Cornish National Identity: 2021 Census

Part of Women and Equalities Committee – in the House of Commons at 9:49 pm on 11th June 2018.

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Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, Assistant Whip 9:49 pm, 11th June 2018

I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting that on the record. I know from my meetings with him how proudly he, too, speaks up for his own culture and what it means for his community, and I respect that.

Let me turn to what we need to be able to do with census data. The crucial point is that we need to be able to understand the Cornish population, their circumstances and any issues specific to them. My hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay has argued that the Cornish are uniquely disadvantaged because, as he puts it, they are the only ethnic minority in the UK protected under the framework convention who do not have a tick box in the census. Let me try to set out why this is not a case of disadvantage, and how we may be able to achieve the same goals through a choice of means.

We want to ensure that all minorities are effectively represented in the 2021 census. For that reason—this is a very important point—the 2021 census will for the first time be a predominantly online census. It will be the first time that that has occurred, and it will provide the opportunity for all respondents to express their right to self-identify either through a tick box or a write-in option. I hear my hon. Friend’s arguments about how a write-in option is not suitable, but let me try to put some of the points that the ONS feels are important and explain why we think the census will provide the data for which we are all looking as a common goal.

Historically, there has always been pressure to include more questions and response options in the census than can be accommodated without putting an unacceptable burden on members of the public in completing the form. This census is no exception, but because it will be primarily online, it will be quicker and easier for all respondents to identify themselves using free text. That will help us to produce richer and higher-quality analysis about communities without the need to include more and more tick boxes.

I understand the argument that a tick box has been seen as essential in getting to questions of cultural identity, such as ethnicity, national identity and language. However, the innovation of an online questionnaire means that we can add a drop-down box with a “search as you type” option. For example, if one of my hon. Friend’s constituents began to type the letter C, it would immediately offer “Cornish” as an option to choice. Along with local campaigns and community engagement, that will aid our ability to raise awareness of the option. With such techniques, it will be possible for respondents to identify themselves more quickly and easily, and they will have every encouragement and opportunity to do so. The ONS will offer comprehensive guidance to support self-identification, whether through a tick box or a “search as you type” function. Those are two ways to meet the same goal. I just wanted to set out for my hon. Friends the alternatives that are under consideration.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Paul Maynard.)