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Community Relations: National Motto

Volume 696: debated on Thursday 6 December 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have received any proposals for a national motto; and, if so, whether such a motto will improve community relations.

My Lords, the Government have never proposed a British motto and, as announced in The Governance of Britain Green Paper, are focused on developing a question on whether a statement of British values would be useful.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. What is the basis of that consultation and is there evidence to suggest that a motto—that term has been used—or a statement of values would have a positive impact on community relations? If so and in light of the Minister’s experience in the area, could he give the House his motto, his six words, that would encapsulate this great nation?

My Lords, first, I express my warm appreciation to the noble Baroness and to my noble friend Lord Ahmed for their magnificent work in Sudan, which is appreciated by the whole House.

There is no suggestion by the Government for a motto. On a statement of values, I think that most of us would understand the core British values, yet there is an advantage in expressing them, so that all people in this country understand them, because they are so cherished by the nation. We can all come up with adjectives, such as justice, freedom, democracy and fair play, to describe what we sense it means to be a British citizen.

We think it is valuable, particularly in terms of community cohesion, in taking that work forward. There is much to be done over the next year, but I hope the noble Baroness will contribute her very great talents to that process.

As for a motto, I do not think I will go down that route, but I will say that the motto of Birmingham City Football Club is, “Keep right on till the end of the road”.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be very easy to have the statement brought into schools so that all our children knew what our values were, including those who have recently come to this country?

My Lords, the noble Baroness put rather better than I could why this might be valuable to the country.

My Lords, if the Minister finds it difficult to provide a motto for the whole country, would he be prepared to consider a motto for your Lordships’ House: “Questions and Answers ought to be short”?

My Lords, from these Benches, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, on her efforts last week. I have been acquainted with the noble Baroness for some years, and what she did was entirely characteristic of her. She is a credit both to the House and her community.

It is a relief to hear the Minister say that there are no plans for a motto, and that, under the Goldsmith review, his department will be examining the possibility of a British statement of values. Will the Minister confirm that, once the exercise is complete, the resources will be provided for this statement of values to be taken out both to newly arrived communities and existing communities? As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, has confirmed, social glue and a sense of identity need reinforcing all round.

My Lords, I am not convinced that it is a question of resources. It is best for us to get this right. We have the review of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, which runs in parallel. Clearly, if that comes to a successful conclusion, we will then need to look at how it may be promulgated among citizens of this country, whether new or those who have lived here all their lives. I certainly take the value of schools in that to heart.

My Lords, the notion of a statement of shared values is obviously of considerable importance. Equally important, however, is a shared historical experience. Obviously, with regard to those who have recently come to these shores, that will be limited. The thing to do there is to encourage them to integrate fully into our national life so that they can have a shared experience with us today.

My Lords, I am sure that that is right. The noble Lord implied an understanding of the history of this nation and its interrelationship with other countries. I strongly agree with and endorse that.

My Lords, in view of the splendidly robust answers from my noble friend Lord Bach to the previous Question, would not the most suitable six-word motto be “Play up, and play the game”?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the word “British” is, in fact, a multinational description, and that the Scottish heraldic motto, “Nemo me impune lacessit”, which can be translated as “Do not sit on a thistle”, is more than adequate?

My Lords, what is wrong with the excellent words which face us daily, “Dieu et mon droit”, and “Honi soit qui mal y pense”?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, that represents the divine right of kings. While it is of course a well known phrase, one would need to reflect on whether that would be entirely relevant to a motto that we are not going to have.

My Lords, is there not something intrinsically wrong with the Question? It is not a motto for one nation. Are we not four nations? Is it not time that we said to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies—I do not know who would represent England in this matter—that they must sort out their own mottos? It is not for us to decide on.