In November 2019 two of our Members; Rhian Shillabeer and Talulah Thomas represented Wales at the 10th Commonwealth Youth Parliament in Delhi, India. Here’s their experience of the trip.
Introduction – Rhian Shillabeer
The Commonwealth Youth Parliament is an event that brings young people from over 53 countries together. The event is designed to involve the opinions and leadership of young people in the international political sphere. Participants are involved in a mock parliament and are expected to amend bills and legislature. Our roles were to be the representatives for Wales and uphold a gold standard of representation and to educate those around us on the work that the Welsh Youth Parliament have been doing. At the same time, once the event had started all affiliation was dropped and we became concerned only with our assigned party and roles within that. The event was split into 3 days, with each having a structured agenda and specific aims. However, the events are also much broader than simply a political gathering. We were able to be involved in a number of varying cultures, some of which we were unfamiliar with, and able to make international friends for life. Although this annual gathering is primarily an opportunity for youth involvement in politics, it is also much more than that.
Over the 3 days that we were in India we were involved in a very detailed and realistic mock parliament involving making amendments to Bills and putting forward resolutions. We were also immersed in Indian culture with constant cultural influences such as performances and local food alongside politics. Overall, this programme offered us not only an insight into how real political entities work, but also allowed us to have a clearer understanding of different cultures and lifestyles. I can confidently speak for both Talulah and I when I say that this trip has not only been educational in terms of our political knowledge but also in terms of our world understanding. This trip has produced friends for life and memories for life which we will take into our futures, politically related or not.
Day 1 – Talulah Thomas
The big day had arrived! Our journey as Hon’ble Members of Commonwealthland Youth Parliament began with an introduction of Mentors and Participators, giving each individual a chance to get to know one another alongside seeking knowledge from the Mentors and Speakers on the Delhi Legislative Assembly. From these introductory and orientation sessions, we gained further insight into the role of Legislature, Legislatives and the key functionaries for Legislative devices, procedures and political parties.
Our afternoon session involved a formal inauguration of the 10th Commonwealth Youth Parliament at the Delhi Legislative Assembly. This monumental event included a Welcome Address delivered by Shri Ram Niwas Goel, Hon’ble Speaker, Delhi Legislative Assembly. Thereafter, Shri Arvind Kejriwal, Hon’ble Chief Minister, Delhi and Ms. Emilia Monjowa Lifaka, MP, Hon’ble Chairperson, CPA Executive Committee delivered their addresses as the Guests of Honour. Shri Om Birla, Hon’ble Speaker, Lok Sabha, the Chief Guest delivered his inaugural address in the Assembly Haul, formally inaugurating the Youth Parliament.
The navigation of legislative and parliamentary processes began as all newly elected Members were welcomed and the House addressed by the Hon’ble Speaker of Commonwealthland, Fasiha Hasaan. Following this, an oath was taken by Members in unison declaring that we as Members will fulfill the responsibility to protect the interest of the nation (Commonwealthland) and our people. Listening to Commonwealthland’s President’s Address, he stated that he believed that each member will ‘’discharge their
duty with utmost probity, diligence and sincerity.’’ The President’s Address also educated us on the characteristics, issues and challenges of Commonwealthland, this ensured all Members were fully aware of the kind of Government the Opposition would ultimately be challenging. These inaugurations and addresses delivered to the House by formal guests and Hon’ble Speakers gave us an insight into parliamentary formal proceedings, this was an experience both Rhian and I had never had before. These proceedings gave us a chance to fully immerse ourselves into the ongoing events within the parliamentary system. A discussion on motion of thanks on the President’s Address was moved by the Hon’ble Minister ‘’That this House expresses its gratitude to the Hon’ble President for his address delivered to the Parliament on 25 November 2019’’. This certain parliamentary proceeding was also something we had never experienced before, like many of the formal systems we encountered as Members of the Youth Parliament.
The day progressed as we divided into our Parliamentary roles as Members, Talulah practicing the role of a relatively right-wing Minister for Social Welfare within the ruling party, Rhian as a feisty more liberal Member of the Opposition - we could tell things were going to get very interesting indeed! Now that the parties and roles within them had been established, it was time to get moving and begin our preparatory questions and answers, amendments to the Climate Fund Bill and special mentions ready for the following days’ events.
Day 2 – Talulah Thomas
Looking back, Day 2 of the Commonwealth Youth Parliament’s proceedings was when the most informative events and debates took place, they were a vital part of our learning curve as Youth Parliamentarians. We began by addressing the House through the process of ‘Special Mentions’, highlighting issues and challenges facing our Parliament. Even though many of these issues were imaginative, without a doubt they coincided with many of the issues facing a lot of the countries representing at the CYP. This allowed us to gain an insight into global issues we perhaps did consider exist or are ongoing, coming from a developed country. The experience of being able to discuss and expand our understanding of the wide range of issues facing under-developed countries and nations has really opened our eyes to global politics, perhaps one could say in a rather unique way.
The next challenge facing us Governing Ministers was to answer the drafted questions by the Opposition party. As a Minister of Social Welfare, I was faced with many questions and scrutiny by Hon’ble Members of the Opposition. I had actually only seen these questions the morning of, so it was a huge challenge to try and think on my feet with little preparation. This part of the experience was thrilling and exhilarating, giving us an
insight into issues often raised in Parliament, giving Members of the Opposition the opportunity to scrutinise and challenge the Ruling party, and forcing us Ministers to be accountable for Government’s actions and decisions even if we didn’t necessarily agree with them as individuals - it really made us sweat!
Our afternoon session included furthering our knowledge and understanding through debating, discussing and voting on our legislative business. The session focused on Hon’ble Minister for Environment Ms. Adriana Jane Lopez moving for leave to introduce a Bill to set up a Climate Fund for Women. This was a bill moved to support women to mitigate the adverse impact of climate change and adapt to climate change. Within this, the idea was to empower them for resilience and adjustment against unfavourable, hostile impacts of climate change on agriculture. As you can tell, this Bill is a very apt and its contemporary relevance was clear to see. I think this was a brilliant idea by the CPA as even though it was an imaginative concept, these are real issues facing many factions within society, especially indigenous groups and tribes facing the repercussions of climate change in this modern age. The Bill actually lead to me furthering my study of the effects of climate
change on vulnerable groups, which is something I believe young people should be educated on during this fragile age of environmental disarray and corruption within modern politics.
Furthering the debate on the Climate Fund for Women, the Opposition and Independent’s Parties both raised amendments and resolutions on the bill. Of which, many were accepted following intense discussions per amendment. However, many were challenged or declined by the Ruling party as a result of our Chief Whip’s expertise in the legalities behind amendments raised. This was an excellent experience in terms of gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation for legalities within the Parliamentary system and points of order during debate.
And thus, the results are in!
Each individual Hon’ble Member of the House voted ‘For’ the bill on a Climate Fund for Women. The experience of debating, challenging and achieving common ground and the ultimate goal in the end was vital to our experience as Youth Parliamentarians as we began to fully understand the system and codes of conduct during Legislative processes. Following the intensity of our experience in the Assembly, we were cordially invited to a Dinner Programme hosted by Hon’ble Speaker, Delhi Legislative Assembly on the Assembly Lawns. This was a truly immersive experience as we delved into the Host country’s culture, with outstanding musical events including many variations of traditional dance. One word: WOW. What an evening!
Day 3 – Rhian Shillabeer
It was our last full day in India and emotions were already running rampant. Of course, the day was started by a breakfast in the hotel and a quick and now somewhat familiar bus journey across Delhi to the assembly. On our arrival we were quickly split up into our respective parties in order to have a quick team meeting and go over the agenda for the day. The agenda was to close parliament and summarise all of our work over the last 3
days, to celebrate that work and to have one last round of questions and answers. After the quick team meeting, we took our seats for the last time. Proceedings were pushed through much quicker than previous days as by now all members are familiar with the process of the chamber. Question time, the opposition geared up for the onslaught that they had faced in the previous days. But the atmosphere on the floor was much different today, most questions were met with laughter and a light hearted responses especially towards the leading parties finance minister Hon. Member Lorenzo Carey.
The Speaker then brought forward a vote that the floor was not expecting, a vote on whether the Commonwealth Youth Parliament should continue for years to come. There was no previous discussion about this bill, as the intention was to leave all partisan ties behind and focus on the preservation of youth involvement in politics. The atmosphere on the floor had quickly shifted from light-hearted to serious in an instant. The speaker produced the bill, read out the contents briefly and then put it to the floor. The prime minister then produced a speech that was both inspiring and very relevant. The speech contained many reasons as to why continuing these events is paramount for the encouragement of youth participation. Our last sitting in Parliament was concluded by closing speeches from leaders of each party. All of these speeches were moving, especially from the honourable minister Joseph Barker who placed emphasis on the friendships that we had all formed and the unity that was being felt by the entire group. To finish off the politics of the trip, we were lucky enough to have a brief talk from the South Africa Miss Fasiha. The talk was about her experiences as a young female MP and how she managed to climb to where she got to today.
Moving in from the assembly we had the opportunity to visit one of the oldest parts of Delhi, the Qutub Minar. We were led by a very knowledgeable guide who explained the long history of the area and the buildings within it. Next we attended a magical dinner in the garden of five senses which was one of the most unique experiences I have had. The food was incredible and alongside that there was more dancing with the group and an incredible reception from the hosts. However we couldn't stay long as we all needed to depart quickly for our flights home.
Then came the worst part of the trip, the goodbyes. Talulah and I were one of the first to leave so we had the chance to say goodbye which was a blessing a curse. We managed the best we could to exchange details so we could all stay in contact.
Conclusion – Talulah Thomas
The trip certainly exceeded my expectations. It was challenging as I embarked on activities I’d never done before, thought about challenges and issues I’d never discussed before. However with that challenge has come confidence, not only within myself as a young female hoping to go into politics and specialise in human rights, but a confidence within our generation of young people. Even if we don’t necessarily have any legislative power as of yet, we are certainly a generation of activists campaigning for change and hoping to influence decisions. The 10th Commonwealth Youth Parliament Conference is a clear testament to my statement.
An experience that solidified why I want to make change and influence decisions made by the ‘top dogs’ within the realm of politics was a talk held by Fasiha Hassan, South Africa’s youngest MEP. I can say with utmost honesty that I have never been so inspired by another’s words and reflection of their experiences. We discussed women in politics and the power of youth participation and activism in a very real and authentic way - cutting any of the drivel I often hear by people in positions in power telling young people to engage in
The most important skill I gained from the experience was the deeper knowledge of how the legislative and parliamentary proceedings work. This was never something I was taught at school, I feel I can further engage in politics as I understand more clearly how things work. This has highlighted the reasoning behind why young people don’t engage in the political world, I believe it’s the lack of education on proceedings and the complexity that often surrounds political events in Parliament. I also learned what it truly means to be a ‘Parliamentarian’, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to shout and spout facts, statistics and go on a rampage about certain issues to prove your knowledge. I believe to be a Parliamentarian you should have the ability to empower, through compassion and adopting a clear understanding of people. This is something I’d like to share with my fellow Youth Parliament members alongside young people here in Wales.