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I welcome the fact that discussion of the Union flag has been a key part of the ongoing conversation about the appropriate role of the state in helping people to
shape and define their identity in recent times. Some commentators have said that it is somehow not British to talk about symbols of Britishness, and that that is just not what we do in this country. However, the considerable debate that has been engenderedand brought to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexhamabout the issue of flag flying seems to suggest that that is just not true. It seems just as British to talk about the flag as it is to talk about the weather.
What we are looking to achieve in the discussion about symbols of our countrys identity is something that is both representative and personalsomething that allows us immediately to recognise and take pride in the fact that we are part of a larger coherent community, and can find our own place in that community and take an active part in it. For that reason, the opportunity presented by the discussion of the Union flag is timely. The flag is representative of the wider community of the United Kingdom, but it can also be intensely personala symbol of our own personal commitment to the values and beliefs of the United Kingdom.
The proud history of the Union flag shows that it is a potent symbol of the diversity of the United Kingdom. It may be an artificial construction, but let us be honest: its origins do not differ from those of many other countries flags. There is something in that historythe decision to bring together existing flags in a new Union flag, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham alludedthat speaks to the task of building cohesive and integrated communities, which sits before us at the moment. The creation of the flag was a moment of pragmatism, but also of vision. That approach speaks as much to long-established British communities as to new communities and new citizens.
I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the official consultation, but hon. Members will not be surprised to know that there have been a number of suggestionssome no doubt put forward by the hon. Member for Romfordabout how we can better recognise and celebrate the origins of the Union flag, and how to use it in different ways. It was suggested that it could be used at citizenship ceremonies or at the birth of children. It needs to be used in a way that ensures that it speaks to everyone, regardless of their background. I hope people will be able to pick up those ideas when the summary of responses is published. I hope the debate will continue, and I would like to see what sort of response it receives.
The Green Paper introduces the possibility of the wider use of flag flying on Government buildings. Although the flag-flying guidance applies only to UK Government buildings, the impact of the changes is likely to affect other public organisations, because so many of them choose to follow the Governments lead. That includes many local authorities.
I acknowledge the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham and my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) on the Union flag, and the need for Wales to be represented. A valid point has been raised. The redesigning of the Union flag was not part of the consultation that we are considering. However, I am aware that a number of respondents have raised the point. I am also aware of the issue being raised in correspondence to the Department in the recent years. It has been suggested,
as my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham said, that the Union flag could be modified by including either the red dragon or the cross of St. David, to represent Wales.
We are aware that a number of respondents from all over the United Kingdom are not happy flying the Union flag, as they feel that it does not truly represent the United Kingdom. We have already discussed this evening the way in which the flag came about. The Welsh dragon was not included on the Union flag, as the Principality of Wales was already united with England by 1606, when the first Union flag was created. I can assure all hon. Members that the issue of the design of the Union flag will be considered, along with all other points raised, and consideration will be given to whether and how we should take those forward.
There are implications for redesigning the Union flag to include Wales, including interesting design issues, and the fact that in a diverse country we will never please everyone. As the current Union flag is formed by merging three heraldic crosses representing the three
kingdoms of the United Kingdom, the original design was a challenge. Thinking of a new design that would meet everyones aspirations would be an even greater challenge.
The Government are keen to make the Union flag a positive symbol of Britishness, reflecting the diversity of our country today and encouraging people to take pride in our national flag. I am committed to ensuring that any changes that we make following the consultation ensure that that is promoted.
Whether we can trace our history back in these British Isles for 500 years or for only five, the Union flag, as we have all acknowledged in the House tonight, is a powerful symbol of our pragmatic, but principled, decisions on how to give everyone a sense of collective belonging, and at the same time our personal pride in being citizens of the United Kingdom. It is on that basis that I welcome the debate and thank hon. Members for their contributions.