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It is recognised worldwide and its history is an expression of the history of the United Kingdom, of Great Britain and of Northern Ireland.

The Union flag was first introduced in 1606, following the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne. James I of England, as he became, had a strong vision of a unified kingdom of Great Britain. The combination of the cross of St. George and the saltire of St. Andrew was the physical expression of that vision. The flag represented the novel constitutional arrangements of Great Britain. That principle was carried forward in 1801 when a new version of the Union flag was introduced incorporating the cross of St. Patrick, following the Union with Ireland Act 1800. The Union flag used today has therefore changed in the past to reflect the developing constitutional relationships within the United Kingdom.

As a Member of Parliament from Wales, albeit one born in England, I am conscious of the integral role of Wales in the United Kingdom. The Act of Union of 1536 was not a merger; rather, it was a constitutional takeover of Wales by England and can be distinguished from the Act of Union with Scotland of 1707, which was approved by the Parliaments of England and Scotland. As a consequence, Wales’s identity was suppressed within the Union for far too many years. It was only in the 20th century that Wales’s identity began to be recognised. The creation of the Welsh Office was ultimately the precursor of devolution and was a formal constitutional recognition of Wales’s distinctiveness.

Following the Government of Wales Act 1998, further new constitutional arrangements exist for Wales. Wales’s role as one of the four constituent nations in the United Kingdom is recognised formally by our constitution, which now has a Parliament in Scotland and Assemblies in Northern Ireland and in Wales. The Union flag, on the other hand, represents only three nations in the United Kingdom. Just as the Union flag has changed in the past, to reflect a new constitutional settlement when Ireland came into the United Kingdom at the start of the 19th century, I believe that the Union flag should now change to reflect the four nations of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

How could that change be achieved? The three crosses making up today’s Union flag are the crosses of the patron saints of the three countries represented on the flag. We could add the cross of St. David, but for me yellow and black would not create an ideal design. The recognised symbol of Wales is the Welsh dragon. I
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would like to see the incorporation of the Welsh dragon on to the Union flag, so that it would represent the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom. This is the Union flag that I would like to see— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that visual aids are not encouraged in the Chamber. He must describe the flag verbally.

Ian Lucas: The flag that I would like to see would represent all four parts of the United Kingdom, with the cross of St. George, the saltires of St. Andrew and St. Patrick and the red dragon of Wales. I appreciate, however, that that would require widespread consultation. Matters of taste will come to the fore. I would like the Government to consider the case that I have made and consult throughout the United Kingdom on changing the Union flag, just as it has been changed before, to give Wales an equal place on the national flag of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. I am listening to his speech with interest. What is his estimate of the likely cost of such a consultation across the whole United Kingdom for the proposals that he is outlining?

Ian Lucas: I have no estimate of the cost, but this is an extremely important matter. It is right and proper that we should consider the views of the people of Wales and the fact that they are not represented on the national flag. I find it disappointing that I do not appear to be commanding the hon. Gentleman’s support on this matter. Similar changes have been made before, and this change would be to the benefit not only of Wales but of the United Kingdom, because the true constitutional picture of the nation that we are would be reflected on our flag.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): As someone whose father was born in Wales, whose name is Welsh and whose grandfather was a headmaster in Wales—I should say that I do not speak Welsh, however—may I say that I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s approach? Will he tell me how many people, by number, in his constituency have raised this issue with him as a matter of great importance? I do not think that it could be very many.

Ian Lucas: Not many people have raised this issue with me as a matter of great importance, but it is important to the people of Wales because we want to show to the world an expression of Wales’s role within the United Kingdom.

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con) rose—

Ian Lucas: I should like to continue for a moment, then I will give way.

The United Kingdom has a flag that is recognised throughout the world. If that flag were to be changed, it would encourage debate across the world and bring to the fore the representation of Wales across the world. I would hope that the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb) would welcome that.

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Mr. Crabb: I have enjoyed the hon. Gentleman’s history lesson so far, and I applaud the way in which he has spoken up in defence of the United Kingdom, and of the symbolism surrounding the United Kingdom. Does he not think, however, that many of the people who read this debate will find it strange that these arguments are coming from a man who is a member of a party that has governed this country for 10 years and engaged in a decade of constitutional vandalism that has left us with a divisive and unstable devolution settlement that is ultimately going to pull this country apart?

Ian Lucas: I should like to commend to the hon. Gentleman an excellent book called “The Isles” by Norman Davies. It is a constitutional history not only of England but of the isles of Great Britain and Ireland. It shows that we have always had changing and developing constitutional relationships within the United Kingdom. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of that fact. We did not exist in a constitutional state of grace before 1997, as the Conservatives seem to think.

The prime mover for devolution in the United Kingdom was Margaret Thatcher. Her ignorance of and disrespect for the people of Wales and Scotland, as well as many people in England, meant that devolution was inevitable. I am asking today for the existing constitutional relationships in the United Kingdom to be represented on the flag on our Government buildings.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an interesting and radical proposal. As someone who supports both devolution and the Union with the United Kingdom, I do not believe that there is any contradiction between being pro-Welsh and pro-British. That is the crux of his proposal to reflect the diverse nations and indeed regions of the United Kingdom on our flag. I am interested to find out what he would call the new flag. Would he call it the Union jack, or would he propose that we rename it the British flag?

Ian Lucas: I like “the Union flag”, which is the flag’s correct name, although it is commonly known as the Union jack. I would like the name “the Union flag” to be retained. It is the true flag of the United Kingdom, and I would simply like it to reflect the four countries of the United Kingdom in a way that it does not do at the moment.

I do not believe that this is a dry, constitutional matter. As someone who was born in England, I believe that the people of Wales have good grounds for dissatisfaction that their nation is not represented on the national flag. If we want the Union flag to fly in Wales, we should include Wales on it. As I have shown, it is not as if we are talking about a change that has not happened before. In today’s media age, changing an iconic image such as the Union flag may appear to be more difficult to achieve than it was 200 years ago, but none the less I believe that change is right.

Let the debate begin. Let the rest of the world know that the iconic symbol of the United Kingdom may change and that the reason is that we have a new constitutional settlement that affords Wales its true place in the Union. I believe that such a debate will increase the recognition of Wales not just across the United Kingdom, but across the world.

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9.10 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): May I congratulate the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on obtaining this debate? I was interested to hear that the debate had been called and I wanted to be here because I have always believed that the flag of this United Kingdom should fly on Government buildings. I am thus delighted that we are having this debate, but it seems that the hon. Member for Wrexham has a different agenda. I did not recall him saying in his speech—I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong—that he actually supports the view that we should fly the flag, as I believe, throughout the year on Government buildings. He seems to be proposing an agenda that amounts to ripping up the current flag of our country and redesigning it to incorporate the Welsh dragon.

Ian Lucas: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to the debate. “Ripping up” was not a description that could be attached to my speech. What I said was that the continuing and evolving constitutional relationship within the UK should be reflected in its flag. As he heard—at least, he would have heard if he had listened—the flag has changed before because the United Kingdom has changed before. I want change to happen again.

Andrew Rosindell: I am one who does not want to see the United Kingdom changed. I believe in the United Kingdom. As the hon. Gentleman said, Wales was in fact connected to England long before the Act of Union, which created the Union flag—today’s Union flag—and to change it at this stage would be a great mistake that would not be supported by the vast majority of people throughout the United Kingdom.

When the hon. Gentleman speaks about the Union flag, which is commonly known, as he rightly says, as the Union jack, he should realise that it does not just represent the people of the United Kingdom. It is used by nations, territories and dependencies all around the world. The Union flag is not simply the flag of the United Kingdom because it is represented in the flags of Australia, New Zealand, most of the British overseas territories such as the Falkland islands and many other places, as he will know. It is also depicted on the flags of the states of Australia and Canada and even of countries that no longer retain the British monarchy, such as Fiji. Even Fiji retains the Union flag. The Union flag now represents far, far more than simply the United Kingdom. To change that flag today would have implications for nations, territories, dependencies and countries far and wide.

Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point about the Union flag being part of other nations’ flags where the Queen is Head of State. Actually, in Wales there is an anomaly in that the Queen is Head of State, but the Welsh or Wales as a nation do not have any representation on the flag, which is the crux of my hon. Friend’s proposal tonight. If the hon. Gentleman does not think that the Union jack should be changed, does he accept that the problem should be rectified in some other way?

Andrew Rosindell: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I understand that many people in Wales perhaps feel that they are not properly represented on the Union
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flag. However, what about the people of the Isle of Man? Are they represented on the Union flag? Is he also suggesting that we should include the symbol of the Isle of Man or any other British territory or Crown dependency? To keep changing what is now an established and recognised symbol would, I think, be grossly irresponsible and very unpopular. It would denigrate the flag, which I am sure he would not want.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman saying that Wales is a Crown dependency?

Andrew Rosindell: Of course I am not. I acknowledge that, as the hon. Members for Wrexham and for Anglesey (Albert Owen) have pointed out, the people of Wales are not represented on the Union flag, but I have also made it clear that Wales was connected with England for many centuries before the Act of Union. If Wales was to be included it should have been included at the time of the flag’s creation, and I think that it would be entirely wrong to do it now.

I do not, however, want my speech to be dominated by the agenda of the hon. Member for Wrexham. I want to talk about the title of the debate as it appears on the Order Paper, “Flying of the Union Flag on government buildings”. That is what the Government are currently consulting on, and I have a copy of the consultation paper issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, “Flying the Flag”. I have submitted my own opinions on the subject.

I passionately believe that the Union flag, or the Union jack as the vast majority of people describe it, is a symbol of unity—not only unity in our own country and the United Kingdom, but a unity that cuts across divisions such as religion, ethnic background and class. All those things are overtaken by the fact that the Union flag represents all British people. It is a flag under which my father and both my grandfathers fought in the first and second world wars. It is a flag that I think the vast majority of British people are proud to see flying from Buckingham palace, as it does every day of the year except when the Queen is there and the Royal Standard flies. It is a flag that, sadly, we see flying from the Palace of Westminster only when the House is sitting. I have said in many debates that we should change that tradition. I am a traditionalist, but sometimes we need to change our traditions, and I think that we should fly the Union flag throughout the year.

Those who visit France, the United States or, particularly, Scandinavia will see that those countries’ flags are flown all the time. Many people even have flagpoles in their front gardens. A public building in Denmark would never fail to fly the Danish flag—and can anyone imagine the French flag not being flown from Government buildings in Paris, or the United States flag not being flown from buildings in America? Yet there seems to be a problem in this country. We seem to be hung up about whether or not we should fly the Union flag.

Before I became a Member of Parliament, I fought a campaign in my constituency for the flag of our country to be flown from the town hall throughout the
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year. I regret to say that it was bitterly opposed by the then Labour administration of the London borough of Havering.

Mr. Spellar: I fully take on board the points that the hon. Gentleman is making. Will he join me in congratulating my borough, the Labour borough of Sandwell in the west midlands, on flying the Union flag over council properties, and does he share my slight concern at the fact that the neighbouring Conservative borough of Dudley has taken the advice of its officers and is flying it only on the 16—or however many there are—so-called official days?

Andrew Rosindell: The right hon. Gentleman and I tend to agree on a number of matters, and this is one of them. I think that the Union flag should fly from all civil buildings—town halls, council buildings—and from all Government Department buildings. I also believe that it should fly from every school building. I would like to see a flagpole at the front of each school, with a different pupil each morning given the honour of raising the flag. I would also like to see the flag in each school assembly room.

There is nothing wrong with the Union flag; we should be extremely proud of it. Sadly, however, there are those who over the years have either denigrated the flag and tried to make out that it represents only people with supposedly right-wing views, or tried to hijack it for their narrow political ends. I am completely opposed to both. Without trying to turn this into a party political debate, I must say that I was saddened when the Labour council in Havering in 2000 voted against my plan to fly the Union flag. Many people said that to do so would ignite bad feeling between races. Nothing could be further from the truth. People from ethnic minorities wanted the flag to fly more than anybody, because they see that flag to be as much theirs as the rest of us do. It is wrong to allow the far right—the British National party, the National Front or other such parties—to hijack the national flag.

I would like all public buildings to fly the flag. I welcome the fact that the Union flag now flies from a number of Government Department buildings, but we are merely scratching the surface. We need a policy such as that in Australia and New Zealand; I think that they have flag Acts that clearly set out when the flag should fly. It is sad that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport suggests that we fly the Union flag for only 14 or 15 particular days a year, such as the Queen’s birthday and the anniversary of the coronation. It would be a jolly good thing to see the flag flying throughout the year—all 365 days. Not only that, but I strongly believe that we in England should fly the cross of St. George—as my town hall now does. Practically everybody in Scotland flies the Scottish Saltire and I am sure that in Wales they do the same with the Welsh flag. Not only should we fly the Union jack, we should also be proud to fly the flags of the individual countries that make up the United Kingdom.

Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman said he would like the Union flag to fly in schools—I presume he means throughout the United Kingdom, although he did not specify that.

Andrew Rosindell indicated assent.

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Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman also said that he would like the flag of St. George to fly alongside the Union jack. Does he not understand that in Wales there is some hostility to having the Welsh dragon and the Union jack, because people do not feel part of the Union jack as their flag is not reflected in it? That is the point my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) is making in this debate. My father served as a British serviceman and was very proud to do so; he was a proud Welshman serving what was then King and country. The fact is, however, that the Union flag is not representative. We are all patriots—we are Welsh patriots and British patriots—but we in Wales do not feel part of the Union flag because the dragon or the cross of St. David is not on it. That is the issue.

Andrew Rosindell: The hon. Gentleman makes some valid points, and I understand and accept what he is saying. Perhaps there should be some discussion of how to resolve those issues, but I do not believe that the answer is to change the Union flag. Without trying to make out that Wales is a Crown dependency or an overseas territory, the fact is that the Isle of Man and Jersey and Guernsey have been linked to the British— [Interruption.] They might not be part of the United Kingdom, but the Union jack is accepted as a flag for them as well. It is the British flag. It represents all British people. Their flags are proudly flown. If we were to go to the Isle of Man, we would see its flag flying proudly alongside the Union jack. There is no problem there. I have recently been lucky enough to visit Guernsey, which is a Crown dependency. Guernsey has been linked to the British Crown since way back in 1066. For that reason, there has never been a problem. The Union flag can fly in St. Peter Port alongside the flag of Guernsey.

I understand completely that Members from Wales have a particular point of view, and we ought to talk about that. However, the title of the debate on the Order Paper is “Flying of the Union Flag on government buildings”. Most of the comments from Labour Members have not been about that; they have been about how they would like the Welsh flag to be incorporated in the Union flag. I do not believe that that is the most pressing issue that people in Wales are arguing for; I accept the points that have been made, but I think there are probably more important issues.

The most important thing is the Union—keeping the Union together, preserving the United Kingdom and not undermining it any more. That is why I am completely sympathetic to Members from Wales who have a problem with the current flag; nevertheless, I ask that we broaden this debate. A consultation is going on and I hope that all the Members in the Chamber this evening have taken the trouble to send a submission to the DCMS. I will give way if anyone would like to comment on that. Well, perhaps they have, perhaps they have not, but I have, because I think that this issue is very important.

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