Will the Right Honourable Teenager please speak out: Harrow’s youth make their mark in Westminster

Youth Parliament

Order, order! These people sitting on the iconic green benches in the House of Commons are clearly enthusiastic, passionate and… too young to vote!

They’re having their say at Westminster in this year’s UK Youth Parliament debate, deciding the group’s campaigns for the year ahead.

Among them was 16-year-old Dara Foody who, as Youth MP for Harrow, gave a voice to thousands of the borough’s 11- to 18-year-olds. MYPs ultimately decided to focus on lowering the voting age to 16 and enhancing the school curriculum with real-life topics.

Christine Robson, Portfolio Holder for Children, Schools and Young People, said: “It is wonderful that, because of the high youth voting turnout in Harrow, the national debate was heavily centred around the needs of our young people.

“Harrow Council takes the needs of young people seriously. We’ve helped create over 500 apprenticeships during this administration and, last week, our Council meeting supported the UK Youth Parliament by passing a motion supporting votes at 16.”

The day in Parliament was chaired by John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, and featured speeches from ministers including Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom.

There were five debates on the topics voted for in the Make Your Mark consultation:

• A Curriculum to prepare us for life. Schools should cover topics including finance, sex and relationships and politics in the curriculum. • Transport. Make public transport cheaper, better and accessible for all.
• Work Experience hubs for 11- 18-year-olds. Knowing where to find work experience can be challenging. The Government should create an online space to help young people with this.
• Votes at 16. Give 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in all elections/referendums.
• Protect LGBT+ People. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender+ young people deserve to be treated the same as everyone else; discrimination needs to be challenged.

Supported by Harrow Council, Harrow Youth Parliament saw 67.02% of the borough’s young people participate in the Make Your Mark consultation – up from 64.38% last year.

All but one secondary school took part, with impressive turnouts noted at Whitmore High School, Harrow High School and Rooks Heath College.

Introducing work experience hubs for 11-18 year olds was the most prevalent concern for Harrow’s young people, closely followed by the issue of public transport and then votes at 16.

On a national level, the increased provision of life skills within the curriculum was identified as being of the greatest importance.

Harrow MYP Dara Foody said: “I feel greatly privileged to have represented the young people of Harrow here in the House of Commons.

“We are determined to provide a voice to all of the young people in our borough and to persistently campaign on issues which are significant to them.

“Over the past year we’ve been working alongside MPs and councillors to increase support for votes at 16 and to lobby for a curriculum for life to be introduced in schools across the borough.

“We will continue to place these issues, as well as work experience and transport, at the top of our agenda so that we can offer effective representation to those who elected us and make a change for all young people including those who are locked out of the electoral system in this country.” 

This year, some 967,000 young people voted in the ballot, setting a new record for the biggest youth consultation of its kind in UK history - with nearly 1 in 5 young people taking part.

The sitting of youth parliamentarians is still the only time anyone other than MPs debate on the famous green benches.