rose to call attention to the concept of Britishness in the context of the cultural, historical, constitutional and ethical tradition of the peoples of these islands; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, a British national newspaper once asked its readers what it means to be British. One of the responses that it received was:
“Being British is about driving in a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, then travelling home, grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab on the way, to sit on Swedish furniture and watch American shows on a Japanese TV. And the most British thing of all? Suspicion of anything foreign”.
That is a vivid example of why being British is not defined or explained by narrow national, ethnic or geographical origin. However, we need to understand the concept in order to adequately face the challenges of modern Britain in a fast-changing world. The question of British identity in the context of its culture, history, constitution and ethical tradition is topical and important. That is why the issue has been addressed in recent speeches by the Prime Minister, the leaders of the two main opposition parties and, two days ago, by the former Attorney-General, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith.
There is a saying, “We should all choose our parents carefully”. For understandable reasons, that advice, though well intended, is difficult to follow. However, my parents had the good sense to ensure that I was born and brought up in a place that some regard as paradise. It is arguably one of the most beautiful and exotic spots in the world. It is called Birmingham, just off the M6 motorway, by the old gas works. This link to Birmingham I proudly share with the Minister.
What Birmingham in the 1950s perhaps lacked in scenic beauty, it made up for in its new vitality and diversity. My parents were part of the “Windrush” generation that came from a genuine paradise: Jamaica in the West Indies. They came from a group of islands in the Caribbean whose inhabitants arguably had a stronger sense of what “British” meant than those actually born and raised here. My mother’s ancestry was part Anglo-Irish. My father served as a sergeant in the British Eighth Army, otherwise known as the Desert Rats. Among his proudest possessions were medals that he won for his part in the battle of Anzio in Italy during the Second World War.
My parents were part of a generation of immigrants who came to Britain with a genuine love for the British flag, British royalty and British literature. After the war, my father demobbed to Birmingham in the country that he called the “motherland”. However, to his shock, he quickly found that the streets were more cold than gold. He was immediately asked, “When are you going back to your real home in Jamaica?”. He thought that he was home. Hope turned to despair when he realised that the only job that he could get was as a cleaner in the local factory. As a qualified accountant, he had hoped for something better. He became further disillusioned when, looking for a room to rent, he saw sign after sign in house windows stating, “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. Immigration quickly became a divisive and emotive issue. People did not realise that immigration had not started in the 1950s. Britain is a nation of immigrants: Danes, Normans, Irish, French, Spanish, Huguenots, Jews, Muslims, Indians, Pakistanis and Africans. Our food and language are derived from a rich variety of different nations and cultures.
Fortunately, my parents and many immigrants like them did not flee in the midst of racism. They chose to stay and to make a life for themselves. The fact that my father, Derief Taylor, was talented enough to sign as a professional cricketer for Warwickshire eventually took him off the factory floor and into the hall of fame at the Warwickshire stadium, where his photograph remains as a memory of his achievements. However, it was only after two seasons, when he had scored 126 not out against Leicestershire, that he finally believed that he would never have to clean any more toilets at the Lucas factory. Cricket was not just a sport to him; it was his way out of poverty and racism. When I was a child, he often used to say to me, “Boy, one day I want to see you at Lord’s”. I think that he meant Lord’s Cricket Ground.
Since then, many members of ethnic minorities in Britain have made themselves icons and role models, in particular in sport and entertainment. My father and other immigrants have shown that being British can allow you to be valued for your actions and not for your accents. Many descendants of the “Windrush” generation also experienced racism, but they learnt the skills to bloom where they were planted.
Being British is not determined by racial or geographical origin; it is about national values and hallmarks. These include the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, social justice, fair play, freedom of speech and equality of opportunity. Britain created the mother of Parliaments, and its legal system has been copied around the world by other countries. However, it could be strongly argued that some of these traditional values have been under attack in recent years. The attempts to curb the right to a trial by jury, the restriction of free speech under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act and the proposal to imprison for 42 days without charge are seen by many as a serious erosion of British values.
The development of the British as multiracial and multicultural is positive and dynamic. My own three children see themselves as typical proud Londoners, being a mixture of Afro-Caribbean, Polish, Scottish, Russian, Irish and Indian. Aren’t we all? This multicultural ethos is important and welcome. Diversity and respect for difference are healthy, but over the years there has developed a regrettable imbalance between multiculture and integration. We must remain proud of our racial and cultural roots, but this must be balanced by encouragement and a willingness to become integrated within a common British identity. This does not mean assimilation. One can be British and Afro-Caribbean; one can be British and Chinese.
I have to agree with Sir Trevor Phillips, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, that Britain is becoming more divided by race and religion. He said:
“We are sleepwalking our way to segregation. We are becoming strangers to each other”.
I agree with his view that we should not put people in boxes that not only separate them but end up treating them unequally. As he said, this means that,
“people are different, but in some key areas, if you live in a society, you have to play by the rules that we have all agreed”.
The imbalance between multiculture and integration as a policy has led not to cohesion, national unity and a sense of community but to isolation, alienation and even hostile communities. Research by Policy Exchange found evidence of a rise in Islamic fundamentalism among young British Muslims. Almost a third surveyed said that they would prefer to live under Sharia law. This is not the way forward. It produces young adults with multiple identities, with some torn between two versions of themselves. One identity is designed to fit in with modern British secular society, but the other feels called by a religious fervour, at odds with the modern world around it. This background of hostility culminated in the bombings and attempted bombings that we have experienced in Britain in recent years, so this issue is critical and must be addressed.
The terrorists seek to rule by the law of force, not by the force of law, but we must build bridges, not walls, between racial and cultural groups in Britain. It is vital that people from different communities feel a sense of being included in the British identity, alongside their other cultural identity. Treating them as monolithic blocks rather than as equal members of society has been both divisive and patronising. Either we learn to pull together or we learn to be pulled apart.
How can we nurture this concept of being British? We have to recognise that Britain has failed to create a sense of national identity embraced by all, regardless of their faith or ethnic origins, in the way in which America has. We need a stronger sense of inclusive identity. The Life in the United Kingdom Advisory Group said:
“To be British seems to us to mean that we respect the laws, the democratic political structures, and give our allegiance to the state … in return for its protection. To be British is to respect those over-arching … institutions, values and beliefs that bind us all, the different nations and cultures together in peace and in a legal order … To be British does not mean assimilation into a common culture so that original identities are lost”.
I am at one with that definition.
As to nurturing a sense of what is British, I refer first to the English language, which needs to be more strongly promoted. We are fortunate in Britain that the international language of business, the internet and popular culture is English. Some of the world’s most respected writers, old and new, are British. It is essential that new immigrants learn to speak English so that they can communicate with the rest of society. I understand the rationale behind the Government’s multicultural approach, which has led to a growth in the translation of public documents and signs into mother-tongue languages, but this has actually undermined integration and cohesion.
Secondly, I support the principle of a language and knowledge test that will equip new migrants with skills and information. The test should be a meaningful proof that the applicants have made a genuine effort to become more aware of British society, but not so onerous as to be an unnecessary obstacle. The test comprises 24 multiple-choice questions with a required pass mark of 75 per cent. I had a look at the type of questions asked. These are a couple of examples:
“What are the roles and powers of the main institutions of Europe? How is European law organised?”.
After the Irish no vote against the Lisbon treaty, with the resulting muddle and war of words, I wonder how confidently any of us could answer that question. Other test questions for immigrants are:
“What are the powers of the devolved administrations? Which areas of policy remain under the control of the UK Government?”.
Bearing in mind the complexities of the West Lothian question, which no one has fully answered, I do not envy immigrants grappling with that question. The education watchdog, Ofsted, has said that these classes were the worst-taught in schools—25 per cent of classes were not taught in a proper manner to the required standard—and a survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research revealed that pupils knew less about voting and politics than they did three years previously when these lessons became compulsory.
The third issue is that of role models in modern British society. We hear a lot about young people in the media in a negative context, but there are many young black, Asian and other ethnic minority men and women who have become icons, especially in the sports and entertainment industry. We need to focus more on the positives while accepting the negatives. The media often have this philosophy: “If it bleeds, it leads”. That is why we see on the front page of many newspapers murders, drugs and knife and gun crimes. These are serious problems that need to be addressed, but there are throughout the country many community initiatives that are working well and need government support. I am director of the Warwick Leadership Foundation, which is seeking to work with a number of inner-city schools where black and ethnic minority role models will be going into the schools to inspire schoolchildren of all colours and backgrounds.
Fourthly, there are many faith and voluntary groups that need government support at a local and national level. They know their communities better than anyone else. I am talking about the churches, synagogues, mosques and Hindu and Sikh temples. I would like to see government funding of joint initiatives between local faith and community groups. They are the people who know their people best.
The Government have a job to do in promoting the British concept, but we all have a role to play. There needs to be a dialogue with schools, colleges, faith groups and community groups. Being British is about shaking hands, not fists. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, for initiating this debate. He has given us a good-humoured and personal statement of what it is to be British and I cannot presume to match it. I am afraid that I am going to be boringly academic and try to look a little more critically and closely at the idea of Britishness.
I am not happy with the term “Britishness” that we are debating today. I do not think it is widely remembered that the word was first used in the 1840s. At that time, a large number of writers questioned it on the ground that it was very Germanic because it seemed to imply an unchanging essence which all British people were supposed to embody. The word “Britishness” is once again being revived and, in my view, it is open to the same difficulty. We are not British because we embody something called Britishness; rather, we choose what we want to be as a nation. Britishness simply refers to whatever results from our choices. In other words, being British is not about embodying a transcendental essence; it is a political project.
Basically, the problem underlying the debate is that we are a multinational state, made up of three, possibly four, nations. We are an individualist country where people take great pleasure and pride in making their own choices and having their own lifestyles. Some are religious, others are secular; some are gay, others have a different sexual orientation; some of us are socialists, others are equally committed to private enterprise. We are also a multiethnic and multicultural society; some of our fellow citizens are white, others are brown, black or another colour; some are Christians, others belong to different religions or none. We also take different views of our history. Some people are intensely proud of British history; others are deeply uneasy about it and find it aggressive, imperialist and militarist. Others cherish some aspects of British history and feel embarrassed about other aspects of it.
Finally, we have different views of what British society should be like. Some find British society class-ridden and oppressive towards certain groups; others see nothing wrong with it. I remember some 10 or 15 years ago when I was deputy chair of the Commission for Racial Equality I had the occasion to go Australia. My hostess turned out to be a British woman and I happened to ask her why she had settled in Australia. She said, “To be free”. I asked, “What do you mean?”. She said, “As long as I was in Britain, my working-class background was always held against me. My accent was mocked. There was no area of life where I could simply be me. Being in Australia, I felt free for the first time”. Many of us would take the opposite view, but I mention that conversation simply to indicate the enormous range of criss-crossing differences that divide us as a people.
That poses a political problem of the highest importance. How can we create unity out of these differences? How should we define ourselves so that all of us can feel at home in this wonderful country and be at ease with each other? In other words, how can we create a sense of community and common belonging? We need a shared national self-definition. As I have said, that is a political project and is defined differently at different times in our history. For example, in the early years of the 19th century and the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, we distinguished ourselves in Britain by saying that we were Protestant, not Catholic, that we were committed to constitutional government, not to European despotism, and that we were lovers of liberty. In the latter half of the 19th century, that view came under some criticism and we were forced to define ourselves differently. By that time we had industrialised and were moving, from 1832 to 1867, in the direction of greater democracy, and we had three-quarters of mankind at our feet. Therefore, we began to define ourselves as the industrial workshop of the world, as a superior people who had a duty to civilise others, and as a democratic people.
So national self-definition has changed and must change over time. Today, that old definition of a superior democratic people civilising others, and of being the industrial workshop of the world and so on, will not do. There is a great deal of anguished debate in the country on the question of how we define ourselves such that all our fellow citizens can own that definition and feel comfortable describing themselves as British. What has changed? The empire has gone; immigrants are here and they are not all white and Christian. Britain is not the culturally homogeneous society it perhaps once was. Even if all the immigrants were to disappear overnight—I hope that does not happen—Britain would still be a multicultural, deeply heterogeneous society, because different individuals will want to make different choices. Britain today is part of a globalising world and our destiny is interlocked with that of the rest of the world.
This is the new situation and in the light of this, the issue is how we define ourselves so as to accommodate and adjust to these changing circumstances. I suggest that any definition of being British must include the following three elements. The first is a democratic form of government. We fought for that for more than 200 years and it now forms an integral part of our identity. We are a mother of democracy. Secondly, we as a country are committed to certain basic rights and values. These rights and values, we are sometimes told, are also shared by other countries, so what is peculiar about them? That is a logical fallacy. These are uniquely British values because we fought for them, internalised them and we also define and relate them differently from the way other countries define and relate them.
For example, with regard to freedom of speech, we value it and so do others. But in the United States it is made an absolute principle. You can burn the constitution and the flag and you can also engage in hate speech. We decided to define freedom of speech differently so as to make it consistent with respect for human dignity and equality. In other words, the notion of shared values is a very complex one. We can share certain values, but if we then define, relate and interpret them differently, it is the interpretation which distinguishes and defines us.
Thirdly, we are a diverse society and need to allow for the expression of those differences that some of our people have brought from elsewhere. People who came from elsewhere have different ideas on how to organise their personal lives and their family structures. They are also inevitably bound to look beyond Britain to the countries they came from and to which they feel some degree of attachment. This has been true of British people who have settled in Australia, the United States and Canada. Why should we expect things to be different for others?
For me, being British means three things: first, respecting our democratic institutions and obeying the law; secondly, respecting and sharing certain values and social practices; and, thirdly, respecting differences in so far as they do not transgress our basic values. One can be Scottish, Irish, Muslim or Hindu and still be British. One can cherish one’s cuisine, customs, practices and history without undermining in any way one’s claim to be British. Being British must make space for these differences, first, because these differences matter to people and, secondly, because if you start suppressing them, people will become completely alienated from a society which has no place for them.
The cultural diversity of Britain is seen in our cuisine, our arts, our literature, our music and our sport. None of these areas of life would have the richness and vibrancy it has today but for our multicultural, multiethnic society. If somebody were to ask me to formulate a question on being British for my final year degree students, I would expect an answer along the lines of: being British is to belong to a globally oriented, multicultural, liberal democracy. The term liberal democracy refers to certain individual rights and values. We are multicultural, because we are a nation made up of differences which has greatly benefited from the contribution of the Jews, blacks, Asians and others. We are globally oriented because we are simply not in a position to escape the constraints of belonging to the global world.
What follows is this: being British is a moral covenant between the minorities and majority. The minorities who have chosen to settle here and make it their home must accept democracy and the basic values of our society. For its part, the majority must accept the fact that the minorities are here to stay and represent differences. These differences enrich us. This, to me, is the basis of the unity of our society. We should aim at nothing more, as some people want to do, and we should aim at nothing less, as some people press us to do.
I end my analysis with a personal example. Some years ago, I was addressing an international gathering, where I was introduced as a British professor. A distinguished Frenchman came up to me and said, “You know, you’re not British”. I said, “What do you mean? I have a British passport to start with”. “Yes”, he said, “but that makes you a British citizen; it doesn’t make you British”. Then he went a little further. He asked, “Do you love animals?”. I replied, “No, I don’t”. He said, “You don’t look like a man who is emotionally self-restrained”. I answered, “No, I’m not”. He asked, “Do you value your privacy so much that you will not allow others to invade it?”. “No, I don’t”, I replied. In answer to the question, “Do you hold yourself so tightly that others don’t impinge upon you?”, I replied, “No, I don’t”. Then he added, “You have an Indianised sense of humour; it is not a British sense of humour. Ergo, you can’t be British”.
In other words, he was playing around with two different notions of Britishness. One is official, raising the question, “Do you have a British passport?”; the other is ethnic, asking, “Do you have the temperamental qualities, the stiff upper lip and so on that British people have?”. My answer to that is simply that after 40 or so years here I feel profoundly British and have great affection for this country. I am committed to Britain. For me, to be British is to be committed to this wonderful country, to cherish its unity and well-being, and to wish it well, while at the same time cherishing and living by the differences that I regard to be part of my Indian heritage.
My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, for this opportunity to discuss a subject with so many fascinating aspects and of such importance to the people of these lands. I am afraid that I shall differ from the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. My contribution will not be academic; rather, it will be homespun, with personal examples. However, I hope that your Lordships will appreciate the deeper points that I wish to raise, for they reflect some of the concerns already identified by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in his very wide-ranging opening speech.
First, I wish to highlight my belief that we have a very precious heritage of Britishness: constitutionally, rooted in the Magna Carta and the principle of equality before the law for all; culturally, with the rich tapestry of our heritage of literature, art, music and architecture; and ethically, with the historic values of our Judaeo-Christian heritage, encouraging the growth of ethically based institutions in areas such as the professions, trade guilds and the charitable organisations serving in this country and abroad.
Therefore, it is sad that in recent years and in certain circles this great and, in many aspects, distinctive British heritage has been increasingly undervalued—indeed, devalued—in many ways. I offer as my first example my own experience of teaching social sciences in higher education in the 1970s. I was then head of department, and in my department of 20 academic staff, 16 were members of the Communist Party or further to the left. Their definition of higher education was not mine. Mine was freedom to pursue the truth, wherever that pursuit might take one, but within the canons of academic rigour. Theirs was hard-line indoctrination with academic blackmail, physical intimidation—we had many physically very violent people in our institution—and a systematic negative version of Britishness which inculcated shame, guilt and even abhorrence of our history and all that Britain stands for.
I know that the situation in my academic department in the 1970s was certainly not universal throughout the United Kingdom, but nor was it unique. I therefore wrote with colleagues a book entitled, perhaps rather controversially, Rape of Reason, which highlighted the dangers of that situation. Bernard Levin subsequently wrote three articles in the Times about the book because he believed that it was seminal in forecasting the grave implications of this extremist ideology for the destruction of any appreciation of what is valid and valuable in our British culture. I believe that in part of our society today we are reaping the harvest of those days.
The value of our British culture and its contribution to education is often appreciated elsewhere, sometimes in unexpected places, although among the constellation of ideas and values disseminated in those years was a widespread feeling of guilt—guilt, for example, about aspects of colonialism, imperialism and exploitation. Doubtless, there was exploitation, but there were many positive contributions as well, amply illustrated in terms of our educational heritage.
On one of my visits to war-ravaged southern Sudan, during that bitter war in the 1990s, I had been walking for 12 miles through the killing fields when we arrived in a remote village where everything was destroyed. The very dignified tribal chief was mortified. He did not even have a chair left for us to sit on. We had to sit on the ground among the ants, which worried him more than it worried us. With great dignity he welcomed us in his devastated home. After the preliminary courtesies he asked, “Madame, may I offer a word of criticism?”. I said, “Of course, I am here to listen and to learn”. I expected a tirade on British imperialism which I might have heard on a British university campus. Instead he said, “Madame, our problem with the British is that you left too early. We were not ready for you to go”. But then, with traditional courtesy, he immediately followed that criticism with a compliment. He said, “But, Madame, we will always be grateful to the British. You gave us education. Education gives us the freedom to think for ourselves. You cannot give anyone a greater gift or a greater freedom than that”.
I suggest that the cultural traditions of education which promote freedom of thought are one of the greatest gifts of western liberal tradition and have been one of the greatest British contributions to the developing world. It therefore grieves me that so many of our young people do not appreciate this; perhaps this is another fruit of the destructive harvest originally sown in the 1960s and 1970s.
When my children were in state schools in those days, in the people’s republic of Brent, they were not taught our heritage of English literature. My second son, in two years of English literature in the critical run-up to GCE, was given only two essays in those 18 months—they were on rock music. When I challenged the teacher at a parents’ evening and said, “Are you ever going to teach them any English literature?”, he said that it was mixed ability teaching and he was not sure who was going to learn what. I said, “We happen to live in the land of Shakespeare, Keats, Wordsworth and Graham Greene. Are they ever going to learn anything of our English literary heritage?”. He said that he had not yet decided who was going to learn what. My daughter had a radical teacher who would not teach maths, but set essays on subjects including green ping pong balls. Naturally, I raised these concerns with the authorities, but it made no difference.
Our children's comprehensive school in Brent was not typical of every school in the country at that time, but it was deemed to be one of the best schools in the borough. It is a very different school now. Given that experience and the experience of many children who were in similar schools, it is perhaps no coincidence that many of that generation left school with little or no appreciation of the value of Britishness and of our rich cultural heritage, or that their major role models now are pop and soccer stars. According to a recent survey, many young people believe that Winston Churchill is merely a fictional figure.
When my son Jonathan left school, he went to work in healthcare in Africa. He returned to England after a year. He was so shocked when he came back by the vacuum in the lives of many of his peer group, with drugs, drink, promiscuity and the frequent use of that dreadful word “boring”. They said that they had done everything. There was nothing left for them to do in their mid-20s. He decided that the needs were greater here in Britain than in the so-called third world, where the values and traditions of British education and institutions were still cherished. So he established a charity, Adventure Plus, which last year gave more than 5,000 children some introduction to the best of British in spiritual, ethical and outdoor education. This has been running for some years and every year those young people love those experiences and come back enthusiastically.
That is just one example of an effective response to the lack of identity and the vacuum of values affecting too many of our young people in Britain today. We have an indescribably rich heritage of Britishness in our constitution, our culture and the ethical values which we have inherited. We have an obligation to preserve these and to pass them on to our children and to their children. I am, therefore, deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor for enabling us to remember this heritage, to affirm the many precious, valid and valuable characteristics it enshrines and to consider how we may more worthily cherish and convey it, undiminished, to those who come after us, as their rightful legacy.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, for prompting this debate. I am especially glad that the Motion puts Britishness in several contexts, though I notice that religion is not specifically mentioned in the frame of reference. In a world in which, as we have heard, an increasing number of people define their identity through their religion, the religious history of Britain, may be a more important guide to who we are today than we often realise. It certainly cannot be compressed into the narrower confines of ethics.
Who are the British? As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, demonstrated, they are emphatically not one ethnic or religious group. But were we to reflect on our religious history a bit more seriously, we may be able to tell our national story in such a way that today's multiculturalism seems unexceptionable. One of my predecessors as Bishop of Norwich 400 years ago gave the chapel of the bishop’s palace to French Huguenots fleeing persecution. They were both religious and economic migrants, welcomed and provided for by a bishop when they themselves did not believe in bishops at all; it is one of the reasons they came here, to get away from them. Perhaps that is why men and women with Huguenot names and proud of their Huguenot ancestry are now found among Norfolk’s church wardens, local councillors and public figures.
The existence in a city such as Norwich of a medieval strangers hall and a modern Strangers Club is evidence of a long tradition of hospitality and integration, even if we are a bit more politically correct now in our description of new arrivals. Migrants, of course—new strangers—have arrived again in East Anglia in big numbers in recent years. They are mostly European; they are mostly Christian. Anglican services in Norfolk translated into Polish and Lithuanian would have been unthinkable a few years ago; they are not now. We are enlarged, enriched, and we are certainly changed by such developments. They remind us in themselves of very long historic links between the churches in this country and churches in Europe, sometimes links that we had rather forgotten partly because of the huge influence of the English-speaking union with the United States over the past 250 years; and now it seems to me that the British are looking in both directions, and rightly so, because our identity is always determined in relationship to others.
My parents when asked what their nationality was would always say Cornish, not because they denied being British—though it is partly because they thought that the Cornish were the real British, of course—but because they belonged at various levels to contemporary society as it was then. As a Cornishman in East Anglia, I am conscious of plural identities and plural relationships.
One of the complicating factors about Britishness is the legacy of empire; we cannot avoid it in this debate and we have not so far. There seem to me to be two fallacies to avoid. The first is to imagine that the recovery of such former power is either achievable or desirable; that sort of nostalgia can be insidious. The second is to imagine that the legacy of empire has been dealt with satisfactorily. A bishop of the Church of England may recognise that some of the tensions in the worldwide Anglican Communion are fashioned in part by our imperial legacy and we cannot really get away from it.
People sometimes lament that the absence of a written constitution in Britain is a disadvantage to us, but is there not something valuable in the pragmatism that our unwritten constitution permits? Perhaps in the rest of this brief speech I can sound a note in favour of the British habit of avoiding rigidity in our national identity, even a note in favour of muddling through. The Church of England has plenty of experience here to offer despite the turmoil that we are supposed to be in as I read our newspapers. There is a positive characteristic of this church to which I belong, which is a product of these islands, which I think has relevance for this debate.
The Church of England has long regarded herself as both Catholic and reformed. In other words, she has tried to embrace both sides of the Reformation divide, even though she has contained within herself people who have wanted to veer only one way. This leads to plenty of unresolved tensions in our life, but actually expresses something important: embracing difference within a single, accommodating story is more important than cut-and-dried definitions that include some and exclude others. A debate about Britishness has a lot to offer, so long as it does not end up setting hard boundaries which tell us less about who we are and more about who is not one of us. Even the very word “British” needs rescuing, from the British National Party, for example, which simply continues the tradition of an earlier generation—some of us remember Colin Jordan’s British Movement; and the eccentric British Israelites, convinced that the British were God’s chosen people, the lost tribe of the House of Israel. Fuzzy boundaries to Britishness may not only be pragmatic, but remind us that differences between people are often much less interesting and important than what they have in common.
The word “tradition” appears in the Motion. That is always a risk these days; it is an unfashionable word suggesting the imposition of something from the past. However, the hallmark of a living tradition is a continuing debate about what it means to be part of it. If we leave a tradition alone, or if we think that we have settled it, it will gradually wither and die. There is little value in discussing Britishness to define who is in and who is out. This cannot be a debate about border control and immigration, about flag-waving or the transformation of our political or religious culture into something more suitable for the Wembley Stadium or Euro 2008—except that we are not in it. Surely it is about fostering good citizenship. It is about people recognising that their story and the national story are somehow held together. The moral philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote:
“I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’, if I can answer the prior question, ‘Of what story do I find myself a part?’”.
Living within a tradition—a story that may include others—as the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, says, causes us to learn how we ought to live. Belonging within a national story, complex and contested though it is, shapes our moral behaviour. The atomised individualism of a consumerist society simply cannot teach us what is right and wrong. It separates us from our traditions and leaves us with nothing but our own desires to guide our moral sense. That is one of our current problems, and why the Motion is so much to be welcomed.
Whatever I have said, I am not arguing for the return of Christendom; that would be both nostalgic and futile. However, if we take our history seriously, think about the legacy of empire and reflect upon our relationships with the United States and Europe, we might recognise something worthwhile about being British. Then there will be a story that people want to know, to which all can contribute in writing the next chapters.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Taylor on securing this debate. Once again, it offers an opportunity to speak openly of the difficulties that arise if artificial debates are held by politicians seeking a commitment from people of immigrant backgrounds—I dare to push the barriers a little further and add, “especially those from Afro-Caribbean, south Asian and Middle-Eastern backgrounds”—to prove that they have signed up in principle to the values and culture of Great Britain.
I shall emphasise a number of points raised by my noble friend. I start by drawing on the Cantle report on the riots in the north of England in the summer of 2001. The report found that communities from the largely Muslim community and those from the white population were living “parallel lives”. As my noble friend pointed out, more recently Sir Trevor Phillips said that we were “sleepwalking to segregation”. These two findings are deeply worrying since they illustrate that different communities are leading increasingly separate lives.
The debate over Britishness can be seen as a backdrop to these findings and more generally as a response to the increased numbers of immigrants and the threat of terrorism, particularly after 9/11. The term “Britishness” is designed to promote a common identity and so cultivate a sense of belonging and commonality between citizens. Yet I question the relevance of the term in this context. Britishness for me is not an objectively definable concept, which can be applied as a label. I understand Britishness as an identity that one feels and interprets in one’s own way.
I illustrate this with an admittedly crude and completely non-scientific investigation of the concept. I asked my mother, who was born in India and came to Britain when she was 19, what Britishness meant to her. She replied, “Opportunity, freedoms, economic betterment and for women to be equal to men”. I contrasted this with the response from my English manager and supervisor, who were born in this country. When I asked them what Britishness meant to them, they looked at me and said that they did not know. In fact, they did not understand the question. Then I asked my 24 year-old administrator, a Muslim girl born in this country. She felt that part of the British culture was to get drunk and that marriage and family life did not matter. These responses are crude but illustrate that Britishness is not a clear concept.
The CRE's examination of the concept further illustrates this. Its 2005 research came out with no fewer than eight dimensions of what constitutes Britishness. These eight were then further divided into sub-categories of examples. Moreover, different individuals put different emphasis on these eight dimensions. Defining Britishness, then, seems to be an irrelevant consideration in promoting a sense of belonging.
The challenge, though, is in fostering a sense of British belonging and identity within individuals. This challenge is greatest in areas that Sir Trevor Phillips has termed “ghettos”. These are areas where a single ethnic group accounts for at least two-thirds of the population. Sir Trevor Phillips has exemplified a number of these areas as showing racial, ethnic or religious segregation with south-Asian “ghetto” communities. They include my home city of Leicester and Bradford. Segregation can be seen in both the workforce and the education system. For example, according to the CRE, nine out of 10 African-Caribbean children are in black majority schools.
On top of this residential and education segregation, there is evidence of what Sir Trevor Phillips terms “soft segregation”; that is, where individuals move in social circles made up of people with similar backgrounds to their own. Shockingly, the research found that 95 per cent of white Britons said that all or most of their friends were white. These figures illustrate that the problems of segregation are not limited to any one group of Britain's diverse demography; rather, the existence of separate lives is a broad finding.
This finding was echoed by the ethnographic study of refugees entering Britain by the Refugee Council. It found that refugees tended to stay within a comfort zone in the locality. While feeling integrated on the national level, this was not the case in the workplace or education establishments.
Such ghettos can be seen to have formulated for a number of reasons. A large part may be due to self-segregation—communities choose to stick to what they feel is closest to them—but it is partly institutionalised. As highlighted by the Cantle report, funding provided by local government for faith schools with the aim of supporting different racial groups adds to the possibility of greater divisions. The obvious problem of polarised, segregated communities is that minority communities may view themselves as identifying with one heritage and not the other. This identification, as mutually exclusive heritages, deeply troubles me. Diversity is, of course, greatly to be valued. Indeed, the ease with which new communities can be accepted makes Britain a great nation. This was reflected in my mother's perception of what Britishness meant to her. While there is no doubt that foreign cultures, languages and traditions should be embraced, in so far as they are compatible with the law, this should not be at the expense of a feeling of belonging in the nation as a whole. Rather, there is a need to bridge differences between communities, so that differences are experienced. That can contribute to a broader experience than one that is within the confines of the educational and cultural networks of one’s own community.
Yet in promoting a sense of belonging and commonality within Britain, individuals must be free to hold on to their historical and cultural roots. Taking my example, I am able to enjoy identifying myself both as British and as having an Indian cultural and historical heritage. That kind of gap-bridging is crucial in young children. As the future of this country, for them to have an outlook and experience in life wider than that of their own community is vital in making them rounded individuals. However, if the statistics that have been quoted regarding friendship groups and educational institutions continue, children especially will be sleepwalking into segregation. That is deeply worrying, and it is a key challenge in Britain today to give people access to a network wider than their own. Feeling that they can draw both on their British and historical cultures is deeply important.
I hope that the Minister will tell your Lordships why there is still a drive by the Government to provide funding to groups that show little accountability on what and where that funding is spent. It would appear to be much wiser to spend money to address the serious and common issues of poor education, housing and unemployment that affect populations across the board. That they are not addressed gives rise to the suspicions and misunderstandings that allow a festering of ill will and segregation.
I am truly troubled by the direction that the Government have taken in trying to address disenfranchisement and disengagement by parts of the British community. The consequences of this problem—namely, the outbursts of mob violence that we have already experienced, as well as social and educational deprivation—are worrying. Let us always bear in mind who the victims of these failed debates will be.
I will finish with a quote that has inspired and driven me from the great personality, Dr Martin Luther King:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character”.
As a proud British citizen in the UK, I have seen Britain and the USA move a long way since that speech. There is still much to be done, but for me that inspiration remains. As a British citizen of Indian origin, I have enjoyed the rich history of both Britain and India, of ballet as well as bhangra, opera as well as qawwali, English cinema as well as Bollywood. I have enjoyed belonging to a country that will protect me regardless of my gender, ethnicity or colour. To me, that emulates in my mind all that is good and British.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on introducing this debate, which I thought he did in a particularly thoughtful and sensitive way. Sensitivity is important, because identity is a very personal matter, especially for immigrants such as me who want to be British. Fortunately, I was naturalised before you had to answer all those difficult questions that the noble Lord told us about.
For me, finding Britishness is a journey. Looking round your Lordships’ House, I see that many of us have travelled the same path. I found the start of my journey pretty easy. You learn the language, respect the Royal Family, be kind to animals, stick to the rules of fair play and, most important, know your place in the class structure. After a while, it appeared to me that there must be a bit more to it than that.
What about history? British history is a source of great pride. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that we immigrants can take pride in the fact that throughout its history Britain has been the product of many outside influences. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich reminded us of the religious aspect of those influences. To me, our history, as well as being a source of pride, also speaks of patriotism. But patriotism has two sides. There is pride on one side, but there is a rather ugly other side, which the fascists and the British National Party use as a means to express hostility. Patriotism will wither unless it is progressive and forward-looking. Putting a duty on someone is rarely a solution. Patriotism has to be forged, not forced; only then can we be comfortable with it.
The next stage of my journey was education. Is it possible to learn what Britishness is and how to be British? The answer is that what you seem to learn is citizenship, which I do not think is quite the same as Britishness. You learn about social capital and civic engagement. Citizenship means that you have a political as well as a consumerist relationship with the state. There are underlying social values committed to the common good and the collective interest, the maintenance of which are the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. But is that Britishness? It is probably part of it, but what about the rest?
On the next stage of my journey, I discovered that Britishness had suddenly become one of the most important debates in British politics. Immigration, race relations, multiculturalism and people’s right to be here were top of the political agenda. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, spoke about that. Britishness, instead of being an identity that we all shared, had become a framework for uniting us in our differences. It was something to bring us together that was stronger than the things that were holding us apart. It was a kind of social contract, so that we could all live in the same space together.
As if that were not enough, we also have the devolved settlement, so that kind of social contract also has to be an umbrella under which the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish can all get. There is more. One of the things that our children value most is their freedom to travel, work, study and live in any part of the European Union without any formalities or hindrance. Presumably, they would want to carry some of their Britishness with them. How do we do all that? Certainly not by diktat and certainly not to or for people; it has to be with people. That makes it something rather subtle. Britishness does not need to be a dominant part of our identity. If it is, it becomes a bit of a farce.
It seems to me that Britishness has to be both inclusive and aspirational, both social and economic. Although we are a market economy, part of Britishness must be equality in life’s chances. If some groups are destined always to live in poverty and inequality, they will be excluded from Britishness. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, that equality must be seen as a foundation stone of the notion of Britishness. That applies to social equality, too. It seems to me that the Human Rights Act provides the basis for social equality, in that it provides the non-negotiables. That framework provides something that can be part of everyone’s identity.
If we have equality in place, Britishness will not be seen as threatening. That is important, because if we are all to live together on this island, inevitably people will be asked to change their behaviour and stick to a set of rules. This kind of Britishness means that no one need be afraid of asking that. I think that that is what the Government are rightly trying to do. At this stage of the journey, Britishness has the task of uniting us in our differences. It means treating everybody equally despite their differences, instead of treating people differently because of their differences.
Britishness is like freedom. Freedom is a journey that never ends, because each generation discovers new aspects. So it is with Britishness. Perhaps this explains the change and confusion spoken about by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. I can see the next stage in the journey: Britishness for the 21st century, a century when we can choose what we want to be and change what we are. After all, that is what much of celebrity culture and many popular television programmes, such as “The Apprentice” and “Big Brother”, are all about. Many blogs and websites are all about choosing an identity that is attractive, modern, beneficial and cool. This, combined with mutuality and solidarity, about which other noble Lords have spoken, and the acceptance of rights, duties and common beliefs, will bind us together in 21st-century Britishness and citizenship. That is the direction of travel, relevant to our citizens and our politicians. Yes, Britishness does matter.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, for introducing this important debate, which certainly relates to my experience. In the past couple of years, I have been to more conferences on Britishness than I care to remember. The difficulty is that, as yet, I have not found out what it is or what it is supposed to be, as opposed to what it is that we live and understand.
By some measures I think that I am more British than the British. I have lived in the same village for more than 30 years. My children went to the local school and still see the children with whom they went to school. We are part of the community, working with the church; when the roof falls in, we collect money and take part in the church fete. Of course, we have the Sunday roast every week when the family gets together. On the other hand, even today, when my children, who were born and raised in this country, say that they are British, they are asked, “Where do you come from really?”. When my son insists that he comes from Heslington, people do not believe him. There is a problem about the identity that the British have ascribed to those of us who come from a different place.
I will talk particularly about the ascribed identity of Muslim women. When I stand up and say that I am a Muslim woman, people say that I am not, because I wear a short skirt, I do not have a cover and I can stand on my own two feet. As to arranged marriages, one of which I am supposed to have had, I chose my own husband, chose the venue and the menu and presented my father with the bill. My daughter did exactly the same two years ago. The whole idea of Muslim women as silent, subdued and dominated is something that I have not experienced. I might add that I am not in a minority; just look at the Muslim women in this Chamber. You will see that we are uppity, capable and, at the same time, different. The idea that, somehow, there has to be a cohesion that makes us like everybody else is extremely problematic.
I chose to become British in my adult life. I left a well paid job in the Iranian Government and came here because I admired Britain. I admired it because of the freedom, the liberty and the ability to function. In Iran I was a journalist, based in the same building as the press censor. I never knew whether the articles that I had written would be cut or not. It was wonderful to come to a country where you can not only speak out but disagree with the establishment. The most extraordinary thing for me was that the establishment thought that I could be part of it, whereas I had always thought that I was a dissident on the side, fighting against everything.
The problem seems to be the way in which some people choose to define Britishness. For me, Britishness has been about inclusiveness and freedom. The British are the most well travelled people of all nations. They have a long tradition of crossing the world and bringing back the best: the best plants, the best ideas and even the system of examination, which I worry about but have to live by. They have included all this in what it is to be British. It is the eclectic, wide-ranging and open nature of Britishness that is important. As minorities, we have better rights in this country than anywhere else. I am familiar with France, where being a Muslim is very problematic, particularly for women who choose to cover. The freedom to dress and speak as one pleases is, for me, very much part and parcel of Britishness.
Here is, perhaps, a note of disagreement. I am pleased about legislation that forbids discrimination on the grounds of creed. It is important not only to celebrate and be inclusive but to recognise that many British-born citizens suffer because they are labelled “Muslim”. We live in a context where Islamophobia is encouraged and adopted by such groups as the BNP as a badge of honour. We need to think about why Muslims, specifically, are asked to choose between being British and being Muslim. As many of us who have spoken know, we have fluid identities. We are Muslim when we pray but British when we stand in the classroom or in this House. Having identities that change according to where we are is part and parcel of our lives. Asking us to choose is one of the important problems that we face.
The second problem that we face is the notion that Muslims as a category—in particular Muslim youth—have a tendency towards terrorism and towards looking elsewhere. I have a long conversation going on with members of Hizb ut-Tahrir about the idea that Sharia law should be implanted here. The discussion is vigorous, important and sustainable. We need to think about why British-born and British-educated youngsters choose to look elsewhere and see themselves as closer to the Ummah—the people of Islam everywhere—than to this country. That cannot be resolved by deciding what Britishness is and categorising Muslims as the other. We need to look at education, opportunities and the ability of young, educated Muslim men and women to participate fully. Britain can be fantastic in this respect. Your Lordships’ House is a wonderful example of best practice.
However, places such as Bradford have experienced some of the worst practice. It may not necessarily be negative that people are ghettoised, living in their own communities. In recent research, one of my students talked to young Muslim women who had been in tertiary education and to young non-Muslim women. She found that young working-class Muslim women went to university but tended always to come back home, home being, in this case, Bradford or Leicester. They aimed to put something back into their communities. They worked with other Muslims but were committed to their locality, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is to Birmingham and I am to Yorkshire. The interesting thing that my student found was that non-Muslim young women of working-class backgrounds saw education as a way out, left where they were born and abandoned their background because they felt that they could find more.
It seems to me that we can teach one another a great many things. Just as beer and curry has become a national dish, so we can find that we can learn from the best among the minorities and the best among the British without having to delineate where Britishness stops and other people start. We are part of this community and, to quote the Parekh report, we are a “community of communities”. That is what is so enriching in this country in this context. Many of us are grateful to be here. If Britishness is about being part of the community, it is wonderful, but let us not try to say who is not British, because the lines get narrower, tighter and harder to live with.
My Lords, I am not an historian or a social scientist. I am a lay man whose first language is Welsh and whose roots are deep in Welsh-speaking Wales. In preparation for this debate, I sought the help of the Library. It was, of course, immediately forthcoming. It provided me with a helpful background document that includes the Prime Minister’s Fabian Society lecture on the future of Britishness. I also reread the interesting, informative and wide-ranging debate in your Lordships' House on British identity and citizenship on 2 February 2006, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I browsed through that remarkable volume, Trevelyan’s History of England, which was published in 1926. I returned to the History of England because I recollected that it focused on the themes that have distinguished the special experience of the English people over the long flows of history, but I take what my noble friend Lord Parekh said—that we can probably identify the emergence of Britishness in the early 19th century.
It is possible that the fount of Britishness springs from the flow of history described by Trevelyan. It is clear from the speeches that we have heard today that Britishness is a difficult concept to define and explain. The Prime Minister identified the values and qualities in abstract terms, such as individual liberties, civic engagement, fairness and decency to neighbours and the less fortunate. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, spoke in broadly similar terms in opening this debate, but those qualities and values are not unique to Britain. They are common to all strongly established western democracies, having been shaped by the values of the Christian church over 1,500 years and, I beg to suggest, the socialist principles of the past 200 years or so.
It seems that Gordon Brown’s purpose in encouraging and fostering a debate about Britishness is to achieve harmony within the United Kingdom and between its component parts. That has been the priority of the Labour Government since the first flush of the 1997 great electoral success. I recall that when the late, much lamented Gareth Williams—Lord Williams of Mostyn—presented the Government of Wales Bill to this House, he proclaimed unshakeably that the devolution settlement for Wales and Scotland would strengthen the union. I cannot speak about Scotland or Northern Ireland, but I have an understanding of the scene in Wales, and I have no doubt that the settlement has pulled the Welsh people together and stimulated national consciousness. We may yet see a further sharpening of that consciousness. I believe that when another Trevelyan comes to write about this century, he will see that the setting-up of the devolved Assemblies and the Scottish Parliament has been another turning point in the history of the United Kingdom that may require some terms to be redefined.
In seeking to define Britishness, we also have to take into account another factor. If we turn to page 14 of the briefing material prepared by the Library, we find an important table produced by the British Social Attitudes Survey 2007. It shows that surveys conducted in England, Wales and Scotland during the past 10 years reveal a notable increase in the proportion of the public preferring a national identification, be it English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish, over their British identity. It is interesting and significant that that is particularly true among people under the age of 35. Again on page 14, our attention is drawn to the Camelot Foundation report Young People and British Identity, which was published in 2007. The report considered how Britishness resonated among young people. It found that for many young people, it appeared to be old, hierarchical and traditional, although that was not necessarily true of those who considered themselves Welsh, Scottish or Irish. I have no hesitation in bringing forward the tables produced by the British Social Attitudes Survey and the Camelot report in my speech. Here is evidence of a remarkable contrast between one’s attachment to national identity and to British identity. Here is evidence of how the concept of Britishness resonates among young people.
That suggests that some of our leaders need to define in more explicit terms what is meant by the concept of Britishness. We require considerable skill, courage and insight if we are to define Britishness in terms which are meaningful to the rising generation with plural identities, each of equal strength. That task is possible.
My Lords, it has been fascinating listening to all the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for this timely opportunity for us to define our personal views of Britishness. It can only be personal. It cannot be an objective way of defining Britishness because, even if we feel totally British, we all see our Britishness in our personal ways. It is interesting that so many of us who are British by choice—or by birth but with another culture—have spoken in the debate. It is right and proper that we share our own insights into what it means to us to be British with those who take it for granted. People who are by birth British, who have lived in this society and do not know another can be quite complacent about what this society is. We are the ones to tell you how fortunate you are to be in this society and how fortunate we are to join you.
I came to this country as a student in 1952. My experience of the English in India at that time—we did not use the term British—was very different from the one I have now. There was enormous racism. I grew up in the colonial times and there was a huge amount of racism. We did not have any real contact with English people. Sometimes they came to our house because they wanted something or my father needed to talk to them. I do not remember ever going to the home of any English person. I had quite a lot of anxiety about how it would be in this country.
I am of the generation that came here knowing that there was racism in this country. I was not shocked as a student when I would go to find digs and they would say, “Sorry, we don’t take Indian students”. We must remember one important factor: they were never rude to me. They were always polite and courteous but said, “We do not take Indian students”. This was quite common, as we all know. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, touched on “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish, no tinkers” and so on. When I rang up about digs I started saying, “I’m an Indian. Do you take Indian students?”. That solved that problem.
I went to University College, London, which by nature of its foundation by Bentham and friends is one of the most egalitarian colleges in the country. It was the first to take women, it does not have a faith base and I could not believe that I was just one of the students. There was no sense of differentiation. That has been an important part of my personal development and the courage one develops about being who one is and not a different person. I am fortunate in that respect. I also went to the Bar. My grandfather had been called to the Bar at the same time as Mahatma Gandhi and at the same Inn. My father had also been called to the Bar, so of course I had to be called to the Bar as well. I cannot remember which noble Lord said that they personally had not experienced difficulties—altogether I had not.
Then you start life. I started teaching when we moved to Maidenhead. I was teaching English as a second language to Asian boys. The head teacher, after an hour and a half of interview, said, “I only have two problems with you. First, you are not one of us. Secondly, you are a woman”. I said, “Those are the two things I can do nothing about so you have to find someone else”. I was forced on him, and he treated me as if I was forced on him. It was my first real experience of naked racism and that unpleasantness.
I started running a club for Asian women and children at home—the new immigrants at the time. I said to whoever would listen that we should have two hours every Saturday afternoon in a town hall or somewhere where the whole family could come and we could teach them how to cope with the weather, some English and some of the things available to them that they could access. At that time it was, “No, it will all go away by itself. The next generation will be totally British. We do not need to do anything. They will speak English and everything will be all right”. Of course that never happened, partly because the marriages were always being made in the home country, particularly in the Asian community. If you have one partner constantly coming from the village you take two steps forward and then one back. This is still going on, particularly in the Mirpuri and some other Pakistani communities. I am sorry about that because it holds the children back.
I would be remiss not to mention that we have suffered from the 1960s. In the 1960s everything went, such as respect for people and for property. That was nothing to do with the immigrants. This country should recognise how the 1960s destroyed the normal social behaviour of people. I am sorry about that. Children started behaving badly. Altogether the country became quite different after the 1960s. There was a certain amount of self-control and proper behaviour which just went. Somehow it has got tied up with immigration; people feel it was somehow connected with immigration. It was not. Immigration was starting to add vibrancy to British culture, which was extraordinarily dreary and dull in many respects. We came and brought new things such as food and clothes. There was a huge renaissance of enjoyment of different cultures and different foods. That has continued constantly to grow.
Sadly, we went down the road of multiculturalism in education. Multiculturalism can only work if each culture is given equal status so that you respect each other’s culture to the point where you say, “It is as good as mine”. It is not easy for a monocultural society to say to other cultures, “You are as good as my culture although you have come here from somewhere else”. That is why multiculturalism failed and will continue to fail. I am sure some noble Lords remember the samosa, sari and steel band phase of education—the three Ss. That was what became of multiculturalism.
I believe that two other things have damaged relationships, the first being political correctness, which seems to be growing. I think that stops people talking openly and frankly to each other. I do not mean that we can insult and be rude to each other, but it is important that we discuss things and talk to each other.
My time is running out faster than I had expected so I want to talk about what Britishness means to me. It is a value system. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, focused on that. I am sure that some noble Lords will remember Lord Whitelaw. To me he represented the best of Britishness because, at a very difficult time, he set up the Scarman inquiry. It was the first time that such an inquiry had been set up and he firmly believed in what, to me, is the most important value of the British: fairness. You treat people fairly; you do not treat some this way and others another way. Society will change if we treat people fairly and everything will work out. For me, Lord Whitelaw will always represent that.
I value other things but one thing that has not been mentioned, sadly, is the common law and the rule of law of this country. Which country has such a defined rule of law as this country? It is one of the greatest British institutions and not one noble Lord has mentioned it. Perhaps it is important to me because I studied law. The system of common law sits side by side with the rule of law. It is an incredible system; it is pragmatic; it changes according to need and I hope that the various Governments will not stratify it to the point where it stops evolving.
I admire the Royal Family. To me that is British. It is wonderful not to have a president but to have the Royal Family who care and who try to do their best. I admire the Church because it represents certain basic values. I am not a Christian, but I do not find my value system in conflict with the values of the Anglican Church—not the Catholic Church. All these sorts of things make it very easy for me to live in this country; it is easy to accept this country and to admire it. I think it is the best country to live in. Anyone who does not think so is wrong.
We are fragmenting our society by paying so much attention to the few Muslims who are disaffected. I agree totally with my noble friend Lady Afshar that we should focus on education and achievement and should not throw money at the disaffected. We should separate in our minds the disaffected from all the other Muslims who, as she so correctly said, contribute and who can contribute more, as I hope to see. I do not want Sharia to be part of my system of law. I think it is negative. Faith schools are also negative and they fragment society. The fragmentation which comes from focusing on appeasing the Muslims who are difficult to appease will hurt the basic nature of society.
I am bicultural: I am British and I am Indian. I have an in-depth understanding of both cultures and I am all the better for it.
My Lords, I too am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, not only for initiating this important debate, but for what he has said. I have listened with great pleasure and interest to all the speeches. If there is a problem, we need to clarify exactly what it is, which is not difficult. It has been brought about by the very profound changes that have taken place in our society over the past 60 years which have radically questioned all the assumptions and presuppositions of people who were brought up then. When I was brought up—perhaps there is at least one other person in the Chamber who might be as old as that—to be British, to be English and to be at the hub of the great British Empire, which covered two-thirds of the world, meant all those identities being fused into one. Of course, that has all gone.
One of the interesting results is that the English are now discovering what it is to be English. There has been the rise of nationalism, with the establishment of the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. There has also been a significant change in the role of religion in our society. When I grew up, nonconformists had a very respected place, as did Jews and Roman Catholics, but nevertheless the vast majority of the population defined themselves as members of the Church of England. It was assumed that the Church of England undergirded and sustained the values of our national life in so many ways.
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, 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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
Born and raised in Dewsbury, I am a Yorkshirewoman. My working-class parents came from Pakistan but were of Kashmiri extraction. I am also a lawyer, a single mum and a Conservative, who enjoys her saris as much as her skirts and Yorkshire pudding as much as chicken masala. The noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, when talking about Muslim women in your Lordships’ House, even described me in a generic way as “uppity”. More recently I seem to be defined by my religion. I am a Muslim and find it quite disturbing in recent times to be asked the question, “Are you British first or Muslim first?”. I am sure many Members of your Lordships’ House watch the programme “Stars in their Eyes”, where people who want to be a certain superstar come out and say, “Matthew, today I will be…”. I question whether I should be having those moments every morning and saying, “Today I shall be one or the other”.
When this question is framed, it is about defining loyalty. At a time when there is a sense of unease in some of our communities, it may be a question that we need to ask, but it is one that I find very un-British. Like the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, my family has served in the British Army. Loyalty was shown by both by my maternal and paternal grandfathers to the British Army long before my parents arrived on these shores, so I am sure your Lordships’ House will forgive me if I find this question uncomfortable and very un-British.
I accept that there are concerns. In September 2007 the Commission for Racial Equality’s paper A Lot Done, a Lot to Do stated that that segregation—
“residentially, socially and in the workplace”—
was growing and that political and religious extremism was on the rise. The Department for Communities and Local Government’s 2007 Citizenship Survey found that perceptions of cohesion were least positive among our young—those aged 25 to 34. Some 77 per cent had a negative perception of cohesion, and more than half, 56 per cent, felt that there was more racial prejudice in Britain now than there was five years ago. In the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, the Church has muddled its way through, but I argue that for the past decade this Government too have muddled their way through on creating cohesion in our communities and a comfortable sense of Britishness.
The Government and the Prime Minister have floated a number of initiatives: noble Lords may recall that one was a national motto—six words to encapsulate our nation—or a statement of values, as it was later referred to. To find these it was suggested that we would have citizens’ summits or citizens’ juries. I would be interested if the Minister could tell your Lordships’ House what progress has been made on creating that statement of values and how many citizens’ summits have actually taken place.
A national British day was also proposed. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government still intend to have this national holiday and, if so, whether it will continue to be the August bank holiday, as Liam Byrne, the Minister for Immigration, suggested until it was discovered that it was not a holiday in Scotland, which undermined the Britishness of the whole plan? Is that proposal to fail too? There were also issues about St George’s Day. The Prime Minister encouraged us to fly the flag, but there was a complete lack of funding for celebrating St George’s Day. I would also be interested in the Minister’s response regarding the removal of Britannia from British coins.
I could go on, but time does not permit that. However, I make one generic point that has been a feature of the Government’s state multiculturalism approach to minority communities. It has been clunking, headline-driven on many occasions, and unsophisticated in its homogenous approach. As my noble friend Lord Taylor said, they have been seen as monolithic blocks.
I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, who raised concerns on segregation and said that we must look for a way forward. She said that opportunity and access to creating a better understanding were essential. That is why I commend the announcement by the right honourable David Cameron of a six-week national school-leavers’ programme, the national citizen service. That will help to unite our young. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, who said that the definition of Britishness must be inclusive and aspirational. We cannot bully people into belonging.
A number of noble Lords mooted the question of what binds us together. Let me suggest a few answers. First, access to the learning of the English language must be essential. In recent times, I have had concerns about the reduction of funding through the Learning and Skills Council for English as a second language, the obsessional focus on targets and qualifications rather than the skills to live in Britain, and the number of women who say, “I do not need an NVQ level 1 or 2; I need to know how to speak to my doctor and my children’s teachers. I need skills, not qualifications”. I take issue with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who described the concept of education as the “western liberal tradition of education”. When as a child I was taught about the value and privilege of a free education in Britain, I was also taught about my duty as a Muslim to seek and acquire knowledge. That is why I am proud to say that this is a universal value. To suggest otherwise does not assist understanding.
I also suggest a return to the equality of opportunity agenda, which is about treating members of British minority-ethnic communities as individuals rather than as monolithic blocs, robustly tackling racism and other barriers to equality, and honestly tackling those issues that leave communities behind. I cite forced marriages as an example, which in the past we have stepped away from dealing with by saying that it is a cultural issue. We must not hide behind the screen or excuse of cultural sensitivity. If a young girl who is brown goes missing from school and we do not inquire about it because she has Bengali roots, but if a white girl goes missing we send social services around, we are not providing the equality of opportunity agenda, because two girls in this country are being treated differently because of their colour. This is not cultural sensitivity; this is wrong.
There should be a proper teaching of our history, rooted in our institutions and how they came about, an understanding of the challenges that we have historically faced on identity and the ways in which we have overcome them. That is because we will truly move forward with depth of understanding only if we have a depth of understanding of where we came from.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on securing this debate. As we have heard, this is a complex and fascinating subject and we are all grateful to him for allowing us to have what has been a fine debate. When he mentioned paradise, I thought that he was referring to God’s own city and, indeed, he was. He, too, is a Warwickshire supporter but, alas, he went wrong by turning left towards Villa Park instead of St Andrews.
It was interesting to hear the noble Lord’s description of his father’s experiences on the streets of Birmingham, which he found paved not with gold, but with cold, and of the struggles of immigrants such as his father and the racism that they encountered. Fortunately, he and his family decided to stay and the noble Lord is with us. He would agree that much has changed in the city of Birmingham for the better, although challenges remain. Towards the end of his speech, he mentioned those challenges and the CRE report on the risks of separatism and segregation. I am sure that noble Lords would acknowledge that those are very real challenges, which have to be faced in some parts of the city.
The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, described the experiences of racism that she, too, encountered in getting accommodation and in the classroom. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who was critical of government policy, that we should not underestimate the advances and improvements that have been made in our society or the contribution that the law has made by underpinning those improvements and changes.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, spoke eloquently of a number of forces and changes that have led to the questioning of many of our assumptions about who and what we are as people in Britain and what binds us together. We have heard described the principles of liberty, democracy, tolerance, free speech, pluralism, fair play, civic duty, probity, ethos of service, politics and our democracy, as is found in this Palace of Westminster. The noble and right reverend Lord hoped that civic duty, one of the most important values, was not completely lost; I think that those were his words. I am not as pessimistic as that, given my experience in the National Health Service and given the number of volunteers who are prepared to get involved. I am thinking of school governors, for example. Once upon a time, that duty could be discharged by turning up three times a year to hear the head give his report and to have a cup of tea, but anyone who has anything to do with education now knows the huge corporate responsibility that people take on as school governors. There are many other examples. In my new role in visiting prisons, I have come across the members of independent monitoring boards. They are quite remarkable people. They are entirely voluntary and give up huge amounts of time to visit prisons and make themselves available to prisoners.
I echo the sentiments expressed by the noble and right reverend Lord. He put forward the interesting idea that this concept of civic duty is one of the key elements of Britishness. I agree with him that it is still very much alive and kicking; indeed, it is often kicking the Government about what we need to do to change the services in which people are so intimately involved. One of the points of this debate is that, in discussing these values, which have often been seen to be a great asset of our society, we must recognise that they are perhaps not fully articulated or codified in a way that helps to define who we are in a way that British people can understand.
Some noble Lords have argued that, for a nation known for its understatement, an explicit statement of values is unnecessary and somehow un-British and that our rather pragmatic approach, which is to be commended now as in the past, sets out the course for us in the future. I have a great deal of sympathy with that view. I will come to the right reverend Prelate in a minute, but anyone who understands the Labour Party would understand that I very much recognise elements of the tension in the Church of England in my own political party; I suspect that they exist in the party opposite, too. Indeed, the riveting debates on Europe over the past week have reflected that.
While pragmatism has its place, there is an appetite among the British people for tracing the roots of individual identity that together make up the collective story of the nation. My noble friend Lord Parekh, in an extraordinary academic tour de force, outlined well the tensions and problems that arise because we are now an individualistic society. Some have religion and some have faith, whereas some do not. There are different cultures, different types of ethos, different views of history and perhaps different attitudes to class. He mentioned many other differences. How do we create some kind of unity out of these differences?
My noble friend helpfully described national self-identification as being made up of three elements. The first is democracy and respect for the rule of law. The second is our unique rights and values. He said that, although other countries share our rights and values, ours are unique because we fought for them and we have defined them differently. The third important element that he mentioned is respecting and making room for those differences. He described a moral covenant between the majority and the minority. I found that very helpful.
Who we are is one of the most fundamental questions that we can ask ourselves. That is what this process is about. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who was, as ever, very articulate in what she said, that of course I accept that if any statement of values emerges from this work it will not take root unless it is brought forward and owned by the British people themselves. That is why we have developed the kind of process that she referred to. The aim is to have a citizens’ summit, a broadly representative group of around 500 people who will be asked to decide the framework for the statement of values and make recommendations on its uses. The test of this project will be not whether we get a predefined notion of a statement of values, but whether we can hold what might be thought of as an inclusive discussion in which people in Britain come together to discuss what binds us, rather in the nature of the debate that we have had this afternoon. I must say that, at the end of this debate, I feel rather proud to be a citizen of this country.
I take the right reverend Prelate’s point about the benefit of pragmatism and muddling through, in relation to the Church of England being both Catholic and reformed and the unresolved tensions within that. I understand the point that he is making about the need to avoid hard boundaries. If you have hard boundaries, you push people against them and you get a reaction. Perhaps I may be so bold as to observe that, in the current challenges in the Church of England, we see that where some members have sought to make the boundaries harder, it becomes difficult for a tolerant, pragmatic and in many ways widely admired institution to deal with that.
I agree with the interesting points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, about the risk of railroading uniformity. She was right to talk about the different experiences of Muslim women. It is very risky when we define a group with a set of characteristics and then say that all people within that group are implicated in those characteristics. The noble Baroness was absolutely right in paying tribute to the freedoms and rights in Britain. There is no question of people being asked to choose between being British and being Muslim. I reiterate that very clearly. I also agree with her about the potential to look at education and opportunities for young people. I was taken with the important point that she made about young women who go away to higher education and then return to their own communities and contribute their experiences there. My noble friend Lord Haskel, too, emphasised the importance of understanding that this can be taken forward only with the involvement and consent of the British people. It cannot be undertaken by diktat.
My noble friend Lord Haskel gave us an interesting analysis—the historical context, perhaps—for this debate. There is no question but that, since the Second World War, we have been living through a period of profound global change. At the beginning of the period, this country was coming to terms with the rapid dissolution of the British Empire; it was removing many of its institutions and perhaps losing its sense of power. The apparent certainties of the past that bound the nation together through times of crisis are now a distant memory for many people in this country. We have always been a trading nation, but in recent years the impact of globalisation has turned the economics of developed nations outwards, supported by a significant increase in the movement and flow of capital and people. We have seen an increasingly interdependent world, which has meant a growing national reliance on multilateral institutions such as the European Union, as we debated yesterday, or NATO.
All these changes have to be countered or balanced by changes in the opposite direction. A new politics, perhaps, of identity deriving from individual characteristics such as gender and sexuality has seen an increasing trend towards looking inwards to the individual and away from our collective sense of the nation state. These kinds of changes have brought significant economic and social benefits but, as with all change, a number of uncertainties as well. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, suggested, it has led people increasingly to ask how, in a diverse nation, we can find enough in common to enable us to share experiences and live together harmoniously with a common purpose.
This change also leads to fears. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke about some of those fears and described a devaluation of Britishness in relation to academic freedoms. Of course, academic freedom is one of the critical values that perhaps we should have added to the list at the beginning. My experience of my children attending comprehensive schools in Birmingham is different from her experience. I realise that she was talking about a particularly interesting period in a particularly interesting borough in London, but we need to recognise that there has been a huge improvement in our schools. If the noble Lord, Lord Baker, were here, he would berate me about the need for history to be given rather more attention in schools—a point with which I am very sympathetic. However, notwithstanding all the challenges that they face, schools are recognising the need to ensure that all young people have a better grasp of our history, diverse as it is, as noble Lords have said. My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies said that Britishness flows from history but he acknowledged that it is difficult to define.
We come to the question of the union, which my noble friend Lord Haskel and the noble Lord, Lord Bew, raised and developed. I have no doubt that, as an institution, the union has been critical in shaping and defining much of what is important about being British. The union of nations of hundreds of years has demanded a tolerance and an openness towards others, accustoming us to plural identities that lie at the heart of being British. I believe that it is intrinsic to the nature of the union that we have plural allegiances; indeed, research suggests that the British are comfortable with that. Our British identity is different from our English, Scottish, Bengali or Cornish identities, because it is plural and therefore inherently inclusive.
My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies referred to the late and much missed Lord Gareth Williams, who said in this House that he thought that devolution would strengthen the United Kingdom. He quoted evidence of how the concept of Britishness resonates among young people and he was optimistic that, notwithstanding the challenges that devolution has undoubtedly brought, the belief held by Lord Gareth Williams will come out in practice, although certainly, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said, it does not settle the problem of Britishness.
We believe that devolution strengthens the union, and devolution and the union are developing together. Devolution was never intended to be, and never could be, a once-and-for-all change to a static system of governance. For example, in England we are seeing the development of the idea of regional Ministers, which in the case of the West Midlands is having an interesting and dramatic impact. The Government of Wales Act set a path for the extension of legislative powers to the Welsh Assembly. There is much that we could say on Scotland, but the Commission on Scottish Devolution under Ken Calman has started its work. Important choices are pending with regard to further devolution for Northern Ireland, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, suggested. As someone who is both British and Irish, he said that one of the remarkable achievements has been the absorption of the Irish community in Britain. I very much echo that. Indeed, when I was a councillor in Birmingham representing Sparkbrook, there was an extraordinary fusion of Irish and Pakistani politics. It is remarkable how similar some of the characteristics of that political liveliness are—I know that noble Lords will know what I mean by that. I noted the noble Lord’s comments about my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith and the question of votes by Irish citizens. I understand that there is a much wider context in which that matter has to be carefully considered.
The right reverend Prelate touched on religion, as I have done. As he suggested, Christianity has a central historical and cultural significance in our nation’s story and it continues to play an important role. At the last census, 72 per cent of the UK population said that they were from the Christian faith. Alongside that, many areas of the UK are now very religiously diverse, particularly in the major cities. People from all the world’s great faith traditions live in the UK. That is something to rejoice about. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, suggested, there are, and historically have been, great differences and conflicts. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, said, there is a remarkable similarity in the values of all major religions and we must have confidence that that can form a basis for a shared citizenship, which we very much need to build on.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made some interesting comments about the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. I would also refer to the British Library’s recent Sacred exhibition, which took a shared space to show the common links between Muslims, Jews and Christians.
In my last minute, I shall refer briefly to the question of segregation and separation. First, we should not underestimate the cohesion that we see in our society. Great advances have been made. Equally, coming from Birmingham, I see and understand some of the concerns that exist about segregation and separatism, which we must do everything that we can to tackle. However, as the noble Baroness suggested, one way to tackle it is to focus on opportunity and education, which can help people in all communities to improve and enhance their lives. For all the challenges and for all the tensions that noble Lords have brought to our attention today, I believe that we have a society of which we can be proud. The very fact that we can have such a tolerant, wide-ranging debate today is a reflection of that value. That is what we want to build on in the future.