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As I said before, how many children are taught in schools what the Union flag represents? How many schools fly the Union flag? In America, there is pride in the flag and an understanding of what it represents. It would be absolutely right if we claimed our flag for the vast majority of British people, who see it as a symbol of unity, not a divisive emblem. I refer not only to the
United Kingdom but to people of other backgrounds who, some may argue, perhaps see themselves as being excluded from that flag. I do not believe that most people think like that, although there may be one or two who do.
However, we have a duty, as Members of Parliament, to ensure that the flag of our country does not become associated with groups on the far right or any other particular cause or projectthat it is seen as everybodys flag, the flag for all British people, whoever they are, whatever background they come from and of whatever supposed class they are. What better way could there be to demonstrate that than to see the flag flown every day throughout the year from every school, every town hall and every Government building, and by businesses, as well? Why not? Many businesses in my constituency have since decided to fly the flag following its being raised above Havering town hall.
I hope that Labour Members will reflect on this. I have been in politics for a number of years now, and I have grown up in a period in which many Labour politicianscertainly from my areahave denigrated the flag, saying that its use implies that one is somehow right wing or of the far right. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do hope that there has been a change of attitude in the Labour party, as there has been across the country. The Union flag is now a modern symbol. It is used by young people on so many different things. They wear it on their clothes; they have belts with the Union flag on, for example. I am sure that many Members now have a Facebook page. Many youngsters have Facebook pages, as do I, and those who look at mine will see that it carries a Union flag. Those who are English can also have the flag of England, and those who are Welsh can have the Welsh flag. People are proud of their flags, and so should we be.
Ian Lucas: The hon. Gentleman, who is being very kind in allowing interventions, mentions Facebook. I should point out that there is a Facebook site dedicated to discussing the absence of Welsh representation on the Union flag; indeed, there is a separate website that raises the same issue. I am not the only person who has seen this difficulty. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we have made some progress in this debate, and is he prepared to continue the discussion?
I have been discussing this issue for some 10 years now with people of all different parties. It has been a pleasure, because I have seen everyone shift toward the argument that I have always put forwardthat we should be proud to fly the flag of our country. The issue raised this eveningthe lack of representation of Wales in the Union flagis quite valid and we should of course debate it. I do not think, however, that too many people will be convinced that we should change the design of our current flag, but there should at least be an acknowledgement that Wales is not represented. This issue can of course be looked into further, but I do not believe that we would gain anything from opening up a contest for redesigning the flag of our country. It would be divisive, and while it might receive some support in Wales, I fear that there would be a backlash in the rest of the United Kingdom. I have also made it clear that
the hon. Gentleman is not taking into account the implication that it would have on territories, countries and states that also use the Union flag, as currently designed, in their flag. On that basis, redesigning the flag would be wrong and I would oppose that, although I would be happy to continue discussing the matter.
Where do we go from here? We can do all kinds of things. I hope that when the Government review this policy and when the consultation is completed, they will follow the example of Her Majesty the Queen. In the week of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Queen decided that the Union flag would fly from Buckingham palace, and since that day it has always done sothe only exception is when the Royal Standard flies. If the Queen is able to decide that the flag should be flown from Buckingham palace, surely the rest of the country should take that as an example.
I hope that the result of this consultation will be that the Union flag will be flown from public buildings, including town halls and schools, and that the Government will consider issuing an official guide to the flag so that every young person in every school, and everyone else, will understand the history of the flag, the purpose of flying it and its importance. Other countries produce an official guide, why does the United Kingdom not do so?
Other countries have a flag Act, so perhaps we should consider having the same. A great example of that is Australia and New Zealand, which regularly fly their flagsflags are flown all over the placeand do so with great pride. I understand that in both those countries any member of Parliament can obtain a flag and present it to a local group, organisation or individual. They can also obtain portraits of Her Majesty the Queen and present them to a local group if they so choosein Australia, those are provided by the Australian Parliament. I have checked that myself. Perhaps such a system could be considered under the Governments review of flying the flag from public buildings.
I have referred on a number of occasions to the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. It is a great shame that we do not give recognition to their flags in our country. I am told by the Flag Institute that countries such as North Korea, Syria, Iran and Burma can fly their flags anywhere in this countrythey are legally recognisedbut if one wants to fly the flag of Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, Jersey or the Isle of Man, one must get advertising consent. A review of the rules must take place, because surely the flag of any territory or nation that retains the same Head of State as usHer Majesty the Queenshould be given recognition.
Perhaps the Minister will also answer the question about the flying of flags at trooping the colour. Hon. Members may recall that last year there was publicity about that, because the flags of republics, such as Mozambique, were flown at Horse Guards Parade for the Queens birthday, yet flags of the overseas territories were not. In the week that we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict, no Falkland Islands flag was flown in Horse Guards Parade, yet Mozambiques flag, complete with what I believe to be a Kalashnikov, was flown next to the Union jack there.
We must review our policy on flying the flags. I hope that the Minister will agree that precedence should be given, certainly on the Queens birthday, to countries that retain Her Majesty as Head of State. Mozambique has never had the British monarchy, and it is wrong that flags of republics should be given prominence at an event such as trooping the colour when flags of territories and dependencies that have been linked to the Crown and the United Kingdom for hundreds of years are not displayed. I hope that the Minister will look into that and report back to the House on it at a later date, in advance of trooping the colour.
In conclusion, I once again congratulate the hon. Member for Wrexham. This has been a worthwhile and useful debate. I hope that some of the points that I have made will be taken on board, as will the points that he made. There is no firmer believer in the United Kingdom than me, and that is why I have always campaigned and fought for the recognition of all parts of it. I hope that all the issues raised in this debate will be considered and I leave the Minister with one final thought.
We may have different political ideas on the opposite sides of the House, but there is a feeling in the country today that the Union flag is no longer a symbol of division. People no longer think, Oh, wed better not fly it in case it upsets someone. We have moved on from that period, which was only 10 years ago. There has been a mood change and people now want to see the flag of this country flown. It is high time that we, as Members of Parliament, and the Government took the lead. If we do so, we will simply be doing what Her Majesty the Queen has done for the past 10 years. If we follow her example, we will take the right step and show that we are true to our flag, our country andmost importantlythe unity of all peoples of our United Kingdom.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). I know that he has long been a passionate patriot and advocate of the monarchy and the flag.
We have, over the years, seen a degree of eccentricity in Adjournment debates, and tonight is no exception. As my hon. Friend has said, we may have been brought here on false pretences, but I wish to raise a few key issues. I believe that the people of Wales are practical and pragmatic people, and they have not concentrated on the power of symbols in the way that their Celtic brethren north of Hadrians wall have perhaps done over the years. The Welsh people support the 1997 devolution settlement and they are much more interested in transport, the health service, schools and social services than in symbols and flags.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) was sincere and well-meaning in his remarks, but he missed the point. A consultation process would be expensive and I do not think that it would result in a settled view across the UK. The hon. Gentleman admitted honestly that his suggestion does not even command the support of his own constituents. Far from being unifying, it would be divisive
Ian Lucas: I have learnt a great deal about the United Kingdom by learning about the history of the flag. The consideration of what the flag means, and what it could mean if it were changed, could increase the understanding of my constituents and others of what the UK is and what the Union flag represents.
Mr. Jackson: I listen with interest to those points, but let us consider the practical issues in relation to the representation of our constituents. The hon. Gentlemans constituents have a National Assembly to represent their views on a range of devolved issues. In addition, they have the House of Commons and local authorities. They have parliamentary constituencies that are significantly smaller than those in England, so they are well represented in our constitutional system. There is no clamour in Wales for the divisiveness of new flags and symbols. When I talk to people on my many trips to Ynys Môn and Aberffraw it is evident that there is no clamour for symbols such as the red dragon. Indeed, there would not even be consensus in Wales about whether the red dragon should be used on a new flagit could be a leek, a fleur de lys or one of a number of other symbols.
In conclusion, the proposal is eccentric, albeit well-meaning, and it would not add to the unity of our country. Members who, like me, attend citizenship ceremonies are no doubt moved by the sense of unity around the Union flag. The hon. Gentlemans proposal would go in the opposite direction, and would not be in the best interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.
The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): I join other Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) on securing the debate. He raises an issue of concern to all our constituents across the UK. As he knows, it is subject to consultation at present. We published our Green Paper in July, and the consultation came to an end on 9 November. We received more than 300 responses, which are being collated as we speak, and we hope to put them on our website shortly. The Government will respond in the new year when we have had time to consider the various responses.
At present, the Union flag is flown on 16 days in England, and on 18 days in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We consulted on whether it should be flown all the time, on working days only or on an increased number of fixed days, or whether Departments should be able to choose when to fly it. The consultation covered a range of points. The hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) raised the issue of the flags flown at the trooping of the colour. If he writes to me, I shall consider the issue and get back to him.
The interesting point about tonights debate is that there are varying viewsbetween Dudley and Sandwell, and between Members. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) thought that the proposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham was expensive and eccentric, whereas the hon. Member for Romford thought we should give it serious consideration. People do not agree.
I see the debate on the role of the Union flag in the context of our wider debate about Britishnessa debate initiated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Ministerwhich
has resonance across the Chamber and across the country. The debate is relevant for several reasons. We are concerned about the impact of recent changes on our cohesion and sense of identitywhether in relation to issues of terrorism or migration. We are concerned about the loss of civic and political participation. We want to maintain what is commonly described as the social capital aspect of our infrastructure, whereby people feel they are part of a whole and contribute to it.
It is right that we think about those things and debate them. We have to recognise that action is required locally as well as nationally. The debate is about iconic symbols, of which the flag may be one, and mundane local issues in our communities or in parts of British society. We want people to feel loyalty to their country, but at the same time we understand that we must entirely recognise cultural difference and different communities. We want an inclusive, integrated Britain, but one that accepts diversity and difference.
That is a difficult concept in a global society, so I hope Members will bear with me while I talk about the British Mini. The Mini is an iconic 1960s British institution, but it was the brainchild of Alex Issigonis, who was born in Turkey to Greek and German parents and came to the UK as a refugee. If we look at the new Mini that has just been designed, we see that it is still essentially British
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Lady, but this debate has travelled some distance from its original terms. However, her latest remarks have altogether gone far too far. I urge her to talk about what the debate is meant to be about.
Margaret Hodge: My reference was simply to demonstrate the importance of symbols in uniting us, and also in recognising the diversity of what are seen as British institutions, of which the British Mini may be one. It is a complex debate, and I hear what you say
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. When I get to my feet, the right hon. Lady should resume her place. My job is to keep the House in order, even on a relatively relaxed occasion like this. We cannot go too far beyond the scope of the motion, and I urge her not to do so. She can of course develop the subject in all sorts of different ways, but that must be within the terms of the Standing Orders of the House.
Margaret Hodge: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I hope you will allow me at least the observation that a number of symbols and institutions reflect our Britishness. One of them is the flag. Parliament is an institution of importance and the monarch is another. Iconic institutions such as the British Museum also reflect our Britishness.
The debate on the flag appears in the wider context of the debate in the White Paper on The Governance of Britain in which we talk about such symbols and how they can help to embody a national culture and citizenship. The Union flag is one of the most recognised symbols of unity.
Andrew Rosindell: The Minister has just said that the Union flag is a symbol of unity, and I agree with her. Perhaps she can tell the House whether the borough of Barking and Dagenham flies the Union flag from its civic offices in the same way as the neighbouring borough of Havering does. If not, will she support a campaign to fly the Union flag in Barking and Dagenham as it is flown in Havering?
Margaret Hodge: I genuinely think that that decision ought to be taken by the civic leaders who have responsibility for determining such things locally. It was an interesting part of the hon. Gentlemans contribution, but I am not sure whether dictating what all our democratic institutions across the UK should do, and when and how they should fly the flag, is appropriate for Government to decide. It again goes back to my point about how we define our unity. We define it both locally and nationally. The flag is a national symbol, but I honestly think that how it is used ought to be a matter for local, and not national, determination. His party itself has said that it supports such decentralisation of decision making. He might like to reflect on his view as to whether this Parliament should decide whether all national and local government buildings should stick to a national diktat decided by himself.
Andrew Rosindell: I thank the Minister for being so generous in giving way, and I am sorry, but I want to pursue the point a tiny step further. She is a civic leader in Barking and Dagenham, as I am in Romford, so does she think that the flag should be flown? The neighbouring borough of Havering flies the flag, so does she think that Barking and Dagenham should do the same? What is her personal view?
Margaret Hodge: I hate to say to the hon. Gentleman that I think that this is not an issue for me to dictate to the elected members of the local council, who are responsible for the civic building to which he refers. I genuinely think that it is a decision for them. Although I engage in debate with them on a number of issues, this is one that is quite properly left to them to determine.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that in countries such as France and the United States, the national flag is regarded as a source of pride, and in recent years the Union flag has all too often become the preserve of political extremistsa symbol of discord rather than harmony. One of the good reasons for flying the Union flag more often on official buildings could be to reclaim it from those who distort its meaning and use it for political ends.
In many ways, we have already started to recapture the flag for good, patriotic purposes. I like to reflect on seeing some of our black British athletes draped in the Union flag at the Olympic games in Sydney and Athens, and I look forward to seeing many of them draped in that flag in Beijing next year. I was in a primary school in my constituency last week where the flag was used as a way of explaining some of the history of the Union. That was an interesting way of using the flag in the classroomand something that had not been dictated by Parliament.
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