D&S column: helping schoolchildren understand how Parliament works

I consider it one of my most important duties as a constituency MP to talk to schoolchildren about the importance and relevance of politics.

Since becoming the area’s MP, I’ve visited dozens of schools, secondary and primary, to talk about my job as their representative in Westminster, about Parliament and how democracy works in practice.

It’s important because in some recent elections the numbers of young people using their vote has been astonishingly low. In the 2015 general election, less than half of 18-24 year-olds voted and although that rose to 64 per cent in the 2017 poll, it’s still way below older generations.

In recent weeks I’ve been to Ingleby Greenhow Church of England (CE) Primary School and Thornton Watlass CE School to talk about being MP and to answer pupils’ many questions.

It’s not always an easy thing to do because, as we know, children don’t hold back. A seven-year-old is just as capable as an adult of putting me on the spot with a tricky question. Like how we are going to sort out Brexit!

As you would rightly expect, I deal with issues like party politics totally impartially, talking about the blue, red and yellow teams, relating party groups to the house systems many schools operate.

And as most schools have school councils made up of pupils, I relate voting in Parliament to the decisions their school councillors make.

But I am often pleasantly surprised at how much pupils do know about Westminster and Parliament. Like that fact that Big Ben is not the landmark tower we see on the news bulletins but the big bell within the tower (which is actually called the Elizabeth Tower).

And the pupils at Thornton Watlass who knew that to ask a question in the House of Commons MPs don’t put their hands up but rise up from the famous green benches to attract the Speaker’s attention. In the Q&A session at the school the pupils did exactly that (bobbing is the Parliamentary term for it) to put their questions to me.

Perhaps less surprising given the very rural nature of the school’s catchment was the pupils’ knowledge of one very topical issue – that of Natural England’s decision to revoke the general licensing system for the legitimate control of ‘pest’ bird species because of legal action by conservationists. They were very interested in what I had been doing to ensure a new legally robust general permit system is put in place.

I think it is fair to say this was one group of young people who were not fans of Chris Packham’s Wild Justice pressure group!

 

It was sad news indeed to hear about the passing of Sir Timothy Kitson – one of my many illustrious predecessors as MP for Richmond.

He was a kind and very decent man who as well as being a conscientious constituency MP also played an important role in the nation’s political life during the 1970s. He was universally respected across the political spectrum.

I have fond memories of the very good advice he took the trouble to pass on to me when I was first elected in his old seat. The kindness he showed me was typical of the man. He will be fondly remembered.