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 to my Cornish colleague for that intervention and for pointing out the hon. Member for Wycombe, who in fact attended the same school as me in Cornwall, so we have a great deal in common. He makes a very good point. This is not just about people currently living in Cornwall; it is about the right and opportunity for people across the country who count themselves Cornish—maybe by birth; maybe by ancestry—to identify themselves as Cornish.

The point has been made that there is the option under “Other” in the census to write “Cornish” as one’s nationality. In fact, in 2011 a staggering 73,000 Cornish men and women chose to do so. I should declare an interest in saying that I was one of those 73,000 people. An interesting comparison is worth noting. Those 73,000 people represent about 14% of the residents of Cornwall. That is the same percentage of Welsh residents who wrote “Welsh” under the “Other” option in the 2001 census. In 2001, the inclusion of a specific tick box for “Welsh” increased the percentage of people identifying as Welsh from 14% to 66%. I am convinced that if a tick box was provided, we would see a similar increase in the percentage of people choosing Cornish as their identity. A dropdown menu provision for “Other” is not good enough.

Recognition by way of a tick box will not only satisfy those of us in the far west but enhance the accuracy of the census by allowing the many thousands of Cornish men and women from across the UK—the Cornish diaspora—to know that they can declare their Cornish identity. Gleaning accurate data is surely what the census is all about. We need to know how each nationality within the UK is faring: it is a crucial part of the exercise. We need the census to throw up the relevant and accurate data that can shape future policy for every group identified within the UK.

This issue is not just about the current generation—it is about our future and the protection and nurturing of our unique Cornish identity, culture and heritage. As I highlighted, over 73,000 people registered as Cornish in 2011. Thousands more would have done so if the option had been as straightforward as it is for the other nationalities. What is so telling is that among the young people of Cornwall—our schoolchildren—a clear and rapidly growing number now identify themselves as Cornish. Any argument that there is no demand to identify as Cornish, or that it is a fad of a bygone era, is erroneous. Our young people are proud to be Cornish and deserve the right to be able to say so in future. In fact, there is a growing movement within Cornwall to celebrate our unique identity and culture that is the strongest it has been for many, many years.

I understand the concerns of the Office for National Statistics—and I suspect the Government also—that if it allows a tick box for the Cornish in the next census, it will be overwhelmed with hundreds of other groups calling for their identity to be formally recognised in this way. I appreciate that this is a genuine concern. However, there is a very simple answer. The Cornish are the only nationality recognised by the Government under the framework convention who do not have the option of a tick box in the census—who are not recognised in this way. No other group can make that claim. In that regard, the case for the Cornish is unique. No one else can make the case for inclusion in the way that the Cornish can.

I am very grateful to be backed in this call by all six of Cornwall’s MPs, by Cornwall Council, and by a whole raft of organisations from across Cornwall. I am calling on the Government to back our campaign for a Cornish tick box in the 2021 census and thereby take an important step towards fulfilling their responsibilities under the framework convention. In finishing, there is one simple thing left to be said: Kernow bys vyken—Cornwall forever.