Getting the train there, Shereen and I were frantically looking over our notes preparing for our moment in the spotlight when our little faces light up the television screen and we excite the avid viewers with our eloquent and well informed opinions on sexual education, transport costs, job opportunities for young people, university tuition fees and war.
Stepping off the train, then jumping onto the tube, we were very excited about the day that lay ahead. We were off to the House of Commons. A place riddled with tradition, the heart of democracy, the centre point of politics. Only elected members of Parliament have ever been allowed to sit in the chamber, until last year, when the Youth Parliament was allowed to sit on the prestigious and iconic green benches. A huge honour and privilege, one which we were all acutely aware and grateful of.
We all assembled into the chamber, the atmosphere was electric and the exhilaration exuded from each and every one of us was keenly felt. We were firstly addressed by Lawrence Ward, assistant Sergeant at Arms, welcoming us to the chamber and informing us of the details of the day. We became extra excited when we were informed that we would each receive a goody bag at the end of the day! We were then addressed by Mr David Heath, MP for Somerton and Frome, who voiced his annoyance that Members of Parliament do not receive goody bags at the end of debates. He then went on to remind us what a remarkable opportunity we had in-front of us. Finally, we were addressed by the Speaker of the House of Commons himself, Mr John Bercow. He also wished us a warm welcome, then remarked what a historic day it was, and how he threw his whole support behind us.
The debates then kicked off. We wanted to do ourselves, and other young people, proud. We wanted to show all those who opposed the motion of allowing the Youth Parliament into the chamber, all 21 of them, that we were worthy of it. And we did. All those who had the opportunity to speak, unfortunately Shereen and I were not called on to stand, expressed themselves with poise and dignity and expressed their opinions in a diplomatic and sensitive manner.
After we'd heard the opinions of as many people as possible, the speeches were then summed up and closed. We then tottered off to vote, being led into very grand back rooms, full of leather bound books and velvet upholstered chairs, and we were given a sheet of paper to mark whether we were for the motion or against, then handed them in to ostentatiously dressed men, wearing tailcoats and bows. The results from the votes are as follows: • Should sex and relationships education be compulsory from primary school onwards? FOR-211 and AGAINST-104 • Should university tuition fees rise? FOR-57 and AGAINST-267 • Should the school leaving age be raised to 18 immediately in order to lower youth unemployment? FOR-56 and AGAINST-271 • Should we withdraw all British troops from Afghanistan by 2012? FOR-137 and AGAINST-179 • Should reduced transport fares for young people be protected from spending cuts? FOR-239 and AGAINST-80 The Speaker summed up the day, praising all of the Youth of Parliament and treated us to another rendition of his favourite anecdote about a former MP opposing our right to sit in the chamber, saying that it would be an “unmitigated disaster”, believing we would leave chewing gum everywhere and damaging the benches with pen knives. The Speaker replied by saying that he believed his statement to be wrong, and that we would be honoured to be invited into the chamber. He carried on, saying “I predict you two things: A, that they will speak extremely well; and B, that they wll behave a darn sight better towards each other than many of my colleagues do on a day-to-day basis.” He then concluded that he was pleased to boast that he was indeed right.