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A long day in politics for tomorrow's high-flyers

Organ donation and young voters scooped the prizes in a Parliamentary competition, reports Stephen Lucas

Pupils from across the UK spent a day in Parliament and met Tony Blair at Downing Street after clinching the top prizes in an essay-writing competition.

The 22 winners, chosen from a pool of 400 entries, met the Prime Minister and Michael Martin, the speaker of the House of Commons, on Tuesday, as well as Andrew Marr, the BBC's political editor.

The competition, supported by The TES, was staged by the Parliamentary Press Gallery, which was set up 200 years ago to guarantee the right of reporters to work in the Commons.

Catherine Macleod, the political editor of the Glasgow-based Herald and member of the press gallery, said: "The day went extremely well. Pupils met the Prime Minister at Downing Street and the Speaker, who presented them with their certificates and trophies.

"The Speaker was very encouraging. He told them what a gift they had with the written word and they may go on to become journalists and politicians."

The competition was open to 14 to 18-year-olds. Years 10 and 11 students were asked which law they would change or which new law they would introduce if they had the chance. Y11 and Y12 students were asked how they would ensure a higher turn-out in local and national elections.

Georgia Cole, 14, from Atherley school, in Southampton, was the overall winner in the lower age group. In her essay she argued that organ donation should be an opt-out rather than opt-in system.

She said: "My plumber at home has been through the whole business of trying to get another kidney and it's been very difficult. People should be expected to donate their organs."

She added: "It's been brilliant today. I was surprised at how down-to-earth Tony Blair is. He's different to how he is on TV. He seems quite modest and shy and he has a sense of humour."

Hannah Williams, 16, from Hawarden high school, in Flint, North Wales, won the higher age group prize. She said: "My essay was about the assumption among political journalists and MPs that young people aren't interested in politics, and that that needed to be addressed.

"It's been really good today. Not many people get an opportunity like this and I'll remember it for a long time."

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