Joint Committee on Human Rights Written Evidence

17.  Memorandum from Sunny Hundal

  1. A British Bill of Rights can help form a common bond across our increasingly mobile and diverse nation because it can help emphasis our togetherness and jointly shared political values, expressed through things such as a strong parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and expression, secularism, stronger civil liberties and more transparent political engagement. I think it is a welcome development.

  2. As Britain moves on from a shared identity expressed along racial or cultural lines, emphasising common political values has the advantage that they do not impinge on people's other racial, cultural or religious identities.

  3. But the language is important here. A British Bill of Rights should always be about empowering people. If it does not do that, by giving them more power and rights, then it is unlikely to be adopted with pride and held as a source of citizen empowerment. To that extent, it is also vital that the Bill contains economic and social rights, otherwise there is less chance that citizens will adopt it as a document that empowers them.

  4. A British Bill of Rights should also explicitly talk of political freedoms as "values" in order to emphasise the importance of a shared sense that our political and personal freedoms are non-negotiable and guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. This can then be used to build a national narrative and an imagined community with shared political values and common civic responsibilities.

  5. Young, second generation Britons do want to feel part of this country. But much of the language when holding such debates is patronising and gives the impression that they will have to relinquish their cultural or religious identities as a result of being British. A discussion of common values should be avoided in cultural and social terms. These can only be expressed in modern multi-racial Britain as political values.

  7. The British Bill of Rights should become the main focus of citizenship education for students and new immigrants, as a "conveyor belt to becoming British'.

  8. The problem with the current debate on Britishness has been two-fold. Firstly, there was never an explanation of "British values', which meant the debate inevitably became caught up in a discussion of cultural values—which would never bring a homogenous response anyway. The debate launched by the Prime Minister should have focused on political values from the start. Secondly, the debate was never really focused on empowering all British citizens, focusing instead on new immigrants or Muslim youths. That had the effect of ignoring most of the population in the debate, and colouring the debate as a focus on trouble-makers.

  9. The government must use positive, aspirational language with a clear focus on where it wants to go. It also has to be part of a broader attempt to make parliament more accountable to citizens. Otherwise, the historic nature of these developments is lost.

June 2008

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