UK Politics

Youth Parliament takes over Commons

UK Youth Parliament 2015

Teenagers took over the Commons on Friday for the annual UK Youth Parliament debate.

The famous green benches were packed with enthusiastic young Parliamentarians, presided over by Commons Speaker John Bercow.

Topics debated included religious discrimination, mental health services and the living wage.

But the members chose racial and religious discrimination as their national campaign issue.

The day was full of energy, laughter and passion not usually seen in such abundance in the Commons, particularly on a Friday when the chamber is usually virtually deserted.

There was also a lot of clapping - normally banned in the chamber - hugs and even some tears.

'I have a dream'

A record number of young people - over 950,000 - voted to choose the five topics that were debated.

The event marked the beginning of Parliament Week, which aims to increase awareness of the UK's Parliamentary democracy.

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Media captionYouth MPs plea to continue mental health campaign
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Media captionYouth MP: Fight racism through example

Shamim Miah started the first debate on tackling racism and religious discrimination saying real equality can only come about "through our actions in our communities."

He went on to quote Martin Luther King, saying "I have a dream", and invited Member of Youth Parliament (MYPs) to join the fight against racism and religious discrimination.

During the mental health debate Saffron Worrell gave a passionate speech, saying: "The campaign means so much to me because it symbolises what young people have to fight for.

"We need to feel valued, we need to feel happy, we need to feel like the future is going to be bright. And some young people don't feel that way."

She added that people with mental health problems were more likely to end up in jail than under mental health care.

'We made it'

In the afternoon session they discussed a curriculum to prepare for life, the Living Wage for everyone, not just the over 25s as proposed by the government, and what the Magna Carta means to young people on its 800th anniversary.

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Media caption'Living wage campaign is unachievable'
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Media captionYouth MP: We're here to light a candle
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Media caption'Why are women a minority in politics?'

On the living wage, Caitlin Smith said: "I have a Saturday job I work on Saturday afternoons and my hourly pay is £3.79.

"That means that my dad pays more in petrol to drive me to that job than I actually earn… we have a democratic mandate to support this issue."

Monica Yianni, gave a speech in rhyming verse, saying "we need a new Magna Carta, you can call it what you will.

"No living creature no matter where, should have to foot the bill.

"It doesn't matter who you are, nor where you are from, nor your gender, your race your religion. We all just need to get along."

In his closing speech, Minhaz Abedin said: "I was going to start this speech with we made it, but then I realised it was a bit better than that, 969,992 young people made it.

"Every person in this chamber has witnessed something historic today, so let us take a second to realise what we have actually accomplished.

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Media captionWords of wisdom from TV's House of Cards
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Media captionYouth MP calls to tackle discrimination

"Today we represented the voice of nearly a million people. Today we empowered a generation. Today, we made a difference."

Members of the Youth Parliament chose to make tackling racism and religious discrimination their priority UK-wide campaign for next year. This won with 150 votes, beating a campaign for the living wage with 117 votes.

They also chose the mental health services motion as their devolved (English only) campaign. This won with 117 votes, beating a motion on improving the school curriculum, with 110 votes, and a campaign for better public transport, which received 43.

Representative

Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson confirmed the Youth Parliament will be able to sit in the Commons until 2020.

He said: "I can't escape noticing that the house has been a very different place today. From glancing around I can see that there is an almost equal split in today's attendance between male and female MYPs.

"And a similarly representative proportion of MYPs in terms of ethnicity. Today Parliament physically resembles the body of people it represents with much greater accuracy."

His comments were met with loud applause, cheers and whooping, as had many other speeches throughout the day. Mr Wilson joked: "If only I could get my fellow MPs to give me a round of applause, instead of shouting at me."

Each member of the 279 strong Youth Parliament from across the country has been elected to represent their constituency.

They are more representative of the UK than their adult counterparts in terms of gender, ethnicity and background.

'Proud'

Namir Chowdhury, 17, member of Youth Parliament said: "The opportunity to debate these topics in such a prestigious chamber is a true honour, and a credit to the inspirational work that young people, and the youth workers and our partners, have done over the last year.

"We will be remembered for generations because we brought real change. Now, it's time to make the people we represent proud."

Commons speaker John Bercow was in his usual seat presiding over the debates. He said he was impressed by the quality of the speeches and points raised. Concluding the day he said: "each and every year you perform magnificently."

Deputy Commons leader, Labour's Chris Bryant, and Conservative MP Therese Coffey opened the debate.


Members of Youth Parliament tweets of their excitement throughout the day.

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