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Perhaps more important is the entry into and establishment in our society of so many people from other cultures and backgrounds, who have so greatly contributed to and enriched our society. Therefore, I ask: in the light of these very significant changes which have radically questioned all our previous assumptions and presuppositions, what, if anything,

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now binds us together? It is very important to make some careful distinctions to avoid the confusions that so often arise on this debate. Society as a whole is extremely confused on this. We need to distinguish very clearly civic identity from other forms of identity, such as national, ethnic, cultural, religious, moral and linguistic identity. Sometimes those different identities overlap with civic identity and at many other times they do not.

There is no escaping the fact, as has been brought out so clearly by so many of your Lordships, that we live in a society where we rejoice in multiple identities. My civic identity is British; my national identity is Welsh; my cultural identity is European—I regard myself as fundamentally shaped by the architecture and literature of Europe, going back to the Romans and Greeks, including Byzantium—and my religious identity is, of course, as an Anglican Christian. We need to separate civic identity clearly from these other kinds of identity which may overlap. I have indicated some of those other identities, but it can be much more subtle than that. Although my identity is Welsh, I live mainly in London and I support a west Yorkshire football team.

If we use those kinds of distinctions, we can be quite clear on the role of government. The role of government is to focus on civic identity. That is to encourage, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, has rightly emphasised, respect for the rule of law, for the sovereign as the symbol which binds our society together and for the Queen in Parliament, which is how we express our democratic way of life. More accurately, it should be the Queen in Parliament under God, but that might take us down a road we do not want to go along this afternoon.

An interesting divide appears to have opened up. The leader of the Opposition in the other place came up with an interesting and useful phrase, “inclusive civic nationalism”. At the same time, he criticised the Prime Minister for laying all his stress in this debate on values such as tolerance, freedom of speech, fair-mindedness and so on, which, it was suggested, belong to any society and not just to our own. I suggest that the criticism ignores the integral relationship between institutions and certain sets of values. Institutions are now one of the main carriers of value in our society. When a person becomes part of an institution—whether of the Civil Service or a professional association that they join when they become a doctor, for example—they become part of an ethos. That ethos and its values become part of them and they in turn pass on this ethos and its values to people who come into the institution after them.

I suggest that certain civic values are integral to the civic identity that it is the proper role and responsibility of Government to encourage. I think, for instance, of the traditional civic values of the Civil Service; impartiality and probity. I think of the great ethic of service that used to drive so many people to serve this country, either in the Civil Service or the foreign service, or by going into politics in order to change life for the better. We have to ask whether some of these civic values have declined in recent years. Shortly after I became Bishop of Oxford in 1987, I visited one of the great schools of

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this country and said to the headmaster, “This school used to produce so many good ordinands for the Church of England, but now it produces virtually none”. He said, “Richard, the whole concept of service has gone”. Sadly, I think that there is some truth in that. Civic values that are bound up with the civic institutions of this country make it what it is. It is part of the proper role and responsibility of government to encourage not just those civic institutions—our democratic way of life, respect for the rule of law—but also the civic values that are so closely bound up with them. That is why I strongly support all that the Government have done in terms of education for citizenship, citizenship ceremonies and so on.

As we know, and as has been made clear in this debate—obviously, humorously and in some cases very movingly—civic identity may or may not overlap with other forms of identity. A key point that is too easy to ignore is that the fusion of these other identities with our civic identity cannot be forced or imposed, because these other identities are matters of deep personal loyalty that either you were imbued with from your early upbringing and have since made your own, or grew into later and made your own.

With due respect, we have to be careful in taking up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, who cited America as a society that has succeeded in fusing identities. It has indeed succeeded, but its history is very different from ours. American history is based on people who wanted to escape a state-imposed religion, who wanted a land of freedom of opportunity. Their constitution and respect for the flag reflect this. As we know, people in America are bound together by their civic identity. Ethnic and national identities have a place; there are great parades down the streets of New York and national days such as Thanksgiving. However, their civic identity has come about as a result of their history. Our history is very different and much more organic. I suggest that bringing together these multiple identities with our civic identity will be a matter of time and organic growth. We have to be very careful about imposing it.

I have valued recent reports on this subject. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, mentioned, in areas such as citizenship education, we are not yet achieving what we want to achieve. I wonder whether there is a case for setting up a House of Lords Select Committee to look into this subject, both to monitor what is going on in different areas and to try to hold them together. It seems to me that the House of Lords is a better place than any other institution in our society to look at this subject in a measured and long-term way.

Finally, this issue of identity has changed, is changing and will change again. Historians have brought home to us how much it has changed in the past. We know when the concept of Britishness came in and we know when it started to be eroded. Those of us who have lived for the past 60 years have experienced that change in a dramatic way. The future is still to some extent what the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, called a “political project” in which the Government have a key role in promoting civic institutions and values, but in which

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we all have a key role as we negotiate our different identities, teach history and impart culture, in order that that identity of the future may be deepened and enriched.

1.26 pm

Lord Bew: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for initiating this debate and I congratulate him on the wit and style of his opening speech. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, invited us to consider the concept of Britishness, particularly with reference to the historical, cultural and constitutional aspects as they affect the people of these islands. That is what I propose to do.

I am the first speaker in the debate who considers himself to be both British and Irish. That immediately creates a difficulty and an ambiguity. Even though my right so to consider myself is protected by the Good Friday agreement, I am also aware that the greatest failure of what the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, calls the “project of Britishness” has been the loss of what is now the Republic of Ireland from the United Kingdom state in 1921. That is the single greatest failure of that project. I am also aware of a more positive development. Perhaps one of the great successes of the project of Britishness is the absorption of the Irish community in Britain into British political culture. If we look at the names of Ministers in the other place who have, over recent months, dealt with many of the sensitive issues that we are discussing here, what do we find? We find Kelly, Murphy, Byrne and so on. It is mainly, but not entirely, through the institutions of the Labour movement that the remarkable absorption of the Irish community into the political culture of Britain has occurred. As noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, have said, it is not simply hostility to other immigrants but also to Irish immigrants that we in this House can recall in our lifetimes. That is a dramatic, positive and very hopeful sign.

Speaking as one who considers himself British and Irish, and since the concept of Britishness is intimately linked to the concept of the United Kingdom, I remind noble Lords of the words of Sir Patrick Mayhew—now the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew—in 1994 in Dublin. He spoke of his belief that all of the people of these islands—English, Welsh, Scots and Irish—share far more than divides them: a belief that in a democratically established union there is more strength to be found in the sum of its constituent parts. Although Sir Patrick Mayhew has long since left government, the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, used these words only in the past few days. It is important to note them.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, correctly reminded us of the ambiguous and in some ways unattractive concept of Britishness as it emerged in the 1830s and 1840s. I agree with everything that he said. I add only the gloss that I was reminded as he spoke of the words of Sir Emerson Tennent in the other place in 1835 when he talked about his membership of this Parliament allowing him to add to the distinction of being an Irishman the glory of being a Briton, although one might ask whether that is not slightly bombastic. He went on to say that the glory of being a Briton was

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that you could struggle against the slave trade all over the world and that this was the most effective place to do it in. I quite agree that right from the start that definition of Britishness has unattractive aspects, but it has a progressive aspect as well.

It is clear that I fundamentally sympathise with the efforts of Gordon Brown and the Government in recent months to promote a debate on Britishness, and perhaps above all with the Prime Minister’s suggestion that the home international soccer tournament should be restarted. On behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, whose team actually holds that championship, may I say that we would be delighted to see it restarted? I am absolutely with the Prime Minister on that. However, there are aspects of the way in which the debate is proceeding that make me slightly uncomfortable. I am perhaps not so bothered by the proposal for a national day but by the concept that people should be encouraged to fly flags in their gardens. I grew up in Northern Ireland in the 1950s when that was very common behaviour, but even in Northern Ireland it is now passé. I cannot see it catching on in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I was also uncomfortable when I read the Prime Minister’s article a few weeks ago in the Daily Telegraph, in which he defined the Britishness of the United Kingdom solely in terms of being English, Scottish and Welsh. That undermines a fundamental principle of the Good Friday agreement. Even in the valuable and important report from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, entitled Citizenship: Our Common Bond, which appeared this May, there is one difficulty at least: the reference to the possible restriction of Irish citizens’ right to vote in Westminster elections. Again, the role of Irish citizens in our political culture is one of our great success stories. It has been built on many anomalies, which are creative. Part of the genius of our political system is that it knows how to tolerate creative anomalies when things work out best for everyone.

There are perhaps two underlying problems for the Government as they try to define and advance the concept of Britishness. As I say, I fully sympathise with the impulse, if not certain details, that underlies what they are trying to do. One of the problems lies in my own trade: the writing of British history and how it has changed, sometimes in brilliant currently fashionable books in recent years. In this view, British identity in the 18th century is defined not by a positive Protestantism but by negative reactions against hostile overseas enemies, the Catholic other. The xenophobic British developed a militarily driven, aristocratic imperialism in the 19th century that collapsed after 1945, leaving behind a frosty Eurosceptic culture of narrow insularity. Now, when new Labour wants to define positive Britishness and turns to its natural historical intelligentsia, it does not receive much help. In fact, the most relevant academic interventions may now come from the community of political science—the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, being a striking example in his fine speech earlier today, the work of the Constitution Unit, Professor Arthur Aughey’s important work in Belfast, and even old hands such as Professor Sir Bernard Crick.



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Devolution is also part of our current strangulated thinking about Britishness. The recent Dod polling of your Lordships’ House demonstrated that 80 per cent of your Lordships’ House—75 per cent of those on the Labour Benches—consider that devolution has weakened the union. That demonstrates the difficulty of the problem. I speak as a supporter of devolution, but as a concept it has always basked in the eternal sunshine of the liberal mind without examination as Gladstone’s right answer to the Irish question—it should have been applied, and if it had been applied, everything would be right. The truth is that even if Gladstone had been successful in pursuing that policy, which I very much wish he had been—on the basis that by the second Home Rule Bill we would come to understand that there would have to be two devolved settlements in Ireland, not one—there would still have been difficulties and the possibility of Irish nationalism reaching a level as it left the United Kingdom. We now see in Scotland that devolution does not settle old problems. It does not mean that the United Kingdom is finished; none the less, a certain sentimentality on that subject has now reached its limits and is making the debate about Britishness difficult. It is at the heart of our problems.

I conclude with more positive observations about Britishness. The truth is that, while our theorists spill a lot of ink trying to define civic nationality, the United Kingdom has achieved it in practice. As far as the constituent nations—the national communities—of the United Kingdom are concerned, it is based above all on a sophisticated modern doctrine of consent. That underpins the Good Friday agreement but frankly now also underpins Scotland’s relationship to the rest of the United Kingdom. Let us step back for a moment from last week’s debate, which had us all agog, and the political excitement in the Palace of Westminster at the resignation of David Davis. My remarks are in no way affected by whether anyone thinks that that was a wise course or a stunt. Simply, the whole political atmosphere of the place was caught up in the context of that resignation, because it revealed our language of political drama: not Britain in 2008—in blood sacrifice and ethnic cleansing but issues concerning parliamentary government and the rule of law. That is what was so striking and so absolutely comforting about last week’s excitement; it went beyond the temporary circumstances.

I have one final observation. If Britishness is to be reasserted, it can be done only in a way that is specifically defined—almost laid-back—as a political and legal culture. As Sir Bernard Crick has rightly put it, how right most immigrants are to call themselves, for example, British Asians, not English Asians. They do not have to be assimilated into a general culture; they have only to be integrated into the economic, legal and political culture. We have a remarkably absorbent, flexible political culture in the United Kingdom, and long may it survive.

1.37 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, the debate has been a rather unusual experience for me, because I am one of a small minority of hereditary Peers and I am the only

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hereditary Peer who is speaking in the House today. When I first got here, who would have thought that that would ever occur?

Everyone seems to have a very individualistic idea not only of Britishness but of the problems associated with it based on personal experience and interaction with their own communities. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, got a hold on this when she said that it is more a feeling than a reality. There are realities—mention was made of the passport—but it must be more than that to mean something. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, started by talking about the problem of how people come together and feel their way into a situation. This was always Britain. He implied that you bring that with you to your new home. You are sitting in the middle of this.

I thought that I would have something original to say when it came to my contribution, but the noble Lord, Lord Bew, has rather ruined that. I thought about the idea of Britishness and one of the decisive things about Britishness in much of our history. We should remember that the idea of Britishness goes back only to the Union of the Crowns in modern history. Much Britishness was defined as not being a Catholic, as far as I can see.

Does your personal background have a bearing? My mother’s family are west coast Scots, Protestants and Orange in their ethnic background. My mother was banned from going to a Church of England school because they had nuns there. When she moved down from Glasgow with her parents to East Anglia and my grandfather saw the nuns, he was not having “anything that Papist”. The idea of religious difference, which has been rightly touched on by many noble Lords, is nothing unusual in our society. It is much stronger north of the border, but in northern England it still has a resonance. My wife was written out of a family will because she knew too many Catholics. She comes from Lancashire. It is not the case that we are coming up against something totally new in having disaffected religious groups.

The experience of Northern Ireland is also true of Scotland. We do not need to go into any detail about the songs of Rangers Football Club, but once again they define you as a Protestant. Our society has to address this. One First Minister of Scotland—I forget his name—said of sectarianism that it is a hate that dare not speak its name but is still very much alive. So we must not allow ourselves to feel smug that we have dealt with all the problems of the past or that our current problems are totally new. They are not. The fact that people feel excluded and look to their own communities comes from an unpleasantly familiar historical line of development.

Those of Irish background may be very well assimilated into certain facets of our society now but then we have the Scots, who basically bought into the deal, for the most part, after a few little internal differences with the English in the history of Britishness. It is worth remembering that probably as many Scots were fighting against Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden as were on his side. How have the Scots brought this matter to the fore? The old joke about the deal between Scotland and England is that England dominates Scotland and

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the Scots run England. I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, will not object to me mentioning that David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, says that the Scots are fairly integrated into parts of English society.

Where does the idea of Britishness come from? Where does it go? It comes from historical accident. It is going we know not where. It is changing as we speak. Is it a good or a bad thing that Afro-Caribbean youth culture is currently dominant? It is a reality. How will that new culture develop in the future? The minute we start talking about issues like this, I feel we are out of date, because things are developing and changing in ways we would never have suspected in our youth.

The level of integration in certain areas is incredibly high and in others it is not. Is that not the same as the class differences we all felt so much more confident talking about a few years ago? I do not know. The two issues clearly cross over. Certain people from certain ethnic backgrounds have found themselves to be slightly more successful at integrating into the middle classes than others.

My own take on Britishness is historically influenced. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, has dealt with this with rather more expertise than I can ever hope to muster. One thing we must not do when we look at our historical background is cherry-pick, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said, we must not pick the thorns, either. We must try and look at this as a whole.

I thought that last year’s celebration of banning the slave trade was a good thing. We did not celebrate the industrialisation of the transporting of slaves from one continent across the world to another. I do not know whether the British were totally dominant but we were certainly very big players. Which of those two aspects do we celebrate? Which was more important in the historical whole? Which has done more to create our current society? I do not know. They were both players. The fact that we now have accepted rules of law and constitutional settlements is good, but remember how many of them were made. The Magna Carta was forced through by barons flexing their muscles over an over-mighty King, renewed three times and rescinded every now and again by monarchs. Americans set great store by the Magna Carta; the British do not tend to. Was Simon de Montfort’s first Parliament a step forward towards democracy or was it a reactive attempt to try to stop a centralising monarchy creating a modern state? The noble Lord, Lord Bew, is probably mentally marking my essays of 20 years ago. But these arguments will always go on.

Britishness is a current reality which is reinforced by our interpretation of the past reality. If we try to wrap it up as something we want it to be, we will make huge mistakes. We must react to the current problems to try to make our society better and more accessible to those in it. We will not always get it right and we might too often try to impose our own values on people. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich pointed out—I did not know that he was Cornish—we have done it in the past. Strangers’ Hall, that wonderful old hall in the middle of Norwich where I grew up, one of the great medieval cities in

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England, is testimony to a group that arrived, that was different and that was successful at becoming part of the whole. I hope that we will manage to do that slightly better in the future. It will never be easy but it always is possible.

1.47 pm

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Taylor of Warwick on an important and interesting debate and on his humour. The definition of Britishness has vexed historians, commentators and politicians, not just in recent years but, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, explained, as far back as the 1840s. The debate today has focused on many personal stories, with many noble Lords defining their identity with reference to their stories. In that spirit, I offer some characteristics that define me.


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