The UK Youth Parliament has been holding annual sittings in the House of Commons chamber since 2009, and last week Members of the Youth Parliament (MYPs) from all across the country came to Westminster to debate issues that matter to them. I have worked with the UKYP for many years now and each time they come to Parliament I get to hear the debates from the front bench.
This year I listened to the fascinating debates that took place on the Living Wage, exam resits, improving work experience and careers advice, improving mental health services, and giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote. After all the debates had taken place the MYPs voted and choose mental health services and the living wage to be the topics they will be campaigning on in the next 12 months. The quality of the debates and the insight these young people, from so many different backgrounds, brought to Parliament was fantastic.
I was able to chat to many MYPs and was so impressed by how much it meant to them to debate in the Chamber and put forward their views. I was especially thrilled that North East Derbyshire’s own MYP, Adam Hoyes, got the chance to speak.
Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab):
I start by sincerely thanking you, Mr Speaker, for not just chairing this sitting but making it possible. We have had six years of the UK Youth Parliament, and it has been such a privilege to hear all of its members in the Chamber and to participate in it once a year. That would not have been possible without all your work, so thank you very much. I also wish to say a big thank you to the Principal Doorkeeper, Robin Fell. I had no idea that this was your last Youth Parliament. Things will not be the same without you. The speech that you make before the sitting is so deeply moving, and we will all miss it. The person who follows you has very large boots to fill, so thank you very much, Robin. I normally do the winding-up speech at the end of the sitting, which is much easier as I get the chance to listen to all of you, steal all your best ideas and then use them in my speech, but this time I am standing in for Angela Eagle, who is William Hague’s opposite number. She is not able to be here today, and sends her great apologies. She has been present every year, and is, I know, a great supporter of the UK Youth Parliament. It is a privilege to stand in for her. Actually, I am quite glad to be speaking at the start of the sitting, because at the end we will have heard all your fabulous speeches. This is your first time, William, and you will find that you are stunned by the contributions. They are short, polite, to the point and always, always a pleasure to listen to. We are looking forward to a very high standard of debate today.
I wish to say a few words about the Scottish referendum. Just like in this Chamber where we will hear speeches of such a high standard from you, we saw 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland taking their franchise very seriously. Now that the door has been opened, it cannot be closed. It is unfortunate that we will be going into the next general election without 16 and 17-year-olds, but I sincerely hope that it is the very last time that we do so. William spoke of his famous 1977 conference speech at the age of 16. I had a very different path into politics. While William was wowing his party conference, I was busy parting company with my school on not very good terms. These days, people call it a difficult transition to adulthood. In those days, we just called it being expelled from school. Although William and I have taken very different paths in getting here, both of us know what a privilege it is not just to be here but to serve, and to serve our constituents in the best way that we can.
Every year I come here, I am struck by how different you all are and what different walks of life you represent. As William has said, it does not matter from which school you come. You can come from all sorts of different schools and all sorts of different backgrounds. I have been worried that, over the past few years certainly, the type of people who become politicians has narrowed very significantly. We now have many people who went to school, studied politics at university and became researchers and advisers to MPs and Ministers before eventually becoming MPs and Ministers themselves. Having some people in Parliament who know what they are doing is a good thing, but it would be nice to widen the spectrum. We need to widen the field of candidates and the kinds of life experiences that people have. Politics is about not just making speeches in this absolutely amazing Chamber, but the people we meet and the people who influence our lives. When you go back to your constituencies, I hope that you use the experience that you have gained here today to enrich the lives of not just yourselves but all the people around you, because that is what politics is about. With that, I wish you all very good luck, and I hope that you can live up to the very high standard that the UK Youth Parliament has set in previous years. I will sit down now as I am absolutely dying to hear your speeches. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.