- Posted by: Valerie Vaz MP
- Category: News
As Shadow Leader of the House, I spoke at the Youth Parliament debate on 9 November 2018.
Members of the UK Youth Parliament gathered from across the UK to debate in the House of Commons chamber on the following topics: ending knife crime, mental health, ‘equal pay, for equal work’, tackling homelessness and ‘votes at 16’. Each topic was chosen in a record-breaking ballot of more than 1.1 million young people.
You can read my speech below:
Thank you; I am going to take you on the campaign trail. Mr Speaker, thank you very much for chairing these debates and for your commitment in ensuring that the Youth Parliament can be heard. You have made an incredible innovation in this place, and we thank you, all of us, from the bottom of our hearts, don’t we? [Applause.] If Mr Speaker had not done that, we would not be celebrating 10 years of the Youth Parliament.
I have some other thanks to make. Thank you to the British Youth Council and to your teachers, supporters, mentors and families—all up there in the Gallery. Shall we say thank you? [Applause.] I thank everyone here in Parliament: the Serjeant at Arms, Phil and his team, the police, the Education Service and Jessica Taylor, our photographer, who silently goes about her work making historical documents. Of course, I also thank you, the honourable Members of the Youth Parliament. You have worked hard to come to this place. For some of you, it may just be for one day, but for others, it may be your future place of work.
Just as you heard from the Prime Minister this morning, welcoming you to this place, the Leader of the Opposition, who was in the Chamber to listen to your top debate, wants me to read out a message. He said:
“It was a privilege to join you earlier, and to be able to watch the very high standard of discussion in your debate on knife crime. This is such an important subject which must be seriously tackled by our society so we can end a scourge that is taking the lives of too many people. The strength of the UK Youth Parliament is its celebration of democratic principles—the permanent right of all of us to be able to decide our own collective future, chose our representatives, and pick our leaders. We also get to sack them too, if we wish.” He said that. [Laughter.]
He went on: “That matters because the great changes in history have always come from below. Real change happens when people come together and demand it—it is almost never handed down from leaders above. This year celebrates 100 years since the first women in the UK were able to vote— something which was only won by protest, struggle, and women demanding an equal voice in Parliament. Yet after all these years, we are still fighting for equality, and still fighting for genuinely equal rights for all. I have always believed that the people who make the best decisions are those who are directly affected by, or directly involved in, the question at hand. It is absolutely right that young people, such as all of you, are given this platform to speak for yourselves about the issues you care about. After all, politics is about getting stuck in, and speaking up for the causes you believe in.” Rt Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP Leader of HM Opposition.”
Through Make Your Mark, over 1.1 million young people between the ages of 11 and 18 voted to highlight the scourge of knife crime. There has been a 16% increase on the previous year, with the highest number of knife crimes since 2011. We need to find out the causes of why someone feels the need to take a life and why those young lives are lost. They are doing that in Glasgow, and the Mayor of London is committed to doing the same. Vicky Foxcroft, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford, works every day to find a reason. She is sorry she cannot be here, but she is delayed in her constituency.
On your second topic, there are now more referrals to child and adolescent mental health services, at about 186 a day. The Public Accounts Committee has recently held an inquiry into children’s mental health, and we await its report. Last year, Tracey Crouch, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford was here, and she knows the effect of the scourge of gambling on mental health and wants to stop it now.
On your third topic, yes, you should be paid the same for the same work as everybody else. Today, we do not celebrate but we remember Equal Pay Day. That is the day from which—from now—until the end of the year women do their work for free, because we are not paid the same as men, and this in the year that we celebrate 100 years of some women getting the vote. There is also the injustice to the WASPI women.
Your fourth topic is that when there are homes standing empty there should not be homelessness, and of course we agree with votes at 16. Democracy is only safe when we show up, and you showed up today to debate these important issues, just as other young people have shown up around the world. Tabata Amaral de Pontes is 24 years old and has been elected to the lower House in Brazil. She was here yesterday as one of the Women of the World MPs. Emma González showed up when her friends were gunned down, and she founded Never Again and the March for our Lives. Young people from a school in Brent showed up yesterday, demanding a real living wage for cleaners at football games. The suffragettes and the suffragists showed up, as did the young men who lost their lives so that we could be here today. They showed up for us and fought in two world wars, and we remember them 100 years after the end of the first world war.
I saw the installation “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” at the Tower of London, which commemorated the start of the first world war. That is the title of a poem by an unknown soldier from that war, and 888,246 ceramic red poppies represented British and colonial soldiers who lost their lives. The arts play an important part in helping us to understand the world. I was lucky enough to go to the Royal Albert Hall last Tuesday for the Music for Youth Proms. It was great to see the recorder, xylophone and brass bands, and for the first time, a 21-year-old, Peter Morgan, composed the finale. He called it “Let’s Get Together”, which is what you have done today—you have got together, to debate and to find a solution.
You did not denigrate each other but you debated the issues, and that is something we can learn from you. Make sure you report back for Parliament Week next week in your school, organise a debate on one of your topics, hear the voices of your colleagues, and write to your MP and say you want a debate. Last week, I asked for one of your topics to be debated in Parliament. Why not start an online petition? You need only 100,000 signatures, and it will have to be debated in Westminster Hall. Honourable Members of the Youth Parliament, you seized the day; you showed up. Thank you for gracing Parliament with your dignity, eloquence and passion. [Applause.]