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At lunch time, I had the great pleasure of spending an hour and a half in the company of 14 soldiers from 3 Para, who are just back from a tour of duty in Helmand province. I told them about this debate and asked them what they thought about a Britishness day. I spoke to them in two or three small groups. The first response was, Yes, but almost immediately they started saying, But what would it be? They said, We should certainly have a St. Georges day, because the Welsh, the Scottish and Irish have their national days, but we in England do not have that. Then they said that we should focus on a national day that would be unifying and all-embracing, rather than divisive and separate. They suggested a national day centred around Veterans day or Remembrance day. Yesterday, France and the USA celebrated their veterans days.
We have Remembrance day. I attended two very moving Remembrance day ceremonies in Chesterfield and Staveley. Such ceremonies are seeing record attendances. After all the fears a few years ago that as old soldiers die out people would stop attending Remembrance day events, the crowds are getting bigger, certainly in Chesterfield and Staveley. The latter one was a recordthey could not fit everybody into the church, which has never happened before, certainly not since VE-day. Some 500,000 people have signed a Downing street petition saying that we should have a national day focused around Remembrance day or Veterans day. Such events could be much more unifying and would include the English, Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish, who all fought in various wars for this country.
Such a day would also include more recent participants and immigrants, such as Fijians, one of whom was a recent winner of the Victoria cross for fighting in the British Army. The Gurkhas and other such groups would all be included as well. Let us consider the unremembered history. Earlier this year, in Delhi, I saw a huge memorial to the Indians who fought with the British armed forces in France in world war one and world war two. Such a national day would be all-embracing, not divisive, nor would it fall foul of different national divisions and racial groupings.
Finally, would such a day fall on a bank holiday or a weekend? The hon. Member for Romford said that that is a debate for another time, which is fair enough. However, we have fewer bank holidays than the rest of the Europe. I cannot help but think that if we said to the British public, This is so important that we should have a national day, but not so important that we want to roll it into one of your weekends, they might feel a bit short changed.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): I sincerely congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on introducing this important debate. As usual, with his brilliant patriotic fervour, he has given us many of the reasons we want to celebrate our Britishness. As ever, I agree with him, and I am pleased that thousands of people in Romford also agree with himthe Union Jack is certainly to be seen there.
If one thing comes out of this debate, it is that Britishness means different things to different peoplethat applies to everyone not only in this Chamber, but in the country. Clearly, it is impossible to define how we
should celebrate Britain and Britishness. The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) illustrated that very well indeed. Being British does not have to be the same for every Briton. Surely, the essence of being British is that we are free, diverse and individuals. We live in a free country and are free to be whatever we want. That is the freedom that we have fought for, and it includes the freedom to decide how we wish to be patriotic.
We could mark our national pride in many ways. As Members have said, there is St. Andrews day, St Davids day, St. Patricks day and St. Georges day. During the Queens birthday, the jubilee and other celebrations we focus on the royal familynot the people, but the institution that they embody. That is the focus of our national celebrations.
Then, of course, there are the sporting events, when we all become fervently concerned to celebrate our team, whoever they might and at whatever time. Just about the only thing on which I and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) will probably ever agree is that the Calcutta cup at Murrayfield on 8 March was a great dayfor those who do not understand, we shall leave it at that. At sporting events, we are passionate about who we are and what team we are part of, be it Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Britain or the Commonwealth. The same applies to party, family, town and village. We feel part of a whole. That is what makes humans such social creatures.
When we try to define how we should celebrate our Britishness, it becomes difficult. The last night of the proms is a brilliant celebration of Britishness in all its forms. The right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) disagreed with me, and it is her right to do so. It is more important that the right hon. Lady and I can fervently disagree on such an issue than that we should be made to agree and to appreciate the same angle on Britishness.
It occurred to me yesterday, as we were observing the two-minute silence, that almost everyone in Britain, and British people throughout the world, were, at that very moment, celebrating the freedom that millions and millions of people have died for over the centuries. Appreciating and celebrating freedom is what brings us together as British people. It is very good that we are having this debate today, because I believe that yesterday at 11 oclock was the point at which the nation came together. People came together not just to remember the dead but to celebrate freedom, and what generations had fought for.
I want to be brief because I want to give the Minister enough time to reply to this excellent debate. Although he has not made any silly speeches about Britishness, some of his colleagues have. Some have come forward with gimmicks about Britishness and why it matters, which undermines the whole concept of Britishness. I want to ensure that the Minister has time to dispel our fears about his colleagues and give us a lead as to what the Government are thinking in that respect. I am sure that he will not come forward with any more gimmicks.
I agreed with the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) when he quoted George Orwell on the definitions of nationalism and patriotism. Orwell was right, and it is patriotism that we are discussing, not nationalism. I remind the Chamber that when the BBC
conducted a poll about who is the greatest Briton of all timemany people participated in the pollthe person who won was Winston Churchill. It did not matter whether he was Scottish, English, Irish, Welsh, from New Zealand, or Australia; he was the man who led our country against the greatest threat in recent times to our freedom. That brings us back to the issue of freedom. People voted for Winston Churchill not because he was Conservative, English or an Edwardian gentleman, but because he led us against the common enemy who threatened freedom That is what matters.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has no idea what it is to be British. I respect his position and I know that he means it, but it is a pity that he does not understand it. I have to remind him that although he and his party have a certain view, less than 50 per cent. of the people of Scotland voted for the Scottish National party and against the idea of Britain when they had the chance to do so. Now that they have a Scottish national Government, even more of them will vote for the Union and not for separatism.
Pete Wishart: Obviously the hon. Lady is not aware of the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition when he came to Glasgow on Friday. He acknowledged quite candidly some of the problems with the Union. In referring to Britishness day, he said that he was totally opposed to any mechanical solution to the problem.
Mrs. Laing: My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition is a fervent Unionist. It is one of the best things about him. He made a very good speech in Glasgow and has made many such speeches. He is not jingoistic about Britishness, and he respects what it is to be Scottishperhaps not at the Calcutta cup but at other timesand that is very important as we take our whole country forward.
As I said, what is important is the fact that we are a free people, that we are individuals, and that our freedom has been fought for and defended over the centuries. It is everyone, and not just the white middle-class men of Britain, who live in a free, equal and fair society. That is what we have to celebrate in being British. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford for bringing the matter to our attentionnot just today, but every day.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): I, too, add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on securing this important debate and on his passionate celebration of what it means to be British. We heard important and thoughtful contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) and the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), who carefully set out some of the issues to do with the definition of being British, and we heard a strong exposition of Scottish nationalism from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Finally, we heard a very deft analysis of the importance of being British from the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing).
This has been an exciting and stimulating debate. It has been vigorous, diverse, pluralist and tolerant. In other words, it has been quintessentially British. I want to talk about the matter on two levels. Before I come to
the question of the British day itself, I want to talk a bit about the principles that underpin it. It is important that we understand why the matter is so important, and why the hon. Member for Romford should be congratulated on bringing it forward.
Our national identity matters. It is crucial to our sense of belonging. The sense of who we are runs through so many of the great issues that we confront as a nation. More than our national identity, it is our British identity that is important. It really matters.
As an institution, the Union is crucial to shaping and defining so much of what is important about residing in these islands. Over hundreds of years, the Union of nationsno matter what its historical originshas demanded a tolerance and an openness to others. That has accustomed us to plural identities that lie at the heart of being British. All of us have separate identities, which stem from class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and so on, and they are plural. We have plural national identities in this country to an extent that is quite different from anywhere else in the world. That is one of the things that makes us unique. It is the Union itself that makes us unique as a country.
It is intrinsic in the nature of the Union that we have these multiple political allegiances, and they are plural political allegiances. In this country, we can be comfortably Scottish and British, and I will come to my own set of statistics in a moment to prove that point. We can be Geordie and British or Bengali and British. We are accustomed as a nation to having such plural political identities. That British identity is different from our English identity, our Scottish identity or any of our other identities. It different partly because it is quintessentially plural. Therefore, I submit that it is inherently inclusive. That is something that we should value and cherish in this modern world. Unless we remember that pluralism of identity, it is very difficult to make sense of all the statistics that have been bandied about. They all seem to point in slightly different directions. They do not make sense and do not cohere until we remember that most people conceive of themselves as having those plural identities.
In January, the Ministry of Justice commissioned Ipsos MORI to carry out a survey to explore what sources of identity gave people a sense of belonging. We can all agree that that sense of belonging is very important and is an anchor for us in turbulent modern times. What gives people that sense of belonging? We asked 2,000 people who were demographically representative, and all the rest of it, how strongly, if at all, they felt a sense of belonging to various things, including Britain, England, Scotland, Wales, their local area or neighbourhood, their region, their age group and their religion or faith. The results are on the Ministry of Justice website for those who want to explore them further. I am sure that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire will dissect them with great interest.
Some 45 per cent. of respondents said that they felt a strong sense of belonging to their faith or religion, 69 per cent. to their ethnic group, 70 per cent. to their age group, 78 per cent. to their local area or neighbourhood and 80 per cent. to Britain. In addition, 82 per cent. said that they felt a strong sense of belonging to England, 91 per cent. to Scotland and 95 per cent. to Wales. Of course, there are variations within the sub-groups from those national figures in relation to Britain. For example,
81 per cent. in England felt a strong sense of belonging to Britain, compared with 87 per cent. in Wales and 70 per cent. in Scotland. Interestingly, for all the focus on the Union, the figure for Scotland is virtually identical to that for London, where 71 per cent. of people felt a strong sense of belonging to Britain.
Mr. Wills: I was just about to do that very thing: 70 per cent. of those in Scotland felt a strong sense of belonging to Britain. What emerges strongly from all those figures is the strength of the British identity as a source of belonging across age, gender, region and ethnicity. For example, 75 per cent. of black and minority ethnic respondents said that they felt a strong sense of belonging to Britain.
Our British identity is important, and it is resilient. Despite all the talk about the growth of national sentiment in England, Scotland and Wales, 54 per cent. said that their sense of belonging to Britain had stayed the same over the past five years, 16 per cent. said that it had become stronger and only 28 per cent. said that it had become weaker. Everyone is welcome to look at the figures on the Ministry of Justice website. There are no significant variations across age, gender, region or ethnicity. The figures are important and show the continuing resilience of British identity.
Pete Wishart: I am grateful for those figures. Has the Minister any idea why they are so different from all the other social attitude surveys that we have seen in the past five years, which clearly show a trend in the other direction?
Mr. Wills: With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, they are not so different. They are consistent with survey after survey on the strength of the British identity. He might need to go back to the surveys and look at the exact questions asked. That is always the case with surveys. I said specifically what question we askedit was about a sense of belongingand that there were plural identities. The number of people who feel exclusively British is relatively small, and I am quite prepared to accept that it is very small in Scotland, but that is not about being British. The very nature of being British is that it is a plural identity. What matters is that for the overwhelming majority of people in this country and in Scotland, being British is an important source of their identity. I will never persuade the hon. Gentleman of it, but I ask him to listen to the people in Scotland on the matter. The figures are up on the website, and I shall be interested to continue the discussion with him.
The debate about a British day is part of a much wider debate about how we can foster a greater sense of national identity, cohesion and citizenship. They are important issues. We live in turbulent times with all the phenomena of globalisation buffeting us, and we are going through difficult economic times, partly as a result of such phenomena. It is important that everybody feels a sense of belonging and of being anchored and rooted, so that we are not buffeted too much by the storms. That is why this agenda has been so important to this Government.
We are taking a lot of measures on the matter. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South, who has been much involved in citizenship education. It is an important part of what we are doing. We introduced citizenship ceremonies, which were much mocked at the timepeople were sceptical and cynical about thembut anyone who has seen one taking place knows how immensely valuable they are and what a sense of belonging they can generate. They emphasise the value and significance of becoming a British citizen.
Engaging young people in what it means to be a British citizen is enormously important. The introduction of compulsory citizenship through education for 11 to 16-year-olds in 2002 enabled young people to explore their identity and work out for themselves what it means to be British. All who have contributed to this debate agree, I think, that that is something that cannot be imposed by Government. Government can foster, encourage and enable, but essentially, it is something that people put together for themselves. They must decide what it means to be British. Inevitably, there will be differences of view. The hon. Member for Chesterfield described at some length the things that could be involved in making such decisions.
We have set up a youth citizenship commission, which will report to the Prime Minister next spring. Lord Goldsmiths valuable review of citizenship, which was published in March this year, has contributed significantly to the debate. There is much in the review that is significant and of great interest, and we are considering the proposals, appropriately, in the context of our wider reforms.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest mentioned gimmicks. I am not sure whether I am correct in my interpretation of what she was referring to, but symbols are enormously important. The Union flag is an important symbol of what it means to be British, and the Government believe that it should be regarded as a source of pride for every British citizen. It should never be co-opted by any party or sect, particularly by the right-wing parties that have so poisonously sought to co-opt it for their cause. That is why, following consultation, we have lifted restrictions allowing public buildings to fly the Union flag only on certain appointed days. We think that that is important.
A number of people have suggested that we should have a British day. The hon. Member for Romford thoughtfully set out a range of options and addressed a lot of the issues arising from the suggestion. I am grateful to him. Clearly, he has drawn
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): I am grateful to the Speaker for selecting this debate. I give special thanks to the Financial Secretary, bearing in mind that there has probably been a surfeit of scrutiny of financial issues, what with recent debates in Westminster Hall on international regulation, a debate yesterday on bank lending and one on the economy in the House on Monday. It is a sign of just how concerned hon. Members are about financial issues. Bearing it in mind that the Financial Secretary no doubt has many things to deal with at this difficult time, I am grateful that he is here.
I wish to declare some interests. They are already in the register, but it bears repeating publicly that I am employed by Tokai Tokyo Securities Europe Ltd, on behalf of which I deal with clients such as the World Bank and Scandinavian local government financing agencies. I should also mention that I am a prospective Royal Bank of Scotland pensioner, as long as the fund holds up, and that I hope that NatWest will continue to provide me with credit, so I have an interest.
In these times of instant media and instant judgment by talent shows and telephone polls, Treasury Ministers also face immediate, X Factor-style judgment of their performance in what happens in the markets, because of how our very transparent and liquid credit default swap markets now show
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