Exiting the European Union (Armorial Bearings, Ensigns and Flags)

Part of Rating and Valuation – in the House of Commons at 8:08 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 8:08 pm, 20th March 2019

May I ask the hon. Gentleman to hold fire for a second? I will deal with his question and endeavour to ensure that I have answered it, but I am sure that if I do not, he will come back and pin me down.

Let me briefly explain what the statutory instrument will do. In most of the rest of the United Kingdom, the decision on what flags should fly on Government buildings is based on a relatively straightforward list issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Changing that and ensuring that when we have left the European Union Government buildings will no longer have to fly flags on Europe Day, 9 May, will also be relatively straightforward. However, in Northern Ireland, because of the sensitivities and because of the importance of flag flying and the symbolic issues surrounding it, it is an altogether more complicated matter.

Flag-flying regulations are baked into legislation that is ultimately the preserve of the Stormont Assembly. The SI therefore amends those regulations, using the order-making powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to delete the requirement to fly flags in Northern Ireland on Europe Day. If we do not pass it, we shall be left in a rather incongruous and, I am sure, unwanted position. The only place in the United Kingdom that would still have to fly flags officially on Europe Day would be Northern Ireland, and I am sure that none of us want that, for a variety of reasons.

Let me now deal with the point raised by Gavin Robinson. He is right to suggest that the situation in Northern Ireland is much more complicated. Under the current regulations, Northern Ireland Government buildings follow the list of designated days in the regulations that we are, I hope, amending today, whereas UK Government buildings follow the list issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Local authorities are responsible for flag flying according to their own policies: some fly the Union flag throughout the year, while others do not fly it all. I believe that Belfast City Council follows the DCMS list of designated days. The flag-flying days for Parliament buildings, which the hon. Gentleman also mentioned—that is, the Stormont buildings themselves—are decided by the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission, not by our Parliament. As it happens, the commission has chosen to follow the DCMS list of designated flag-flying days.

Let me now provide an important piece of trivia for the benefit of anyone who is caught up in a pub quiz at any point over the next few weeks. Under the Police Emblems and Flags Regulations (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2002, police stations in Northern Ireland may not fly either the Union flag or any other national flag. They can only fly the Police Service of Northern Ireland service flag, except in the event of a visit by Her Majesty the Queen, when the royal standard may be flown in place of the service flag.