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Young MPs call for greater youth participation

  • The UK was represented at the 4th IPU Conference of Young Parliamentarians by Danielle Rowley MP and Ranil Jayawardena MP
  • Delegates from across the world attended the conference hosted by the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa including the IPU President, Senator Gabriela Cuevas Barron
  • Ranil Jayawardena MP and Danielle Rowley MP call on the UK High Commission in Ottawa
Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Geneva, Ranil Jayawardena MP

Young MPs from 51 countries have defined a youth-centred action plan that promotes inclusive democratic and socioeconomic policies for all.  More than 120 young men and women MPs who attended the Inter-Parliamentary Union's (IPU) Fourth Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians in Ottawa, Canada, on 17-18 November, took a united approach to end exclusion and marginalization of young people.

Today, some 27 million young people are on the move. Conference participants expressed grave concern about reports of young migrants and refugees being exploited while in transit, in particular reports of some being sold off in slave auctions, along with the global rise in hate speech, xenophobia and racism. Some of the actions they called for in response included legislating and speaking out against hate speech and exclusionary policies, implementing international conventions protecting refugees and migrants while placing human rights, values and principles at the centre of policymaking and political discourse on migration, and incorporating youth perspectives into efforts to end conflicts that force people to flee.

When 71 million young men and women are left unemployed, it wastes valuable talent and energy, and fosters an environment where poverty, alienation, and even extremism can take root. The young MPs identified ways to transform economies to reduce inequalities and exclusion. They included putting young people and future generations at the centre of socioeconomic policymaking, strengthening linkages between social and economic policies, overseeing government actions to support youth entrepreneurship and vocational training, and addressing the generational gaps in public spending. They also considered basic income initiatives based on inclusive financial inclusion programmes as a means to combat inequalities and marginalization and enhance well-being.

The Conference participants made it clear that social and economic inclusion could not work without political inclusion. Women, young people, indigenous peoples, and minorities of all stripes needed to have a seat at the decision-making table. Immediate action was needed to end youth under-representation in parliaments. Such action should consist of opening up political parties to young people, eliminating age-based rules that prevented youth from running for office, and guaranteeing that young parliamentarians had access to leadership roles in parliament. Participants also called for the launch of an IPU global campaign to drive support for youth participation by world leaders from different sectors including politicians, entrepreneurs, sportsmen and women, and technology experts.

"The young MPs here are proof that solutions to our international challenges can only be found by including them in leadership positions. The power of young people should not be underestimated," declared IPU President, Gabriela Cuevas Barron, the youngest ever IPU President, who had herself participated in the youth movement at the IPU.

The IPU Fourth Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians was organized jointly with the Parliament of Canada. Support for the Conference was provided by the Japanese foundation, Worldwide Support for Development.

The Conference was part of the IPU's efforts to promote youth participation in parliament. The IPU supports parliaments in facilitating the access of young people to political decision-making, empowering young MPs and young people in general, and including a youth perspective in legislation and policies.

A summary report by UK delegation member, Ranil Jayawardena MP follows:

From 17 to 18 November 2017, I was pleased to represent the Government benches at the IPU Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians in Ottawa, along with Danielle Rowley MP (Labour). We were accompanied by Emily Davies from BGIPU.  

Having never attended an IPU meeting in the past, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I am pleased to report that my expectations were exceeded.  With over 200 participants, from over 50 countries, there was real depth to the discussions that unfolded – inside and outside the conference hall. With so many perspectives, shaped by the lives of each individual and of each nation, it was unsurprising to hear robust debate and to see clashes on mutually-exclusive points of principle. That said, it was reassuring to see how an outcome document from the conference could still be agreed upon.

As an aside, our Canadian hosts excelled themselves, with a splendidly organised programme including the opportunity to visit Centre Block. The similarities between our two Parliaments are extraordinary, but shouldn’t really be surprising, given our shared history. This includes Parliament buildings that require significant restoration and renewal – we’ve taken the terminology from our Canadian cousins – though the cost in Britain is much higher! I had a number of very useful conversations on the margins of the conference with Canadian MPs, where I discussed their R&R work, as well as many other matters.

The business of the conference itself was neatly in two halves – which allowed Ms Rowley and I to specialise and play to our strengths and interests. From a really interesting discussion on how migration can be a positive force – including hearing from a charming gentleman who was a refugee from Syria, who has set up a chocolate production business in Canada, creating many jobs for local people – to how it is critical that the economy works for everyone, ensuring that no-one is left behind, it was clear in the debates how all issues, as ever, are interlinked. The horizon of the debate was extended into the future, looking at how young people can help transform economies, how governments can support the creation of the good jobs of tomorrow, and how everyone can help our economies develop in a way that is sympathetic to the environment that we are merely guardians of for the generations yet to come.

For me, three wider points emerged from the conference.  Firstly, given my particular interest in free trade as a driver of economic growth in the developing world, the sessions on inclusive economic growth were where I focussed my energies and secured some amendments to the outcome document. For instance, there was a suggestion that ‘basic income’ programmes would solve the world’s problems – no! There was the assumption that governments can create the good jobs of the future – no! The issues that these lines aim to solve are far more deep-seated and can only be solved by growing economies around the world, through enabling business, through free trade, and through acknowledgement of the fast-moving world in which we live.

Secondly, if those of us from centre-right parties do not participate in these conferences, they risk becoming ‘leftie love-ins’, with ‘virtue signalling’ being all that matters. We would all agree that hate speech, discrimination, xenophobia and racism are wrong. We should then be judged on how we tackle it, not how we talk about it – and in the context of migration, it is not racist to say that migration should be controlled, with people having their democratic say on migration policies at the ballot box.

Lastly, while the average age of MPs in attendance was under 40, demonstrating that younger folk can be elected to Parliaments around the world, there seemed to be a desire for further change. If decided by parties and people, through their selection and election, fine. But to say that we must boost the representation of young people in parliaments, including through youth quotas in the form of legislated measures, reserved seats and party quotas is just absurd, in my view!

Outside the conference hall, it was good to have discussions related to Brexit and trade with counterparts from Ireland, France and Italy, to name but three EU Member States. It was the level of discussion with Canadian counterparts that was most interesting, however, as I received the clear message that they were delighted Britain was ready to take its place on the world stage again, ready to rebuild relationships with old friends and new, ready to be a beacon for free trade. A Britain that is a force for good in the world. That’s what I’m in this for.