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British Statement of Values

Volume 465: debated on Wednesday 24 October 2007

The process for developing a British statement of values will involve local, regional and national events, and opportunities for the public to deliberate and debate, using a wide range of mechanisms.

I appreciate the value of the exercise as a way of crystallising some of the issues that have been debated concerning Britishness and citizenship for the best part of a decade. However, how will the Minister ensure that once the statement of values is agreed, it will achieve some purpose and be disseminated to the wider British public, rather than just being an intellectual exercise?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that it is not just the formulation of the statement that matters, but what it will be used for. That will be for the British people themselves to decide. They are going to deliberate and debate, and in the final stage of the process—a citizens summit—they will decide not only what the statement should be, but what it should be used for, subject to the views of Parliament.

Does the Minister agree that with any statement of British values, it would be absolutely fundamental that communities across all regions of the United Kingdom would embrace and cherish that sense of Britishness—and it would actually mean something?

I completely agree; it is vital that the process be inclusive and involve every part of the United Kingdom. We are making great efforts to ensure that the process of deliberation and debate reflects that.

Is not fair play a quintessentially British value? How can the Minister justify the introduction by the Ministry of Justice of regional pay banding, in which people doing exactly the same job in adjacent towns are paid different rates?

I pay tribute to the ingenuity of my hon. Friend’s question. Of course he is right; most people would agree that fair play is an important British value. However, I am not sure how he is arguing that the system to which he alluded transgresses that fundamental principle.

Will the Minister please translate his first answer into plain English? Will he tell us how much all this gobbledegook is costing, and precisely what the nonsense of a citizens summit is supposed to mean?

I am genuinely sorry that the hon. Gentleman, who has a distinguished history of democratic participation, sees so little value in the process on which we are embarked. We very much hope that all Members of this House will take part in that process. I would have hoped that he would want to look for a statement that can bind this country together at a time of rapid change. Unfortunately, I think that he wants to make a political point, and I am sorry about that.

The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about how much this is costing. We are still working out the process, so we do not have a specific figure to give him, but he can be assured that we will look for value for money. I shall be happy to write to him in due course when we have a figure.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the strengths of the UK is that we are made up of many cultures and many nations, and that central to any British statement of values should be a recognition and endorsement of the multicultural and multinational nature of our society and our country?

Of course I agree with my hon. Friend. It is precisely because we are now a very various and diverse nation undergoing huge changes that we believe it is important to embark on this process of trying to find what binds us together. As I said, we want the process to be inclusive and we want all Members of this House to participate in it; I very much hope that they will do so.

As part of the citizens summit, will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss the contents of my private Member’s Bill about burglary—the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Protection of Property) Bill—particularly in relation to ensuring that having a go, and the right to defend oneself and one’s property, family and possessions against burglaries will form part of the British statement of values?

My right hon. Friend is nodding vigorously, and I think that the hon. Lady can take that as assent.