Acting up in the House

30th June 1995 at 01:00
Members of Parliament bear a terrible responsibility for the bad influence they have on the young, as the embarrassed judges of this year's Motorola Youth Parliament have been forced to acknowledge.

No, it wasn't the leadership lunacies of the Conservative party that created an undesirable impression - though the winners from Kirkwall Grammar School did fly in from the Orkneys on Tuesday to a photocall on College Green which landed them bang in the middle of the media crisis circus, but rather the everyday, unacceptable face of Parliamentary behaviour.

Dreamed up four years ago by Sir Gerry Neale, former MP for North Cornwall, and Michael Alderson, chairman of the sponsors Motorola Ltd, the Youth Parliament is run by the Citizenship Foundation, and built on Sir Gerry's brainwave when asked to speak at his daughter's school: "Never mind the talk," he said, "let's act it out," and swiftly marshalled his audience into two opposing sides, with Speaker, spokesmen and all the works.

Now the Youth Parliament requires competing schools both to recreate the trappings and tradition of the Commons debating chamber on video, with mace, clerks and procedures, and to stage Question Time and a full-scale debate, with Ministers, Opposition Shadows and backbench intervention - just like the real thing.

Altogether too much like the real thing, seemed to be the reaction of the MP judges John MacGregor, Don Foster, Adam Ingram and Sir Gerry. It might be fair enough to behave like yobbos in a bear-garden at Question Time, but really all that shouting and rude interruption was not traditional during a full-scale debate. More careful guidelines should be sent out for next year's competition. The other judges, BBC political editor Robin Oakley and TES Editor Patricia Rowan, did not intrude on this private soul-searching.

Many schools are now getting the hang of it, with the number and standard of entries steadily rising. Apart from getting it right on procedures, a winning team has the more demanding task of differentiating clearly between Question Time and debate, and reflecting the spontaneity of Question Time is difficult to do. The noise and point-scoring has to be there, but not over-rehearsed, as was the case with one or two of those short-listed. It won't do to have the Speaker throw someone out before their second interruption.

Guildford Royal Grammar School, Yale College, Wrexham, and Soham Village College took the second, third and best newcomer places respectively, but Kirkwall Grammar School stormed away with first prize for a performance strong on presentation, passion and performance with some persuasive speeches and effective point-scoring. Their Leader of the Opposition, Neil Hargreaves, took an individual prize as well and was among those who looked only too likely to make it to the real thing one day. But after this week's visit to the House of Commons he says he doesn't want to be a politician after all: "You'd never know who your friends were."

For details of the l99596 competition contact the Citizenship Foundation, 6th floor, Weddel House, l3-20 West Smithfield, London EClA 9HY.

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