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Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I say to him, "You're a very brave man indeed". It is proving to be very interesting, with many insights into the subject. I want to make my contribution on my own personal journey and take your Lordships back to basics.

I was born on the tiny island of Grenada during the days of the British Empire. In those days, it was said that the colonies were more British than the British. We certainly felt very British. We knew, almost by rote, most of the great poems and novels of English literature. We sang with great gusto the national anthem, "Rule Britannia" and "Land of Hope and Glory", and we could recite the kings and queens of the realm from Edward the Confessor to George VI. We knew about 1066 and the Norman invasion; the Reformation; the Glorious Revolution; the Restoration; and of course the industrial revolution, which touched very much on us.

How patriotic we were. We even sent ingredients from the islands for Her Majesty's wedding cake. That was a great contribution from a small country to our belief in Britain. We gloried in the knowledge that Britain was the mother country and this great Palace of Westminster was the mother of all parliaments. Britain was the centre of our universe and we all wanted to be part of it. We were British subjects of the Crown, and since the days of Queen Victoria all those who lived in the Empire enjoyed equal status under the Crown. Dr Samuel Johnson said:

It was not to me. My patriotism was tied up with a sense of British history and how we from the Empire fitted into that great family of Britishness.

When I came to Britain in 1951, what I knew about what it meant to be British had to change dramatically. The Union Jack, which I had cheered as a child and carried and waved on 24 May each year, was posted through my letter box smeared with excrement and a note, "There is no black in the Union Jack"—a very popular chant of the time not only among the extreme anti-immigrant groups, but, it seemed to me, among those who should have known better. Sadly, a large number of people I know encountered this type of bigotry in everyday situations and continue today to experience those insults, although sometimes we think that they have gone away. There were, of course, also many great acts of welcome and kindness. It was difficult to understand why some people behaved as they did.

I was in my view as British as anyone. Then came the "rivers of blood" speech by Enoch Powell, the National Front marches, the political campaigns in
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Smethwick, the sus laws and their overuse in relation to young black people and talk by a British Prime Minister of "swamping". In that context, the murder of young black men because of the colour of their skin came as no surprise, shocking as it was. By then, I was tending to agree with Dr Johnson. Those who wrapped themselves in the Union flag were not scoundrels; they were racists engulfed in the myth of white supremacy. I needed to re-educate myself on British history—the history of the British Empire in which millions and millions of free-born African men, women and children were captured and transported in slave ships to the Americas and the Caribbean to work the plantations to bring wealth to this mother country—to learn that the British Empire was not glorious for my ancestors. Their sweat and blood propped up the great industrial revolution and made lucrative lives for the UK citizens.

That was new thinking for me and it had to be worked through. Just as I was coming to grips with the new situation, however, the country began to change. It was now cool to be British again, what with British pop, cool Britannia and the flag to be reclaimed from the racists. That certainly featured highly in new Labour's victory in 1997. Now that we live in a United Kingdom whose Welsh and Scottish constituent parts have begun to devolve themselves, there is a great debate among those of us who live in and were born in England but are of a different colour: are we English or British first? Is that the only question? Most Welsh people I speak to say that they are Welsh: the word "British" does not get a look-in. There is still a move towards regionalisation—a balance that some groups applaud and others deplore. How do we as a nation rationalise those changes and accommodate attitudinal change, which is what we should be talking about?

Terms along the lines of the US "African-American" or "Asian-American" will not fit easily here, because the one identity, American, is much more clear-cut than Britishness is. When four young Muslims born in Britain chose to blow themselves and many others up on that terrible day in July 2005, did they see themselves as Muslim first and British second, or just as Muslims? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has called for a national debate on what it means to be British. Forgive me if I sound jaded, but have we not missed the boat on Britishness? Do we not now need a proper examination and a stock-take of how all the people on these shores came to be here? Is not that the real purpose of studying British history, if we are to make sense of where we go from now? Will British history reflect my history, or will it be the same his-story? My question to the Minister is: if we are to make citizens out of subjects and Brits out of blacks, Muslims and, increasingly, eastern Europeans, do we not need to be less focused on old notions of British history and Britishness, so that we do not become scoundrels, to use Dr Samuel Johnson's word? I hope that he will agree that we need to have a true sense of what our patriotism means before we begin to define citizenship.
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Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Wallace on initiating this timely debate and on the quality of his introductory speech. The present state of British parliamentary democracy and the role of citizens raise grave concerns; if current trends continue, as seems most likely, the future is indeed bleak. I shall focus, more prosaically, on the relations between the citizens and the state.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, observed, it is now commonplace that the electorate show increasing disenchantment with the formal institutions of democracy, especially Parliament and local government, and with those who serve them. Equally, that is reflected in the public's continuing withdrawal from joining political parties. This disdain for the business of Parliament and politicians seems to be gaining pace. It does not mean, however, that there is any apparent decline in the public's interest in specific issues. As the forthcoming report from the Power inquiry of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, will show, the public may shun Westminster, town halls and all their works, but they are far from apathetic.

The new technology of mobile phones and e-mails has opened up new avenues for political communication and, in the case of many issues, has a greater impact on public knowledge, perceptions and participation than that of the traditional media—newspapers and television. If 1959 was regarded as the first television-dominated general election, 2008 or 2009 may be recognised as the first iPod one, or whatever invention may have succeeded it by then.

All of that makes it harder for political parties and governments, once elected, to mobilise public support and participation, and even harder to sustain it. If social change and the weakening of traditional civic organisation and social class, along with the decline of a sense of community, have resulted in the creation of an electorate characterised by the floating voter—what Sir Ivor Crewe has termed "voter dealignment"—the recent innovations in electronics have compounded the problem of engaging the attention of the public and seeking their support. That presents an enormous problem for the vitality of parliamentary democracy and the public participation that it requires from its citizens.

These changes are far from the whole story. The popular lack of interest in Parliament reflects a stark reality; namely, that the role of Parliament is no longer as important as it once was in shaping public policy and in holding government to account. That, too, is now a commonplace observation. Power continually accretes to the Executive and has been doing so at an accelerating rate, particularly under the present Administration. The recent massive wave of terrorism legislation is one vivid example of that.

There is a further dimension to be considered. The conduct of modern government and the practices and types of personnel involved have brought about a virtual revolution. The old formularies, conventions
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and principles have all but been discarded. What was proclaimed as an unwritten constitution is now an unravelled one. We have a de facto presidency, but without any of the formal checks and balances that constrain an American president. British government is now carried out by a plethora of agencies, task forces and the like that constitute what I have termed before in this House the political demi-monde. The Cabinet is now a shadow of what it once was: it is certainly not the "buckle that fastens" as Bagehot described it. The Civil Service has less influence on policy formulation and has ceded much of its traditional role to think tanks, political advisers and, not least, management consultants, whose use is increasingly widespread throughout government. The personnel of all these groups constitute what I have called before a nomenklatura.

These developments go back a long way, but they were bolstered by the Thatcher administration, developed further by the Major government and have come to full flowering since 1997. Whatever justifications may be advanced in support of the new character of governing, there can be no doubt that the language it has evoked has seriously debased political discourse and has thereby discouraged an informed citizen. Managerialese is now the argot by which public policies are discussed. A surfeit of acronyms peppers the ugly and sterile terminology incanted so fluently by Ministers and the nomenklatura. This new idiom of governance makes intelligible argument all but impossible: it is a turn-off. The imperatives of technocracy are inimical to democratic debate. The nonsense mantra, "There is no alternative", invented by Margaret Thatcher and so enthusiastically employed by Gordon Brown when justifying his very questionable reliance on PFI and PPP schemes vividly illustrates that point.

Democracy is certainly not an organising principle behind the contemporary pattern of government or the language that is employed. Given this situation, I wonder how schoolteachers manage to address it in the classes that they teach on citizenship. I cannot believe that it constitutes part of curriculum, given the insurmountable difficulty of defining this phenomenon. I am not surprised that the poll of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, showed pupils to have very little knowledge of what Parliament—or central government generally—was meant to be doing.

You cannot easily encourage people to be participative citizens of a state that is incomprehensible. One solution to revivifying our democracy and its concomitant, citizenship, is to modernise the electoral system and its concomitant, the political parties. At the moment, most people's votes do not count and they know it. Votes that influence outcomes are swing votes in marginal seats. These are easily identified and mobilised by modern election techniques. A few hundred thousand voters are the key targets, and the rest are ignored under Westminster's first-past-the-post system. That must change to a more proportional system, which enables all voters to have a voice. If such a reform includes a top-up element, as in the elections to the Scottish
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Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, the list of party candidates must be an open one and not closed as is now the case. Closed systems lead to charges of cronyism and serve only to put political parties in a worse position in the minds of the public.

Political parties can and must be modernised. They are the main vehicles for citizenship participation. They are crucial to the aggregation of interests and, as such, sift through the priorities and demands of special interests. The parties languish because of the paradox that they currently face. With declining memberships, their legitimacy has lessened, yet their formal constitutional status has been enshrined in electoral law, not least in the drawing up of top-up candidate lists. As I have said, these lists must be open, and determined by primaries. Electoral reform along these lines is the best way to promote citizenship.

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