The intimidating nature of the Houses of Parliament has been widely recognized by its numerous members. David Lyod George called it ‘suffocating’; Aneurin Bevan described colleagues as ‘weighted to the ground’ by its presence; and the former Prime Minister, John Major once described it as a place where ‘every nook and cranny [is] filled with history’.
Coupled with its weighty presence is the fact that the average MP is 50 years old. However, aiming to burst through precedent and intimidation is the Youth Parliament, providing opportunities for ’11-18-year-olds to use their elected voice to bring about social change’.
On November 9 2018, the House of Commons will become home to issues affecting younger people. Representatives from the Youth Parliament will debate and then vote on what issues should become their priority campaigns for 2019.
To inform their decision, young people can now take part in ‘the UK’s largest survey of young people’s views’ — the ‘UK Youth Parliament’s Make Your Mark Campaign’, where those aged 11-18 can vote from a shortlist of ten issues, ranging from mental health to putting an end to knife crime, on what should be debated in Parliament.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, who will chair the debate, John Bercow said:
‘The Make your mark Ballot is an excellent opportunity for millions of young people across the UK to make their voices heard’.
The UK Youth Parliament, managed by the British Youth Council, is of enormous significance, in the attempts to represent younger people, without a vote, in the democratic process. The ballot and the subsequent debate are a rare opportunity, that combines the machines of Government and the voices of youth issues. Young people will walk through voting lobbies that have in recent years been the setting for votes on the military action in Syria or the decision to trigger Article 50.
Reflective of this opportunity will be the presence of government Minister Tracey Crouch MP, who will attend the debate and will reply on behalf of the Government.
The British Youth Council said that the Make Your Mark Ballot campaign will:
‘invite young people in schools and youth groups to inform and influence the Government ‘.
This year’s campaign is expected to reach hundreds of thousands of young people from across the UK. Last year, a total of 954,766 young people took part.
When rebuilding Parliament after the War, Churchill told the Houses of Commons, ‘we shape our buildings and afterward our buildings shape us’. Rather than being shaped by its intimidating presence, the Youth Parliament has seen younger people rise to match the magnitude of statesmanship stored within its walls.
In 2016, a Welsh member delivered an emotional speech on the issue of racism and religious discrimination. She spoke of how a teacher had felt the need to put her down; ‘he made me feel like I was less than anyone else in that class because my skin colour was darker than theirs’. Concluding her powerful speech, worthy of those spoken by the great orators of past parliaments, she sat down on the infamous green benches to a captivated and silenced audience — a response rarely achieved.
Young people can take part in the ballot process by visiting: www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/makeyourmark