On Friday 11th November, for the 8th consecutive year, it was my honour and pleasure to welcome more than 350 members of the UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) into the House of Commons Chamber for their annual debate.
The UKYP, which started life as a steering committee formed in 1998 and headed by the then Member of Parliament for Faversham and Mid-Kent, the late Andrew Rowe, held its first Annual Sitting in February 2000. For some years, the idea that the UKYP should be allowed to use the House of Commons Chamber for an annual debate was floated. However, it was not until March 2009 that the House agreed that the Chamber could be used by a group other than elected Members of Parliament for the first time in its illustrious history. Later that year, the UKYP held its very first debate in the House of Commons. It has been my honour to preside over every annual debate since, and 2016 was no exception.
Every year, I am bowled over by the confidence and eloquence with which Members of the Youth Parliament (MYPs) present themselves. Without fail, the MYPs, whose ages range from 18 to just 11, speak passionately on the subjects they debate. The topics are decided in advance through a ballot – the Make your Mark campaign – in which more than 970,000 young people took part this year. The ballot which, without doubt, is the largest youth consultation in UK history chooses the subjects to be debated and campaigned on by MYPs for the next year. To name but a few, 2016’s topics covered education, racism, religious extremism and the UK voting age.
As always, I was struck by the conviction with which the MYPs discussed and debated these pertinent issues. Needless to say, the MYPs did their electors proud.
Geographically, Buckingham is a rather large constituency but in spite of its rurality, and the great distances which sometimes separate one settlement from its nearest neighbour, I am repeatedly struck by the strong sense of community I observe when I visit local towns and villages.