The Parliament Education Service runs an annual Discover Parliament Programme aimed at 16-18 year olds studying higher level politics, citizenship and general studies. This afternoon I met 80 students taking part in the Programme. They were from three schools in Pinner, Chelmsford and Bristol.
As ever on such occasions, the questioning was lively, sometimes challenging and extremely wide-ranging. We covered – amongst other things – such topics as:
- aren’t MPs too old (I’d explained that the average age of members of the House of Lords is 69);
- why aren’t 16 year olds allowed to vote or to sit in Parliament;
- what did I think of Gordon Brown;
- should taxes be put up in the current economic situation;
- should the age for getting a driving licence change;
- what were my views about David Cameron, Lord Mandelson and the BNP (interesting grouping);
- what should be done about knife crime and gangs;
- was “kettling” of G20 protesters fair (from a teacher);
- should children be taught more about current affairs;
- did the LibDems have a better record on MPs’ expenses;
- is the threat of terrorism rising;
- should there be limits on immigration;
- was the war in Iraq right; and
- did I think Labour would win the next General Election and when would it be?
As I said, a lively hour – and an exhilarating one too.
Effectively, these Discover Parliament programmes can only take place during school term time and when Parliament is not sitting. In practice that means they are only possible for about four weeks a year from the early part of September. A by-product of Speaker John Bercow’s proposal to shorten Parliament’s summer recess might well be to end these programmes. Whatever the merits or otherwise of Parliament sitting in September (something I personally would favour), it would be a retrograde step to lose this outreach work with young people.