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Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to make a brief contribution to this debate, as the only member of the Backbench Business Committee from the new intake-a representative, if you like, of what the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) called the geographically and procedurally lost in this House. The other reason why, as a new Member, I stood to serve on the Committee was that, like many new Members, I fought long and hard to get to this place. It is the greatest honour of my life to be here representing the people of Battersea. I want this House and this Parliament at centre stage, at the heart of national life.
In the brief time that I have been here, I have been struck by the breadth of knowledge that exists among Back-Bench colleagues in all parts of the House. It would do much for the reputation of this place if that knowledge were given wider prominence, which is something that might be more possible if the attention of the nation and the media were focused more on the statements to which Back Benchers can respond. Instead, much of that knowledge and expertise is heard at times when very little attention is paid to the House.
A number of Members have referred to the demands of the 24-hour rolling news media. The situation is difficult, because although it would be very easy-and right-to condemn policy leaks to the media, the practicalities of delivering on that are not that straightforward, as we discussed a little bit in our Committee. Although it would be tempting-some Members this evening have been very tempted by this-to dream up draconian punishments for Ministers on the spot, what we need is a well-thought-through, workable protocol that Ministers understand and, crucially, can use to drive a culture change in their private offices and Departments. This issue is not just about Ministers; it is about a whole culture of government. We need to ensure that the mantra is changed from "In the Loop" to "In the House" - [ Interruption. ] Hon. Members heard it here first.
Let me close by making a point that I do not think has been touched on in the debate so far, concerning the responsibility of the Opposition. This point would be the same whoever was in government or opposition, but to some extent it has been a little too easy to sit and nod, and to see this issue as an open goal or a way to kick the Government of the day. However, if the new approach is to work, it will also make demands on the
Opposition. I will leave hon. Members with this thought: we will know that the new approach is working when a journalist says to an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, "We've heard that such-and-such might be announced today, and we'd like you to comment," and the shadow spokesman says, "I will wait for the Minister's statement and respond in the House." I commend the motion to the House.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): As another new Member, I want to reflect on some of the fundamental principles that the motion that we are debating represents. It raises some fundamental questions about the nature of our parliamentary democracy and the role of Parliament in modern society. Why is this evening's debate and the motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) so important? All hon. Members would recognise that the gap between this place and those who elected us here-between Parliament and ordinary people-has grown into a chasm over the past few years. That is why this debate is so important.
In my first few weeks as a Member of Parliament, I have spent time reflecting on what my constituents want me to do in this place. Clearly, the people of Halesowen and Rowley Regis want me to stand up for their interests. However, having spent time on the doorstep during the election, I believe that there is also a sense among our constituents that, despite all their cynicism about Parliament, they want this place still to be the place where big decisions are made and where the life of the nation is debated. They want us to hold the Government of the day to account and to ask difficult questions that probe and challenge them. I believe that, despite their reservations, our constituents want Parliament to reassert its role as the custodian of the national interest, which is why I believe this evening's debate is so important.
However, I recognise that, as other right hon. and hon. Members have said, there are difficult challenges with reinstating the principle that Ministers should come to Parliament to make their key announcements. As other hon. Members have pointed out, we are living in an information age, when information is spread around the world and around this country at high velocity, and where social networking sites can instantly produce informed-or sometimes not-so-informed-debates about the issues of the day. We have Twitter and blogs, and, as others have pointed out, we have a 24-hour media culture that demands instant comment. It is insatiable in its desire for instant comment.
Modern democracy and this Parliament sit in a world that is moving forward at a frenetic pace. Some developments of the information age that impact on the processes of Parliament are positive. We have a more informed public, for example-a public who are better able to access the workings of government. We have a much higher degree of transparency about the workings of government and Parliament, but there is much more to do.
I welcome my hon. Friend's motion. It raises questions about how to reinforce and develop the traditional role of Parliament in the context of the modern world that I
have described. Parliament must still play-it has to-its traditional role of holding the Executive to account. It is in the nature of the debates we hold in this House-tonight's is a particularly good example of Parliament in action, where there is some degree of cross-party consensus about the issues-that the very act of having elected representatives interacting in a civilised way can act as a check against this frenetic pace of the debate going on in the outside world where information moves around so quickly.
I conclude by recognising, as I think all hon. Members would recognise, that we cannot turn the clock back to some kind of golden age in which Parliament is, as the Leader of the House said, the main channel of communication out to the nation. Those days have gone. However, Parliament needs to reassert its traditional role-I view this as an important part of my role as a new MP-as the place where important matters are debated and where the Executive are held to account. That is why I will support my hon. Friend's motion.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Any debate that runs the gamut from Pericles to Jimmy Thomas, those two great statesmen, has to be fascinating, but I think we are in the unusual situation of all agreeing on the problem, but none agreeing on the terms of the solution. It is part of the legend of this building that when that glorious fresh, clean and energetic Government of 1997 swept into power, we set up something called the Modernisation of the House Committee, which after a very short time was suspected of going so native that there was a move to set up a "Modernisation of that Modernisation of the House Committee Committee"! Whether that happened or not, I do not know, but change was slowly achieved.
What we need to ask ourselves is: what would be the consequence of a self-denying ordinance linked to a structural series of procedures-a protocol-on the Floor of this House? We need to realise that Ministers would immediately lose control of the agenda; they would actually lose control of news management-the one thing that Ministers hold close to their breasts and near to their hearts, the one thing that they love above all, which is to control the information grid. They would lose it.
I invite hon. Members to picture the scene, lean back and close their eyes; it is something that often happens when I am speaking, but on this occasion, they can do so with my approval. The Minister rises at 3.30 in the afternoon. She or he starts to make a statement. In simpler days, that statement would be followed by comments from the Opposition, and then, when the Liberal Democrat stood up to speak, everyone would leave. When they arrived at St Stephen's entrance, they would find the place surrounded by the rapacious reptiles of the press, who would have been interviewing people on the Minister's statement while the Minister was still speaking.
We need to arrive at a point at which a self-denying ordinance is accepted. I am no friend of the tradition of Cromwell, the butcher of Drogheda, and in any event he experienced a degree of failure in forcing the principle on his own people; but were we to achieve that, at some stage-be it on the "Today" programme, Nick Ferrari's programme on LBC, or any other medium-a Minister
of the Crown would have to say to an interrogator, "I cannot answer that question, because I have not made a statement to the House."
The thought of my ever becoming a Minister is a flight of fancy too far, but were I ever to be in such a position-and I have to say that on occasion my mind has roamed in that way-and were a constituent to ask me, "What will you say tomorrow about the terms of reference for the Commission on the Funding of Care and Support?" I would have to say to that constituent, "Sorry, I cannot tell you, because I must make a statement to the House." A lot of constituents would ask, "Who comes first, parliamentarians or the people?" That is the degree of the disconnect between us and the public at the present time. So if we are to do this, we must somehow divide the day-to-day reports, the annual reports and the regular reviews that could be placed in the Library from statements of this particular kind.
We must accept that at some stage a parliamentarian-a Minister-will do the unheard of, the unprecedented, and say to an interviewer on the radio or television, "No, I cannot answer that question." Once that has happened, a whole new set of terms of reference-new terms of trade-will have been established, and we will be moving in a different direction. Until we have done that, there will always be the pressure-and sometimes it will be unbearable-to imply that the Minister does not know the answer to the question, when in fact the Minister is rightly saying, "I do know the answer to the question", but it would be inappropriate and disrespectful of Parliament for that Minister to give that answer there and then.
That is why I have concluded, reluctantly, that we must consider the issue of sanctions. I rather like one idea, although I do not necessarily favour the decapitation of the entire Front Bench suggested by the bloodthirsty Member for the constituency formerly known as Kettering, but now for ever to be known as Hollobone Central. You, Mr Speaker, know more about the ways of this building than most. I cannot recall the last occasion on which a miscreant Minister was dragged to the Bar of the House. Dragged to the bar, maybe, but not to the Bar of the House. What better, what more salutary example could there be of the power of Parliament for the people-not for Parliament, but for the public, for the people-than some shivering Minister trembling at the Bar, looking around sheepishly, aware of the dreadful calumny that has been perpetrated, and excoriated by Members on all sides? Would that not be delicious?
I think we must seriously consider that option, or perhaps another. It was suggested earlier that placing someone backwards on a horse would be entirely acceptable. Indeed, listening to one of my speeches might be painful enough. However, we must accept that the problem is here for all to see. The solution is for us to define. We have some way to go tonight before we define it, and I fear that when we do define it, we cannot do so in isolation from the issue of sanctions.
This has been an extraordinary debate. Whatever happens from this day on will be different, because tonight marks a watershed. I salute the new Backbench Business Committee and its magnificently able, intellectually brilliant and gifted Chair for leading us in this direction. Things will never be the same again; but how they will be, and what they will be, is up to us tonight.
Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this very important debate on both the role of Back Benchers and, most importantly, how we can protect the power and authority that this Chamber has had throughout several centuries of our history.
First, I must say that I am very relieved that I managed to arrive here to make my maiden speech without incurring any serious injury. The first time I sought to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, was during the Queen's Speech debate. I moved on quickly, however, because my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) had secured a debate in Westminster Hall on an issue of interest to me, and I quickly wrote to tell you, Mr Speaker, that I would like to speak in it, but then, unfortunately, my hon. Friend had to go to hospital for a couple of weeks. I hope that that was not a result of my desire to speak, but I suspect that it might have been because a fortnight later I asked if I could speak in the debate on the emergency Budget only then to finish up in hospital myself for a week. I am relieved to arrive here undamaged on this occasion, therefore.
It is a convention that Members refer to their constituency in their maiden speech, and I would like to do that. Montgomeryshire is a beautiful constituency, and I have lived there all my life. Indeed, although my family encouraged me to move away, I always resisted because I simply love Montgomeryshire, especially its uplands. That love is what led me to become president of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales for the last few years, a position I have had to relinquish since becoming a Member of this House.
Montgomeryshire is also a culturally diverse constituency, where the Welsh language plays a very important part. It is probably the dominant language in a third of the constituency. When I was elected as a Member of Parliament, my first seven words were in the Welsh language. I said:
"Dur i'n falch gael fy ethol fel Aelod Seneddol dros Sir Drefaldwyn."
Well, perhaps that is 10 words, Mr Speaker, but I knew I might be testing your patience, and I should hasten to explain that that just means that I am very proud to be elected to represent Montgomeryshire as a Member of Parliament. I thought that that was the right thing for me to do in that constituency.
A second convention is that the Member making their maiden speech should refer to their predecessor, and I would like to make reference to more than just my immediate predecessor. I was doing some research and I discovered the most incredible coincidence. I thought I was the first person in my extended family ever to have any interest in politics, yet I discovered that in 1880 a certain Arthur Humphreys-Owen, a Liberal Member, owned the house where I live. He was followed by Lord Davies of Llandinam, a very great man in Welsh history, and he in turn was followed by Clement Davies. Some current Members might remember him; he was a great leader of the Liberal party. It is said in Montgomeryshire that many of the Liberal Democrats there voted for me because it was an opportunity for them to vote yet again for a Davies, and that that probably contributed to quite a substantial part of my majority.
My immediate predecessor was Lembit Öpik, and I want to pay tribute to him. He was a man of great talent in many, many areas of activity-and I must say that in some areas he achieved a level of excellence that I am sure I will not be able to match. He served his constituents very well, however, and I wish him well in his new chosen careers.
I am often asked in the constituency how I have found being a Member of Parliament. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who is no longer in her place, I have said that it is a wonderful experience to be here; it is a wonderful experience for me to be speaking in this Chamber, representing the people of Montgomeryshire. That is a great thrill, as is being part of what happens in this House.
That brings me to the debate in which we are engaging at the moment. Since I have been here, we have seen some amazing things happen. We have seen two of the great parties of Britain come together to form a dynamic coalition, rising phoenix-like from the ashes and smouldering embers of the Labour party-I am sure that it will be able to recover. It was a dramatic event to have been here in the presence of and to have witnessed.
I sat at the back of this Chamber watching and listening to the statement on the Saville inquiry. I was in some sort of enrapture, because it was a most wonderful occasion. I am certain that it was the sheer power of the words and the speeches that brought that hugely damaging issue to a conclusion that is to the benefit of us all. The reputation and presence of this House, and its historical context in which we speak, helped to solve what was a dreadful scar on our history.
This is a very special place, and I think we probably all know that. Several Members, including the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who spoke before me, have made reference to the issue of where we go from here. Dealing with that is the next step, because there is general agreement across the whole House that there is an issue that we need to address. I must say that I think it is a matter for the Procedure Committee. We must await its response and take what it says seriously, because dealing with this matter is complex.
There is a temptation for us to move into the realms of various punishments, but I am not going to do that. What I will say-this is the only comment that I wish to make on this matter-is that to be asked to apologise in this House for committing something that we all consider to be a serious misdemeanour is a serious punishment. If I ever became a Minister and such a punishment was visited on me, I would consider that to be a huge blow. All the other punishments would be small in comparison with the damage I would feel to my reputation if that happened. So I do not think that we should underplay this.
I have come to this House to represent the people of Montgomeryshire and my constituency, and to represent Wales, the nation that I love. I have come here to do what I can to protect and enhance the reputation of this House. Contributing to this debate and supporting the intention espoused so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) at its outset is what I really want to do.
Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) for making his maiden speech in what is, in many ways, an appropriate debate in which to get one's spurs. I congratulate him and say well done on that. I particularly enjoyed his tribute to his immediate predecessor; I think that the whole House enjoyed those comments. I was also struck by his reference to Clement Davies, because of a perhaps little-known historical fact. He was leader of the Liberal party at the only time in history when two different party leaders with the same name have fought a general election-I am referring to the great Clement Attlee and Clement Davies. Support for the Liberal party was perhaps somewhat less then than it is today, but perhaps at the next general election its support will return to its rightful place, where it was in 1945.
This is an important debate, and a number of hon. Members from across the Chamber have said that a real problem needs to be addressed. I am a new Member-only elected in May this year-but I have been struck by the number of occasions on which Ministers have been admonished by you, Mr Speaker, and by Opposition Members for repeatedly giving statements to the media and then coming to the House. They have had to apologise for that on at least one occasion. I know that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said that that is a particularly strong censure for Ministers and something that he would not wish to put himself through, but it seems as though the current crop of Ministers are not as concerned by the course of action that they might need to take to right the situation. There has seemingly been a willingness to continue merrily along and to give statements to the media despite what has been made very clear by Mr Speaker and by criticisms from the Opposition.
I hope that following tonight's debate, Ministers will take the issue more seriously than they have so far. As a new Back-Bench Member, I believe that the sanctity of Parliament should be paramount and that Ministers should come here before they make statements elsewhere. It undermines my role, in many ways, if I am contacted by the media on issues such as Building Schools for the Future when we have had five different versions of the list of schools that will be affected around the country. I understand that the latest list is inaccurate, too. The way in which that whole issue has been handled leaves a lot to be desired and many hares have been set running. In my constituency, people's hopes have been raised and dashed and raised and dashed and that is not a professional way of going on. Something needs to be done about that.
Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Secretary of State came to the House and apologised on that matter, which does not seem particularly relevant to our debate? It was rare for shadow Ministers, when they were in government, to come and apologise and I think that we should accept that that was a genuine apology which was received very well in this House.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I freely acknowledge that the Secretary of State came and apologised, but that brings me back to my point. Is an apology or the need to make
an apology a sufficient deterrent? Surely what we want on both sides of the House is to ensure that there is no need for Ministers to come and apologise. As the Secretary of State has been so willing to make an apology on five separate occasions, that undermines the value of that censure on a Minister. If we go back 20 or 30 years, perhaps an apology from the Minister might have been a more significant deterrent than it seems to be today. We need to find an alternative mechanism to ensure that these sorts of concerns and problems do not arise in the future.
I come from a local government background and there is a long-standing tradition about such issues in local government. As a former leader of Derby city council, I know that my most significant announcement as leader would be about the budget and the setting of the council tax, and it would be routine for us to embargo the statement that I was going to make to the council chamber. Perhaps that is something that we ought to adopt in this House: Ministers' statements could be embargoed and that embargo could have some legal force. Perhaps that would be a way of ensuring that the House is treated with the gravitas that, in my view, it deserves.
Mark Durkan: Does that not raise the point that if we took up the Leader of the House's idea of having clearer advance notice of oral statements, the protocol should be that as soon as notice of a statement were given, an embargo would kick in? We would probably then need to change the civil service code as well to prevent leaks and briefings taking place at civil service level rather than from Ministers or Members of the House.
I know that all new Governments have a political agenda and want to get their legislation on to the statute book, but I have been struck by the breakneck speed at which the new Administration are seemingly determined to railroad legislation through the House. Perhaps that is one reason why there have been so many leaks to the media. The House is not being given sufficient time to scrutinise legislation. This is a cross-party point; I have heard hon. Members on the Government Benches express similar concerns. The Academies Bill is a case in point: there are significant reservations on the Opposition side, but there are also reservations on the Government side and it is regrettable that measures are being railroaded through by the new Administration despite those concerns.
A cross-party consensus on finding a better way forward seems to have emerged. How long has this Parliament been sitting now? I have been elected for about 10 weeks and I do not know how many times you have been called on, Mr Speaker, through various points of order, to admonish Ministers for making statements before coming to the House. That simply cannot go on; it just is not good enough. We have to find a better way of doing business in the Chamber. I hope that we can find cross-party consensus on that, and I hope that Ministers will take this issue more seriously than they have hitherto. I hope also that they will take the possibilities on board, particularly given the comments of my hon.
Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) about giving embargoes legal force and changing the civil service code.
John Hemming: I understand that Select Committees frequently issue their reports under embargoes and obviously it is a contempt of Parliament to publish them prior to the embargo. How does the hon. Gentleman think the Opposition would perceive a situation in which the Government issued something under embargo, thereby constraining them from commenting on it?
Chris Williamson: Clearly, Opposition Members would have to pay cognisance to that. If we were to adopt the embargo approach, there would need to be discipline on both sides of the House. If we are to acknowledge that Parliament is paramount and that we should get statements before they go to the media, a degree of discipline would be required on both sides. I believe that there is a way forward.
John Hemming: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the embargo would rest merely within Parliament, which is, in a sense, what currently happens with statements, or that documents could be issued to the media with an embargo on them?
Chris Williamson: Such details would need to be worked out. That might be a way forward, but could we trust the media with an embargo? I am not sure. We would need to consider the issues, work out the detail and find an appropriate way forward by which Parliament would not feel that it was being held in contempt on occasion by the way in which Ministers conduct themselves. As I have said, the strong cross-party consensus on this matter means that the will is definitely there. I simply hope that Ministers will take our concerns on board and that the House can find a better way of doing business so that we do not have the problems that we have seen far too much of in the short time that I have been a Member of the House.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), who made some interesting points. In some respects, I wish that he had been here in the previous Parliament, because his frustration would have been extreme.
I have been very impressed by all the speeches made by new Back Benchers. It is a great tribute to them and a safeguard that this Parliament really will be the home of democracy. It would be wrong not to acknowledge your presence here tonight, Mr Speaker, for the whole debate, thus giving it added impetus. That is much appreciated, as is the fact that the Leader of the House has stayed here for the whole debate, as has the shadow Leader of the House, who, in one of the most helpful comments, praised my hon. Friend the Member for Hollobone Central for introducing it. I always regard him as my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), and he introduced the debate in absolutely the right style and manner. In years to come, people will look back to his speech as a reference on this very important matter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight) has also stayed here for the whole debate. Of course, we hope, as the Backbench Business Committee,
that we will kick the football to him to look at when his new Committee is formed. While I am praising hon. Members who have spoken previously, it would be wrong of me not to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies). We go back a very long way from my time in Wales. I am pleased to see him in the House, and he will be an active and able Member.
Probably the last hon. Member to speak tonight will be the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), the new Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee. She has got off to an absolutely flying start, and I should like formally to congratulate her on what she has done so far.
It is a great privilege to speak in the first debate to be held by the Backbench Business Committee on what is an historic night. For the first time, it has been left to Back Benchers in Parliament, not the Executive or Opposition Front Benchers, to decide what should be debated in the House on a substantive motion. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) may yet still divide the House, which would be even better, because we would know the number of hon. Members who support the other view to that taken by the Committee.
The motion that we have chosen to debate goes to the heart of readjusting the balance of power between the Executive and Parliament. I want to declare that I will be equally rude to Labour Front Benchers and the Labour Government and to the Conservatives. I will blame them both in equal measure, so there is no partisanship in that.
Under the last Labour Administration, power was increasingly removed from Back Benchers and instead handed to an arrogant, dismissive and control-freak Government. That started under the Blair Administration, with his concentration on public relations and presentation, and got worse under the Brown Administration, when the need to control every minute detail was the rule of the day. As a result of that and other recent events, public opinion of Parliament is at an all-time low. Something clearly needs to be changed.
The big question for the House is whether anything has changed with the new Government. Are they any less interested in PR, presentation and spin? At the very best, the jury is still considering its verdict. I say that partly because I will be highly critical of the Government's failure to put Parliament first in certain respects-in particular, leaking information to the press and other media in advance of announcing it in Parliament-but on the plus side, we have two extraordinary parliamentarians in the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House, who believe in putting Parliament first and have demonstrated that not only by their statements, but by their actions. It is also quite clear that the Prime Minister believes in making the Executive more accountable to Parliament and increasing the role of Back Benchers. Clearly, the decision to set up the Backbench Business Committee was a prime indication of the Government's support for Parliament.
There are other areas in which the Government have put Parliament first. The Prime Minister made the remarkably self-confident decision to give up the right to choose the date of the next general election, which removes a massive advantage for the Government. Equally,
his decision to allow Government Back Benchers-I am delighted that the Chief Whip is on the Front Bench to hear this-to table amendments when scrutinising the details of a Bill in Committee and then to vote in the way in which they think fit, rather than according to the party line, will empower Back Benchers enormously. That will no doubt occasionally lead to the Government losing a vote, but that should be regarded as a victory for Parliament, not a defeat for the Government.
The Government have also supported reform of the Select Committee system, meaning that the Chairs are elected by the whole House rather than appointed by the Whips. Equally, the Government's desire not to programme Bills is a significant advance. Back Benchers will now be able to question the detail of Bills, whereas whole sections of Bills were not discussed during the last Parliament because of programme orders. However, there has been some backsliding on that commitment.
The motion sets out that the most important Government policy announcements should be made to Parliament first, not leaked to the media in advance while Back Benchers are left completely in the dark, because otherwise how are we supposed to ask the most searching questions and properly represent our constituents? It is embarrassing and wholly unacceptable if the local radio station rings up to ask, "What do you think about the statement?" when I did not even know that there would be such a statement and it then tells me what is in the statement so that I can comment. Of course, that has happened under not only this Government, but the previous Government. It makes a mockery of the legislative process when the Press Gallery is packed for relatively unimportant and therefore unleaked announcements, but entirely empty for the most important statements.
There was an exception to that under the previous Government because the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) had a tendency not to leak statements. I remember one occasion on which his statement was not leaked in advance, and the House and the Press Gallery were packed. Actually, the statement was on a Government U-turn, but that showed what could happen if statements were not leaked.
We have heard about the history of Chancellors being fired for leaks and people teeing up on the golf course suddenly to find that they were fired, but I will not go over that. We have also heard many references to your statements, Mr Speaker, on the fact that Parliament must hear statements on important policy first. I remember that the previous Speaker was sometimes so red in the face with rage that Ministers had leaked in advance that I thought that his blood pressure would go through the roof. However, he did not have the success that you have had, Mr Speaker, at getting Ministers to the Dispatch Box to apologise. It was to the great credit of the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary that they did so, but that shows part of the problem, as several hon. Members have said, because however grovelling the apology is, it is not enough to stop the leaking-it continues.
I have spoken to several Ministers and ex-Ministers. They did not want to go on record this evening, but they explained the thought process behind leaking information. It is partly to ensure that the press comments on the particularly juicy bits that Ministers want to get into the media, but it is also because of the news cycle. Ministers want to get information out for the weekend papers and
radio programmes, so they leak it then. On the day of the announcement, they ensure that the statement is again leaked. Then, they appear in the television studios and give interviews on it. It was very hard for previous Labour Ministers to deny that they had leaked a statement when I had seen them on the television discussing it several hours earlier. Finally, they get the benefit of the statement and the comment afterwards, and, until we find a solution-a threat, if the House likes-in order to stop them doing that, it will not end.
I have been very taken by some ideas tonight. The idea from the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) of stringing them from the roof was quite novel, but I think that we are against capital punishment. The idea from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), who is sitting by the Bar of the House, had some attraction as well. I do not know whether the Mayor of London has entered into this debate, but he had Parliament square cleaned last night so that none of the tents and protesters is now there. That large open space is now available, and it was suggested to me that, if we put a large stocks there and the Speaker said that a Minister had to stay in them for several days, that would-I fear, at an instance-stop the leaking. However, I then remembered that it would be against European Union law-although that is another reason why we should go ahead with the idea.
Earlier, we commented on how the matter was taken more seriously in the past, and the better way forward is to refer it to the Procedure Committee. However, I should like to suggest some more practical measures on how we might deal with Ministers who continue to leak.
First, if the Procedure Committee or another Committee thinks that a Minister or their Department had leaked, that Minister should have to go and see the relevant Select Committee. If the Department leaks again, perhaps, Mr Speaker, you could demand that the Minister make a statement. If they leak again, perhaps we could have a yellow-card system. I think that I read somewhere in a newspaper about a yellow and red-card system that had much merit. So, with a yellow card the Minister would be on their last warning, and then they might have a red card, meaning that they would have to resign as a Minister forthwith. That, I hope, would really end the leaking. If we had such a system, or if the Procedure Committee had an ultimate sanction, that would stop the leaks. That is what the debate is about. It relates to a serious proposal to put this mother of Parliaments at the heart of democracy, and until we stop such abuse of Parliament we will never really do our job of scrutinising the Executive.
Sir Peter Soulsby: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the Procedure Committee deals with leaks as well as with statements? That is a very small point, but the motion before us refers specifically to "statements". Does he agree that it is important that we also have the opportunity to ask the Procedure Committee to look at leaks as well?
Mr Bone: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, and I entirely agree. I hope that the Procedure Committee will consider a wide range of measures affecting Back Benchers and then make recommendations that the Backbench Business Committee might put on the Order Paper. The great advantage of the new system is that we do not have to wait for the Government to put such business on the Order Paper; we as Back Benchers can do so.
Chris Skidmore: The hon. Member for Leicester South (Sir Peter Soulsby) just mentioned the difference between leaks and statements, and that is important. The Minister is ultimately responsible for the statement to the House, but there is a difference between the Department and the Minister, because they are not always in total control of their Department in terms of who is leaking what information. I should be interested to know my hon. Friend's views on leaks and who is responsible for them. Is the Minister ultimately responsible, or would my hon. Friend allow some leeway because somebody else in the Department might be?
Let us take a situation as an example. Something is leaked and comes before the Select Committee. The Minister explains that it was not him who leaked, but Joe Bloggs at the Department-who, by the way, has now gone. But if it happens again and again and a fourth time, the Minister really should resign. If we are serious about the issue, that is what should happen.
Sir Peter Soulsby: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that Ministers take responsibility not only for the overt statements that they make themselves, but for the covert leaks made on their behalf?
Mr Bone: The hon. Gentleman is right. The one thing that this Government have been bad at is leaking covertly; the previous Government could teach this one a lot about that, although I hope that this Government would not take lessons from them.
We have heard a lot about the 24-hour news cycle, and we should take advantage of that. The Order Paper should show that there is to be a statement, for example, on Lords reform, and there should be no leak of that statement. We would know that it would take place on, say, Tuesday at a certain time. I guarantee that the House and the Press Gallery would be packed and that Sky News and BBC News 24 would cut into their programmes and switch their broadcasting to the House to see what was being said. That is the situation that we can and must achieve.
Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): I cannot begin to say what a pleasure it is to wind up this debate. It is absolutely historic; it is the very first time that Back Benchers have chosen the subject for debate in Back-Bench time. The number of Members who are here and who have taken part in the debate, when there is a one-line Whip and they could have gone home, is testament to its enormous importance to everybody in the House.
This debate has been historic not just for Back Benchers and those on the Backbench Business Committee but for the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies). We all enjoyed hearing his maiden speech. I was delighted that a maiden speech was made in Back-Bench business time, so I thank the hon. Gentleman very much.
This debate is important because it goes to the heart of what we are trying to do on the Backbench Business Committee-that is, address some of the frustrations and anger that Back Benchers have felt for years and years. We want, as Back Benchers, to do our job better, and the job that we want to do is hold the Executive to account. That is important because if we do our job better, the Executive do their job better. It is an absolute win-win; when the Executive do their job better, they make better law and Parliament looks much better to the outside world.
This debate is all about carrot and stick; that is also what the Committee is about, and I hope that we will develop the theme in the future. The carrot is that we would all, especially Back Benchers, do our job better and that we would get rid of the frustration and anger at our feeling that our power to hold the Executive to account, which we should be able to exercise, is being taken away from us. We can do that job and have a better Parliament.
The stick is something that we hope to give today to the Procedure Committee. I thank the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr Knight), its Chair, for being here throughout the debate and taking note of everything that has been said today. Perhaps he will come back as quickly as possible with the stick-suspension from the ceiling, birching or lynching; we are open to everything. He can bring back the stick and we can have a proper debate about how we as Back Benchers can hold the Executive better to account.
I thank all Members who have taken part in the debate and made sure, with some notable exceptions, that is has been sensible. [Laughter.] I am not looking at anyone. We need to start looking at the role of the media and the role of Parliament and at why, over so many years, the problem has got worse and worse. I think that there have been some very sensible suggestions that the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire will take away with him and discuss with the Procedure Committee.
We have been talking about Back-Bench time and Back-Bench business for 400 years. The fact that we are, for the first time, having such an important debate about our modern Parliament is testament to the importance of why we, as a Backbench Business Committee, need to make a massive success of this.
I thank Members from the new intake who have contributed, especially the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who serves on our Committee, and who gave us the soundbite of the evening-"Not in the loop
but in the House." That was a fantastic soundbite. I very much thank all Members who have taken part in this debate and in such an absolutely massive, historic event.
That this House commends the Speaker on the action he has taken over the past year to reassert the principle that Ministers ought to make statements to the House before they are made elsewhere; notes that paragraph 9.1 of the Ministerial Code says that when Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance in Parliament; believes that compliance with this principle is essential for backbenchers to be able to represent the interests of their constituents and hold the Government to account; and invites the Procedure Committee to consider how the rules of the House could be better used or, if necessary, changed to ensure compliance with this principle and to develop a protocol for the release of information.
That, at this day's sitting, proceedings on the Motion in the name of Sir George Young relating to Use of the Chamber (United Kingdom Youth Parliament) may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.- ( Miss Chloe Smith .)
That this House welcomes the work of the United Kingdom Youth Parliament in providing young people with an opportunity to engage with the political process; notes that the House agreed on 16 March 2009 to allow the Youth Parliament to meet once in the Chamber; recalls that this meeting took place on 30 October 2009; and accordingly resolves that the UK Youth Parliament should be allowed to meet once a year in the Chamber of this House for the duration of this Parliament.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you confirm that a Division on the motion would be deferred, but that if the closure were moved tonight, a Division on it would take place here and now? Many people watching these proceedings would think it quite strange that we would have a Division on a closure motion, but that there would be no Division on the substantive motion. Will you confirm that?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; his point of order helpfully confirms the factual position. In the event that there were a closure motion, it would, as with all closure motions, as he perceptively interprets, be subject to an immediate vote. In the event that the decision on the substantive motion is a matter of dispute when the voices are collected, a deferred Division will be held tomorrow. The hon. Gentleman therefore, as usual, has an exquisite understanding of procedure. That fact is now known not only to me but to all Members of the House here present.
Mr Speaker: There are requisite numbers for these matters, but I tend to take the view of the late Lord Whitelaw that it is advisable to cross a bridge only when one comes to it. Rather than speculate on the hypothetical, we will address that matter when we get there. The hon. Gentleman need not allow his brow to furrow or make himself anxious. He is too big a man for that.
The motion would allow for the UK Youth Parliament to sit in this place for its annual meeting this year, and annually for the rest of this Parliament, repeating the successful exercise of last October. It is probably not in order for me to say at this stage how much I appreciated the debate that we have just had under the auspices of the Business Committee, but the Government would now expect debates of this nature to be scheduled by that Committee. However, because of the time constraints on the House agreeing this motion and the availability of time before the summer recess, the Government have decided to facilitate the House in reaching a decision by providing time after the moment of interruption.
Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Can the Deputy Leader of the House explain why we need to do this before the summer recess? If he knew a week ago that we needed to do it before the summer recess, why was it not put on the Order Paper below the line so that we had advance notice of the Government's intention?
Mr Heath: I have just said that the Government are facilitating a process. This is not Government policy: it is for the House to determine. I see no reason why we should not debate this issue tonight. We have plenty of time to debate it tonight-possibly as much time as any Member could reasonably expect to debate an important issue such as this. It is important that we take a decision, for the obvious reason that if we could not decide, we could not allow the UK Youth Parliament to make use of the facilities at the time when we would invite them to do so if this motion were passed. It would therefore seem to be entirely sensible, even within the constraints of procedure in this place, to table a motion to agree to invite the Youth Parliament to use the facilities and, if that is agreed, for it then to do so-rather than the other way round.
Philip Davies: The Deputy Leader of the House claims to be facilitating a debate and says that he believes there is no reason why a debate should not take place. If that is the case, can he explain why yesterday the Government tried to get this motion through on the nod at the end of the day, without any debate? If the Government were so keen on facilitating a debate, why did he not schedule a debate in the first place?
Mr Heath: May I let the hon. Gentleman into a secret? If the House agrees on an issue, we do not need to take up debating time. If the House agreed on a matter, it would be sensible not to schedule a debate on the Order Paper, because we could use the time for more important things, such as those statements that hon. Members have said they want to hear in the Chamber. We could ensure that Ministers come here to explain their policies, and have more time for legislation, rather than debating matters on which the whole House agrees. But it would appear that there are some in the House who do not agree, which is why we are happy to provide time for the debate this evening.
Last time we debated this matter, I was on the Opposition Benches and supporting the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley)-no, it was not her; it was the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
Mr Heath: I beg the hon. Lady's pardon. It was her who put forward the motion. I said then that if we were to decide in the future that the first occasion had been a great success in building confidence in democracy, and an understanding of democracy, among the young in this country, we might repeat the experience. I hope that hon. Members who were in the House during the previous Parliament and who actually saw the debate-I attended the whole of it-would agree that those tests were met, and that the experience should be repeated. I hope that new Members in the House, who worked hard to ensure they could take their seats, will feel it right to encourage young people to express themselves and take part in the process of politics, and I can think of no better way of doing so than this particular suggestion.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): May I help my hon. Friend, and colleagues on both sides of the House who were positive about the experiment last time, by saying that the feedback from the young people who participated, particularly some brilliant young women, and brilliant black young women, was that it had transformed their lives and that they had left this place reinvigorated to argue for British democracy in a way that I honestly do not think any of us envisaged? So I hope that there will be no backwoods objection to that fantastic innovation made only a few months ago.
Mr Heath: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments, because they are well founded and speak for the experience that many of us have had in speaking to young people who were involved that day. Let us remember that the debate took place at a time when Parliament's reputation was severely damaged, and when young people were increasingly disaffected with politics and society. I do not think that any hon. Member would argue that either of those problems has gone away, but I believe that we are making progress. In 2005 the turnout for 18 to 24-year-olds was estimated at 37%. Five years later, turnout is believed to have risen to about 44%. It is only by continuing and increasing young people's engagement with politics that we can continue to see those numbers grow.
For those who either watched it or were present, last year's debate showed us young people from across the country discussing the issues that they felt were most important-youth crime, cheaper transport, free university education, job opportunities for young people, and lowering the voting age to 16. Without trespassing on the territory of the Backbench Business Committee and the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), may I say that if those suggestions were put to her Committee, they would not be out of order as matters of vital importance to the House.
Philip Davies: Was I hearing the Minister correctly when he tried to claim that the increased turnout among young people at the last election from 38% to 44% was due to young people having a debate in the Chamber last year? Is that really what he is claiming? I thought that his party was claiming beforehand that it was the televised debates with all the leaders that were encouraging young people to turn out. Has he changed his mind, or is he just coming out with a load of guff and a spurious argument?
I shall deal with some of the objections that might come up during the debate, because they came up at length last year. Last year's debate by the UK Youth Parliament was the very first time that anyone other than Members of Parliament had sat on these green Benches.
I hear the word "outrageous" from a sedentary position behind me. The fact that last year's debate was the first time that anyone other than a Member of Parliament had sat on these green Benches seemed to be the issue for some hon. Members. They held the view-and obviously still do-that to sit on
these Benches is a privilege that can be exercised only by Members who have been elected to this House. In my view, that is to confuse the institution of Parliament, which is an enormously important institution to this country, and the fabric of the building. The two are not identical. Were it to sit in another chamber, this Parliament would still be the Parliament of the United Kingdom, just as much as it is when it sits in this Chamber. This Chamber in itself does not constitute the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Mr Heath: I am glad that the hon. Lady has raised that issue, because it was the next objection that I thought might be raised. Her argument is what I would characterise as the slippery slope argument: that because we have allowed the UK Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber once, and because we now propose that the experiment might be worth repeating, there is no way that we can prevent any Tom, Dick or Harry, from anywhere in the country, from coming in here and, by precedent, using this Chamber. However, that is patently not the case, because the decision is taken by this Parliament.
However, there is another reason, which is this. The UK Youth Parliament fulfils two criteria that no other organisation in this country can fulfil. First, its members are elected democratically; secondly, it comprises citizens of this country who, by statute, cannot seek election to this House. Therefore, I believe that the UK Youth Parliament has a unique position, and we have a clear function in encouraging young people to take an interest in politics and become involved in the political process.
Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): Should we not celebrate the fact that young people are interested in sitting on these Benches, rather than having a go at them, in a cheap fashion, from the Back Benches?
Mr Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I certainly celebrate the fact that young people are interested, as she clearly does, and as I think most sensible people do. There are a small minority who perhaps do not, but I think that Parliament has a clear view on such issues.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): May I briefly congratulate Oliver Warne, MYP, on his re-election to the Youth Parliament? Does my hon. Friend agree that he and the other youth MPs conducted the debates in this place last year with enormous dignity, good sense and restraint, which is something from which some Members of this House could perhaps learn?
Mr Heath: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the other objections raised is that if we allowed members of the UK Youth Parliament in here they would be swinging the Mace round their heads, swinging from the chandeliers and causing mayhem-after all, they are youth; some of them probably wear hoodies. I have to say that, in all honesty, that was not the experience last time-not by a long way.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for so generously giving way again. I recall one of the Tory backwoodsmen with whom he is in such happy coalition these days saying that those young people would come in here and put chewing gum on the seats and use penknives to carve them up. Could he report back to the House on how many such incidents occurred?
Mr Heath: Of course no incidents of that kind occurred at all. Indeed, the behaviour of the young people in the Youth Parliament was impeccable in every sense. Indeed, there were staff and Officers of the House who confided in me after the event that they had had real reservations about the invitation being issued. They had been worried about what would happen, but they were astonished at the maturity, good sense, good manners and proper behaviour of those young people-young people who engaged in debate that was often of a higher quality than what we hear in this Chamber on a normal working day. That is a testament to the maturity and good sense of those young people.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): It seems to me that we have effectively formed a Backbench Business Committee this evening, but I wonder whether in future it would be better if this sort of issue were brought forward by the Backbench Business Committee rather than in Government time. There were great results from what took place here, which I do not think many of us would deny, but this is not really prime Government business. Would it not be better dealt with by the Backbench Business Committee?
Mr Heath: That is a point that I made earlier in my speech-that this should be Backbench Business Committee business, and should be allotted time in that context. I hope that if this is debated again in future years, it will be done that way.
Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): Does my hon. Friend recall that in the previous Parliament, it was somewhat embarrassing that the House of Lords allowed the UK Youth Parliament to sit on their red Benches, which is what shamed us into allowing it to sit on our green Benches? This House made rather a spectacle of itself in the last Parliament and we made ourselves very unpopular. We are in grave danger of doing exactly the same thing again, and looking increasingly out of touch.
Mr Heath: I think it is always a matter of concern when the House of Lords looks comparatively youthful, progressive and forward thinking in comparison with the elected House, so I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.
Let us deal with some of the apparently very important logistical questions raised in last year's debate. They were clarified then, but it is worth repeating them for the avoidance of any doubt. The rules of order that the UK Youth Parliament will follow in this Chamber will be the same as our own. As I suggested earlier in response to the intervention by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), there are strong arguments for us to follow its lead in how we interpret procedure rather than it following ours.
The Mace will not be in its place and the Speaker's Chair will not be occupied by anyone other than Mr Speaker or the Deputy Speakers. As for broadcasting, the rights will remain with us. I believe that the parliamentary broadcasting unit should be encouraged to film the proceedings, and I am sure that the broadcasters will need no encouragement to show it.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I should declare that I am a trustee of the Youth Parliament. I would like some clarification from my hon. Friend as to whether the transmission of proceedings will be live or, as I have heard in some reports, there will be a delay. Given that so many have noted that the Youth Parliament was exceptional in its proceedings, it should not be required to have a delay in its live broadcasting.
Mr Heath: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has played a large part in championing the role of the UK Youth Parliament in this House and elsewhere. I cannot answer her question because it is not within the gift of the Deputy Leader of the House-despite my manifest powers of persuasion. I will inquire and write back to my hon. Friend, but I am afraid that I do not know the answer without making further inquiries of the parliamentary broadcasting unit.
Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I entirely support the use of the Chamber for the Youth Parliament, but I am puzzled by one piece of logic. Why is the hon. Gentleman content for the Prime Minister's Chair to be used by the UK Youth Parliament, while the Speaker's Chair is somehow regarded as sacrosanct? Why should that Chair not be used equally by the Youth Parliament?
Mr Heath: For the very simple reason that this appeared to be a bone of contention last time we debated it, and rather than have yet another argument with colleagues who felt otherwise, it was felt appropriate for the Speaker's Chair not to be occupied by anyone other than Mr Speaker or the Deputy Speakers. We will keep to that protocol, because there is no objection on the part of the UK Youth Parliament to it. Indeed, how could it object, when it is here at our invitation? There is no reason for changing the protocol.
"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."
Mr Speaker was in the Chair at the time, and he rather deftly avoided noting that this was not, in fact, a point of order or a matter for the Chair. I am not sure that he would have been quite so tolerant had it been raised in our normal business.
I believe that this is a matter for the whole House. We must decide whether we want to continue to encourage young people to be involved in politics. We must decide whether we want to give them an opportunity that will be theirs perhaps once in a lifetime, and which I think will make a lasting impression not just on them personally
but on the people whom they represent and the people to whom they report back-the people who know that they have had that opportunity. I hope that Members will join me in supporting the motion and welcoming the UK Youth Parliament back to this place to continue its excellent work.
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): The question of whether young people engage in politics should concern Members because of its potential impact on the fabric of democracy in future years. Labour Members are very proud that in March 2009, the Government set the very good precedent of tabling a motion to allow the UK Youth Parliament to sit in the Chamber at a time when the House was not sitting.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The hon. Lady has made the point that the Government established a precedent. However, in our last debate on the subject it was made clear to the House that it would not be a precedent: that it would be a one-off for the annual meeting of the UK Youth Parliament on its 10th anniversary. Is this not the slippery slope that many of us feared?
As some Members have observed, the meeting that took place last October was a great success. These Benches were packed with 300 young men and women, many from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and it was a fantastic debate. One of the young people described how she felt about it, saying:
"It is an outstanding example of how democracy among young people is alive and kicking. Tackling debate topics such as tuition fees, transport, crime, the economy AND lowering the voting age really shows that anyone who thinks young people aren't interested in politics is extremely misinformed."
We want to encourage young people to see democracy as important, and to see the House of Commons as relevant to their lives and to the future. It would be very odd for us not to continue to let young people use the Chamber when we are not using it-on a Friday, during a weekend, or when the House is in recess. It would be very odd indeed for us to say now, after all the success of the debate last October, that we were raising the drawbridge on the use of Parliament by young people. Instead, we should be opening the windows to the breath of fresh air that they will bring in.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that if, after the great success of last year's experiment, we turned around and said, "No, we are not letting you in here again," that would send entirely the wrong signals to the young people?
Barbara Keeley: It would indeed. Members are clearly concerned about the issues affecting young people. We regularly discuss in the Chamber the same issues that the young people discuss themselves, and it is important for us to hear their angles and views as well. The engagement of the UK Youth Parliament-whose members are themselves elected from all parts of the country, often on a bigger turnout than some Members here-is very important.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a poor show when, although it is apparently so important for the Youth Parliament to sit in this Chamber, the main Opposition party can find only about two minutes' worth of things to say about it. It clearly cannot be all that important to them if they have nothing to say in support of it.
May I tell the hon. Lady something that she might want to bear in mind when considering what people think of the House of Commons? It comes back to something that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) said in his earlier intervention, which was not dealt with particularly well. The hon. Lady started off by saying that the previous Labour Government set a precedent with last year's debate.
Philip Davies: We are very grateful in this place that we have our Hansard reporters, and we can all read tomorrow what the hon. Lady actually said. We certainly heard that she said that it was a precedent.
The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) said that it was an experiment last time. However, if anyone wants to cast their eyes back on the account of last year's debate, they will see that it was made abundantly clear by the Government and others who supported the principle that the debate was a one-off.
Therefore, the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and those supporting her stance are saying that what the young people in the Youth Parliament should learn from the House of Commons is that we cannot believe a word anybody in this House says, because they say one thing one year and they then go and completely reject the solemn promises they made at that time. If that is the kind of message they want to give to young people, that is very interesting.
Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): Given that no previous Parliament can bind a future Parliament, perhaps it is not the young people who need to do their homework about this place. Does my hon. Friend not agree that that decision was for that Parliament to take, and what we do in this Parliament is for us to decide?
Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. However, I would point out that those people who were here in the previous Parliament and who said that the debate was a one-off-that it would only take place once and it would not be repeated-should bear that in mind when they come to decide how to vote on the issue tonight, unless, of course, they want to go against absolutely everything they said.
Martin Horwood: I was in the last Parliament and in fact I hope that it does set a precedent. I am slightly confused, however. In a spirit of honesty and transparency, will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether or not he opposes the use of these Benches by the UK Youth Parliament?
Philip Davies: Of course I do. The hon. Gentleman must have been living on Mars for the past year. He said he attended last year's debate; I spoke for about an hour and a quarter on the subject then, although I cannot remember the exact length of time. He claims he was present, but I made it blindingly obvious that I am against this. For the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, who obviously cannot remember the debates he takes part in, I will try to rehearse tonight some of the same arguments I made then so that he can get a better understanding that I am actually opposed to this.
Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for saying that, as I was going to ask him to rehearse those arguments. Also, does he agree that this is possibly the most vibrant, passionate and sincere debate we have had in this Parliament, and that that is, perhaps, a case for ending the system of whipping?
Philip Davies: I am sure my hon. Friend's comments will have been noted diligently by the Whip on duty, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill). Some of us in this House believe that all votes are free votes really, and that, at the end of the day, Members can vote entirely as they please. They might want to take heed of what the Whips are encouraging them to do, however, as I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) that usually their advice is very sound, but occasionally it is not, and I suspect that on this issue it may not be quite as sound as it usually is.
I am sure my hon. Friend's suggested innovation will be taken seriously by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby. Indeed, he is sitting in his
position on the Front Bench and writing diligently as I speak, so I think the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe has gone in the book. I wish him well for his future career, but I fear it may be as elevated as mine.
Simon Hughes: I have no desire to encourage the hon. Gentleman to speak for a long time, but may I just ask him a question? I understand why backwoods Conservatives might have been against this before we tried it the first time, but given the success of what happened and the clearly positive response, can he not understand that it is bizarre, extraordinary and very sad that he is continuing his opposition as the Youth Parliament itself was clearly far more successful than his argument a year ago?
Philip Davies: I look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman outlining at length his measure of success for that particular debate. We can have a debate at length this evening about what the measure of success is for the Youth Parliament sitting here. It was clearly more successful than I thought it was and perhaps even more successful than he thought it was, because the Deputy Leader of the House told us that the turnout at the election was so much higher. That was something that I had never thought of as a measure of success, but clearly it was; it had nothing to do with any of this.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Mention has been made of how much the young people enjoyed the experience and benefited from it. Does my hon. Friend agree that that was probably due in no small part to the fact that they had heeded the debate and thought that the occasion they were taking part in was unique? It now turns out that it was not as unique as they thought.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. A system of overkill may well be in operation here; these debates may become ten a penny to members of the Youth Parliament and they may not treat them as seriously as they did last time. That may or may not be the case-I guess time will tell.
Philip Davies: I will give way in a second to my hon. Friend, but I wish to finish the point I was making to the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), who said that my position was extraordinary, given that this was such a success last time.
Philip Davies: I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman, but would he say that the Youth Parliament debate that took place in Westminster Hall in a previous year was a success? Or was it a great failure? I think that it was a success, but perhaps he thinks it was a failure. If it was a success, why can they not go back to Westminster Hall? They had a very successful debate there before. They had a very successful debate-he mentioned this or perhaps one of his hon. Friends did-in the House of Lords. Does he say that that debate was a failure and that they therefore have to come in here because it failed in the House of Lords? Or was it a success? They do not really need to come here to have a successful debate. We have proved in this House on many occasions that they can have very successful debates elsewhere.
I might add that when we were debating this last time round and we were asking why they could not go back to have their debate in Westminster Hall, the argument given by the proponents of this was, "They have already been there once and they do not want to go back again." When we asked why they could not go back to the House of Lords, we were told, "They have been there once and they need somewhere different." Why does not the same argument apply on this occasion? They have been here once and presumably they want to move on to somewhere else. I can think of nowhere better than the European Parliament, where I am sure they would be welcomed with open arms.
We say that we are trying to improve the quality of debate in the Parliament in which they speak. It may well be that the Deputy Leader of the House is right in saying that they improve the quality of debate in this Chamber and the decision-making qualities in this Chamber, but believe you me, if they were to have a debate in the European Parliament, they would transform the quality of debate that takes place over there and the quality of decision making. Perhaps they ought to go somewhere else. Perhaps they ought to go to Buckingham palace, because they have not been there before for a debate. They seem to want to go to somewhere only once, so why are we now presuming that they want to keep coming back to the same place year after year?
Emma Reynolds: Everyone in the Chamber knows of the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for the European Parliament, but does he agree that our Parliament is a remarkable institution and it is not comparable to sitting, speaking and standing in Westminster Hall? We should be proud of the fact that young people are interested in the politics of this country. I regret the cynicism expressed by some, but not all, hon. Members on the Benches opposite and the fact that they take such a distasteful approach to this matter. Why are they not proud of the fact that young people want to come here to debate things and look at how our Parliament works? Why are they ashamed of that?
Philip Davies: I am very sorry that the hon. Lady takes that view. I am sure that all the members of the Youth Parliament will have tuned in late at night to watch this debate to see their fortunes unfold before them. What they will probably be slightly concerned about is that in this Chamber that they all cherish there are people such as the hon. Lady, who is clearly so intolerant of anyone who happens to have a different opinion from her. I thought that the whole principle of free speech and free debate in this House was that we accepted each other's arguments and respected them equally and that although we might come to different points of view, we would respect them. I perfectly respect the hon. Lady's point of view, but it is just a shame that she seems so intolerant of anybody who happens to disagree with her. I am not entirely sure that that is the kind of lesson we should be teaching the members of the Youth Parliament.
I am perfectly respectful of people who have a different view from me, but I also respect that young people have different views from one another and want to take the opportunity to debate them in this place. This is the first of the hon. Gentleman's speeches on this subject that I have listened to and I ask him to
forgive me, as I have not listened to hours of his former speeches on it. Why is he ashamed of this place being used when we are not using it? What does he oppose? Why does he not think that young people should use this place when we are not here? I do not understand his argument.
Philip Davies: If the hon. Lady did not keep intervening, we might get on to the arguments so that we could outline them for her. She is far too impatient-she obviously wants to get on with it. I want to get on with it, too, but I am trying to be generous with people who want to intervene. I shall try to outline the arguments, but I am surprised that she seems to think that the only place that a debate of the Youth Parliament can take place is in this Chamber. Why cannot a debate of the Youth Parliament take place in other forums? They can have a very good debate in Westminster Hall and in the House of Lords. Why do they have to be here to have a debate? That is the point that the hon. Lady is making, which I do not really follow.
Mr Chope: Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the big complaints at the meeting of the Youth Parliament last year was that debates were truncated? The Youth Parliament member for Christchurch, for example, was not called and so he was unable to participate. Would it not be better if the Youth Parliament met not just one day a year but several days each year, so that there was time for every member of the Youth Parliament to participate and to stand on their feet in this wonderful Chamber?
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a very good point and he is living proof that people can change their mind in this place. He seems to be articulating the view that we should have more Youth Parliament debates in this Chamber, an argument with which I am sure that many hon. Members would agree. Many might agree with it secretly because they do not want to let the cat out of the bag now, just like last year when they did not want to let the cat out of the bag that this would be an annual occasion. They now do not want to let the cat out of the bag that they want this to happen more than once a year-in fact, that they want it to happen a few times a year. Perhaps it could happen every week, or every Friday that we did not sit. Perhaps that is what they really think, but they do not have the courage of their convictions to say so.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): How would the hon. Gentleman respond to the suggestion that his speech inadvertently presents the only decent argument against the Youth Parliament's sitting on these Benches, namely that the quality of their debate so far exceeded his that they would put him to shame?
Philip Davies: I have no doubt that Members of the Youth Parliament will put my speeches to shame and I equally have no doubt that they will put the hon. Gentleman's speeches to shame, too. The only difference is that I know it and, perhaps, he does not. The same rules still apply.
Dr Thérèse Coffey:
I am hosting a visit of all the members of the Youth Parliament from Suffolk tomorrow, and is it not a crying shame that the authorities of this House would not find it fit to find tickets for Prime Minister's Question Time, because they said that they could not accommodate members of the Youth Parliament?
And yet they seem happy to say that we should have them here. I believe that this place is special for setting the legislation of this country, and yet apparently it would be a better use of their time to watch more debates in the Committee Rooms or in Westminster Hall. Is it not a crying shame that they have been denied access to see Question Time?
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It comes down to the point about what we can do in this House to encourage younger people to participate in politics and become active in politics-I am sure that that is something with which we all agree. I hope at a later point to discuss matters to do with the cost of this event. The Deputy Leader of the House was going through all the rigmarole about what will happen, but he did not say how much it will cost. Perhaps we ought to think about whether that money could be better spent out in each Member's constituency on trying to encourage younger people to participate in politics, rather than on this grand gesture. My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Perhaps we should take stock and think about what we can do to encourage people to participate in and get excited about politics. She has hit the nail on the head.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): I was sceptical about the Youth Parliament but the cure for my scepticism was seeing it in action and realising that at least one future parliamentarian was almost certainly there on that day. The Stormont Assembly has been doing this for years and not only are there absolutely no problems in Stormont but Ministers respond to the Youth Parliament in the Northern Ireland Assembly. As with many issues, we could look across the water and learn from them.
Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point for which I have a lot of sympathy. If Ministers are so enthusiastic about the Youth Parliament sitting here, I am sure that they will have no objection to volunteering their time to respond to its debate in the way that he suggests. I am sure that that would be a worthwhile innovation. He is known for his ingenuity and his innovations, and I am sure that that one might catch on. He is certainly right that we could learn a great deal from our friends in the Province who often have more sensible views on things.
Mr Heath: Just in case the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is genuinely suggesting an unusual innovation, let me tell him that the acting Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I were all present for the entire day at the last meeting of the UK Youth Parliament and that the acting Leader of the Opposition spoke in the debate. I would certainly think it a privilege to attend this year if it is the will of the House that its meeting should take place in the Chamber.
Philip Davies: It is a red letter day for the Youth Parliament, because not only do we seem to be on the verge of allowing its members to use the Chamber again, but the Deputy Leader of the House has offered to play a full part in their proceedings. I am sure that that promise will have been bagged by them and that they will look forward to that with excitement.
The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) said that he was concerned about the quality of my speech, but my generosity in dealing with interventions has meant that I have not yet started. However, I intend to do so now.
The first point that I want to make is that the debate is not about the merits of the Youth Parliament. One weakness of the argument put forward by those who support the motion is that they try to characterise the debate so that if you are in favour of the motion you are in favour of the Youth Parliament and that if you are against it you must be against the Youth Parliament.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of the House and I know that he does not mean to drag me into what is an obvious disagreement among some in the Chamber. Given that he is so keen on procedure, I know that he will want to stick to it exactly.
Surely it is not sensible to suggest that people who support the motion must be in favour of the Youth Parliament and that those who are against it must be against the Youth Parliament. Nobody could be more supportive of the UK Youth Parliament than I am.
Philip Davies: Once again, the hon. Lady springs up like a jack-in-the-box. [Hon. Members: "Jill-in-the-box."] Indeed. I am not entirely sure whether there is a wasp on that Bench or something else that is prompting the hon. Lady to jump up at every opportunity. If she will allow me to advance the arguments, she might learn why I think as I do. I am very proud of the fact that I spend an awful lot of time meeting people who are members of the Youth Parliament in my area. I am very proud of the fact that I went to visit Bradford council chamber, where an excellent debate took place involving the Youth Parliament in my locality, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to those arguments and that debate. I am all for engaging with members of the UK Youth Parliament.
Philip Davies: If Bradford council is happy for the UK Youth Parliament to use its chamber, that is a matter for it. Perhaps it had this kind of debate before it allowed it to do so; and equally, as someone who believes in democracy, if the will of the House is to allow the UK Youth Parliament to use the Chamber, I will respect that decision, just as Bradford councillors presumably respected the decision of the majority there.
Philip Davies: The hon. Lady makes a good point. I met those members straight after their election. I made a point of contacting them all when they were newly elected to their positions. We all had a meeting in Shipley, and the interesting point, which is the one that she was making, is that not one of them mentioned the fact that they wanted to hold a debate in Parliament. In fact, all the times that I have met members of the Youth Parliament in my locality-
Philip Davies: I am dealing with the hon. Lady's intervention. Even if she wants to intervene again, she may at least listen to the answer to the first one. She asked what view members of the Youth Parliament had of meeting here and what my response was to that. My answer-it is perfectly clear, although it might not be the one that she wants, but it is the answer to her question-is that not one of them mentioned that they wanted to hold a debate in the Chamber. In fact, when I visited their debate at Bradford council chamber, not one of them mentioned doing so either.
Philip Davies: I am still dealing with the hon. Lady's previous intervention. The wasp appears to have moved places. If holding a debate here is so important to all the Youth Parliament's members, perhaps she will explain when she comes back for a second bite of the cherry why none of them mentioned it to me.
Jo Swinson: Perhaps the Youth Parliament's members are not as avid readers of Hansard as everyone else and had not read or heard the hon. Gentleman's previous more-than-one-hour peroration on this issue. Given that he had spoken for more than an hour, I find it strange that he did not mention that to the Youth Parliament's members when they came to meet him and that they had no response to it. Will he confirm that he met them after he had made his hour-long speech in the Chamber and that he chose not to mention it?
Philip Davies: I did meet the Youth Parliament's members after I made that speech in the Chamber. I have never hidden my views on the issue. I have no idea what the hon. Lady does, but I know for a fact that she is an incredibly diligent local MP. She can learn nothing from me about being a good constituency MP, but I will explain my approach just for clarity. When I meet local members of the Youth Parliament, my approach is to ask them about the issues that they are interested in and to ask them to tell me about the things that concern them. Clearly, her approach, which is obviously better than mine, because she is a diligent constituency MP, is for her simply to lecture them about what she thinks. I did not think that that was an appropriate way to deal with them, so I allowed them to raise the issues that they were concerned about, and those issues happened not to include holding a debate here. In fact, many of them were much more interested in local issues, such as crime and job opportunities, and debates about going to university, tuition fees and so on. Not one of them felt that holding a debate in the Chamber would be revolutionary to their lives.
Barbara Keeley: The debate is not about the Shipley youth council or the West Yorkshire youth council, but about the UK Youth Parliament. Young people want to meet young people from other parts of the country and to debate issues with them. If this was just a local matter, one could appreciate that they would feel the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests, but it is not; it is a UK-wide Youth Parliament.
Philip Davies: No one is arguing that the UK Youth Parliament should not have a national meeting, but that is not what is before the House. We are discussing where it should have its meeting. I am sure that the hon. Lady will concede that the Youth Parliament members could meet in Westminster Hall or the House of Lords. If her prime purpose is that they should meet, that is not an argument for why they should meet here.
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way in this waspish debate. He is making a long and pained contribution about why the UK Youth Parliament is important and the many issues that it considers, but he has not set out why those things cannot be considered in the Chamber. He makes a strong case about the many things that young people talk to him about, and I would be worried if the only thing that they discussed was the use of this place, but he has not explained why that should be ruled out. He needs to be clearer about why not this place, rather than why somewhere else.
Philip Davies: The problem with the hon. Lady's intervention is that I have been able to speak for only a few seconds before people like her have tried to intervene. I have generously taken hon. Members' interventions to allow them to have their say, but that has prevented me from setting out my argument. The solution to her dilemma is for her to allow me to continue my speech without intervening because she may then hear my arguments. It appears, however, that she is not interested in listening to anyone else's point of view because she has already made up her mind. She might wish to pass on that lesson to members of the UK Youth Parliament, but I am not sure that it is particularly healthy.
I am all for the UK Youth Parliament and for encouraging young people to participate in politics, but is it not sad that the best way that the assembled brainpower of the House can think of to get more young people involved in politics, engaged in the political process and inspired to want to become MPs is to allow them to hold a debate once a year in the House of Commons Chamber? Is that the depth of our imagination?
Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend touches on the crucial point that simply holding a debate-a one-off debate or annual debates-in the Chamber runs the risk of taking away these people's lifelong interest. Does he agree that one's interest in politics over a long time is driven by the desire to sit on these green Benches?
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind Members of the procedure of the House? Interventions are supposed to be brief, not speeches in their own right. I know that everyone is really interested in the debate and that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has said that he would like to make progress on his main points, so if interventions were a little briefer, that would help.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point in the sense that the people who proposed using the Chamber last time round argued that the Youth Parliament could not go back to the House of Lords or Westminster Hall because, having already been there, its members were bored of them. The logic of that argument, as my hon. Friend says, is that the more time they stay here, the more bored of it they will become, so they might feel less inspired to want to come here as MPs because they have already done so.
Representing one's constituency in Parliament is a tremendous privilege. Everyone in the Chamber will have worked incredibly hard to achieve what for many is a lifetime ambition of representing their constituency in Parliament. It is a great privilege finally to take one's seat. Why would we want to undermine that achievement by allowing people who have not gone through the rigmarole of getting here to take their seats in the Chamber? To come back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), why is the UK Youth Parliament, worthy as it is, so special? If the argument is that young people do not feel that there is sufficient focus on their issues and, therefore, such a debate gives them an opportunity to advance them, I should argue that many of my constituents feel that pensioners' issues are not particularly well covered in Parliament.
Philip Davies: The hon. Lady seems to advance the argument that these seats are no more than furniture and that they of are no importance. She nods her head, so she clearly agrees that we are sitting on furniture that is neither here nor there. That may be her view, and it is perfectly respectable, but I do not share it. When she shows her constituents around this place, does she say to them, "We'll not bother going into the main Chamber, because it's just a row of seats, a few benches, a bit of furniture, to be honest. We've got furniture all over, and these seats are no more important than any other, so we'll miss out the Chamber and go somewhere else because we're not interested"? I suspect not, because these seats represent a bit more than what she just indicated-furniture.
Mr Gray: I disagree with my hon. Friend, but he is making a fine speech. The hon. Lady is being wholly illogical, is she not? If she is arguing that these Benches are merely bits of furniture and it does not matter who sits on them, why are they so special to the Youth Parliament? It could equally well sit in Westminster Hall, the House of Lords, Church House or anywhere else. The point about this Chamber is that it is an incredibly special place; it is an incredible privilege to be here; and, therefore, for the young people it is an incredible privilege to come here. To try to contend that these Benches are merely nothing seems to me to miss the logic of the argument altogether.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and, although we approach the issue from different perspectives, I applaud at least the consistency of his argument. He is absolutely right to suggest that those people who say that, on the one hand, it is a special gesture to allow the UK Youth Parliament to sit here and, on the other, that it is just a row of benches, directly contradict themselves.
Duncan Hames: The hon. Gentleman's first argument, therefore, rests on his own sense of self-importance. However, on his question about what is so special about the UK Youth Parliament as opposed to the other candidates who might use this Chamber, does he accept that many of its members were not even entitled to vote in the elections in which we all stood as candidates, and, indeed, were not eligible to be candidates themselves?
Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable and fair point, and I do not decry his position, but I ask him to reflect on the fact that prisoners are not allowed to vote in elections. Is he saying that we should hold a debate here just for prisoners? The royal family are not allowed to vote at elections, so perhaps he is suggesting that we open up the Chamber so that they can have a debate. Members of the House of Lords are not allowed to vote, so perhaps we should open it up to them if they get bored of their Chamber. The UK Youth Parliament became bored of its chamber and we allowed its members in here, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that, if the House of Lords gets bored of its Chamber, we should make room for its Members on these Benches.
Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that anybody who does not have a right to vote in elections in this country should be eligible to hold a debate here? What about all foreign nationals? They are not allowed to vote. Should we have an annual debate for foreign nationals in this Chamber because they have the misfortune of not being eligible to vote in elections? I respect the hon. Gentleman's point of view, but his argument is nonsensical.
After half an hour, we have come to the absolute crux of my hon. Friend's argument. He said that the work that all of us had done to get here was undermined by allowing other people to sit in this Chamber. Is he really suggesting that he, himself, and his status as an MP have been undermined by what happened last year, and that all other Members have
been similarly undermined? To do him credit, it seems to me that based on his performance tonight he has not changed at all.
The point that I am making is that the motion is wholly illogical. It makes absolutely no sense whatever, because all the justifications for allowing the Youth Parliament to sit here are justifications for allowing lots of other organisations to do the same. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South and the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark made the great point that one of the great features of the Youth Parliament debate last year was that so many people from ethnic minorities took part. If that is the rationale for allowing it to be here, presumably the hon. Lady will advocate that the Muslim Council of Britain should have its meetings here. If we want lots of people from ethnic minorities here, the council would be a prime candidate.
Barbara Keeley: In raising the point about ethnic diversity, the hon. Gentleman misses the point. The point is that the UK Youth Parliament, through its work and how it elects its members, is more diverse than this House. That is impressive.
Philip Davies: That may well be the case, but is the hon. Lady really suggesting that any organisation that happens to have a more diverse make-up than the House should therefore be entitled to have a debate here? That is the logic of her position. The make-up of the Youth Parliament may well be more diverse, but that is no argument for allowing it to have a debate in this Chamber.
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that the UK Youth Parliament is elected on a system based on constituencies? Each local authority area has a certain number of places at the Youth Parliament. The young people fight elections against other young people, so they have some legitimacy as members of that Parliament. What would be better than for the UK Youth Parliament to come to the mother of Parliaments and sit here to debate for one day? I cannot understand why some Government Members are resistant to that.
Philip Davies: The hon. Lady raises a perfectly valid point, and I do not wish to decry it. If her argument is that we should allow all organisations with democratic legitimacy to debate in the House, it is perfectly reasonable-I am sure that all my local parish councils will look forward to their day in the sunshine, when they have their debate. I suspect that many people in my parishes feel that national significance is not given to all the issues that they debate. Perhaps members of my local authority in Bradford will look forward to their day in the spotlight when they can have a debate here. If the hon. Lady's argument is that all organisations with some democratic accountability should have a debate here, it is perfectly valid, but she still has not given any reason why that should apply only to the UK Youth Parliament.
Is not what makes the UK Youth Parliament so special that it is so closely modelled on this place? As the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) pointed out, it has contested elections for constituencies closely modelled on our own and the procedure is based on ours. UK Youth Parliament members have therefore expressed great respect and gratitude for this place. Does the hon. Gentleman not think it a bit mean-spirited and churlish for us not to return the compliment?
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech as usual. I had not intended to intervene, but on the last point I should say that the difference between the Youth Parliament and this Parliament is that we are allowed to stand under party labels, whereas Youth Parliament members cannot. It is not the same as this Parliament.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right about that technical difference between the Youth Parliament and this one. I am not sure that that negates the point made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood); any Parliament should be made up as it sees fit. However, I do not particularly accept his premise to start with. He is scrabbling around trying to find what is different about the UK Youth Parliament as opposed to any of these other worthy bodies.
I will tell you, Madam Deputy Speaker, what is different about the UK Youth Parliament and its relationship with this Chamber. What is different is that we have, in my opinion, the sight of a lot of very sad people trying pathetically to ingratiate themselves with young people in their constituencies, which is absolutely painful to behold. They think that this is a trendy course to follow. If they want to try to look trendy with their constituents, they will argue that they want to have the UK Youth Parliament sitting here so that they can go back and say, "I'm trendy, I supported you." It is frankly rather pathetic. That is the only difference between the UK Youth Parliament and all these other bodies, however hard hon. Members scrabble around for differences between it and anything else.
Steve Baker: I am not sure that there are that many young people in my constituency judging from many of the meetings that I go to. I think that my hon. Friend is being quite disingenuous towards those of us who are taking this debate very seriously. I came here this evening to hear what he had to say, in all seriousness, to persuade me that I should not vote to let young people come and sit here for one day to express their respect for British democracy. I must say that after all I have heard from him, I am increasingly persuaded that we should let young people come and sit here.
My hon. Friend is perfectly entitled to take that view. He said that he wants to listen to the arguments; well, I have got on the record only one paragraph of my speech because I have been dealing with hon. Members' interventions. My hon. Friend is a very diligent local MP, but I am sure that if he looks a
bit harder, he will find some young people in his constituency, and then he can ask how many of them are desperate to come and have a debate in this Chamber. I think he will find that that is not near the top of their list of priorities. I could be wrong.
Adam Afriyie: It seems to me that my hon. Friend is going through a tick-box list of variables and characteristics of the various different organisations, and then going through the arguments one by one and trying to discount each individual argument, or arguing that that single variable is not the variable on which we should make the judgment. In sophisticated argument, and in making sophisticated judgments, one takes multiple variables and judges them all together in the round, not one by one. As he goes through each of the variables, he is agreeing that that variable is pretty much true or valid, but then saying that that on its own it does not seal the decision to make the judgment. I put it to him that if one is a little more sophisticated, one makes the judgment by taking all the variables and saying, in a combined fashion, that that therefore tips the judgment in favour of allowing them to be here.
Philip Davies: I applaud my hon. Friend's honesty. In effect, he appears to be accepting the point that I have been making in dealing with interventions-that there is nothing unique about the UK Youth Parliament and its composition that means that it should uniquely be able to use this House-but exercising his judgment in believing, taking everything into account, that theirs is a different and special case compared with everyone else. That is a perfectly valid point and a perfectly respectable argument, but I am delighted that he appears to be agreeing with the thrust of my argument that there is nothing unique about the make-up of the UK Youth Parliament that means that it should uniquely be able to do this.
Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend accept that at this hour, and bearing in mind how many hon. Members have now left the Chamber, it seems a little unfair to be monopolising the debate when he has been such a strong proponent of a clear, honest and open debate about this very important subject? Does he agree that there may be others in the Chamber who wish to look at this more as an opportunity for young people to promote democracy and to understand their democratic rights, and less about his desire to keep this Chamber specifically for the benefit of its Members?
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a curious point. She says that I am monopolising the debate, but what I am actually doing is giving way to Members who want to intervene. It seems strange to make the case that I am monopolising the debate by allowing Members to intervene. If I were trying to monopolise it, I suspect that I would not allow any interventions.
If my hon. Friend looks at the motion on which we divided earlier, she will see that she supported a motion to allow this debate to last until any hour. I think I am right in saying that she walked into the Aye Lobby to vote for that. It is no good voting to allow a debate to
continue until any hour and then complaining when it lasts until any hour. I suspect that in future, she might wish to vote no so that the debate does not last until any hour. I am sure she will look more closely at the Order Paper in future.
Philip Davies: I think I am right in saying that it was to allow any Member to speak until any hour. I will be delighted to allow my hon. Friends to speak until any hour later on. I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that if anything I have said so far had been out of order, you would have told me so. From the fact that you have not, I suspect that you are content that the things I am saying are relevant to the debate.
Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): I am exceedingly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. May I ask him a question on what I think is the crux of his speech? Does he believe that these green Benches and the right to use them belong to us as Members, or does he believe, as I do, that they and all of Parliament belong to the people who send us here?
Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman may feel that, in which case tomorrow during Prime Minister's questions he will presumably invite one of his constituents to sit in his place. It is not the case that by definition, any of our constituents can come and sit themselves here on these Benches. In fact, he may have noticed that usually, as he gives his constituents tours, there are signs up on the seats saying, "Please don't sit here". He appears to be on the verge of supporting the principle that some of his constituents can come and sit on these Benches but others cannot. There is plenty of time for the debate, so I am sure he will wish to tell us in his own words why he believes that and why some of his constituents are second-class citizens.
When a young person comes to me and asks me to talk about Parliament and politics, I always tell them that when a politician is given a problem to solve, their solution will always incorporate two ingredients. The first is that they have to be seen to be doing something, which is the bane of politicians' lives. I long for the day when a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says, "Well, actually, that's got nothing to do with me. It's for other people to sort out for themselves." They never want to underestimate their importance. The second ingredient is that their proposals must not offend anybody. If hon. Members have not already worked that out for themselves, I ask them to look out for what happens whenever a politician is given a problem. If a politician can find a solution that incorporates looking as though they are doing something and not offending anybody, they will jump on it at the first possible opportunity.
That appears to be what we are doing this evening. We want to engage more young people in politics, so what is being proposed is, "We have to look as though we are doing something, so we should let young people sit in the House of Commons Chamber. That does not particularly offend anybody, so let's go for it." However,
that does not deal with why young people are so disengaged with the political process. If any Member really thinks that this sticking plaster will mean that young people will start turning out in droves at elections or engaging in the political process all of a sudden, I believe they are mistaken.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so far into his speech. As parliamentarians, we exist to inspire people to come here-I think we would all accept that. Knowing that this debate was coming up, I spoke to the representatives of my area, who were desperately looking forward to the opportunity to come here and have their say. Did he consult his representatives, and what did they have to say?
Philip Davies: I do not doubt that my hon. Friend had good reason to be asleep when I dealt with a similar intervention earlier-I am sure that my speech sends everybody to sleep. It might seem a long time ago, but I remind him that I said that I had spoke to the MYPs in my area, and they did not mention that they wanted to have their debate in the Chamber.
Bob Blackman: I rise again to ask a specific question. Knowing that this debate was coming up, did my hon. Friend consult the people who are elected to come here and have their say? The point is that young people who have fought elections for the opportunity to come here are keen to take it up, and we as parliamentarians should not stop them.
Philip Davies: My hon. Friend's experience may be different, but his intervention would have been better directed at the Deputy Leader of the House- [ Interruption. ] If the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) will control herself, I can finish my point. If my hon. Friend were so desperate for every hon. Member to speak to their MYPs before the debate, he should ask the Deputy Leader of the House why the Government tabled the motion this morning without any warning. He is quick off the mark-as ever-but if he wanted all hon. Members to hold a wide consultation with their MYPs, he should suggest that his and my hon. Friends do not support the motion tonight, but allow themselves to take stock and revisit the situation at a later date. If that is his suggestion, I will not disagree with him-it would be a perfectly valid argument-but if he is worried that there has been insufficient consultation with MYPs, he should address that to the Deputy Leader of the House, because the motion was put on the Order Paper only today.
Jo Swinson: Far be it from me to suggest that hon. Gentleman did not begin writing his speech before today given that it is has lasted nearly an hour, but the motion was on the Order Paper yesterday. Given the medium of e-mail, the fact that he is such a strong supporter of the Youth Parliament and that he is speaking at such length, I am surprised that he could not find time in the past 48 hours to consult MYPs from his area.
The reason we are having this debate tonight is not the fact that the Government have given it time, but the fact that they were unable to sneak the
motion through at the end of play yesterday without any objection. As the hon. Lady is so keen to debate such matters, I am surprised that she was not here last night to object to the motion going through on the nod. If she wants to give a lesson and set a good example to MYPs, she should advocate debates. Why was she not up complaining that we were setting a bad example by simply nodding a motion through at the end of play without debating it? I am slightly concerned that she is not doing enough to set a good example to MYPs.
James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): Does my hon. Friend genuinely believe that those MYPs who have stayed up to watch the debate tonight will be amazed by the proceedings, the quality of the debate, and how we spend time to debate such motions when other important matters of the day go by undebated here, or are given rather less time and significantly less attention?
Philip Davies: I am certain that MYPs who are avidly watching tonight will have been impressed by my hon. Friend's intervention, and that he has enhanced their opinion of the House. However, I hope he is not suggesting that we should not debate this motion. If he thinks that the debate should not be till any hour, I presume that he did not vote for previous the motion. The Government could have tabled a motion to limit the debate so that it could last only an hour, an hour and a half, two hours or three hours, but they did not do so. It appears-I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong-that he voted for the debate lasting till any hour. Given that, I am sure that he will happily live with the consequences. Perhaps in future he will not listen so avidly to the Whips when they tell him how to vote. He may be signally disappointed again in the future.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend's concise speech for nearly an hour and he has taken a fair few interventions. He has made two germane arguments. The first is that this gathering could take place anywhere other than in this Chamber and, second, that it sets a precedent. If it does set a precedent, we will have to have another debate and a full chance to debate it. I would be grateful if he would now address himself to the actual harm that he sees in allowing the members of the Youth Parliament to debate in this place when the Chamber is not being used for the legitimate business of this House.
Philip Davies: The point is that I am a Conservative-as is my hon. Friend-and the principle of Conservatism is embodied in the saying, "If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change." As a Conservative, I believe that the onus is on those who propose change to make the case for that change. The case for no change does not need to be made. The point that I am making in my contribution-if I am allowed to get on with it-is that the case for change is a poor one. All of the arguments that have been given are spurious and do not stand up to much scrutiny. I urge my hon. Friend to ask other people to make the case for change, because they have not done so thus far.
We were told earlier that allowing members of the Youth Parliament to sit here will inspire them to get involved in politics. That is one of the arguments that was made last time. It was said that we must allow the
UK Youth Parliament to sit here, because if we do so they will be inspired and become interested in politics. That is a curious argument because, by definition, those people who are members of the Youth Parliament are already interested in politics. That is why they are there. If our motivation is to try to inspire more young people to get involved in politics, we should be asking those young people who are not members of the Youth Parliament to come and have a debate here, because that might encourage them to get involved in the Youth Parliament. Why would we want to limit the opportunity to those members of the Youth Parliament who are already interested in politics?
Mr Nuttall: Does my hon. Friend agree that what is likely to inspire young people is not so much where their organisation meets, but the strong opinions of someone who is prepared to stand up and speak out for the things that they really believe in-as he is doing?
Stella Creasy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because obviously we have not heard much from him this evening. Will he clarify that there are some instances in which he would allow young people to use the Chamber? In which case, it would appear that his objections are to the UK Youth Parliament rather than to young people sitting in this Chamber. That would be a useful clarification of his views.
Philip Davies: The point that I am making is that there is no logic to the case for allowing only the UK Youth Parliament to use this Chamber. If people take the view that no one else should be allowed to use the Chamber, it would be a sensible and rational point of view. If someone takes the view that anyone should be allowed to use the Chamber, that would be an equally valid point of view. For the life of me- [Interruption.] The hon. Lady makes an intervention, but she does not seem to be particularly interested in the argument. I can only reiterate that she must have already made up her mind.
The argument that has not been made, and which the hon. Lady must make later, is why the UK Youth Parliament alone should be allowed to use the Chamber once a year for the duration of the Parliament, and why she wants to exclude every other organisation from using the Chamber. Why is that the case? Why is she making that point? It is the point that I, for the life of me, cannot understand. The Minister did not set out particularly well why the Government believe that only the UK Youth Parliament should be able to use the Chamber.
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