; something like 22 per cent. of you are drawn from the ethnic minorities communities that so enrich our country; and 3 per cent. of you are young people with disabilities. All of those statistics are better than we have in our Parliament.
You debate important issues, you have shown real initiative and you enjoy great debating prowess. You met this morning in Westminster Hall, which itself boasts 800 years of parliamentary history. The debates today will be recorded in the usual way by Hansard, and they will also be recorded for subsequent transmission on BBC Parliament.
I hope you are going to enjoy the day. I just want to say two other things that I hope are of some relevance before I ask the Leader of the House to say some words to you. First, whatever the imperfections of our system of government and representation—I know, and all Members of Parliament know, that we need greatly to improve—we are, I think, proud that we have in this country a democracy. Before I became Speaker of the House of Commons, for many years, with many colleagues of many different parties, I took a great interest in the plight of the poorest people on the planet. Visiting many poor countries, I was struck often by the fact that the poverty was either created or exacerbated by bad government—by tyrannical leaders; by despots; and in some cases by people responsible for genocide.
In many of those countries, you could not speak your mind. If you did, you would be arrested, imprisoned, tortured, raped or killed. It is hugely to the credit of our country that we have a democracy, and the significant point about it is that you can, when of age, choose who represents you and then, after a while, if you think you made the wrong choice, or if you think the person you chose is no longer the right person, you can change your choice. That is the beauty of our system.
The second point I want to make to you, which you know, and which we should communicate loudly and clearly to the outside world, is that politics, whatever you think of it and whatever you think of individual parties and particular leaders, does matter, because it will affect you, your friends, your family and the future of your country.
The sort of economy we have; the quality of education that we enjoy; the scale of health service provision that we can offer; the state of our transport infrastructure; the effectiveness of our fight against crime; the means that we adopt to protect and nurture our environment; the state of our relations with other countries; and what we do to help the poorest and most destitute people on the face of the planet: all those depend on the decisions we make, the laws that we pass and the money that we spend. That is why politics matters.
I, personally, am thrilled to welcome you here today. I look forward to the proceedings getting under way, but just before they do, I would like to ask the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, to say a few words to you.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I wish to say just a few words of welcome, because I know that you are keen to get on with the debate. First, I wish to congratulate each and every one of you on being elected. You have already done a tremendous thing by being elected to the UK Youth Parliament. Congratulations on being here on what is, as Mr. Speaker said, an historic day for Parliament and one that I hope that you will remember all your lives.
As Leader of the House of Commons, I welcome you here today and shall just say a few words about where you are. This Bench to the right of the Speaker is where Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister sits, and I sit next to him as Leader of the House, and it is where the Cabinet sits. The Benches behind are where Government Back Benchers sit. Over here to the left of the Speaker is the Opposition Front Bench, where David Cameron, the leader of the Official Opposition sits, and it is where the shadow Cabinet sits. I was on these Benches for 18 years trying to get over to the other side, the Government side.
The Liberal Democrats sit on that Bench beyond the Gangway, and it is where Nick Clegg sits. The Scottish Nationalists sit behind them, and people from Northern Ireland. Most of the Benches opposite them are for Labour Back Benchers, and on the front row sit members of what is called the awkward squad, who give everybody a hard time when they are speaking.
I hope that you will hugely enjoy the day. Do not be nervous, because you are going to do a great job. We are going to leave you now to get on with your really important debates, but there are MPs watching up in the Gallery, the press watching in the Press Gallery and many people watching in the Public Gallery. Enjoy this historic occasion, and you are very welcome.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you, Harriet, and thank you, Shailesh, David and Bridget Prentice for joining us. This will be a great day and, as Harriet said, make sure that you enjoy it. Give it your best. We respect you and we look forward to your participation. It should be tremendous fun.
There are two small, but important points to make before we get under way. First, Members who wish to speak should stand in their place or, if in a wheelchair, raise their hands. Secondly, Members should always say their name and region at the beginning of their remarks, otherwise the Hansard writers will not know who you are. If you can pause briefly, for a few seconds, before you start your speech, that will enable the microphone to be activated.
Without further ado, we will get under way.
Free University Education
11.30 am
Funmi Abari (London): The first debate today will be,
Should university education across the United Kingdom be made free, as it is in Scotland for Scottish young people?
Mr. Speaker: I call Mr. Jonathan Gilchrist to second the motion.
Jonathan Gilchrist (North West): At the moment, the tuition fees system benefits either the extremely rich or the poor. Last year, in a UK Youth Parliament survey, one in three students who wanted to go to university said that they could not do so because they did not have the required funds. In context, that is one in three doctors who cannot go on to cure, one in three teachers who cannot go on to educate and one in three politicians who cannot go on to change the system that stands today. Why is the right to education at any level determined by your social background, parental income or where you live?
At the moment in the UK, people see scrapping tuition fees as unfeasible, and politicians are using the current economic climate as a get-out-of-jail-free card. I am not saying that scrapping tuition fees means raising taxes, as was the confusion in the House of Lords, and I am not saying that taxes will have rise, as people will say that it is not feasible. However, we are in the House of Commons today because we can make change.
Last year, in a campaign, we were told that it will cost £3.5 billion to scrap tuition fees and make it free for all. If taxes cannot rise to fund that, where will we get the money from? I am arguing, therefore, for changing the priorities of Government spending. Some £20 billion is being proposed on a cold war relic of Trident nuclear missiles—£20 billion on a cold war relic or £3.5 billion to give every young person the right to free education? The nuclear deterrent funding is just one way, and there are many others, such as an alumni network.
It is right that everyone be treated equally, so why should people miss out on that right? It is time that the UK Youth Parliament took a stand on tuition fees—something that most politicians are not willing to do. Today, however, with 300 young people sat in the Chamber, a change can be made. We are sat here today so that this campaign will be listened to and debated at great length, and I urge people to think of a system in which every young person in this country has a right to free education—one not determined by whether you are rich or poor and irrespective of where you live. It should not be an education that leaves you burdened with a huge debt at the start of your career. I therefore propose the motion to the House that university education should be free for all young people, as it is in Scotland for Scottish young people. At the very least, a full and frank inquiry should be held into how the system is run at the moment in the UK.
Mr. Speaker: Jonathan, thanks for a fantastic and robust start to our proceedings. It has got things off to a great beginning. I ask Funmi if she would now like to make a speech. Funmi, please come to the lectern.
Funmi Abari (London): Good morning, everyone.
You would get a loan to buy a car or take out a mortgage for your own house, but not go into debt for your own future? You want things fairer, but abolishing tuition fees would do the opposite. Lower education and the NHS are free, but we have private and public provision. If university is made free, we will also have private and public provision there. Your future boss will not look just at what degree you have, but at whether you had a private or public education. So you will have worked dead hard for your degree, only to be told that it is not good enough because it is private. Will that be fair?
Abolishing tuition fees will not increase accessibility. Free Scottish universities have fewer students from disadvantaged backgrounds than universities in the UK. It is free, but less accessible. Is that fair? There is no such thing as a free lunch. Some £2.5 billion from taxpayers every year is needed to pay for this free lunch. Is that fair? Only 20 per cent. of the adult population have a degree. That is a minority. Why should university students be the highest priority of the Government’s very little money? What about the people who do not go to university—your mother, your friends and the rest of the UK? Why should they have to suffer?
You cannot climb a broken ladder. There are many problems that young people face before the age of 18 and university, and these problems need to be fixed first, before we even start thinking about free education. Right now, we are forced to pay three times more than what our education is actually worth. Paying for uni is sustainable; paying too much is simply exploiting us, and that is the real problem. I cannot afford to go to university, but the Government will give me a loan. I’ll go to uni and I’ll get my degree; and then I’ll be in debt, but I’ll work and, hopefully, gradually pay off that debt.
Tuition fees should not be abolished. It is unrealistic, unsustainable and not in the best interests of all young people and those yet to come. So I put it to these young people today: do not abolish university fees. But lowering the fees to what they are actually worth? Hell yes, that is fair.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you for that excellent speech Funmi. Is there somebody on the other side of the Chamber who wishes to speak?
James Greenhalgh (West Midlands): I have been working quite hard on this campaign. If you think that there are priorities other than those young people who are not going to university, let me tell you this: if you are from a well-off background, you are so many times more likely than someone from a less well-off background to go to university. That is simply unjust. We have to change that system. We have developed a graduate endowment policy in the UK Youth Parliament, whereby after you go to university, you pay a certain amount of your wages, for a certain period of time, into a pot that goes towards paying for higher education.
We have got to get away from the whole idea that if you go to university, you will have tens of thousands of pounds-worth of debt. That is outrageous. We are being encouraged to save and not get into debt, yet this is exactly what the Government are encouraging us to do. That is wrong. So I say to you: we need to scrap fees and we need a new system. That is what we have got to fight for.
Jack Taylor (London): In America, you can expect to pay more than $50,000 a year for a university education. But after three years of education here, you can leave with only £35,000 of debt. Abolishing tuition fees will not abolish that entirely—only by £10,000. The Member who opened the debate said that if we abolished Trident, we could pay for university fees—or we could give a free £100 tax rebate to every person in the UK. I know what I would prefer.
I am going to university next year. I got an offer yesterday—woo-hoo!—but I won’t plug it; it’s all good. But I do not expect the people who do not go to university to pay for my education from their taxes. Why should people who get up at 6 o’clock in the morning to work as a dustman, or my father, who did not go to university but worked as a builder, pay for my education? I should pay for my education. I will be benefiting from it and I should be the one who incurs the debt, because I will be enjoying the pleasures afterwards.
Samuel Watkin (South East): University tuition fees have for too long burdened the students of this nation with debt. Fees of more than £3,000 a year for higher education are damaging the heart of this country. According to an article in The Observer, on Sunday 5 October 2008, the average university-goer will leave higher education with debts in excess of £20,000 in 2010. That, Mr. Speaker, is wrong, and our Government are not doing enough to help these students either.
Families with an annual income of less than £25,000 can only get a grant of nearly £3,000, meaning that most families will have to borrow heavily to afford tuition fees, let alone the living expenses.
I have heard many politicians on this topic and they often say we cannot afford to do this at present. With student debt mounting and some of our brightest minds being barred from attending higher education, our country will face the full force of the cost of not taking the right step of abolishing tuition fees.
With the majority of people in our nations attending higher education, these students will be running top businesses in the future. These countries will be the centre of the world because their young people will all have been given the right to free higher education. Please, Government, help keep Britain great well into the future—by abolishing this immoral tax on our students. It is no longer a question of whether we can afford to; it is a question of whether we can afford not to.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you very much. I was just about to appeal for some young women to stand and speak in this debate and I see that my wish has been granted.
Jennie Hunt (London): I am from Bexley. I personally believe that it is a bad idea to have free university tuition. My problem is that I fear it would be easy for people to go to university without any sincere desire to get a degree. Many people could go to university, faff around a bit for a couple of years without having their heart in it and then drop out. I would say that at that point they should have to pay for those wasted two years that they have burdened the taxpayer with. If people go to university sincerely in order to get a degree, work hard and do really well, that is when they should get their education for free.
James Bartle (North East): I am from Newcastle. We have heard from several Members who have given lots of nice reasons why university education should be free, but we have also heard that it is going to cost us £3.5 billion to be able to do that. If politicians say all the time that we cannot afford it, it is because we cannot. Forget about the debt people get into when they go to university, as this country is in £800 billion of debt to begin with! That is the biggest political scandal in this country in a generation. We cannot afford it.
University would suffer. Universities are asking for more money. The president of Universities UK said that UK higher education requires further injections of resources for teaching and learning in particular. Universities need more money, Mr. Speaker, and Members who support this motion are going to deprive them of it.
Mr. Speaker: It is fantastic that everyone is participating in the right spirit. May I ask if we can hold the applause until the end, so that we can save time and have as many contributions as possible? I will note at this point that we have been joined by the Government Chief Whip, Nick Brown, who is chattering away at the back. You are very welcome, Nick. Please identify yourself so everyone knows you are here. There is the Government Chief Whip. Thanks for joining us, Nick.
Julie Lennox (Scotland): I would like to say to this Parliament that I am very angry at those not supporting the abolition of tuition fees. We heard the young man opposite talking about us being £800 billion in debt, but that was caused by rich bankers. [Interruption.] Excuse me, but I am speaking. [Applause.] It does not matter what job people have got or whether they are making £8,000 a year as a hairdresser or £100,000 a year as a lawyer or whatever, as they are still going to be paying tax. How is it fair that some of our brainiest young people cannot go to university because they cannot afford it—because their mum or dad have not had the opportunities? It is just not fair. Education is the only way out of poverty. If people are educated and have a good degree, they will earn extra money, so they will have to pay the higher tax rate. They will make more money and provide more jobs, which will help to get the country out of its debt in the first place. Free education is one of the only ways we are able to achieve this.
Christie Fisher (Bolton): It was said earlier that the way to get out of recession is to have free education. So the country is to get into even more debt, on top of the £8.5 billion—another £3.5 billion—so that you can slowly graduate out of debt through free education and getting your degree? The way to get out of debt is to get your degree and get yourself out of debt to get the country out of debt. Yes, you will leave university with a debt, and you will earn the money back to pay that debt. Who will pay for that debt if you do not, as an individual? Where will the money come from? It will come from the taxpayer. We may not pay taxes now, but when that £3.5 billion comes back to us to pay, that is when we will say, “Oh! We shouldn’t have had free tuition, because it’s coming back to get us now.” That is not fair to the people in the whole of the United Kingdom who did not go to university.
The opportunity is there. You have your maintenance grant, and you have your loan and you pay it back. That is how it works. You cannot get anything for free in life, so why should tuition be free?
Jason Hill (Derbyshire): You say that the £3.5 billion will come back to us. If it does, then it does. But if you are saying we cannot afford it, how come MPs are claiming expenses? If MPs do not claim expenses and we get rid of some tax benefits, the money will come and we will be able to abolish tuition fees. Perhaps if we cannot abolish them, at least we can lower them.
Oliver Rowlinson (South-East):Young people—the very few young people watching this debate today—will see how out of touch, unrealistic and unaffordable scrapping or reducing tuition fees simply is. It is equitable for students to make a financial contribution to their degree teaching. They stand to gain financially from a degree. Education is an investment, and it is rational for students to borrow at this stage of their life cycle to finance such investment.
Fees encourage students to be more selective in the courses that they choose, and discourage students from taking Mickey Mouse degree courses such as Beckham studies, golf management and surfing. Too many young people are pursuing courses which lead to those sorts of stupidity. The argument that young people like ourselves often use is, “Why should young people who’ve been failed by the education system pay the bills for others to get a better education than them by paying tax?” Surely, as Members of the UK Youth Parliament, we should be tackling the real issues: the fact that we have a broken society, the fact that we have a broken political system, the fact that we have a broken economic system, and the fact that, as my fellow Member on this side said, we have a national deficit of £175 billion. It is time to stop spending, and it is time to live within our means—and certainly not to reduce or scrap university tuition fees.
Mr. Speaker: As you know, the proposers and seconders of the motion had three minutes. Strictly speaking, after that speeches are supposed to last for a minute. A lot of people want to take part, and we will have to move on to the next debate fairly soon. I appeal to everyone to make their points very briefly.
Petergaye Palmer (Brent): Lowering tuition fees is really important. I want to train to become a commercial pilot, but the fees are really expensive—over £50,000. There is no way my parents can afford that. I am standing here speaking on behalf of many working-class young people who want to achieve because they want a change in their lifetime, not because mummy or daddy is in a really good job, and they do not want their family to feel bad because they do not achieve. Please, I am asking you, can tuition fees be abolished? I think that young people should achieve no matter how working class they are—no matter what class they are. Everyone should have a chance of success.
Rebecca Harriss (East Midlands): I believe that university fees should be abolished because of the effect of them on one of the society divides we have. If everyone can go to university and get the degree they want—and they passionately believe they should for their education—why do we deny them that right? Everybody has the right to free education. Why do we have to stop people once they have left secondary school, done their A-levels or gone to college? In our current economic climate, the debts we incur from university will not go away any time soon just because we get a job—if we are lucky enough to get a job. In the end, the country should consider the fact that our young people are the future and we need an education that is good enough to create that future.
Thomas Brookes (North East): Many people lament the passing of the UK’s leadership in many fields of expertise. However, one area we can still be proud of is our universities. Without uni fees, those high standards would be in tatters. A degree is a reward people should have worked hard for and that should be treasured. From that degree, they will reap the benefits across the years after paying a just price—especially when compared to the cost in America, as has been said. It is fair that we should pay for university fees. Nothing in life is free. We should pay for university fees, and we can pay for university fees, and that is why they should not be abolished.
Jayde Tunnacliffe (Yorkshire and Humberside): My dad will not be able to afford to send me to university. He did not go to university, but I will go to university, pass my degree and pay back the loan I was given to be able to do it. Just because I cannot afford to go does not mean that that should stop me. University tuition does not need to be free for us to be able to have the right to an education. If my dad cannot afford to send me, why should he pay the tax to be able to send everyone else?
Joe Loverock (West Midlands): My point is that this generation has a legacy that is happening over in America with Barack Obama. Our legacy to give to the next generation is, “No more uni fees”. I believe every generation deserves a legacy, and our next generation’s legacy depends on whether we deal with uni fees later or now.
Abla Seckley (South East): The average cost of university fees is more than £3,000 each year. By the time we have paid that money, we will come out with a huge amount of debt, so what is the point of busting your hump over so many years to get great A-levels and great GCSEs by doing midnight black coffee sessions and endless coursework, if by the time it comes to it we cannot afford to go to university? If your circumstances mean that you fall just above the threshold for help but your parents cannot afford to send you to university, why have you done all that hard work in order to have somebody else say, “I’m sorry, but you can’t do it”? If your dream is to go to university, or if it is your way out, who has the right to crush that dream and say, “You can’t do it”?
So this is what I propose. I propose a lowered university fee, and those who then take up that lowered fee and attend university on that rate then pay a slightly higher tax on a sliding scale depending on what they earn. That would allow people who would otherwise not be able to attend university to attend it, and people who do not attend university will not need to pay the tax. Some might say, “If we keep paying this higher rate of tax, we might end up paying much more.” They should think of it this way: it is your gift to the next generation, as it will allow people to keep on going to university and make our society a much fairer and brighter place.
Britain prides itself on being fair and democratic, so why should we tell somebody—unfairly—that they are not allowed to attend university?
Laura Gorman (Scotland): I should like to make two quick points. First, I wish to disagree with the Member who said that lowering fees would lead to a lowering of standards. Despite the abolition of tuition fees in Scotland, many of its universities remain among the top four in the United Kingdom in their subjects. Secondly, many people are saying that in a recession we have to prioritise and make cuts, but other European countries such as France and Germany are coming out of the recession much quicker than we are and that is because they have a higher percentage of university graduates. Although we may have to spend more now to provide this, surely abolishing tuition fees will safeguard us against a recession in the future.
Olatunde Seye (South East): At the moment, we are all crying that there are no jobs. Let us consider the other side and what would happen if we were to abolish the tuition fee. When everybody comes out with a big degree, where are the jobs going to come from? I have a friend who left university with a degree and after two years ended up working in Primark. If we abolish tuition fees and everybody has their degree today, where will the jobs come from? Abolishing tuition fees is not a realistic goal at all. Lowering the price is okay—we can deal with that, although we will get into debt—but at the end of the day if we get our qualification and get a job, we can pay our debt from that. We would not then have to stand outside looking for jobs everywhere.
Mr. Speaker: I want to get someone from Wales in.
Tom Turner (Wales): rose—
Mr. Speaker: Thank you.
Tom Turner: Today we have heard what this House and this country can and cannot afford. At the moment, this country is suffering from a brain drain, when people with young, bright minds say, “I can’t afford to get my higher education here in Britain. I am going to have to move abroad, take my skills overseas and possibly—perhaps even probably—not come back.” That is what our country cannot afford to let happen. We cannot afford to lose our teachers and our doctors—they provide vital services, and the country would be brought to its knees if this process were to continue. It is already happening, so let us stop it by allowing our young bright minds to be educated here. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
Dara Farrell (South East): Surely the current system is doing a disservice to all young people: those who value their education and have not paid for it directly. As another Member said, they reach a stage where they cannot go any further because they cannot afford it. Young people spend so much of their lives working towards education and they reach a stop where they cannot go any further. The education system, as it stands, will be improved if young people know that at the end of it they can get to university, obtain a degree and better themselves.
Mr. Speaker: I am sorry, but I will have to call the winding-up speaker. There will be lots of opportunities in the course of the day for people who have not been called to contribute, so I ask Members please to sit down. Just before I call that speaker, I wish to put on the record our appreciation of the fact that there are colleagues of mine from the House of Commons here to support you and admire what you are doing today. They include: the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry); the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (John Austin); the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (Sylvia Heal); the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel); and the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). They are all here because they are interested in listening to, and perhaps even learning from, you. At this point, I shall ask Ariba Karim to wind up this debate.
Ariba Karim (South East): The points raised were passionate, and some really good ones were raised.
Fifteen thousand; thirty thousand; one in three. Young people, we have heard a variety of passionate arguments why university fees should be kept. The first was the economic crisis that we find ourselves in. In a deep recession, do we need to burden ourselves any more by adding another £2 billion to £3.5 billion to the taxpayer a year? Or do we listen to the morality in our consciences—how three quarters of working young people will opt not to go into further education because of the fear of future debt and the fear of not being able to afford the cost of going to university?
UK Youth Parliament, we have campaigned on abolishing university fees. Here is one example of how we did it: the postcards that were sent to our MPs, urging them to support us in this campaign. These were sent from young people all over England. Now is the time to be heard, and it is time to hear answers. We have agreed that the cost of university must go down, and more opportunities besides university must be made available. Most significantly, the views of young people not yet at university must be considered in any review of university tuition fees.
Finally, the most important thing to consider is this. For those who do end up going to university, the university fees become a part of their everyday lives—whether they need jobs, and whether they can afford food, transport or even shelter. You could be one of the 15,000 denied a place at university, you could be one out of the 30,000 in debt, and I could be the one in three of us who might not even be able to afford university, and who is left thinking that it is the only way forward for me to get a good job, a good salary, a good future.
Imagine if, in 10 years’ time, 15,000 or more are denied, 30,000 or more are in debt, and one in three or more are deprived. Imagine if in 10 years’ time, things have not changed. So, young people, vote for that change, and vote for it now, because now is the time.
Mr. Speaker: Ariba, thank you for winding up the debate in such fantastic style. I have been interested in politics since my late teens, but I couldn’t have spoken with the eloquence or performed with the poise that members of the Youth Parliament have shown this morning, so it is hugely and permanently to your credit.
We have been joined by other parliamentary colleagues, and I must not miss them out: Dawn Butler, the Member for Brent, South; Laura Moffatt from Crawley; and Peter Bottomley from Worthing, West. The numbers are ballooning all the time as colleagues take an interest in what you are doing.
We are going to have lunch at 12.45 pm, so I have to ask that the next two debates last for only 20 minutes each. That means that we need contributions to be short and sharp so that I can get as many people in as possible.
Youth Crime
12.4 pm
Alex Knight (Eastern): The topic of the second debate is youth crime and how to tackle it, and the proposition is,
As more and more young people appear to be drawn into youth crime, what can be done to tackle the hot-spots where this occurs? Should those young people who are found guilty be sent to prison or be forced to undertake community service?
I am here today to propose that prison is the most suitable method of not only rehabilitating offenders, but providing them with skills for life that are beneficial to them and to the population as a whole. My argument will take three strands. First, prison and offenders institutes can be places where offenders can develop their education academically and practically. Offenders are able to take GCSEs, NVQs, A-levels and many other different courses through the prison system, giving them a chance to enter society with higher employability, greater self-esteem and an understanding of how their behaviour has harmed those around them.
Secondly, there are anger management and rehabilitation schemes in prison, giving offenders the tools with which to handle themselves in the real world. Those schemes can also provide for the transition into society. Thirdly and, perhaps, most importantly, I stress that when rehab courses are attended and done properly, then and only then, offenders’ chances of being rehabilitated can increase dramatically, giving them a chance in life to step forwards not backwards.
An example of someone who has gone through the prison system and become successful is Levi Roots. He is a successful entrepreneur who experienced the prison system in the 1980s. He is a clear example of why we should not write someone off as unable to provide a positive contribution to society just because they are an ex-offender.
I believe that everyone here wishes to see greater provisions for young people, not only within the local community, but at home in order to prevent them from offending in the first place—tackling issues at the grass-roots level to prevent them escalating into becoming problems that affect wider society. However, the message that I am hear to spread is that, when crime has occurred, the way to make sure that individuals do not re-offend is to put them through the prison system: removing them from their communities while ensuring that, once in the prison system, they are provided with greater life skills and training, so that when they leave prison they are less likely to re-offend. Do not get me wrong: I am saying not that community sentencing should be ignored or abolished, but simply that, in many cases, the prison system is the right form of action, however imperfect the current system may be.
The Home Office says, “Youth crime harms communities, creates a culture of fear and damages the lives of our most vulnerable people.” So how should we, as a society, deal with those young people who harm our communities? I propose the prison system.
Mr. Speaker: Alex, thank you very much. I call Mr. Chris Monk to respond to the motion.
Christopher Monk (East Midlands): Before I begin, I should like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your compliments towards those who have spoken already.
Community service. Why shouldn’t someone, young or old, who has damaged the community pay for what they did by working to improve it? It is important that vulnerable young people who have made a mistake are not isolated from society and support, but instead receive the help that they need, as well as the punishment that they deserve. I have been told of a case in Wales of a young person who committed a violent crime. They were sentenced to community service. They were successfully rehabilitated and became a youth worker. [Interruption.] I shall obey the convention in Parliament of not mentioning people who are not in the Chamber.
Prison tends to make criminals better at what they do—committing crime. Prison is great at educating criminals. Young criminals, like all young people, have impressionable, flexible minds and are great at improving their skills. Surely it is better that their gardening improves, not their robbing. Anyway, the vast majority of young offenders are not dangerous. A shoplifter is a danger not to society, but merely to the balance sheet of the local corner shop. Why lock those people up when we know that prison is not safe? Why put minor offenders in the same place as those who have carried knives, used knives and killed with knives?
As well as being unsafe, locking up young offenders is very expensive. For 15 to 21-year-olds, according to the Government’s own figures in response to a recent parliamentary question, the average cost is £33,000 a year—enough to pay for 11 students’ tuition fees. For under 15-year-olds, the average cost is £192,000—enough to pay for 64 students to go to university for free.
Why lock up someone who stole a packet of Polos in the same cell as someone who stole someone’s VW Polo at knifepoint? It is clear, therefore, that imprisonment should be the last resort for the worst category of young criminals, not the first-choice destination for first-time offenders.
Mr. Speaker: Chris, thanks for that very eloquent and witty speech. Although you have observed the convention, I suppose that in a sense I am about to break it, because I want hugely to welcome the 150 or thereabouts parents and youth workers who have joined us today. You are hugely welcome—thank you for coming.
Emma Fletcher (London): Hi everyone, I am Emma Fletcher from the London borough of Sutton.
In some cases where I live, people who are doing community service, for whatever crimes they have committed, have ended up coming to Sutton Youth Parliament meetings. We do not go to meetings as a punishment—we go there to sort out what is going on in our borough, and have a cup of tea and a few biscuits. It is not a punishment for these people to be sent to meetings such as mine. It is just ridiculous, frankly. These people should be punished in a way that is actually a punishment instead of doing things which I do and enjoy quite a lot.
Tom Sparks (Scotland): I was not planning to speak about prison versus community service, but I think I have to take issue with one thing that was said. Is everyone aware that 75 per cent. of people under the age of 18 who go to prison commit another crime within two years of their release—or actually, I should say, are convicted of another crime within two years of their release? The actual figure is likely to be far higher. Prison has no place in the criminal justice system for under 18-year-olds. Are Members also aware that courses within prisons are often enormously over-subscribed? People can spend years in prison before they are even given access to any course that might help them on their release.
Young people have to face a different problem. There are young people who do not respect society because society does not respect them. I believe that voting at 16 and other initiatives to get young people more involved in society through a positive image are the ways to tackle youth crime.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you very much. We now need lots of really short, sharp contributions.
Chris Browne (North West): I am a member of the Youth Parliament for Knowsley. I reckon that young people should do community service and be made to look for a career.
Rhiya Pau (London): Mr. Speaker and fellow Members of the Youth Parliament, I question this: how can we deny anybody a second chance? Young people who are exploited because of their backgrounds and circumstances are not criminals; they are just troubled people who need help and assistance so that they can be rehabilitated back into the community and become the law-abiding citizens that we are.
I feel that prison is such a harsh option, and community service probably does not act as a deterrent to criminals. We need something that is going to integrate young people into the community as a punishment, not community service; going and helping old people in their garden, or gardening in an allotment—is that going to prevent you from committing a crime? No. What we need is for people to learn and improve their values, and prison and community service do not offer either of those things.
Momodou Taal (West Midlands): First, I think the papers over-publicise what happens and the level of youth crime. Just throwing youths in jail does not help, and prevention is better than cure. Politicians should actually go into crime spots, look at what happens, and look into the factors contributing to youth crime such as the over-representation of black youths in the justice system. Rather than police standing in an area looking intimidating, why do they not go into these areas, do some work and look into what contributes to youth crime? Only then can we find the solution.
Connor Lovell (Yorkshire and Humberside): I believe that community service and prison are not the best option for young people who commit crimes. We have to go down the route of social work so that they will learn how to respect their community better.
Another option is to build better places for young people to go to keep them out of trouble, like improved new youth centres.
Victoria Caswell (Eastern): Where I live has high amounts of poverty—I believe that Norfolk is the fifth most deprived county in Britain. There are no new facilities for young people and there is absolutely nothing whatever to do. Poverty and crime are quite linked, and more should be done for young people so that they can do things in their community. I believe that I do community service by choice, and people should not really just be told to do it as punishment.
Rebecca Barrow (East Midlands): First, I would like to say that I do not think we should be discussing prison or community service. The question we should be asking is: why are young people doing this in the first place? Why are they robbing people in the streets or doing whatever they are doing, and going to prison or getting community service? It should not be about whether they should be put in prison or given community service.
Katie Rowe (South East): Young people are the future, but why is the focus on what happens after these crimes are committed? Why is not the focus on preventing these crimes from happening?
Some 70 per cent. of the media on young people is negative. Why is that happening? Today is a day when all of us young people have come together in the House of Commons—we are doing something good. I bet this does not get as much publicity as some of the negative things that go on. I would actually put money on it. What I want to know is: why are we not focusing on preventing crime? Why are we not coming up with the solution to stop it from happening rather than talking about what is happening afterwards?
Rupert Bailey (South West): As a media representative, I want to come back to one of the comments that was made. I assure you that the media team are doing all we can to make this as high-profile as possible.
It is obviously very important that we focus on the prevention of crime, but where youth crime does happen we need to shift it to an issue of morality. We need to support these young people, and by giving people the proper rehabilitation and support—which is not necessarily in prison—and by making them feel supported and welcoming them back into society through methods such as the very commendable work done by the youth service, we will do all that we can to reintegrate young people back into society and break the cycle of crime that can emerge from young offenders.
Ellen Shannon (Northern Ireland): The question we are asking today is how to punish youth crime, but I feel that the general consensus in the room is that we should ask how to prevent it from happening.
Young people in my area feel that poor parenting is a major contributing factor and that there should be a system in place for prosecuting and imprisoning the parents of young offenders, similar to the system for the parents of truants. It is thought that that would encourage parents to discipline their children before they even commit youth crime.
Only yesterday, figures from a study in Northern Ireland showed that of the 10 to 17-year-olds who took part in restorative justice—meeting with the victims of their crimes—38 per cent. reoffended, compared with 71 per cent. of those who served a prison sentence. Perhaps that, along with community service, would be beneficial, instead of prison.
The Prison Reform Trust is calling on the Government to establish a restorative justice system similar to that in Northern Ireland, which it says could do much to help to reduce the number of young people behind bars in the rest of the UK. Restorative justice not only helps young offenders to move on with their lives after sentencing and vastly to cut Government spending, but it gives something back to those who suffered at the hands of youth criminals.
Of course perpetrators of violent crime should be behind bars, but those who have committed non-violent crimes should be helping the communities that they hurt in the first place, and giving back something to society.
Mr. Speaker: Once again, I congratulate everybody who spoke in this debate. There were good, strong, stirring and impressive speeches, as in the first debate. I am sorry if you wanted to speak and could not. That is something that happens every day in the House of Commons—some who want to ask a question or make a speech cannot because there is not time to include everybody. However, I will obviously try to ensure that those who have not been able to speak in the first two debates get a chance as we move on.
We are about to start the third debate, and I just want to note that we have been joined at various times by Tim Loughton, the Conservative Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, and we still have in the Chamber Laurence Robertson, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Tewksbury, whom I thank for his support on this important day.
Free Transport
12.19 pm
Emma Nelson (Telford & Wrekin): The statement is this:
Free transport for over-60s, but not for young people. Should the over-60s have the right to free transport when young people in full-time education, with limited resources and access to paid employment, struggle to secure concessionary fares?
Young people are always asking for more and more from society. Should we be given special allowances purely because we are young? What do young people actually do for their community? Look at all of us here. We are a few hundred out of the thousands and thousands of young people in the UK. We are doing something productive, but we are in a minority. Thousands of young people in the UK do nothing to serve their society, and so deserve nothing in return.
I question the statement that young people “struggle to” access “concessionary fares”. In London, buses are already free for young people providing that they carry an Oyster card. What bus company in the UK does not charge young people less than adults? We already have money off our travel, so why should we ask for it to be free?
Think about the economic climate in which we are living and take a moment to consider where this money would come from. The Government are making dramatic cuts to different services, such as cadets, welfare and hospitals. How can we justify taking money away from the health services and the forces, just so that we can get around for free?
The Government pay a subsidy to the bus companies and get their money from taxpayers. Free is an idealistic concept. We will be paying for the buses when we hit 18. When we are struggling to pay off student loans and later mortgages, do we also want to deal with higher taxes?
This is the Xbox generation. Physical exercise is something that avatars do in your favourite video game. Money should be put into encouraging young people to walk or cycle to where they need to go rather than just hopping on a bus.
Would more young people use the buses if they were free? Surely that would be making life easier for the parents of those who already use the bus. Twenty-five per cent. of boys and 33 per cent. of girls in the UK aged between two and 19 years of age are overweight or obese and there are few signs that those percentages will decrease. Free transport will encourage even more young people to use buses for shorter, walkable journeys. Childhood obesity can take nine years off your lifespan. As the UK Youth Parliament do we want to make buses free and encourage the kind of laziness that kills young people in later life?
Elderly people deserve to use the buses for free. They need to be able to get around. They have lived in this country for a long time and have earned the right to free transport. However, young people should be fit and healthy, and we are already charged less than adults for the bus. Young people do not need, or deserve, free transport.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you very much, Emma, for that contribution, and for getting the debate off to such a good start.
We are also joined by John Randall, Conservative MP for Uxbridge—put your hand up, John, don’t be shy—who is a senior member of the Tory Whips Office, and by Eleanor Laing, Conservative MP for Epping Forest. I keep mentioning these names because I want you to understand that, on a day when most MPs are in their constituencies, large numbers of MPs from all parties have stayed here to hear you. That is evidence of the commitment that Parliament feels.
Liam Beattie (Scotland): Is it fair that young people who are not legally allowed to drive have to pay for public transport, when those over 60 can drive? Is it right that low-income families have to pay for their children’s fares on public transport when the pension rate is at an all-time high? Finally, is it right that young people, who are restricted by law in the amount of hours they can work, have to pay full fare on public transport?
The definition of young people from the United Nations convention says that young people are those between 14 and 25. I therefore propose that public transport be free for all young people up to the age of 25.
In Scotland, the Scottish Government introduced a national concessionary scheme for young people between 16 and 18, giving them a third off single fares on all buses. This has allowed young people in Scotland to have a cheaper and more attractive public transport system. However, I believe this has not gone far enough, as young people still see the cost of public transport as the main barrier to using it.
I come from the Scottish Borders, an area that is very rural and where young people rely heavily on public transport to get from A to B and B to C. Young people have to pay a fare of up to £12 to get to Edinburgh, the nearest city. Why should those young people be so financially disadvantaged compared with other young people who live in more urban areas? In the Scottish Borders we have a sporting complex that young people use to keep healthy and active. However, a lot of my friends are unable to go to this complex simply because they do not have enough money to pay for the bus fare. The ability to access these services should not come down to how much money a young person has or where they live. Age should not be a barrier to participation, but it is for young people.
There are already free public transport schemes in place for certain groups in society, but not for young people—the same young people who receive an unequal minimum wage compared to their elders and who can work only a certain number of hours if they are still in full-time education. Surely we in the United Kingdom pride ourselves on being a fair and equal society. Why should a 16-year-old in full-time education, doing their A-levels or Highers at school have to pay full fare, when someone across the road, who happens to be a pensioner and has a car and life savings, does not have to pay anything for their bus fare? That is wrong.
Some 75.8 per cent. of the 6,000 young people consulted on the Scottish Youth Parliament 2007 manifesto agreed with the following statement:
“Every young person between 15 and 25 should be entitled to free public transport which is efficient and accessible to all.”
I therefore propose that all young people in the UK be given free access to public transport.
Justin Kempley (Eastern) rose—
Mr. Speaker: I meant the young lady to your left. Don’t worry mate; I’ve done it myself.
Emily Christer (North-East): Free transport is an issue that really affects me in my local area, but I have attended the Department for Transport and rallied the case for every single person in this room. I have tried my best, but the message that I have got from Ministers and the concessionary travel department is that, as a body of young people, we are not going to be able to do this on a national scale. So I urge each person in this room to take this matter and thrust it deep into your constituencies, because as individuals you can make a difference. We can unite and do this together.
Leifr Shepherd (Wales): Earlier someone brought up the issue of people being lazy and obese, and public transport just making them lazier. A lot of youth clubs arrange physical activities and there are leisure centres, but people cannot participate, because they cannot get to those places and because they cannot afford the bus fares.
Justin Kempley (Eastern): Second time lucky, Mr. Speaker.
I want to speak from my own experience. I am taking a gap year and I commute every day by tube to my workplace in London. Boris Johnson recently raised fares way above inflation to close the gap in the funding of tube fares and public transport in London. This caused outrage among London commuters, rightly or wrongly. One of the letters that I read in the newspaper asked, “Why can’t we cut concessionary fares?” People are wondering why our fares stay low while theirs are sky-rocketing. We have such good will from the public on so many issues. We risk sacrificing that if we make unreasonable demands such as free public transport, which is simply not affordable in the current climate.
Kate Taylor (South-West): Young people work in school to get grades. They use grades to get jobs and they get jobs to put money into the economy, and then they become pensioners and get free transport. Young people cannot do much more to put money into the economy when they are in school, unless they get a part-time job. But we work hard at school to get a job, so surely free transport to get to school to make money to put into the economy is the least that the Government can do.
Spiros Georgiou (West Midlands): Members of the Youth Parliament, I want you not to slide the importance of this issue to young people in the United Kingdom. Every day, people suffer from not being able to afford transport to where they want to go. Comments were made about the over-60s contributing to the economy and therefore deserving concessionary fares. How are we supposed to contribute to the economy when we cannot get to outlets to make those contributions? It is easy for you to say that you can hop into your friends’ or parents’ car, but why are the Government not making it easy to hop on public transport by making it affordable for young people? I ask you, Members of the Youth Parliament: are public transport fares really fair?
Thomas Turrell (East Midlands): As young people, we seem to live in a world where we want anything and everything for free. We come here today and we say, “We want free university! We want free transport!” Members of society who are over 60 might have fought in the war. They might have had a good job or been in the armed forces. They have earned their free travel; we have not, to be fair. Let’s be brutally honest here: what have we done? [Interruption.] You can boo and you can hiss, but it is the truth. The truth may be unpopular, but it is the truth. We moan at politicians for lying, but it is about time we stood here and told the truth.
Conal O’Hare (Northern Ireland): I find the situation of folk in England, Scotland and Wales slightly baffling. Everyone in Northern Ireland who lives more than a couple of miles away from school has the right to a free bus pass. I take it that that is not available to people in England, Scotland and Wales?
Rizwaan Malik (London): It is in London.
Conal O’Hare: Well isn’t London wonderful? [Interruption.] Well, it is. I am not trying to insult London—I love London, it is wonderful. I am making a mess of this, like Boris Johnson!
The point I was trying to make was that Northern Ireland is pretty much the poorest part of the United Kingdom, yet by doing this for our young people there, we can promote social mobility, encourage people to go to school and stop truancy. If we can do that in Northern Ireland, which is also a very rural society, where we have a grammar school system, which means people travelling a lot further than they do in England, then surely you can do it in England, Scotland and Wales, too.
Mr. Speaker: That was terrific, thank you. In addition to the names I have already mentioned—Dawn Butler, David Heath, Tim Loughton and others—we are now joined by Alan Meale, Labour Member for Mansfield; Kate Hoey, Labour Member for Vauxhall; and, indeed, Paul Clark, Labour Member for Gillingham and a member of the Government.
Gemma Bailey (London): I personally think that London is really lucky to have its Oyster cards. I would love to have free transport, but the reality is that it is probably never going to happen. I would like to think that we had the opportunity to have free transport or at least lower fees. In our regional meetings in the borough, we have a separate group working on transport and we want to get to fixed rate on trains and tubes for people in full-time education. If we had a fixed rate, it would help people going to university by saving them so much more money in the long run.
Dean Proudman (West Midlands): I paid £250 for a bus pass last year. When I was late for college just once last year, I got told to move closer. It is not fair to pay £250 or the buses then to be unreliable. Five people in a car; 50 people on a bus—global warming? Do the maths.
Becci Crocker (South West): I have a short and simple point. I have spoken to old people in Devon about the concessionary card issue, and many of them said that they would be happy to give up their concessionary cards if they had the money available to pay for themselves, so that young people could have the chance to travel for free.
Adam Ansari (West Midlands): I am a youth MP for Wolverhampton. Public transport is a growing issue for my constituents, and I believe it unfair for public transport to be free for the over-60s, but not for young people. My constituents and I travel long distances by public transport to receive a better education. We have to pay £7.50 a week to receive that better education. The Government need to identify this as a growing issue for young people.
Adam Ward (South West): A scheme whereby young people do not have to pay the adult fare until they are 18 is realistic and reasonable. In the rural area I represent in East Devon, cost is only one of the main factors preventing young people from using public transport. In a survey I recently carried out, young people said that they would like to use public transport for environmental reasons, but frequency, availability and quality issues made it hard for them to do so. For example, our youth worker had to wake up at 5 o’clock this morning, as two trains had broken down, in order to get us here for 10.30. To stop our generation from becoming gas guzzlers, we urgently need to improve rural as well as urban transport pillars.
Charlotte Lee (South East): I and many other young people in my constituency believe that young people should have concessionary travel. About 6 per cent. of young people miss college every year simply because they cannot afford to travel there on public transport. A girl in my local area said that she spent £21 getting into London for a school trip, when she had already had to pay £20 for the trip itself. Some 39 per cent. of 16 to 24-year-olds spend at least six months looking for a job to no avail, and they cannot afford to pay these ridiculous prices. It is also a much better option for the environment. When Kent introduced its freedom pass, there were 25 per cent. less cars on the school run, so if the Government want to reduce their carbon emissions, they really do need to consider this very seriously.
William Quick (South West): I am from British Forces Overseas, Germany. First, I would like to announce to Emma, who moved the motion, that making public transport free will not convince people to be slack and take the bus, and lie on the bus. Instead, it will convince them to get off their Xboxes and get out of the house and get some exercise.
Secondly, let me say that the Liberal Democrat party and the Conservative party want to pump—I think— £16.4 billion into a new high-speed rail link. That is promoting low CO2 levels and a lack of cars being used. We are also promoting that service to the youth and asking them to use it so that CO2 levels in Britain can be lowered, rather than using private transport.
Mr. Speaker: I call Miss Siobhan Brasier to conclude the debate.
Siobhan Brasier (South West): Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Today we have heard the reasons for and against young people being entitled to free public transport, but that is not to say that people aged 60 and above should not be entitled to free public transport too. As Kate Taylor from the South West said, free transport to get them to school so that they can then make money will help the economy. So surely this is a good thing.
Young and old people have similar reasons for requiring free transport, such as a limited income. Many older people can no longer drive, and young people cannot if they are under 17. Isolation affects areas, generally rural areas, so public transport is the only way to get to places that are inaccessible on foot, or are situated many miles away from rural communities: places such as the library, swimming pools, cinemas—things that we use every day. Those are of interest to all age groups, and they are regularly available to those of us who live in large towns or cities but not to those in rural areas.
We heard from Dean Proudman, the MYP for the West Midlands, that he paid £250 to get to school only to be late. Why is he paying that much when he cannot actually get there on time? Yet the Government, the general public and the media continue to complain about young people hanging around on street corners.
This is not a new problem, but we do know the answer—in the form of regular and accessible youth work provision, facilities that are open at times when young people can access them, and places that they can reach by means of free public transport.
In answer to my colleague’s question, “What have young people done to deserve free public transport?”, I would say that maybe they cannot get to places to volunteer and help because the public transport is not reliable. However, the problem is not just free time. Many young people still have to pay for school buses, particularly to attend higher education. The prices are high, and it is unfair. If a young person wants to go to a different college from their local one, they will not get free public transport if the local college offers the same course.
I ask this House whether the real reason for the disparity in the provision of free public transport is simply down to the fact that to give it to young people would not win any party any votes, but to give it to the older generation does.
Mr. Speaker: Siobhan, thank you for that passionate winding-up speech.
That concludes the morning session of our sitting. The UK Youth Parliament will now adjourn until 1.30, and I invite people to return to Westminster Hall for lunch.
12.45 pm
Sitting suspended.
1.38 pm
Sitting resumed.
Mr. Speaker: The Youth Parliament will now consider the fourth motion of the day, relating to the economy, as printed on the Order Paper. Just before we get under way with the Front-Bench speeches and the moving of the motion, I wish to put in a plea: when we come to the general debate, please stand or otherwise indicate your wish to speak only if you have not already spoken. A lot of people want to get in, so it would not be fair for some people to speak twice and others not to speak at all.
The other thing I wish to say is that this afternoon I am afraid I am going to have to be a bit tough and say that Back-Bench speeches must be no more than a minute long, so that we get as many people in as we possibly can.
I hope that you enjoyed your lunch and that you are looking forward to this next debate, on the economy. I call Miss Carissa Tossell to move the motion.
Capitalism, the Economy and Job Opportunities
1.40 pm
Carissa Tossell (North West): The proposition is,
Some economists believe that recent economic events have shown that capitalism cannot and does not work. Is it time for a fairer, more inclusive economic system to take hold? What can we do to increase job opportunities for young people?
As everyone here knows, job opportunities are an issue for many adults, especially in the current economic climate. However, one group of people who tend to be forgotten in this are the young people of today. The current climate affects us all, whether we are young or old, in school, college or university, employed or unemployed. With the economic downturn there are fewer opportunities for young people to gain part-time or seasonal employment—for example, Christmas work—which is made even worse by the fact that big companies are closing their sites around the country.
This particularly affects those young people who have little or no income, or whose only income is the education maintenance allowance. Young people are in one of the worst positions that they have ever been in once they have left full-time education, with a lack of university spaces and the highly competitive job market of our time, so what hope do we have after leaving full-time education?
I propose to you all here today that not enough is being done to support the young people searching for a job, even though an increasing amount of young people are taking vocational courses and apprenticeships, which allow them to develop the necessary skills while they work. This, however, is not the way forward for every young person, and even the young people who are taking part in these courses are not guaranteed a job after their training is finished. This shows that even if you take time to invest in your future via further education, you are still very unlikely to get hired in the profession that you have been trained for and that you want to go into.
We all know that there are job opportunities available. However, these opportunities are not easily accessible, and when a young person does find a job that they have the skills to get, they are in direct competition with older, more experienced competitors, making it that much harder for a young person to get a job. Making it harder still is the fact that after young people have attended higher education, there are not enough jobs for these highly skilled young people who have thousands of pounds of debt and have a very low income coming into their household.
Education is slowly becoming just a pathway into an era of well-educated, unemployed young people. Surely if the opportunities are there, why is not enough being done to advertise them, and why are so many talented and bright young people being left with nothing but their education that won’t get them a job?
Youth unemployment in September stood at 946,000, and those 900,000 or so have been let down by institutions that have been very generously state subsidised, but I do not believe we should be as pessimistic as Carissa suggests. The figures for September were lower than expected. Although that is little consolation, I know, for those without a job, it gives us reason to think that the efforts made by both business and Government are working, to some extent.
Barnsley, Swindon and Newcastle are among 11 areas with Government-backed funding to trial different approaches to getting young people back into training. Schools and colleges are offering the most diverse range of courses ever, giving people qualifications more suited to them and more suited to the workplace. There are many examples of the private sector providing help and training to make sure that young people are recession- proof. Morrisons is retraining all its under-25-year-old employees, and new apprenticeships from companies like Centrica are now coming to fruition. Other employers pledging support for young people include Microsoft and Phones 4U.
Turning to whether capitalism is a good enough system, I don’t think that many people are in favour of unfettered markets or reckless banking, and I agree with Lord Turner that much of the City is socially useless, but I don’t think that the answer is the abolition of private property. The way out of recession is through individuals, businesses and an active Government providing jobs and opportunities for people. We must never be complacent or dogmatic about market forces, and we must never underestimate the misery of unemployment or abandon a whole generation. But there is reason to be optimistic about the job market, and a huge amount is being done to provide young people with training, educational and job opportunities.
Mr. Speaker: Joe, thank you very much, indeed. One of the regions slightly under-represented in the debates this morning was East Midlands, so I am looking for someone from the East Midlands.
Adam Gravely (East Midlands): I live in a very rural area with very few places to find work. Even in our town, finding work is really difficult and, for a young person, finding a part-time job is really difficult. I was looking in KFC, and it had a big sign on the windows, saying, “Full-time staff only. Not students,” which it underlined. It will be difficult to solve the crisis in the lack of jobs until the economy strengthens, but that must happen through a mixture of the public sector and the private sector.
I should like to focus on the investment in apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are a really good way forward for young people to train in a place of work. Many young people I have seen have hopes of getting apprenticeships, but they are not getting them because such positions are just not available. That is really, really affecting them, so something must be done about it.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you very much, indeed. Friends, we have been joined this afternoon by Andrew Mackinlay, Labour Member for Thurrock, who was here but, I think, has now had to go. However, thank you, Andrew, for your support. We have been joined also by Andrew Pelling, Independent Conservative Member for Croydon, Central. [Interruption.] Oh, he says that there is nothing Conservative about him whatever; he is an Independent now, full stop. Fair enough. We also have Lembit Öpik, Liberal Democrat Member for Montgomeryshire. Give them a round of applause. [Applause.] Another under-represented region this morning was the North West, so can I have a speaker from the North West, please?
Ian Goley (North West): Young people have got to be given, or at least have the chance to earn, the opportunity of a job, especially in the current economic climate, which people have already referred to. It is an economic climate that, through no fault of our own, will result in fewer job opportunities for young people—fewer job opportunities for us. My point therefore is that more emphasis has got to be put on job opportunities for young people. We are the future, as others have said, and the opportunity has got to come from Government. It is not our fault, and the issue of job opportunities for young people has got to be addressed.
Mr. Speaker: A further under-represented region this morning was Wales. Can we have a contributor from Wales? Not if you do not want to.
Bethan Williams (Wales): Someone said earlier that more apprenticeship places need to be created, but emphasis also needs to be placed on practical experiences within those apprenticeships. People are getting places on college courses, such as plumbing, carpentry and building, and completing their three years, but they are coming out at the end with no practical experience and no hope of finding of a job with a company. Who wants to employ a plumber who has never fitted a tap? Who wants to employ someone who has sat in the classroom for three years and has no experience in the real world? The apprenticeships scheme needs to be reformed so that people get on-the-job experience all the way through their course.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you very much for that very forceful contribution.
Shannon Taggart (West Midlands): Two years ago, the unemployment rate for 20 to 24-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree was just 2.2 per cent. Now, it is more than four times that, at 9.3 per cent., showing our ageing society. We are coming out of recession, but employers need to be given an incentive to train young people. They would rather keep their old people, who are more experienced, and not give us a chance. When I go to university, I will be in the class of 2010, competing not just with my peers, but with previous years, the classes of 2009 and 2008. The Government need to give employers more incentive to train me and help me to sustain myself.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you very much, indeed. How about someone from Yorkshire and Humberside?
Poppy-Jo Lumley (Yorkshire and Humberside): Hi, I am from Leeds.
At what point does this become discrimination against young people and the people of tomorrow? Surely this “experience” comes not only with age but with how much you feel responsible for what you do. Should there not be more opportunities for young people to have work experience, and should jobs not let people have work experience, unpaid, and then offer them places? It is getting to the point where we cannot even get work experience for jobs.
Nafisah Atcha (North West): It is really unfeasible to scrap capitalism, because if not capitalism, then communism, and some of the champions of communism are Mao, who killed many of his people, and Pol Pot, who is listed as one of the top 10 evil men and killed a third of his population. I think, just for the sake of young people getting jobs, that it is unfeasible to turn to communism. Its ideology works, but it will never work in a society.
Felicity Probert (South West): Basically, the word I want to give you all today is “progress”. If we do not have progress, we cannot continue to get out of recession. Young people are not being given jobs because they do not have experience. People are not employing them because they do not have experience, but that also means that they cannot progress. By building experience, we can progress and get out of recession. As we heard, communism will inhibit any opportunities for progression and we will hit a brick wall. Young people will not be able to get jobs if we do not continue with capitalism.
Nick Barnard (North East): My point is that it is not the employers’ fault that they are not employing young people—it is young people’s fault themselves. I think that young people are not doing enough to go out there and speak to the employers and make an effort to say, “Look, I know I’m not as experienced—I don’t have all the experience that a 45-year-old’s got—but I’m willing to learn. I’ll do whatever you’d like me to do—I’ll start at the bottom and work up.” That is how a lot of people gain experience, and that is what young people need to do.
Joanna Tomlin (London): A lot of youth are involved in a lot of crime, and think they cannot get a job to support their families. They are in desperate need of money, because with tuition fees we are not getting the money to go to university or to travel. We need that money. Sometimes it seems as though the only option is crime. If we are going to reduce our crime rate, we desperately need to give children the opportunity to work. If there seems to be no experience available, we need to publicise more where it is and how we can get it. Connexions is not enough, and it cannot cater for all.
Kathryn Whalley (Eastern): I agree with the young lady from Wales that apprenticeships are a brilliant thing, but she is right about training in college. If you talk to apprentices they say it is so much more useful actually to go into a company to get the experience, so that is what we should be looking to do. But because companies cannot afford to take them on any more, they are getting the college places but not the work placements.
Ben Smith (South West): I think we have identified today that young people having jobs can solve transport issues and university issues, and just help them to be able to pay for the things they need. Instead of us coming here and saying, “Can we have this for free?”, that will do it for us.
Leonie Thomas (South East): Every child who is born today already owes £22,000 because of how the Government have dealt with the economy at this present time. I do not feel that the economic system has necessarily failed us, but I definitely feel that the way the Government have handled it has failed this generation and the next generation.
Derek Couper (Scotland): We talk about training schemes and education, and they need funding. I am all for young people being educated and trained to fill positions, but we know that young people who train and who educate themselves do not always go into the field that they want to. I will tell you why KFC does not want students—because it can get graduates. Young people who train themselves and pay to educate themselves cannot get into their desired professions.
I have no time for the opinion that young people do not get jobs because they do not try hard enough. I have recently left school and a lot of my friends are looking for jobs. Every single day we fill in application forms, go to shops and hand in CVs. It is not down to young people; it is down the economy, and that is what we need to fix.
Rachel Howe (South East): I have friends and relatives who leave university, sometimes with a 2:1 degree, and they are unable to find jobs. If those people cannot find jobs, what chance do people who leave school at 16 have of finding a job?
Elliot Nolan (South West): The main issue is not the lack of skills that are available but the economy itself. The problem came from having an unregulated economy. We need some more elected officials to govern our economy, so we can have it in a more structured way and more jobs are available, even for the unskilled such as—yes—16-year-olds.
Lexia Tomlinson (West Midlands): If you study most democratic states, you see that they come with capitalism. If you have communism, it does not work, as we see with China and Cuba.
With regard to people of our age who try to get work, it is not that we do not have the experience or that we do not want to work, but that people do not want to let us work. They say, “If you have no experience, you can’t work”. If they refuse to let us over the barrier to work, how are we ever going to get anywhere?
Daniel Harper (Wales): Many people seem to think that we do not have the skills or the experience, but in Powys, to go back to transport, we have a lack of buses. Many of my colleagues live in rural areas. I live in a quite a densely populated town for Powys, and the job opportunities are not there. I have people coming up to me every day going, “Do you know of any jobs?” I am fortunate—I am among the employed. Many of my friends are not, and many people in rural areas cannot get public transport to places where they can get a job.
Stephanie Wills (North West): Yes, there are not enough jobs, but I would prefer my parents to have a job instead of me. If there are jobs going I would much rather that my Mum and Dad had a job, so that they can have a good living.
I also think that because there are not enough jobs, young people should be more enterprising and come up with alternative ways to make money, such as setting up their own micro-businesses. I also believe that money is not everything, and even though we need money to get by, young people should look into voluntary work a lot more. I know a lot of people who have the degrees and the education, but because they have not volunteered their time to society, they are not able to get jobs. At my age—I am 18—I am far more employable than some of my family members who are fully educated with a degree. Young people should not focus entirely on getting jobs; they should focus on volunteer work and being more enterprising.
Fred Cotterill (South West): We have had heard that capitalism means progress, or that communism does not work. Yeah, because capitalism is so obviously working brilliantly! When one in three children in this country live in poverty—and this is a first-world country—how can you possibly say that our system is working? Inequality is rising, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That has been happening for the past 30 years. How can it possibly be accepted and how can it be okay?
What we need—[Interruption.] Sorry—I’m on a run. What we need is to take it back to a democratic level and grass-roots level and ask what people really want in their communities, and not rely on some idea of “market forces”. Market forces are not human. How can they possibly know what we want and need?
Clare Calder (South East): Manual professions tend to be better paid and male-dominated. Girls need to be encouraged to learn manual trades, and traditional female jobs such as caring should be better paid and open to boys.
Adam Lonsdale (Yorkshire and Humberside): Until recently, I was one of 946,000 unemployed young people. I found a voluntary placement and I have since applied for a job and been accepted for an interview, which had not happened before. Voluntary placements are brilliant for young people because they can gain the experience that they need for an interview. After all, that is what companies are looking for these days.
The Government should put more funding into allowing hundred of thousands to take up voluntary placements around the country, because many more people would be accepted for jobs. Young people are the future and they need the experience.
Katie Byrne (North West): More job opportunities for young people are needed, as that will improve their independence and make them more reliable. Also, if more young people have jobs, they will be able to earn enough money to afford transport, and it will therefore easier for them to get to places, to refer back to our transport campaign.
Mr. Speaker: We are still a bit short on people from the east midlands. Does anyone from there want to contribute?
Jason Hill (East Midlands): Referring back to those who say that young people need the skills to work and we need to give them opportunities, where I come from in Derbyshire has a mining background. Ever since the mines got closed, our area has been buggered, near enough, because the only jobs we can do involve getting a bus and it costs £4 to get to the nearest town. That is why we need free buses.
We need the opportunity to get to universities. We have got colleges and schools around us, but young people need the opportunity to get to a college to get education, which will give us the chance to get the wide range of jobs that are out there.
I will be going into the armed forces soon—I had to work my rear end off to get there—because my area has a mining background. Yet again, it is not all down to the community; it is also down to your parents, because they have got to support you in as many ways as possible. You all have friends, and you should use them to support you as well.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you very much for that contribution. I think the word “buggered” is unparliamentary, but never mind.
Nick Pringle (North East): As has been said by many of my colleagues, capitalism clearly is not working. The bankers have proved this: you cannot trust a capitalist with money.
As many of my colleagues picked up, the apprenticeships that have been introduced by the Government are extremely successful in training people. However, a very good friend of mine recently completed his apprenticeship and found himself unemployed and unemployable. Although the apprenticeships are fantastic in training people, the Government must ensure that businesses are prepared to take on those who have done them. I understand that the economy is not prepared to take those people on at the moment, but we must be prepared for when we come out of recession—very soon, I hope—because very many jobs will be available for people in manual skilled labour.
Ashleigh Kincell (Yorkshire and Humberside): My father is in manual labour. People do apprenticeships to learn skills to do those jobs. The number of people who have lost their jobs in the recession is vast and men who have families to support are losing their jobs. Employers bring in students who do not have as much responsibility to earn money as those men. The jobs are a lot more important for those men, because they have houses and mortgages to pay, and children to look after. As much as I would like young people to be able to get those jobs, other people must come first.
As Carissa said, young people are in one of the worst situations—if not the worst—they have ever been in. Barack Obama himself has said that young people will be the most affected by the current economic climate. The old quote goes, “If America sneezes, Europe catches a cold.” Well, it’s more like we have caught flu. Everyone is affected by this and will go on being affected by this for a very long time. In the future, we will have high taxes: not for better health care, or better schooling, or better policing, and not for anything that will benefit us—no, nothing like that. We will be paying for the mistakes of the past. We will basically be paying for the bonuses of the bankers who got us into this situation in the first place. This is why we need to vote for this debate, because—trust me—we need all the help that we can get.
This leads me on to the subject of apprenticeships, voluntary work and training. Please tell me how a young person is supposed to fund themselves to live alone, perhaps in London, for a couple of weeks to a month while they take part in one of these things. Please enlighten me as to how they will be able to fund themselves with no income, especially if their parents cannot support them. How are they are supposed to get by? This is a question that a lot of young people are asking themselves. Are we creating a new form of elitism—“Don’t worry, we’ll create work experience, apprenticeships and voluntary opportunities, but you can only take them up if you can afford to.” As a Member of the Youth Parliament, this appals me as it should you.
Today we are asking the Government to change this and provide some sort of support for people in that position, as there is no point having things like that in place if they are not accessible to the people who need them. In these hard times, we need to stand united as one. Together we can make a difference. We are not just sitting here today as ourselves: we are sitting here as representatives of the young people in our constituencies, as representatives of the young people in our regions and as representatives of the thousands of young people across the UK. When voting later we need to ask ourselves what would be of most benefit to the people we represent. In my opinion, there is only one answer to that question, and that is voting for this debate. Please vote for us later and make a change today for the young people of tomorrow.
Mr. Speaker: Tessa, thank you for that forceful and impassioned winding-up speech, which was richly enjoyed by everybody present. I congratulate people on their speeches, as I did this morning. I say with absolute sincerity that they were first-class speeches. I appreciate, too, the way in which people adjusted and made short speeches. That was very considerate and it meant that we got more people in than we would otherwise have been able to do.
Lowering the Voting Age
2.4 pm
James Evans (South East): Are young people engaged with the world around them? Do young people want a say in the decisions that affect their everyday lives? Are we not sitting in the House of Commons today discussing, debating and voting on these very issues? Our opponents question whether we are informed to enough to vote at 16. Are we mature enough to vote at 16? We are mature enough to leave home, to go out to work and to pay our taxes. At 16, we can marry our MP, we can sleep with our MP and we can have children with our MP. We can sign up in preparation for fighting and potentially dying for our MP. And suddenly we are not mature enough to vote for them. What an absolute disgrace!
It is time for Parliament to get its priorities right and for Westminster to wake up. At 16, many young people will be mapping out the rest of their lives. If young people are ready to commit themselves to society, society must be ready to commit itself to young people. For every overblown story on youth crime or yobbish behaviour, there is a fantastic performance by a youth drama group, a team of young volunteers at a hospital and young people across the country helping with that all-important institution that we call family. There is a time to give those young people a say, a time to give young people everywhere a voice and a time to give them the vote—and that time is now!
Mr. Speaker: That is as powerful a speech as I have heard in a long time. Thank you very much. I call Miss JemmaKarmaleeta Nye to second the motion.
JemmaKarmaleeta Nye (Wales): Didn’t James make a good speech? Did his arguments not make you want to agree with allowing 16-year-olds to vote? In fact, did you not come here today with the preconceived idea that it was just and fair that they should get the vote? I urge you to listen carefully to what I have to say. You must think and say no, or be led astray.
The right to vote was previously fought for, but now it is being handed to us without real consideration. Think about why politicians want to give us the vote. Is it because we are mature and attentive, yet antisocial, or simply to indoctrinate us and gain our much-needed votes? Giving the vote to 16-year-olds is pointless. We need education to go with it. A huge percentage of the population with the right to vote do not use it. Ask yourselves why. Surely it is because they do not understand the system or know enough about what they would vote for.
Those who vote have had no compulsory education in democracy or politics. If we, as young people, are to understand democracy, we need education. The Government control the curriculum and determine our learning, and some subjects are compulsory. Let us make learning about politics and democracy compulsory—perhaps for just six lessons at the end of A-levels, just before turning 16.
The key to all this is education, and without it the vote at 16 is pointless. If it is given we will fail to utilise it properly and will be in danger of being led astray. I hope that you will rethink that preconceived idea that you entered with today and decide on the basis of what is best not just for you, but all young people. We deserve better.
Jonny Lyness (Northern Ireland): At 16 you are more ignorant and susceptible to being led astray and indoctrinated by extremist parties. If the voting age was reduced to 16, there would be a rise in the vote for the British National party and other parties like that.
Umaru Saidu (London): Lowering the voting age is a major issue and a big concern for young people, as they feel that they can be politically involved, but they also feel frustrated by the lack of political representation, something that appears not to change anything for them. I would question lowering the voting age, because the main issue is not the voter but who is voted for and who makes the decisions for the voter. Therefore, it is vital not only that young people are allowed to say who they will be able to vote for, but that they are given a reasonable chance, by politicians telling young people that they want to represent their views and have not just gone into politics for their own gain.
Scott Prince (North West): Let me say to everyone in the Chamber today that you have all been given the fantastic opportunity, as I have, of joining the UKYP. As you very well know, if the voting age goes down to 16, we will not be able to stand in parliamentary elections and be Members of the UK Youth Parliament. How many people here would not have been given the opportunity to be part of something as fantastic as this if we had voted at 16?
Hollie Mediana (Wales): Everyone in this Room is politically involved. Therefore, I would like to think that before you voted on something, you would learn about it first. So just take a moment to think about all those people who drop out of school. They are the ones who complain, but they do not yet know enough to vote at 16. Yet we should have that vote, so let us inform those people who do not know before they vote on something that is so important to us and which should be so important to everyone else. At least then more people will be voting in two years’ time, because that is why people do not vote now: they do not know what they are voting for or why. In the end, we will become a more intelligent country than we are now.
Aston Jones (West Midlands): Is voting at 16 pointless or not? Some 16-year-olds know about politics and some do not. I know about politics.
Mr. Speaker: You do.
Joe Feeney (Yorkshire and Humberside): The British National party won seats in my region, which we can all agree is disgraceful, but what are the reasons for that? The reason can only be political education. Very few of us got to vote in the European elections. We have all been educated in politics, at least briefly. A year ago I wanted to take history in my A-levels. Fortunately, there was not enough room on the course and I did politics instead. A year later, I am in the House of Commons. I learnt so much about politics. With a correct political education for everyone—and I do not mean an hour of personal, social and health education, citizenship or general studies, in which we fall asleep or throw paper at the person in front of us—parties such as the BNP will not get into power.
Emma-Louise Benson (Eastern): Young people today are not that interested in politics at 16. We in this Chamber are a minority. I do not think that a significant number of people at 16 are interested enough in politics. Voter apathy is at its highest among young people aged 18 to 25. Lowering the voting age to 16 will not make much difference, because people will still not use the vote.
Keenan Alexander (Scotland): This topic relates to the national campaign for the Scottish Youth Parliament. Through that, I attended an event in which we spoke to members of the public about their opinion on lowering the voting age to 16. We had all sorts of responses, including that young people are not mature enough, but who are these people to say that we are not mature enough? If we are young and actively interested in politics we may well be a minority, but surely that does not mean that we should not have the ability to participate and the right to say what we want.
Charlotte Kilroy (North West): I am from Oldham. I believe that the voting age should be lowered to 16. As has been said, at that age people can join the Army, get married and pay taxes—these are classed as adult things—but I say that if young people can fight for our country and have to pay taxes, why should they not have a say in how those taxes are spent? I believe that we should be able to vote at 16. If we have to pay tax, we should have the ability to vote. Otherwise, the national age of adulthood should be raised to 18, and we should not have to pay taxes until that age. As I say, if we have to pay tax, we should be able to vote.
David Collier (London): I am the Member of the Youth Parliament for Bexley. As one of my fellow MYPs has already said, we are 16 and we can vote. We can vote in the UK Youth Parliament until we are 18 and from then on, we can vote in the main Parliament. There is no need to lower the voting age, as we can already vote. Lowering the voting age would mean having to lower the voting age for the Youth Parliament.
Poppy Jeffery (South East): One of the main reasons the general public are against lowering the voting age for the benefit of people here is, they say, that young people are not interested enough in politics to care to vote. However, if that is the case, what are we all doing here? The popularity of the UK Youth Parliament is so high that it proves that young people actually are interested in politics. People say that maturity is an important issue for voting, but it is our choice to vote for who gets into the UK Youth Parliament, so why should it not also be our choice to decide who should run our country? It is our choice to join organisations in the first place. I repeat the point—why should we not have the vote and be able to say who runs the country?
Joe Vinson (South West): Adults say that young people are not interested or informed enough about politics to vote at 16, so will somebody tell me how many adults are interested or informed enough about politics?
Mr. Speaker: That speech had the huge advantage of brevity. Thank you.
India Burnett (Eastern): As some of my fellow MYPs have already said, a more pressing issue is young people’s desperate desire and need for political education in schools. I feel that this must be introduced before we can begin to tackle the issue of lowering the voting age. Only then will young people be able to make informed voting decisions and, most importantly, be motivated and encouraged to take part in the political process.
Bex Bailey (East Midlands): I represent Nottinghamshire. MPs represent young people as much as they do adults and Government actions affect young people as much as they do adults. Young people do care about politics, as we have shown today. Even those young people who say that they do not care about politics are often interested in issues such as global warming, poverty, taxes and so forth. I believe that we should lower the voting age to 16, but combine it with political education in schools, so that young people are well informed in order to participate.
Oliver Phillips (Staffordshire): So we are not mature enough. Well, in the words of my late grandfather, some MPs are not mature enough to represent us. Look at us sitting here in the Chamber. Have we jeered at each other? Have we thrown things at each other? Have we drawn things or written notes and passed them to everyone and laughed at people? No, we have not. We have represented young people, which is what we are here to do, which MPs fail to do, apparently.
Look at us now. We are all together, united in one aim. We all want the best for young people. That is obvious. That is why we are here. That is why we stood—because we are passionate about young people. MPs only want what they want. They are there to do the best for themselves. Disgusting!
Emily Thorpe (East Midlands): A few months ago I was driving through a town in my region, and there was a BNP rally. I was horrified to find that so many young people were taking part in it. I agree that we are mature enough and educated enough to make a stand in politics, but we need education about the different political parties, or we will end up with a swarm of BNPs.
Ffion Thomas (Wales): Voting at the age of 16 is already happening in places such as Brazil, Cuba and Austria, which became the first country in the EU to allow it. We are already voting—thousands and thousands of young people are already voting: school councils, youth councils and young people in Youth Parliaments. More than 27,000 young people voted to elect six members in Essex, and in 2005 the turnout in Sutton was higher in the Youth Parliament elections than in the election for a Government. Who can say that young people do not want the vote?
James Troup (South East): I think that we live in a time in which people have become very cynical and disillusioned with politics, and as a result voter turnout is very low. So would it not be a great thing if we opened up the voting age to a new group of people, and hopefully moved towards some real change in our nation?
Liam Beattie (Scotland): On the idea of having a piece of paper to prove that you can vote, let me say that democracy is founded on equality across the patch. It should not be down to whether you know what the Liberal Democrats stand for or what the Labour party stands for. Regardless of your intelligence, you should be able to vote.
About 200 miles away, in the Channel Islands, 16-year-olds have been given the vote. In the Isle of Man, 16-year-olds have been given the vote. Those islands off the British Isles are allowing 16-year-olds to vote. Surely we should be following those examples.
Daniel Johnston (London): Perhaps a good phrase to follow is one that has been used countless times in revolutions and civil wars: no taxation without representation. If we can be taxed, in principle we ought to be allowed to vote as well. That is all that matters: the principle.
Ben Balla-Muir (South East): I agree that everyone should be able to vote at 16, but I believe that, as others have said, you need to be able to know who you are voting for. I have friends who had no interest in politics until they saw the BNP on “Question Time” last week. It is controversial issues that bring out an interest in politics. People who say that they have no interest in politics must be able to know if they want to vote, but in order to vote, they need to know properly who they are voting for.
Others have pointed out that young people are already voting. We have had to go through the Government: the Government had to vote for us to sit here today. Surely, if we want to have the vote and bring about change properly, we must be able to vote, but know whom we are voting for.
Uma Akther (London): The decisions politicians make are about the future, and 16-year-olds are the future, so doesn’t it make sense for them to be able to vote?
Max Bailey (North West): I have asked this question a lot of times when I have come into contact with people in politics, and they tend to give me the answer that young people of that age will not vote with an educated mind—that they will just tick the first box they see. Why do they think young people are that na├»ve, and why are they so afraid of parties—that already have elected representatives—actually getting into power? That problem is to do with not young people, but the government system at the moment. If so, why do we not put political education into schools? They then start to say that young people do not want political education. I don’t want to learn science, but I still get taught it and I am never going to use it.
Ahmed El Houdiri (South West): I think all people need in order to be able to vote is to be educated and know what they are voting for, and if a 16-year-old is educated enough in that way, they should be able to vote.
Oscar Clarke (North East): I am one of the youngest here. My year group and the years after will all have to stay in education until 18. I do not see a point in having a vote if you are still in compulsory education. Someone else talked about the BNP and younger people being more vulnerable to propaganda and the BNP therefore possibly getting more votes. We don’t want that. I know that there are people who are passionate about politics and who do want to vote, but they are exceptions, and we do not legislate for exceptions. Some people can drive safely when drunk, but we legislate not for exceptions, but for the majority.
Clare Coles (Yorkshire and Humberside): People of 18 and older do not vote, so why would 16-year-olds? Most of them would not vote wisely, because they are not interested.
Rosie Foster (South East): I do not understand how it is that we are all here today: why is it that I am 13 and they still don’t think I should vote when I reach the age of 16, when I am mature enough to sit in the House of Commons and have a debate?
Kishan Parshotam (London): We have to remember that 40 years ago it was this country that led the rest of Europe and most of the world in lowering the voting age to 18. We have heard that Austria and islands off the United Kingdom are lowering the voting age to 16. Should we not accept that now too, before it is too late for us to vote? Let’s all join together and vote together.
Joe White (West Midlands): I feel that we should not ask young people to make an uninformed decision when voting. Would any of us in this Chamber today be happy if the number of votes for radical fringe groups were to soar? A certain fringe group at present has roughly 3 per cent. of the vote. I would like to put that into context by referring to what I have been studying in my history A-level. The NSDAP, or Nazi party, had 3 per cent. of the vote in 1929, and by using people’s fears, the great depression, the economic crisis and putting their views to the impressionable, their support rose to 37 per cent. in just four years. To be a true democracy, we need to educate our young people in politics and allow them to make their own informed decisions. We must have education in politics to enable them to do that, and I urge everybody to support the “Value the vote” political education campaign, for that is the first step towards getting votes at 16.
Mr. Speaker: I now call Mr. Joseph Bennett to conclude the debate.
David Leitch (Scotland): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that you have been trying to ensure representation from all across the United Kingdom in this debate and therefore you have been calling people from different regions. However, I wish to point out that the United Kingdom is made up of four nations—not regions. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are not regions, therefore by what you have been doing you have been making England much more represented than the other nations. I am not a nationalist by any mark, but I find it quite sickening that we, as four separate nations, are being grouped as regions.
We should have been looking at the people who had stood up the most; I feel as if I have been on some sort of rollercoaster over the past couple of debates, because I have been up and down every single time you have asked for someone. I feel that instead of looking for representation from other regions, what we should have been doing is looking for representation —
Mr. Speaker: Thank you, I have got the point. I am extremely grateful to you and I will respond. I hope colleagues will understand if I take one more point of order, and then we really must proceed with the wind-ups.
James Bartle (North East): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I say to the Member who has just spoken that Scotland had a speaker in every debate, as did every region? If you had not been following the procedure of allowing someone from every region to speak, people would be complaining. [Interruption.] Please let me speak, it is my turn this time.
Mr. Speaker: May I start by thanking the colleague who raised the first point of order? I respect him for doing so and I appreciate the fact that he has done so. I would like to say that it is not perfect and we can always do better, and I am genuinely sorry if there are some people who wanted to speak, which there will inevitably have been, whom I have not been able to call. That is my first point.
My second point is that I absolutely accept, and would not dispute for a moment, the status of the nations of the United Kingdom. No aspersion has been cast, no insult is intended and no disrespect, by me, from the Chair, is felt. I am sorry if people feel that they have not had the fullest opportunity, but what I can say, as a matter not of opinion, but of fact, is that speakers from throughout the UK have been called. In the course of the debates, there have been at least eight speakers from Scotland—that is a matter of fact; the record is very clear—as well as speakers from Northern Ireland and from Wales. I have tried really hard to ensure that every part of the kingdom has had a chance. I have worked very hard to try to ensure that just as many women have been able to speak as men, I have wanted to ensure that people from our British ethnic minority communities have contributed, and I have wanted to ensure that people with disabilities have had the chance to contribute. It might not have been as good as you want. I am open to improvement, because I am very imperfect, but I have done my best. [Applause.] I like you more, minute by minute. I wish we got that reaction from colleagues in the House of Commons on a daily basis. I was not bidding for applause, I promise you. I will take one more point of order, but after that I want to wind up.
William Quick (South West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not disappointed in any way, but I would just like to inform the Chair that there are three representatives of the British Forces (Germany). There is a wide nation out there that is under-represented and would like to make their voices heard.
Mr. Speaker: That is a very important point, and I respect it. We should never forget those people who, in the greatest spirit of patriotism and sacrifice, are putting their lives on the line in the interests of the freedom and the security of the rest of us. I know their young people are represented here today, and I respect that.
Joe Bennett (Yorkshire and Humberside): I think we can all agree with that.
Today we have heard arguments from both sides and found that although we in this Chamber are all directly involved in politics, not everyone our age is, alas. Nor are all the people aged at or above the current voting age of 18. Aged 16, we have numerous liberties which should include the right to a vote. However, the opposition argue that we young people are notorious for misusing those liberties, as shown in a number of statistics and news articles.
We pay the price for democracy through taxation, but do we want the responsibility of learning, researching and voting for our Government? To make what we define as a good decision, we need information and education, perhaps. More importantly, we need the right to a decision. This matter is controversial because it questions the right of young people aged 16, and the role of young people—the people in this Chamber and outside—in democracy.
Democracy is the backbone of our country, the soul of our nation and the heart of this very organisation. It is because of this that I urge that we take this matter forward and act for constitutional reform on the subject. It is my personal belief, and that of the well known political theologist, John Locke, that if you pay the price for democracy, you deserve the benefits. Not all of you might agree. However, I think all of us in the Chamber today can value the opportunity that we have been given, the right to have our voice in this room today. All of us can appreciate democracy, and it is for democracy that I put this campaign forward.
Mr. Speaker: Joe, thank you for the sincere, serious-minded way in which you have wound up the last of five outstanding debates.
Rhys George (South East): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would like to say thank you to all the MPs who voted overwhelmingly for us to be debating here today for the first time. Without them, we would not be here and the people of Britain would not be able to see what we mean and what we are trying to do to benefit young people.
Tom Astell (Yorkshire and Humberside): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own Youth Parliament. England does not. We have only the United Kingdom Youth Parliament. We need a voice as well, like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you very much indeed.
As you probably know, the Speaker of the House of Commons has to remain impartial as between Members of one party and another, and as between Members of political parties, who are by far the majority in the House of Commons, and those who sit as Independents. It is also the case that the Speaker does not knowingly become embroiled in controversy on political issues.
I would not now vote in Divisions of the House of Commons, and I would not express opinions about what I now think about issues of contention, but what I can tell you, further to the point of order that was raised, is that when that Division took place in March this year on whether the Youth Parliament should be allowed to debate here, I voted for your right to debate here because I felt very strongly that it was the right and proper thing to happen. I think we feel vindicated today. Just before I wind up—[Interruption.] We might have a chance for further contributions later, but I fear that I must move on.
I just want to welcome one other colleague here today. I have tried to name-check every colleague who has taken the trouble to turn up, and I should like to welcome my parliamentary colleague and, from my point of view as MP for Buckingham, near-neighbour in Milton Keynes, Dr. Phyllis Starkey. Thank you for coming. [Applause.]
Members of the Youth Parliament, I am advised that the total number of MYPs who have spoken is at least 109, so I think that we have done pretty well. The Youth Parliament will now divide to choose which of the five subjects debated today will be the UKYP’s campaigning priority for the coming year. All members have the opportunity to vote once for their chosen subject, by means of secret ballot. Those of you on my right should leave the Chamber by the door behind me and turn left into the Aye Lobby behind you. [Interruption.] Wait a minute. Perhaps I could just finish explaining the procedure, although I am glad that you are enthusiastic to vote. It is a great sign.
Those on my left should leave by the doors at the far end of the Chamber and turn left into the No Lobby behind you. In the Lobby you will be given a ballot paper with the five debate subjects listed. You should place a cross by the one that you believe to be most important, and then place the paper in the ballot box at the end of the Lobby. Afterwards, please return to your place in the Chamber. Members of the House of Commons staff will be on hand to assist you. The Division Lobby is now open.
Colleagues, I am on a promise, and I do not want to break a promise. I am not going to have loads more contributions, because we simply do not have time, but I did promise the young woman on the third row back who was itching to say something that she would have a quick chance to do so.
Rebecca Barrow (East Midlands): I just want to go back to an earlier point and say that at the end of the day, we are one UK Youth Parliament and we represent young people as a whole.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you. And there was a young man who asked me whether he could thank the staff of the House.
Aakash Bharania (London): Yes, I would like to thank all the youth workers here today for bringing us all down here; all the House of Commons staff for being amazing and for great facilitation; you, Mr. Speaker, for great chairing; and those who organised the event. Thank you.
The Youth Parliament proceeded to a Division.
Mr. Speaker: Colleagues, you will be pleased to know that we have got the results. The votes cast were as follows:
University Education being free: 56
Youth crime and how to tackle it: 34
Free transport for over 60s, but not for young people: 54
Job opportunities for young people: 62
Lowering the voting age to 16: 107.
Members of the Youth Parliament, you have chosen your campaigning priority for the year.
Thank you, that is the end of our proceedings. Order. Order
Youth Parliament adjourned at 3.6 pm.

    Home Page