Hansard Society Young People’s Question Time 2012
Young People's Question Time 2012 was, like last year, a huge success. Over 200 young people from schools and colleges across London and beyond descended on Portcullis House to quiz a panel of MPs, and one Peer, on the issues and policies affecting them. And as the generation who grew up in the aftermath of the UK's deepest recession, it was no surprise that issues surrounding jobs and the economy dominated the evening, alongside, of course, education.
To watch the event in full, Please Click Here.
Photos to come!
Chair: Krishnan Guru-Murthy - Channel 4 News
Left: Krishnan taking questions at last year's YPQT.
As the queue outside Portcullis House stretched around the corner, it was clear Young People’s Question Time 2012 wasn’t going to give Parliament Week an easy introduction, but kick-start it headlong into the deep end – and this it did.
Schools and sixth form colleges from around London and beyond, representing a diversity of backgrounds and opinions, came together on some of the most debated issues of the past 12 months, including education, the economy and taxation.
Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Channel 4 News introduced the three panelists: Labour Shadow Secretary for International Development Rushanara Ali; Conservative Chair of the select committee on Members' expenses Adam Afriyie; Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Simon Hughes; and, cross-bench Peer and Paralympic gold-medalist Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
Adam Afriyie was the first to answer a question on how more innovative learning techniques could be employed in schools: “I believe in classrooms without walls,” he said. Afriyie, a former IT entrepreneur and Chair of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, explained that pupils should have greater freedom of choice over their subjects and argued that technology had the potential to foster an enriched learning experience.
Rushanara Ali expanded on Afriyie’s point and said: “Young people need to be engaged in a way that recognises the dynamic ways of learning.” However, the Tower Hamlets MP criticised the Government’s school reforms as a regression “back to the chalk and board environment of the 60s” and argued greater emphasis should be placed on career preparation in the form of ‘studio schools’.
Following on from Baroness Grey-Thompson, who called for a stronger focus on individuals, Simon Hughes proposed that pupils pick the medium through which they are taught. Hughes, citing the success of his local school in Tower Bridge whose pupils chose the summer Olympics as the theme of their classes, said: “If youngsters are really keen on something they’re going to be more engaged with it.”
It was no surprise that the discussion quickly moved on to higher education and the hike in tuition fees, which similarly constituted a lively debate last year. Responding to a question on why the Lib Dems agreed to an increase in fees despite their manifesto pledge, Hughes said: “In my honest, private view we should abolish tuition fees and replace them with a graduate contribution.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson, on the other hand, suggested that “useless” degree subjects were undermining the integrity of higher education in the UK and said higher fees force prospective students to consider the value of their degree, in terms of potential career paths, more closely.
Agreeing with the Baroness’s point, Afriyie said: “Students should think what courses bear greater career fruits.” He continued to explain that closer scrutiny of degree-value by prospective students would make universities more accountable by exposing courses at institutions that give rise to less desirable graduate career opportunities.
Referring to a number of questions coming through on Twitter, Krishnan opened up a discussion on taxation. One audience member bluntly said, “Why cut when we can collect?” and continued to explain the amount of revenue lost through tax loopholes.
Rushanara Ali noted the difficulty of achieving this, and explained that there is a “need for international work between governments to make sure tax loopholes are closed”. Afriyie called for a more simple system of taxation and said that the current set-up was a strain on business. Hughes suggested a reasonable solution would be for “companies to pay about 20-25% of their profit in tax”.
Afriyie, who supports minimal tax on business, said growth could be achieved “not by treating (investors) as villains, but by giving them confidence that governments won’t snaffle them when they try to invest in the British economy.”
The issue of low voter turnout and political education quickly followed – a topic the Hansard Society works very closely on. To large applause, one audience member said: “How can you represent the will of the people with such low turnouts?” And another followed with: “How are you supposed to vote on something you don’t understand?”
Ali highlighted the need for citizenship education in the curriculum, which was scrapped in Michael Gove’s English baccalaureate, and added: “Young people need a chance to exercise power from a very early age.” Ali also argued that it is the job of “politicians to make politics relevant to people’s everyday lives”.
In response to Ali, Afriyie countered simply: “If you don’t vote, don’t complain to me about what the government is doing. Have a think about it and get out and vote!”
On the issue of employment, Ali explained that more needed to be done to expand apprenticeship schemes, while Afriyie said unemployment could be cut by investing in business. Hughes proposed a broader focus on green investment would contribute hugely to employment and that we should be looking more towards Europe, which he said is an untapped source for jobs for Britons.
Young People’s Question Time 2012 came to an end with a huge applause from the 250 strong audience. Many of the young people stood in line for photos with the politicians and Krishnan, and lively discussions could be faintly heard as they left through the Parliamentary corridors.
Adam Afriyie MP - Conservative
In 2005 Adam Afriyie became the first black Conservative MP and only five years later almost doubled his majority in his Windsor South-East constituency. A strong supporter of business, former entrepreneur and staunch Eurosceptic, Afriyie has supported the new libertarian movement in the Conservative party and has been highly critical of further European integration. Former party chairman, Francis Maude, has tipped him to go all the way to Number 10!
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson
Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson
is better known for being one of the most successful athletes in British
history, having competed in five Paralympics games and notching up an
incredible 16 medals - 11 of them gold - and over 30 world records.
However, in 2010 Baroness Grey-Thompson was appointed to the House of
Lords as a cross-bench peer, steering her competitive spirit towards
Parliamentary debates on issues surrounding women, welfare, disability
and, of course, sports. Baroness Grey-Thompson is also President of the
NCVO's Leadership 20:20 Commission, which aims to inspire a new
generation of leaders in civil society.
Rushanara Ali MP - Labour
A fresh face from the 2010 intake with a successful political career both inside and outside Westminster, Rushanara Ali was quickly promoted to Shadow Minister for International Development. Ali was also one of the first Muslim women MPs and attained a 14% swing in her Bethnal Green and Bow constituency against the then incumbent Respect MP George Galloway. Born in Bangladesh but raised in Tower Hamlets, Ali is an outspoken supporter of social development in East London and has written extensively on the issue, for both national newspapers and as the co-author of The Angry East End, a study of fifty years of social change in Tower Hamlets. Ali is without doubt a rising star in the Labour Party and The Guardian named her one of the most powerful Muslim women in Britain.
Simon Hughes MP - Liberal Democrat
Approaching the 30-years mark as the MP for Southwark and Bermondsey in south London, which he won after a notorious by-election in 1983, Simon Hughes' Parliamentary career has seen it all. Now Deputy leader of the party, Hughes has held a string of senior positions in almost every department. However, Hughes has remained very close to his inner-city constituency and strongly involved in urban affairs, especially education, young people, housing and the environment. Furthermore, despite being Deputy Leader in 2010 Hughes abstained from the vote to increase tuition fees.