When I was younger, I was joint Manager of a youth football team in Southwark with Labour MP Clive Efford – of course, neither of us was an MP then, but we did try to keep up good standards of behaviour and particularly with the referee. Of course, this is not always easy with young players and the passion football generates. Later, I used to watch my son playing youth football for Royston Eagles and although our Royston parents were well-behaved, I did notice that some teams – naturally from outside North East Herts – had very difficult parents shouting and swearing on the touchline and setting a terrible example. Some were even openly rude to the ref. Now this may be standard fare at some grounds, but it has no place in youth football and I do think some senior teams could do a lot better.
Last night Letchworth Youth Council came to visit me in Parliament. I always enjoy visits from youth councillors and this one was no disappointment with the young councillors very keen and asking interesting questions: one was about Green Peace, which led on to us talking generally about the rights and wrongs of breaking the law as a means to a just ends. I argued that even if you agreed with some of the aims of a campaign, if everyone went around breaking the law we would be left with chaos. That was why democracy was so important. The discussion then turned to cycle safety, an issue which the Youth Council had recently been considering. We discussed the suitability of the roads around Letchworth for cycling. I supported their campaign for increased cycle ways. I feel that the Heritage Foundation did well to highlight cycling in their Milennium project for a cycle way around the Garden City and I well remember the excellent opening event with Kim Wilde, our local Pop Star and daughter of the legendary Marty Wilde.
I was interested, but not surprised, to hear that only one of the children rode to school in the mornings – we all agreed that more cycle paths would help, but that in a Garden City like Letchworth it was a difficult choice between narrowing the already narrow roads further, or cutting the distinctive grass verges and roadside trees back.
After our chat I then took the Group on a tour of the House of Commons, which ended up in the Chamber, listening to a debate on whether the UK Youth Parliament would be allowed to use the Chamber for their AGM. Some MPs felt this offended tradition, but I was one of the MPs who campaigned with the late Andrew Rowe for a UK Youth Parliament and am glad that it has developed so well. The vote was won, so they will be able to sit on the Green Benches for one day and who knows, perhaps some will return in the future as MPs. I hope so.
After asking my Question to the Foreign Office Minister about Afghanistan (see speeches), I had a visit from 7 members of Buntingford Youth Council and Town Council Clerk Jill Jones. We met in a Committee Room in the new Parliamentary building, Portcullis House, and I explained about the debate that day on expanding Heathrow. We discussed lots of excellent questions on state education, student finance, the Smoking Ban and other points. Buntingford has had a good history with its Youth Council and I invite them to Westminster regularly. The group clearly enjoyed seeing Parliament in action.
I then showed the group round the ancient Westminster Hall, St Stephen’s Hall (original site of the Commons’ Chamber), Central Lobby and then arranged Gallery tickets so they could watch part of the debate. A good visit.
I had two separate schools’ visits from Letchworth Garden City to the House of Commons today.
These were 6th Formers from St Francis in the morning and Fearnhill in the afternoon – two good local schools.
With St Francis, I held a Q&A with the young students. We started on the dire state of the economy, but the focus soon turned to the Education and Skills Bill. A lively debate ensued – with one bright girl asking me four questions! A possible parliamentarian of the future, no doubt. Then I showed the students and teacher Mary Fenton round the building. As always, they were bowled over by the sheer grandeur of the Westminster Palace and its history.
In the afternoon, Fearnhill students – with teacher Jan Lindsay – popped in after a London conference on conflict. We talked about the current conflict in Zimbabwe and I drew upon my recent experiences in South Africa, where I met displaced Zimbabweans and delegations from neighbouring countries and spoke about security and human rights at an international conference.
We finished and I went on to speak in the House on the subject of Energy Security, which gave me a chance to call for better measures on energy efficiency and renewable energy, but to raise concerns about on-shore wind-farms in Hertfordshire.