Parliament Week 2012

Big Ben

How the Scout Association won Royal Assent through Parliament

As part of Parliament Week 2011, Culture24 speak to Charlie Roper, a Scout and politics undergraduate at the University of the West of England, who in 2009 became a key part of the Scout movement's Stop the Rain tax campaign. Here he tells us about his own experience of campaigning and engaging with the democratic Parliamentary process.

The Scouts keep a lot of young people off the streets, and provide them with something to do with their time. Unreasonable water bills were threatening to stop us paying for a range of activities such as climbing, canoeing and helping young people to enjoy and develop their lives.

It started with a lot of young people emailing their MPs across the country and collectively we lobbied Parliament heavily.

The activities we do in the Scouts help us develop as people. Taking it away would be foolish and silly, so all the MPs we spoke to supported us in fighting the Rain Tax.

More than 70 of them signed an Early Day Motion, which got the campaign up and running.

The next step was to lobby Parliament. Our Campaigns Team contacted Parliament and, through the speaker of the House, we were allowed to descend upon parliament.

Despite concerns being raised about lots of young people ‘invading’ parliament, the decision was held, as young people should be involved in politics too.

The young Cub Scouts might be too young to vote, but they should be able to have a say about what they believe in and stand up for what they are involved in. More than 200 Cub Scouts joined many others to speak to their MPs in the lobby of Parliament.

We had an All Parliamentary Scout Group meeting in one of the debating rooms and there were so many young people in there. It was brilliant to see so many young people behind a great campaign, and also so many young people involved in politics.

Stephen Pound MP opened the debate as chair of the All Parliamentary Scout Group, and we had the former rugby star Brian Moore there supporting the campaign, because it was going to affect local sports grounds as well. We were taking a lead on behalf of lots of young people – it wasn’t only Scouts.

Huw Irranca-Davies MP, an Environment Minister at the time, was answering the questions because he had to take the lead in talking to OFFWAT, the external water regulatory body, about the charges.

More than 60 MPs attended the debate – that amount is quite unprecedented and unheard of when it comes to events such as ours.

It was brilliant. It felt surreal, but it was good to feel that we were being listened to. A lot of the young people had never experienced anything like it before. They knew why they were there and they knew what Parliament was, but they found out a lot more. I think it’s quite a privilege at that age to be able to do something like that.

The MPs parted and debated about the issue. From this, the Water Management Bill was created. On 9 April 2009 it gained Royal Assent to become law.

It was history. We had never mobilised a movement or worked directly with MPs like that before.

It has definitely set the bar high for us. We have worked with MPs closely ever since – we have fringe events during the party conferences every year where people talk to their MPs about the issues which they feel affect them.

It’s truly made me believe that anyone can make change if they want too. If you have an MP passionate about your cause, and you can drum up enough support, it’s easy.

Finding out about how to do all of the campaigning and being part of making change made me think that this is the path I would like to take. I’ve begun studying politics at university as a result.

I had no idea how closely you could be part of the democratic process, especially when it’s a cause you believe in.

Image: The Scout Association. 

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