Cornish National Identity: 2021 Census

Part of Women and Equalities Committee – in the House of Commons at 9:34 pm on 11th June 2018.

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Photo of Steve Double Steve Double Conservative, St Austell and Newquay 9:34 pm, 11th June 2018

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and appreciate his support for my case. He makes the good point, which I will develop in just a moment, that this is not just a matter of Cornish identity and pride; it has a practical application to ensure that the Government can obtain accurate data through the census that can shape future policy. That is so important.

As I was saying, the Government recognised the Cornish as a national minority in 2014. It is worth recalling the words that the Government released in a statement at the time, saying:

“The decision to recognise the unique identity of the Cornish, now affords them the same status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish. For the first time the government has recognised the distinctive culture and history of the Cornish.”

As hon. Members can imagine, there was much celebration and dancing in the streets of Cornish towns and villages at this announcement. We may have even consumed a pasty or two to celebrate. At last—what every Cornish man and woman had known in their hearts for generations was now officially recognised and declared by the Government. However, we stand here today—more than four years later—and wonder what all the fuss was about. We ask ourselves, what did this mean?

It is worth noting at this point that the Government have in many ways been very supportive of Cornwall in recent times. We are seeing record levels of investment in our transport infrastructure, and Cornwall remains the only rural county to have been given a devolution deal by the Government. However, when it comes to the specific matter of recognition of the Cornish as a people, there is still a great deal to do. Sadly, despite the recognition afforded by the European framework convention and embraced in words by the UK Government, the Government have been criticised by the Council of Europe for not doing enough to address the cultural needs of communities in Cornwall. There have been warm words but little action.

The Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities visited the United Kingdom in March 2016 to assess how the UK Government and other public bodies were complying with the articles of the convention. It published an opinion document in early 2017 that was very critical of the UK Government and their failure to act on the articles of the convention. One of the key proposals in the report to address this shortcoming was the inclusion in the 2021 census of a Cornish tick box for national identity.

The purpose of the census is clear and in many ways simple; it is designed to give an accurate picture of the demographic and social changes within the UK. I celebrate with the Scottish who were identified on the census form in the 2001 census, along with the English and the Northern Irish, of course. The process was, however, flawed because there was no provision for the Welsh. The matter was corrected for Wales in 2011, when 66% of people in Wales chose to identity as Welsh. Imagine the outrage today if the Scottish or Welsh were omitted from the next census. As I highlighted earlier, the Government’s statement in 2014 said that the Cornish would now be afforded the same recognition as our Celtic cousins, yet on this simplest and most basic of things—the ability for people to declare themselves as Cornish in the census—the Government are falling short.