rose to call attention to the role of government in promoting citizenship, and in defining British identity and British history; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, I asked my group to support the idea of a debate on this because we are in the middle of an emerging but so far relatively incoherent debate about citizenship, national history and national identity. Gordon Brown gave a speech last month on the future of Britishness to the Fabian Society at a conference on the subject. He also gave an excellent lecture 18 months ago to the British Council on British national identity. David Cameron, the new leader of the Conservative Party—I was about to say the Liberal Conservative Party—gave one of his many speeches on the subject of Britishness to the Great Britons conference on
The reasons for this revival of interest are evident. There are concerns about how to strengthen a sense of shared national community in our younger generation, for whom the old national symbols of wartime solidarity are a distant story and among whom respect for cherished national traditions and social habits is limited. There is a recognition that we cannot go on living on the legend of the Second World War as our shared national experience now that no one under the age of 70 has direct experience of that war. There are efforts, particularly promoted when David Blunkett was the Secretary of State for the Home Department, to incorporate new British citizens into our national community through the institution of citizenship ceremonies and through introducing elements of British history, values and political principles into citizenship and language courses. There is concern about a degree of disengagement from the national community within some of our ethnic communities in Britain's increasingly diverse society. This has led political leaders to ask whether improvements in history teaching and better education in political rights and obligations might help to narrow the gap and to promote a shared understanding of rights and obligations within our national community.
There is a slightly less accepted recognition that the history that is taught in our schools does not give children any coherent sense of our national story, or indeed of history at all. My children in secondary school learnt about Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, like most others in their generation. It was a training that educates the rising generation in Euro-scepticism but achieves little else; it certainly does not tell them much about Britain. There is confusion in many areas, particularly in the Conservative Party, about the differences between Englishness and Britishness now that devolution has strengthened Scotland's autonomy. Behind all this, there is a certain unease within our political elites and institutions that the British population as a whole are less engaged in the public life of British society under the British state. We have seen a long-term decline in party membership and a decline in turnout at elections, exacerbated by the reduction of opportunities for citizens to play a part in representative democracy because of the reduction and emasculation of local democracy by successive Conservative and Labour governments.
This is a broad, even an untidy field to cover. It stretches across several government departments: the Home Office, the Department for Education, DCMS, and so on. Yet the Minister in the current Government who has spoken most fluently about the issue is, of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Its different strands are closely linked and they have direct implications for public policy. For example, the Government have launched a respect agenda aimed at those in the younger generation who have not inherited what Mr Blair and Mr Brown would regard as traditional British values. Nowhere does that dreadfully new Labour document, the Respect Action Plan, which I waded through some weeks ago, spell out the national and social values that disaffected youth should learn to respect or how best those should be taught.
Across the political parties, again, there is renewed interest in some scheme of national service for young people, whether voluntary or compulsory, to give them a stronger sense of the wider community in which they live and the obligations that they owe to it. Gordon Brown and David Cameron are among many who have floated the idea and there have been many more reports from think tanks close to each of the three parties. Though we wish to teach our younger generation about the obligations of citizenship, we must surely also educate them in the rights of citizenship that balance those obligations. Once we start to talk about citizenship, it is difficult to avoid talking about civil and political liberties and about the full rights and obligations of the citizen towards society and the state, and of the state towards the citizen. That takes us into constitutional reform and issues of representative government, local autonomy and rights, which neither this Government nor their predecessor have wanted to address. I look forward to the publication of the Power inquiry at the end of this month, which I hope will open up this field to wider debate.
Once we talk about identity, we plunge into issues of culture, language and diversity, of inclusion and exclusion, assimilation versus integration—all the sensitive issues of "Who do we think we are?" and what values, memories or ethnic myths we share in common. Once we talk about history, we face politically loaded questions about how to interpret the tangled history of the multinational United Kingdom and how that history has linked us, in friendship and enmity, to other states and civilizations. It is easy to be partisan about such central issues. For those of us on these Benches, the liberal agenda is essentially about citizenship; it is about the balance between individual rights and obligations to society, and about the extension of political rights to all citizens in a liberal society and a democratic state. One of the reasons why the Government have made so little progress with their citizenship agenda is that—it seems to us—new Labour is deeply confused about how far it wants to defend, let alone promote, civil and political liberties. The language of new Labour talks about "customers" to whom public services are "delivered", not citizens for whom public services are part of what holds the national community together.
The evidence of political alienation from public life is now very strong. Fewer people voted in last year's election than in any election since 1918, and fewer belong to political parties, so that fewer people have any sense of a link between their lives and political society and the state. For Liberal Democrats, that means that we have to reopen the agenda of political and constitutional reform, which the Prime Minister has so firmly closed. Members of other parties will of course wish to emphasise other aspects of that agenda.
National history is a highly contested field, as it always has been. Every time I walk through from Peers' Lobby to Central Lobby, I note on the two sides of that corridor the inability of 19th-century political leaders to agree on the history of the 17th century. We have the parliamentary view of the Civil War on one side and the royalist view on the other. As you walk through from Central Lobby to the Commons Lobby, you have the same contested history of the years between 1685 and 1714.
I first met Conrad Russell, later my noble friend Lord Russell, when he and I were acting as informal advisers to a national curriculum working party on the history curriculum, which was set up by Kenneth Baker in 1989 under the orders of Mrs Thatcher, who wanted to reintroduce a proper national story, as she saw it, into our schools. That effort failed, primarily because the Prime Minister disapproved of its findings. She was surprised to discover that British history was not being taught in English schools and that the inquiry did not automatically have authority over the separate Scottish syllabus. When the inquiry team reported that it would not be possible to construct a coherent history of the relationship between England, Scotland and Ireland without placing it in its European context, she was displeased; when the team also suggested that Britain needed a history syllabus that explained to every child in a British school how they came to be British—which meant teaching about the slave trade, the opium war and the conquest of India—she delayed the publication of the final report for several months, and it was never implemented.
Gordon Brown in his recent speech touched on the politics of memory and of national symbols. He noted that Remembrance Sunday has become our prime ceremony for national solidarity, and he suggested that it is time for us to think about creating another official national day. As it happens, I watched on television the whole of the Remembrance Sunday celebrations last November, and I was struck by how poorly it institutionalises the politics of memory for our current age. It was a very white and very British ceremony. Almost no one in this country, including those of Indian descent, have any memory that the second largest contingent in the British armies of the Second World War was the Indian Army. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, has now succeeded in getting a memorial to those other armies that fought in the Second World War, carefully placed behind Buckingham Palace so that not very many people see it. Surely we could have a Remembrance Sunday that celebrates our allies and our Commonwealth partners rather more than just with the small group of elderly West Indians walking at the back of the parade just in front of a small group of Czechs and Poles and an elderly bunch of American Marines. We could do a great deal better than that if the Government were thinking through what it means to memorialise the past in a way that celebrates our present and our future.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer alluded to the French celebration of
Shall we have a new national day, as the Chancellor has suggested? Perhaps a constitution day? We would find ourselves immediately wallowing in controversy if we were not careful. Would we like to celebrate 1689? The Ulster Unionists would love that, but the Catholic Church might not be quite so enthusiastic. Similarly, 1605 has anti-Catholic connotations. What about the Queen's Birthday? That would raise, very delicately, the role of the monarchy as a uniting national symbol. The monarchy does its best to hold the national community together. I went to the service in Westminster Abbey to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the coronation, which I had sung in as a boy—it which was a very Protestant ceremony without a single Catholic or anyone else present. I was struck when on the 50th anniversary the Cardinal Archbishop read a lesson, and down under the transept were representatives of Britain's other faiths: Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Baha'i. That was a constructive use of national symbolism.
I went to a citizenship ceremony last year. I thought that it was okay but limited. When we sang the national anthem at the end, it included no reference to Britain, to liberty or to democracy. It is the world's oldest national anthem and, as I researched it, I found out that it was first sung in London theatres in 1745 as an English anthem against the Scots. The fourth verse begins:
"God grant that Marshall Wade . . . victory bring", against the "Rebellious Scots". That is not necessarily the most appropriate national anthem for us to continue using now that devolution is here.
We are teaching citizenship in British schools. We are not teaching it very well; indeed, the Chief Inspector of Schools said last January that citizenship was the worst-taught subject in the secondary curriculum. A booklet published by the Home Office two years ago, Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship, stated:
"The Government has decided that those who become British citizens should play an active role, both economically and politically, in our society, and have a sense of belonging to a wider community".
Do the Government really want to promote active citizenship? That is a very wide agenda as we face an increasingly passive citizenship among our native population. It would start with teaching citizenship in schools in a more active way. I took a rapid poll of teenagers who live nearby about what they were being taught in schools. Some of them said, "Well, it's mainly about drugs". One or two of them said, "Well, we had one lesson on the European Union". None talked about the British constitution as such. I suggest that we promote a cross-party approach to try to build a national consensus for the next generation. That would be an appropriate subject for the less partisan Chamber, the House of Lords, to consider. Perhaps we might consider setting up a sessional committee for next year.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said last month:
"I believe that out of a debate, hopefully leading to a broad consensus about what Britishness means, flows a rich agenda for change: a new constitutional settlement, an explicit definition of citizenship, a renewal of civic society, a rebuilding of our local government and a better balance between diversity and integration".
That is a large, but very good, agenda. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, this is an interesting and topical issue and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on introducing it so comprehensively. The focus of my comments—appropriately, following his speech—will be about citizenship education in schools and about what it should be, not what it is.
First, I have to say that I mistrust the concept of citizenship and national identity if that consists of xenophobia, or boastful self-centredness. For me, citizenship is about living in a community and having a responsibility towards that community, as well as towards oneself. It is about relationships with others, with the community and even the global community. I shall maintain that consideration for others is the basis for citizenship, whatever one's identity is.
In preparing for this debate, I reread the final report of the Advisory Group on Education for Citizenship, which points out that citizenship has evolved from being the right of a narrow class of people to include the rights of women—although there are few women in the corridors that the noble Lord described— lowering the voting age, freedom of the press and opening up of the processes of government. My noble friend the Leader of the House, in the Walter Rodney Memorial Lecture in 2004, pointed out another dimension—that many of our black, white and Asian young people may feel marginalised from key institutions in society. We cannot pretend that racism and discrimination are not part of our society, and that there is not a requirement to challenge it.
Citizenship for what and for whom? What should education for it be about? The advisory report recommended a broad educational base for citizenship, to involve young people in learning self-confidence and social and moral responsibility, both towards those in authority and towards each other. It should be learning about becoming involved in the life and concerns of communities, and service to the community. It should be learning about how to be effective in public life through knowledge, skills and values. That is all very good.
If that happened, we would have a great opportunity to get young people participating in active and exciting opportunities. But are we? I know that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General is not from the DfES, but maybe he can pass on my question about whether citizenship education is taken seriously in schools or pushed to one side in the pressure for academic results. There are many examples of exciting and innovative programmes, but how widespread is that? Such education is too important to be left to chance. Schools are mini-communities, gatherings of citizens and young people who should, as well as learning academically, learn about discipline, relationships, values, motivation and aspiration.
Citizenship education in schools has been a foundation subject in schools for 11 to 16 year-olds since 2002. It has three strands: social and moral responsibility, community, and political literacy. For example, pupils aged five to seven should be able to take part in discussion and keep rules, appreciate that they belong to various groups and communities, and learn how to look after their environment. Pupils aged 11 to 14 should learn about legal and human rights and responsibilities, key aspects of parliamentary government, diversity of backgrounds in Britain today and the world as a global community. Again, that is all very well, but what about the practical means of delivery?
I want to refer, as a good example, to a teaching pack on citizenship for 11 to 16 year-olds produced by the Advisory Council for Alcohol and Drug Education, and I must declare an interest as a trustee. There are lesson plans with outcomes. For example, in lesson 14 the outcome is that pupils,
"will have worked cooperatively to increase their knowledge and understanding of human rights and will have considered their own role and responsibilities to protect human rights locally and globally".
The key element there is about working collaboratively and expressing opinions, as well as about learning how institutions work; for citizenship is surely about being collaborative, not just about learning facts.
I wish to quote a letter on that theme, in the same teaching pack, from the principal of a school in the United States. He said:
"I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by college graduates . . . My request is: help your students become more human . . . Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human".
The same could be said of citizenship education. It is about learning to be a considerate human being, and overzealous notions of citizenship could be an excuse for bad behaviour.
That wise and wonderful writer E M Forster stated in an essay, Two Cheers for Democracy, in 1938 that he mistrusted causes. I hope that citizenship will not become a cause. He also reminded us that Dante placed Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of hell because they chose to betray their friend, Julius Caesar, rather than their country, Rome. So I give two cheers for citizenship and the concept of citizenship education. I would make it three cheers if I were convinced that what we want to inspire by citizenship and national identity was about enabling people to relate to others and to make the most of our common humanity, both nationally and globally.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for introducing this debate and outlining the issues so clearly. We should remind ourselves that we are not the only country that is wrestling with concerns about identity. The United States is doing so with respect to the influx of Mexicans and those from elsewhere. Nearer to home, the waves of asylum seekers to mainland Europe are opening a debate that CNN at the weekend entitled, "European identity in crisis".
It is therefore understandable that the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, recently called for a deepening of British identity, with a national day set aside to celebrate values and aspirations that are central to our idea of nationhood. As the Chancellor did not articulate in any great depth the parameters of national identity, my contribution to this debate is to offer some reflections on what I regard as major signposts where particular elements of our identity are located. I shall leave to one side the issue of citizenship to which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred.
First, I offer a cherishing of parliamentary democracy and rule of law under the symbolic and constitutional headship of the monarchy. It must concern us all here that so many people do not value their democratic rights, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has already mentioned. Those rights were so hardly won for us by our forebears that greater efforts must be made to encourage participation in citizenship and public life. That so many people question Parliament today, and regard politicians as being in politics merely for their own good, must alarm us all—however unjustified we find such conclusions.
Another reference point for British identity must be our culture, under which I subsume language and history. It is so easy to forget that our rich language is not the creation of the British people alone. We need to avoid the danger of believing that there is such a notion as pure, unadulterated culture or racial purity. The nationalist party in Britain—mercifully small—claims that this country should be protected from the invasion of minority-ethnic cultures, faiths and creeds, and that non-white people should be run out of town. However, that fascist creed flies in the face of history. Britain has been the recipient of many invasions of peoples over the centuries, most of them unfriendly; as a result, our national language and character have changed. Multiculturalism is not to be feared, but is inadequate on its own. It is merely a stepping stone to its goal of common unity in shared values and a commitment to democracy.
I believe that many of your Lordships would share my concern that history seems to be a marginal subject in quite a few schools these days. Yet few other subjects, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has said, are as vital in informing our knowledge of where we have come from and who we are today. History draws us into a national family. It makes us aware of our heritage and the painful yet enriching way that we have learned to tolerate differences, to speak openly and freely and to enjoy argument and debate at every level of human intercourse. A thorough grasp of history is a sound antidote to the increasing relativism and secularism of our day.
It is not my intention, in this short contribution, to make the case for the Christian faith being at the heart of our nation. None the less, it has clearly made a huge contribution and nourished the nation in so many ways that I, personally, would find it incredible if we tried to define our nation without mentioning the place of the Church. Yet, in mentioning faith, there is a particular challenge facing British Muslims. That concerns the tension between the demands of faith on the one hand and those of the secular communities in which religious communities reside on the other. In his fine book The West and The Rest, Roger Scruton makes the point that unlike Christianity, where the claims of faith and secular life are clearly separated, as expressed in the words of Jesus:
"Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's", in Islam the concept of umma gives priority to religious duties over all other sources of authority. That is, Islamic jurisprudence does not recognise secular jurisdiction as a valid source of law.
My many conversations with Muslim leaders around the world reassure me that that difference between the West and the Muslim world can be resolved. However, for that to happen, this subject must also be brought out into the open and made part of our debate on identity. That returns us, then, to recent debates on freedom of speech; most recently, to that on religious hatred. The decision of the House of Commons on Tuesday was—from my perspective—a timely recognition that freedom of speech under the rule of law is a great good, and that we should never attempt to throttle it. Because religion is so important to people's lives, it must also be open to inspection, debate and argument.
I shall close with a story. There was once a rich Jewish gentleman called Finkelstein. He was rushed to the finest hospital, Massachusetts General. Then, without explanation, he checked himself out and went to a small, run-down Jewish hospital in New York's East Side. An official from the first hospital asked him, "Was there something wrong with Massachusetts General Hospital? Was it the doctors?". "No", he said, "they were outstanding—the very best. I can't complain". "Well, was it the nurses, then? Weren't they attentive enough?". "No", he said, "they were wonderful, like angels. I can't complain". "So was it the food? Was that insufficient, or too boring?". "No", he said, "the food was delicious—just heavenly. I can't complain". So the official said, "Mr Finkelstein, why then did you leave one of the finest hospitals in the world for this run-down hospital in the East Side?". Finkelstein gave a big smile and said, "Because here, here I can complain".
Perhaps that comes close to what British society is all about. It is an open society where we all mingle freely as equals, without fear of oppression—proud to be British.
My Lords, let me join the rapidly forming queue to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on initiating this debate. It is always a pleasure to debate with esteemed colleagues from the LSE, of whom there are no fewer than three in this debate. The subject is, manifestly, highly important; but, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey of Clifton, briefly remarked, it would be a fundamental mistake to suppose that the debate is limited to our country. In fact, nations all round the world are troubled by their identity and are trying to invent a new sense of their purpose in the world.
The reasons for that are, fairly clearly, related to the new global age in which we live. As the American social and political thinker Daniel Bell so famously said, the nation state in the global age becomes too small to solve the big problems, yet is too big to solve the small ones. That does not mean that the nation or the nation state disappears; far from it. One could say that the nation state becomes, as it were, the universal form of the state in the 20th century. However, it means that nations have to rethink their identity—and to some extent the notion of sovereignty, which was a kind of anchor of nations' past identity.
I take it that these changes are the backdrop to the Chancellor's recent interventions. In his recent speech, which has already been alluded to, the Chancellor said that what Britain needs is a codified sense of purpose and, as he put it, an explicit mission statement. He suggested various rituals and innovations which might help sustain a renewed sense of purpose for the nation. In spite of what has already been said so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, the Chancellor has been widely ridiculed for his pains.
I recall reading an article, which I think was in the Times, where the journalist dismissed Gordon Brown's speech as tendentious tosh. I am not completely sure that tosh can be tendentious, but the Chancellor was right to say that a sense of patriotism is compatible with progressive politics. I remind those on the opposition Benches that we are all progressives now.
It is right to question a notion of national identity which, until recently, held a lot of currency. That was a backward-looking notion of an isolated nation, with the belief that sovereignty can be retrieved by going back to a largely mythical past. Sovereignty must now be defended in conjunction with other nations, not alone, so it is right to question that. It is also right to suggest that we need to hold Britain together as a nation state by belief. I am a believer in what I would call the cosmopolitan nation; that is, one in which a diversity of cultures can co-exist. I am therefore strongly against Scottish nationalism, because we need larger nations. We do not need an endless fragmentation of nations, especially along quasi-ethnic lines. The Chancellor was right in his stated intentions, but there are questions we should ask of both him and ourselves—or some observations, which I shall make.
First, I suggest that we drop the dead donkey; that is, drop the idea of Britishness. The very term "Britishness" is odd. I do not know of anyone who speaks of Frenchness, or Americanness. They speak of American values, or the French civilising mission. I believe, along with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that we should speak of Britain as a citizenship nation. That is what holds the nation together and gives us a coherent identity. If you speak of Britishness, you are looking for an elusive, essential identity which does not really exist.
Secondly, it is right to celebrate our ambiguous pluralism. All the debates about British identity contain an endless series of questions about being English, British, Scottish or Welsh and so forth, with the implication that we somehow have to sort all these things out. I do not think so. It is a strength of British identity to be pluralist. In the contemporary world, we must all have several identities. It is not simply a weakness that allows us to be a more cosmopolitan state.
Thirdly, we must strongly resist the temptation to distort history. We must recognise, for example, that the British Empire had a noxious history in some parts, along with its achievements. We must teach history as it was, but that does not mean that we cannot pick out and celebrate achievements, such as the freeing of the slaves. It does not mean that we cannot invent rituals around democracy and freedom, but it means that we cannot pretend that these are unique to us, or that they are the only strands of British history, because they are not.
Finally, we must avoid what I would call the Cool Britannia syndrome. Why did Cool Britannia fail? As any advertising person could have told the people who initiated it, it is no good selling a product purely on the basis of image; you must have, behind the product, something to deliver. It was an ad man's empty notion. That means that, to reinvent Britishness and reconstruct a sense of purpose for the 21st century, there must be something substantial behind it. For example, achievements of citizenship must be celebrated. Why not also celebrate some anticipatory goals? For example, Linda Colley, in her lecture as part of the Prime Minister's lecture series, suggested the goal of eliminating child poverty as a forward-looking ambition of a democratic and egalitarian society. Also, why not include the lead-up to the Olympic Games in 2012, which is bound to be a unifying force?
As individuals, we would find it hard to live without a sense of ambition. We would find it hard to live without a sense of purpose. Why should nations be any different?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire for raising the topical but important, and evidently controversial, subject of Britishness.
We are all, of course, British citizens within the United Kingdom. Yet the word "Britishness" comes a little uneasily and self-consciously to the lips of many of us in these post-imperial days. Our sense of Britishness has been forged gradually over the centuries out of three nations—one larger and two smaller—living on a middle-sized offshore island of Europe, and enjoying a remarkable degree of insulation from external aggression.
The parliamentary and political integration of England, Wales and Scotland was completed by the start of the 18th century, and was followed by the economic integration of the three nations in the industrial revolution, in which Britain led the world. History has therefore given us the priceless asset of lively and diverse national cultures within a firm political and economic framework of integration. The English, Scots and Welsh are now inextricably mixed up with each other. Speaking as a Scot, this enables the Scots—and, I think, the Welsh—to enjoy the best of both worlds; we can vigorously deploy our Scottishness and Welshness alongside, and perhaps because of, the more numerous but fortunately more easygoing English, who take their nationalism less seriously than we tend to do in Scotland or Wales.
Years ago, before we joined the European Union, I remember leading a team of British ministers to Dublin for a regular review of our trading relationships. We had ministers from the Treasury, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. By curious coincidence, we were all either Scottish or Welsh. It was not a particularly successful meeting, because the Irish were seeking concessions which we did not think it in the British interest to make. After two hours of abortive discussions with the Irish, I remember the formidable Mr Haughey—or it may have been the even more formidable Mr Blaney—saying, "Where are the English? We'd far rather negotiate with them! Let's go and have some lunch".
We are all a mixed-up lot on our island, and are becoming more so with the immigration that has been taking place. The sense of being British, however, goes all the deeper and is all the more real in the 21st century for not being expressed stridently or in a jingoistic manner. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, on this. We need to adapt our sense of being British to take account of some dramatic changes since the Second World War, both in the world around us and inside the United Kingdom itself.
One of these major changes has been the arrival of the United Kingdom in the European Union. I recall a debate in your Lordships' Chamber, quite a number of years ago now, in which the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and I took part. By curious coincidence, we came to the same conclusion: we agreed that we were Scottish by birth and culture, British by citizenship and, now, European by conviction. We saw no contradiction in any of these positions.
The European Union faces many challenges, but the fear that it was going to destroy our national characteristics in a drab Euro-identity has largely dissolved. There is no sign that the French are becoming less French, the Dutch less Dutch or the British less British. Today, the pressures on our British sense of identity come not from Brussels but from within our own borders. The historic development of devolved government to Scotland and Wales has brought about a healthy decentralisation of decision-making, and a liberation of democratic energies. At the same time, the significant immigration from the third world, and the search for political asylum in this country, has expanded our working populations and enriched our cultural diversity. It has also, however, created new tensions and pressures for special and divisive provisions being sought in both education and social policy.
Without vigorous, positive action, the present benefits of devolution could easily degenerate into narrow nationalism. The positive aspects of religious and ethnic diversity and mutual tolerance could equally easily give way to divisive, communal bigotry. For these reasons, I think this debate has been a timely one, and I strongly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has said about the role of the Government, and the importance of giving priority to promoting a sense of British citizenship, defining a British identity which new immigrants can be proud to seek and accept, and creating a shared sense of British history. I feel that the best interests of people in all parts of Britain lay in making a success story of a truly United Kingdom in the 21st century.
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken today, I very much welcome the opportunity to debate this really important issue, and recognise its timeliness. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has said, particularly with regard to interrogating the very notion of Britishness. That is really what I want to focus on today.
In October 2000, the report of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, on The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain was launched to a storm of publicity, much of it adverse, which overshadowed its intellectually informed, cogent analysis. The report, produced after months of research and consultation led by a commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, mapped out current and future directions for policy makers in the context of contemporary, multi-ethnic Britain.
The furore focused on a comment in the report about the potentially racist connotations of "Britain". This was reported in the press as a claim by the commission that to use the term "British" was to use a racist term. Anyone who had read the report properly would have seen that this was not at all what the commissioners were saying.
In recent times, notions of Britishness have been linked inextricably to migration. The focus of these debates has been primarily on peoples of African, Asian and Caribbean descent, who have settled here since the 1940s; but we should not forget that historically people of Irish and Jewish descent have also come under scrutiny in terms of their perceived "alien" status.
In referring to a set of values or qualities that characterise a nation, we always, of course, want to adopt positive terms. "Tolerant" and "inclusive" were, I think, words that were used by the Chancellor to sum up part of the British character when he spoke, as has recently been referred to.
Clearly, if we look objectively at those qualities and many others of the national character, we cannot say that these attributes are exclusive to white Britons. Some of the people who settled here having travelled from Africa, Asia or the Caribbean experienced kindness and acceptance. Many others endured physical and verbal abuse and exclusion from the notion of Britishness because of its equation with being white. The vast majority of those settlers and their daughters and sons exercised a great deal of restraint in the face of this intolerance and exclusion—exclusion from sections of the labour market, from decent housing, from mainstream education and so on.
It seems that those who urge us to embrace Britishness have not grasped the extent to which many of the people of our parents' generation felt an absolute allegiance to Britain—to the mother country. This lack of understanding persists despite our contributions to war efforts, as has already been mentioned in relation to the Second World War—but from the Battle of Trafalgar to Iraq today, we have made that contribution. Despite all the support and contribution given to the National Health Service and our contribution to the sporting success and entertaining the nation, still our allegiance and Britishness is questioned.
If our role in the political, social and cultural development of Britain is omitted from the national curriculum, from higher education, erased from history books or left to gather dust as curiosities in museums and if we experience this continued rejection, it is not surprising that Britishness feels like a total illusion to some.
I want briefly to say something about multiculturalism. The chairman of the CRE, Trevor Phillips, and the Liberal Democrat MP, Dr Vincent Cable, are among those who have called for an end to the multicultural society. I have to confess that I am not sure what that means. Multiculturalism is defined in a number of ways. It is such a vague concept that it hardly qualifies as much more than a descriptor—that is, there are many different cultures living in Britain today. That is self-evident. I feel that the signalling of the end of the concept is an acceptance of the fear of difference.
If we think of multicultural as the juxtaposition of different cultures, rather than a set of policies to mitigate the presence of black people in this country, we can see that Britain has always been a multi-layered, multi-textured nation and, yes, multicultural too. Steelworkers in the north of England might not see themselves as having much of a common culture with public school, Oxbridge-educated, civil servants in Whitehall. Places with strong regional identities, such as Yorkshire and Cornwall, might also feel more than a geographical distance from the middle classes in the home counties; and, of course, as has already been mentioned, the place of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland in this notion of a unified British identity might be said to be currently "under construction". After all, we have yet to reach agreement on whether we can field a single Great Britain football team.
Many people have referred to last year's bombings of London transport, ending with much tragic loss of life and injuries, as a wake-up call and an opportunity to reflect on the limits and the potential of multiculturalism. If we want to understand what drives people to extremes, to fulfil their desire to cause death and destruction, we have to learn to look squarely in the eye of that which might cause us some discomfort.
In order to have a strong sense of what we mean by being British, does that mean that those who do not conform to that notion have to be designated "un-British"—a rather chilling term? The really important issue is—again, this has been touched on by other noble Lords—can we establish a society characterised by a strong sense of social justice, active environmentalism and equality of opportunity, with respect and difference at its heart, both nationally and internationally? Responding to this challenge is what citizenship is all about.
I understand that one of the national daily newspapers is asking its readers what it means to be British. A view from abroad states:
"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".
I am sure that most noble Lords are aware that in 2007 there are a number of important anniversaries that are relevant to this discussion. It is 300 years since the Union was formed, 200 years since the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire—I must declare an interest because I am involved in a number of initiatives around that particular issue—and 50 years since Ghana gained independence from Britain.
The ways in which the Government approach the commemoration of each of these events is important. Each contains the potential to be exploited to both positive and harmful effects. I hope that this House and the other place will work together to ensure that we maximise the opportunities for getting to grips with the challenges we face with creating the inclusive society we desire.
My Lords, like all previous speakers, I welcome this important debate. There are a number of things that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said in opening with which I agree. I disagree with some of his comments about respect, which I thought were a bit provocative and missed the very important point that actually respect comes basically from good parenting, and then you build on that. That in a way is what the Government are about but in a much wider agenda.
I agree with him that we have spent too much time in our history lessons on people like Hitler and Stalin, important though they are in teaching people the warnings of history about dictatorship, and far too little on such things as immediately after the war when Britain had a very large hand in drawing up the German constitution, which, in my judgment, is one of the most successful constitutions in the world today, and in drawing up the human rights legislation in Europe, which many people make the mistake of associating with the European Union, even though of course we did not sign it until many years later when the present Government were elected. But perhaps those who do not take such a generous view of British history as I take would say that that is a good example of the British saying, "Don't do as we do, but do as we tell you".
I also agree very much with the noble Lord about the Commonwealth aspect. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, touched on that with the contribution made during the wars generally. It is not well known, but the British/Indian army, which at its height I think numbered more than 2.5 million people, was the largest volunteer army the world has ever known. That in a way says something very special about the nature of the relationship that existed between Britain and India and, in my view, still does.
I think that the Government launching of citizenship education is extremely important. I have felt that for many years. As an MP I had some research done in my advice surgery. When we asked people who came with council-related problems why they had come to me as an MP rather than go to the council, a very common reply was, "I thought I'd come to the top". The assumption was that the MP tells the councillors what to do—that it was a pyramid. If any MP or Member of this place tries to tell councillors what to do, in my experience, it works for a very short time—usually about five minutes. Then it goes badly wrong. It is a mistake. However, a constituent said to me during the past year, shortly before I left the House of Commons: "If you cannot help me with my housing"—I had referred her to a councillor—"what do you do?". That says an awful lot about how we do not involve people in their democracy.
The most important point is that democracy is about participation. The media have a role to play here. If you watch some of our "Question Time"-type programmes, people often respond by saying, "A plague on all your houses". But they leave it there; they do not then go on to say, "What can I do about it?". People have many options. They can not only read the literature from the various candidates, they can put themselves forward as independent candidates; join parties and seek to change them; and so on. We underplay that, so the assumption is that you must be a spectator in democracy, rather than a participant. Democracy, by definition, means involvement and participation.
We should not get too pessimistic, although it is right to be concerned about falling voting levels. There are a number of explanations for that. We need to be careful even about younger voters. If we consider the area that I previously represented in west London, many young people who were not voting were, from the nature of the population—this is true of Britain as a whole—from ethnic minorities, many of whom had come here recently, in many cases from countries that had been through extreme stress. The former Yugoslavia and the Horn of Africa were two classic examples in my area. They did not have a culture of participating in politics, not least because politics was, at best, irrelevant to their background; and, at worst, deeply frightening and worrying because it usually meant violence, sometimes extreme violence directed against them individually.
So we need to go through a process, but we can be proud. I also remember a very good friend of mine, a Palestinian, standing up at his first Labour Party meeting with tears in his eyes. He had just become a British citizen and he said to me, "I am so proud because today, for the first time in my life, I have voted in a free election". He was 47. We need to be very proud of that.
I should declare an interest, because I am chairman of the Mary Seacoal memorial statue appeal. Mary Seacoal was a Crimean War nurse and we seek to establish a statue as a memorial to her—either in Cavendish Square, opposite the Royal College of Nurses, or at the end of Westminster Bridge, outside St Thomas's Hospital. The purpose of that is not just to commemorate Mary Seacoal herself, but what she represents. She represents the enormous involvement of various groups from around the world in being British.
That is precisely what my noble friend, Lady Young, said so powerfully a few moments ago. My only slight point of difference with her was that she timed her sense of involvement in the British military side of history from Trafalgar. In fact, as she will know, it started long before that. The waves of immigration and the involvement of ethnic minorities in our history are far greater. Indeed, we can see that in the Royal Gallery in the picture of the black sailor on Nelson's ship pointing to the French sniper. About 20 per cent of that ship's complement was foreign-born. At least one captain in Nelson's navy was a black sea captain.
Finally, we sometimes forget that empire was part of the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution was what made Britain the world's first superpower, if you like—the first global power. That is what drove empire, in a way, although I know that you can trace empire back before that through the slave trade, and so on. If we do not understand and teach that, there is a problem. People will say either that the British Empire was the greatest thing ever or that it was the worst thing ever. In fact, there was a much more complicated inter-relationship with what was the dominant power of the 19th century, based on the industrial process. That is the wider sweep of history that will enable people of all ethnic backgrounds to feel a sense of citizenship in Britain today.
My Lords, I was born in India. I went to America for study, then I came here. What struck me when I came to Britain was how relaxed the country was about whether or not it was a nation. Glory to the country that is relaxed about its nationhood. Countries that are not relaxed about nationhood have to go to war to prove that they are a nation. Ever since I arrived—perhaps partly because I am middle-class; I have a middle-class job; and I live in a middle-class area—I have never been made to feel not a part of this country. I may be lucky; I think that class has more to do with it than people admit. But I have found it interesting that at no stage, unlike what I might have had to do in America or even India, did I have to affirm my allegiance to anything. No one asked me to salute any flag. There are not many occasions on which the national anthem is played and I have to stand up—not that I mind standing for the national anthem.
My point is that the whole question of whether we are a nation or not is an anxiety that is not strictly necessary. When new Labour was born, it was somewhat sensitive that the Conservatives had monopolised patriotism and we had to get a little purchase on it. We got a little purchase on it, but the whole point is that we all have multiple identities. We should be happy to carry multiple identities with us and not necessarily have to ask ourselves, "What are you really? Are you black; are you British; are you English; are you a Geordie; what are you?". I could be everything. As occasion demands, as with my credit cards, I will give you the card that is relevant for the purpose. It may be more relevant at the time to assert my race, my background, my citizenship, or whatever.
An historical fact about Britain is that although the notion of nationhood was born in the late 18th or early 19th centuries—the French invented the notion of nationalism—this was a united polity before the notion of nationalism was invented. That is partly why, as George Orwell said in his famous essay, the English are embarrassed about patriotism. They are embarrassed because it has never seemed to be something worth bothering about. I have written about India and how it had a problem: if it is a nation, why it is a nation; or is it multiple nations constantly trying to define themselves as a single nation? Here, the United Kingdom had the luxury of splitting itself up and devolving power. Suddenly there were four national capitals, not one, but still no one was very much worried about that. When I arrived in 1965, and for 30 years after, the notion that there were four national capitals was unheard of.
Now we have devolution; and we have a multiracial character. What I find remarkable about
We are not there yet. There is much more to do. It is interesting not to ask whether someone is a British citizen but to be quite sure that one does not face discrimination, whatever one chooses to be. It is much more important to have a culture of equal rights and not to give people a single label. Anything like a single label or a monotheistic construction of nationality is bound to be wrong.
I shall say only one more thing because my time is running out. The Motion asks what role the Government can play. I hope that they play a minimal role. I want us separately in our various communities to construct the notion of whichever citizenship or original nationality we want. The Government should play a minimal role in providing a simple framework and not start writing a curriculum and ask us to meet 37 conditions for being British. I would rather that we evolved Britishness in our daily lives by ourselves, rather than have an official proclamation of what it is to be British.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate, and I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire for giving us this opportunity to talk about what we mean by citizenship and how we foster it. As education spokesman, I am sure that your Lordships would expect me to talk about how we foster it in young people, and you will not be disappointed. Although I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said about parents, I shall focus on schools today.
I was delighted when this Government introduced citizenship into primary schools in 2000, and as a statutory foundation subject for secondary schools in September 2002. The framework has three important strands: social and moral responsibility, community involvement, and political literacy. I was delighted about this new subject, not only from the narrow self-interest of a politician despairing at the lack of engagement of young people with the political process and the falling number of those voting, but from the wider community point of view, because this programme should be designed to develop life skills, which are arguably more important to the average young person than anything they learn in their academic subjects.
Let us not be in any doubt that the introduction of citizenship into the curriculum is a good thing. However, as one might expect, it has not been without its problems in these early days. I believe the Government were well meaning, but I am afraid that I do have some negative things to say. After all the investment and effort in launching this new subject in schools, it is a pity that it has been left to flounder, and that consolidation and continuing investment have not happened as we all hoped they would.
Last year, there were only 240 PGCE places for citizenship teaching. The Institute for Citizenship has reported that it has closed down many INSET courses because of poor uptake, with teachers claiming that they did not have the time to train. This shows that teachers have to do this work almost as an afterthought. Indeed, 90 per cent of citizenship teaching is done as part of personal, social and health education—not an illogical place for it in the curriculum, of course.
I am sure that French teachers find the time for French INSET, and that physics teachers find the time to get up to date with physics knowledge. There is an opportunity to bring elements of the citizenship curriculum into every academic subject and not simply isolate it in PSHE lessons. That, however, takes an enormous amount of planning and considerable vision on the part of the leadership team in schools.
The second missed opportunity is to demonstrate joined-up government. If developing responsible young citizens is really a priority of this Government, why is the Home Office going out on a limb with a confusing plethora of initiatives, some of which are under the respect agenda, which do not appear to be linked at all to the genuine enthusiasm of the DfES for this new subject? After all, the citizenship brand is familiar to those young people who have been studying it since 2000. Most of them know what it means, as do many of their parents. Instead of the many sticks contained in the respect action plan, why are the Government not putting more carrots into the well known citizenship brand and responding to the early findings of the National Foundation for Education Research longitudinal study?
There is a real need to build on the work that has already been done and to broaden the scope of the work into the community beyond the classroom walls. For example, surely an opportunity for political engagement is being missed by the Government's resistance to lowering the voting age to 16. We should be catching them at the end of 11 years of citizenship education, and getting them into the habit of voting straight away. The NFER study of the operation of the citizenship curriculum has already found that 66 per cent of the students reported their intention to vote in national elections when the time came. If that intention can be turned into real votes, it would be a big improvement on the poor showing of the 18 to 25 age group in the past two general elections.
The NFER study identifies a considerable gap between the policy aims and actual practice in schools. It reports that schools employ a wide diversity of approaches in the delivery of citizenship education, and although that is not a bad thing in itself, teachers to whom I have talked during their visits to your Lordships' House and another place have pleaded for more opportunities to share best practice and to learn from other teachers about what works best to engage young people and their interest. Certainly there is no shortage of teaching materials and ideas for activities, but, at this early stage, teachers crave more help and guidance with choosing what is most suitable for their students.
Sadly, although school leaders reported that many opportunities exist for students to participate in active citizenship activities, the take-up rate was low. Perhaps I may at this point recommend the Minister to visit one of UNICEF's "Rights Respecting Schools", as I did when I visited Kempshott junior school in Hampshire last November. Here, I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK. Hampshire took up the "rights, respect and responsibility" programme when its representatives visited Nova Scotia a few years ago and saw it in operation. Impressed by what they saw, they brought it home and introduced it first to primary and now to some 20 secondary schools. What impressed me was that it was not all about "my" rights to do what I like. It was about your rights and my responsibilities. In the classroom, that translates into: everyone has the right to have their say and they also have the responsibility to listen to others.
Pupils are encouraged to take part in the school council and the school council reps report back to their classes and consult them about how they want to be represented. The ethos of the school was uplifting, too. They took seriously their responsibility as little environmental and global citizens, learning about basic rights to things like nutrition and education that children in some countries do not have and about the dangers to the environment and they were all doing their own little bit to put those things right.
It works in secondary schools, too. One year-seven teacher reported that she acts out the part of a naughty child and the whole class laughs. Then she asks them, "How is this affecting your learning?". They soon get the idea that unacceptable behaviour can be dealt with by them as a group and it becomes uncool to mess about. You now hear 12 year-olds say, "Stop that, we have a right to listen to this". Is that not the sort of responsible empowerment that we want in our young citizens?
My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I say to him, "You're a very brave man indeed". It is proving to be very interesting, with many insights into the subject. I want to make my contribution on my own personal journey and take your Lordships back to basics.
I was born on the tiny island of Grenada during the days of the British Empire. In those days, it was said that the colonies were more British than the British. We certainly felt very British. We knew, almost by rote, most of the great poems and novels of English literature. We sang with great gusto the national anthem, "Rule Britannia" and "Land of Hope and Glory", and we could recite the kings and queens of the realm from Edward the Confessor to George VI. We knew about 1066 and the Norman invasion; the Reformation; the Glorious Revolution; the Restoration; and of course the industrial revolution, which touched very much on us.
How patriotic we were. We even sent ingredients from the islands for Her Majesty's wedding cake. That was a great contribution from a small country to our belief in Britain. We gloried in the knowledge that Britain was the mother country and this great Palace of Westminster was the mother of all parliaments. Britain was the centre of our universe and we all wanted to be part of it. We were British subjects of the Crown, and since the days of Queen Victoria all those who lived in the Empire enjoyed equal status under the Crown. Dr Samuel Johnson said:
"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel".
It was not to me. My patriotism was tied up with a sense of British history and how we from the Empire fitted into that great family of Britishness.
When I came to Britain in 1951, what I knew about what it meant to be British had to change dramatically. The Union Jack, which I had cheered as a child and carried and waved on
I was in my view as British as anyone. Then came the "rivers of blood" speech by Enoch Powell, the National Front marches, the political campaigns in Smethwick, the sus laws and their overuse in relation to young black people and talk by a British Prime Minister of "swamping". In that context, the murder of young black men because of the colour of their skin came as no surprise, shocking as it was. By then, I was tending to agree with Dr Johnson. Those who wrapped themselves in the Union flag were not scoundrels; they were racists engulfed in the myth of white supremacy. I needed to re-educate myself on British history—the history of the British Empire in which millions and millions of free-born African men, women and children were captured and transported in slave ships to the Americas and the Caribbean to work the plantations to bring wealth to this mother country—to learn that the British Empire was not glorious for my ancestors. Their sweat and blood propped up the great industrial revolution and made lucrative lives for the UK citizens.
That was new thinking for me and it had to be worked through. Just as I was coming to grips with the new situation, however, the country began to change. It was now cool to be British again, what with British pop, cool Britannia and the flag to be reclaimed from the racists. That certainly featured highly in new Labour's victory in 1997. Now that we live in a United Kingdom whose Welsh and Scottish constituent parts have begun to devolve themselves, there is a great debate among those of us who live in and were born in England but are of a different colour: are we English or British first? Is that the only question? Most Welsh people I speak to say that they are Welsh: the word "British" does not get a look-in. There is still a move towards regionalisation—a balance that some groups applaud and others deplore. How do we as a nation rationalise those changes and accommodate attitudinal change, which is what we should be talking about?
Terms along the lines of the US "African-American" or "Asian-American" will not fit easily here, because the one identity, American, is much more clear-cut than Britishness is. When four young Muslims born in Britain chose to blow themselves and many others up on that terrible day in July 2005, did they see themselves as Muslim first and British second, or just as Muslims? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has called for a national debate on what it means to be British. Forgive me if I sound jaded, but have we not missed the boat on Britishness? Do we not now need a proper examination and a stock-take of how all the people on these shores came to be here? Is not that the real purpose of studying British history, if we are to make sense of where we go from now? Will British history reflect my history, or will it be the same his-story? My question to the Minister is: if we are to make citizens out of subjects and Brits out of blacks, Muslims and, increasingly, eastern Europeans, do we not need to be less focused on old notions of British history and Britishness, so that we do not become scoundrels, to use Dr Samuel Johnson's word? I hope that he will agree that we need to have a true sense of what our patriotism means before we begin to define citizenship.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Wallace on initiating this timely debate and on the quality of his introductory speech. The present state of British parliamentary democracy and the role of citizens raise grave concerns; if current trends continue, as seems most likely, the future is indeed bleak. I shall focus, more prosaically, on the relations between the citizens and the state.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, observed, it is now commonplace that the electorate show increasing disenchantment with the formal institutions of democracy, especially Parliament and local government, and with those who serve them. Equally, that is reflected in the public's continuing withdrawal from joining political parties. This disdain for the business of Parliament and politicians seems to be gaining pace. It does not mean, however, that there is any apparent decline in the public's interest in specific issues. As the forthcoming report from the Power inquiry of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, will show, the public may shun Westminster, town halls and all their works, but they are far from apathetic.
The new technology of mobile phones and e-mails has opened up new avenues for political communication and, in the case of many issues, has a greater impact on public knowledge, perceptions and participation than that of the traditional media—newspapers and television. If 1959 was regarded as the first television-dominated general election, 2008 or 2009 may be recognised as the first iPod one, or whatever invention may have succeeded it by then.
All of that makes it harder for political parties and governments, once elected, to mobilise public support and participation, and even harder to sustain it. If social change and the weakening of traditional civic organisation and social class, along with the decline of a sense of community, have resulted in the creation of an electorate characterised by the floating voter—what Sir Ivor Crewe has termed "voter dealignment"—the recent innovations in electronics have compounded the problem of engaging the attention of the public and seeking their support. That presents an enormous problem for the vitality of parliamentary democracy and the public participation that it requires from its citizens.
These changes are far from the whole story. The popular lack of interest in Parliament reflects a stark reality; namely, that the role of Parliament is no longer as important as it once was in shaping public policy and in holding government to account. That, too, is now a commonplace observation. Power continually accretes to the Executive and has been doing so at an accelerating rate, particularly under the present Administration. The recent massive wave of terrorism legislation is one vivid example of that.
There is a further dimension to be considered. The conduct of modern government and the practices and types of personnel involved have brought about a virtual revolution. The old formularies, conventions and principles have all but been discarded. What was proclaimed as an unwritten constitution is now an unravelled one. We have a de facto presidency, but without any of the formal checks and balances that constrain an American president. British government is now carried out by a plethora of agencies, task forces and the like that constitute what I have termed before in this House the political demi-monde. The Cabinet is now a shadow of what it once was: it is certainly not the "buckle that fastens" as Bagehot described it. The Civil Service has less influence on policy formulation and has ceded much of its traditional role to think tanks, political advisers and, not least, management consultants, whose use is increasingly widespread throughout government. The personnel of all these groups constitute what I have called before a nomenklatura.
These developments go back a long way, but they were bolstered by the Thatcher administration, developed further by the Major government and have come to full flowering since 1997. Whatever justifications may be advanced in support of the new character of governing, there can be no doubt that the language it has evoked has seriously debased political discourse and has thereby discouraged an informed citizen. Managerialese is now the argot by which public policies are discussed. A surfeit of acronyms peppers the ugly and sterile terminology incanted so fluently by Ministers and the nomenklatura. This new idiom of governance makes intelligible argument all but impossible: it is a turn-off. The imperatives of technocracy are inimical to democratic debate. The nonsense mantra, "There is no alternative", invented by Margaret Thatcher and so enthusiastically employed by Gordon Brown when justifying his very questionable reliance on PFI and PPP schemes vividly illustrates that point.
Democracy is certainly not an organising principle behind the contemporary pattern of government or the language that is employed. Given this situation, I wonder how schoolteachers manage to address it in the classes that they teach on citizenship. I cannot believe that it constitutes part of curriculum, given the insurmountable difficulty of defining this phenomenon. I am not surprised that the poll of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, showed pupils to have very little knowledge of what Parliament—or central government generally—was meant to be doing.
You cannot easily encourage people to be participative citizens of a state that is incomprehensible. One solution to revivifying our democracy and its concomitant, citizenship, is to modernise the electoral system and its concomitant, the political parties. At the moment, most people's votes do not count and they know it. Votes that influence outcomes are swing votes in marginal seats. These are easily identified and mobilised by modern election techniques. A few hundred thousand voters are the key targets, and the rest are ignored under Westminster's first-past-the-post system. That must change to a more proportional system, which enables all voters to have a voice. If such a reform includes a top-up element, as in the elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, the list of party candidates must be an open one and not closed as is now the case. Closed systems lead to charges of cronyism and serve only to put political parties in a worse position in the minds of the public.
Political parties can and must be modernised. They are the main vehicles for citizenship participation. They are crucial to the aggregation of interests and, as such, sift through the priorities and demands of special interests. The parties languish because of the paradox that they currently face. With declining memberships, their legitimacy has lessened, yet their formal constitutional status has been enshrined in electoral law, not least in the drawing up of top-up candidate lists. As I have said, these lists must be open, and determined by primaries. Electoral reform along these lines is the best way to promote citizenship.
My Lords, my position is that of a Stuart-style Unionist, looking for a more Nordic Scotland, and also that of a member of the Independence Convention. I am also grateful to my noble friend for bringing forward this debate and allowing us to tackle the difficult subject of British identity and British history in the Scottish context. I hope it will be permissible to look for solutions, rather than just revisionist positions. If this were just a geographer's question, it would be quite easy to answer. If British meant only the British Isles, it could be accepted by all those who live here in this archipelago, but it does not have only that meaning. If it were used in the cultural sense, that would make it easy, too.
It is in the political sense that "British" comes into some real difficulty. The historic political use of the word is where the difficulty lies. In 1503 it was a good move towards stability and security by King James IV to seek the hand in marriage of Margaret Tudor, thereby setting up the Union of the Crowns, which occurred some 400 years ago in 1603. I am content with the Stuart-style United Kingdom, which James VI hoped would last for ever. The resultant constitutional architecture—one Crown and three governments of international standing—is my choice for the United Kingdom's future. Perhaps my Welsh colleagues will want to modify that, and I will support them; unfortunately, their 1536 treaty with England pre-dated the Stuart era, or, at least the Stuart UK era.
The first people to find benefit in British identity were those involved in the Plantation of Ulster at the beginning of King James's reign. When challenged by the locals as to what they, as foreigners, were doing in the province, they were able to answer that they had every right to be there, being British subjects of King James. I am obviously indebted to the late Lord Russell for that insight. I also acknowledge that the Planters' argument did not win universal approval at the time, nor has it necessarily done so since.
It is also worth noting the resentment inherent in the Scottish psyche over the Hanoverian Settlement and the loss of statehood, enhanced by the accession of the 10 new EU members in 2004, most of whom are smaller, and all poorer, than Scotland. The current concept of the "civic Scot" is anyone who wants to live in Scotland. That civic concept could be usefully deployed in England, where the national identity still seems to be very muddled. Anyway, for the constitutional development I want to see, there is a need for clarity from the United Kingdom Government about how the necessary constitutional progress can be achieved.
I note that the populations of Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands have all been told that their sovereignty lies solely in a referendum. That is not the case for Scotland so far. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General can tell us how a Scottish referendum for full autonomy can be inaugurated. In particular, could a referendum be triggered by a petition from the people? This was attempted in 1950 in the National Covenant, with more than 1 million signatories, but it was ignored. Would it be ignored today?
I know that my noble friend hoped that this would not become a constitutional debate, but I see no way of debating Britishness unless it can be pointed out that the concept needs to be changed before it can be accepted as neutral and wholly benevolent. The depoliticisation of Britishness will be essential. Among other things, Britishness currently means the submersion of Scotland into a United Kingdom state dominated by England itself, a medium superpower. I believe that this must come to an end. Scotland must cease to be a semi-autonomous British region with a sub-national parliament and return to being an internationally recognised state. That is quite a prescription and the medicine consequent on deciding to do it will be quite difficult, taking into account the new budget and the process of disaggregation, particularly that of the submarine base.
On a calmer note, the people of these islands are well intermarried and socially integrated. They have the benefit of a common language, and although the Irish were discriminated against, developments in Ireland since 1922 have reversed that. Today the Irish are as liable to be admired as anything else.
Finally, I suggest that "British" should be compared with "Scandinavian". Clearly that describes the many attributes of those who live in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Faroes, Iceland and, though not officially, Finland. Perhaps Scandinavia is linked by fairly similar languages. "Scandinavian" is a viable and neutral concept because no country is now dominated by another and all enjoy internationally recognised statehood—with the exception of the Faroe Islands, which have home rule. In conclusion, I believe that the Scandinavian model points out a viable route for the British as to how they might reorganise themselves and thus be at ease in the future.
My Lords, this fascinating debate has ranged far and wide, as one would expect given the breadth of knowledge in this House. It is a debate of contradictions in that its subject matter is at once current—we need to talk about identity and diversity in a post-7/7 world—while at the same time it has been agonised over by each generation in an ever-changing world for a very long time indeed. Many noble Lords have dwelt on the issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, sees citizenship education as a collaborative approach for which the underlying purpose is to assist young people in becoming more complete humans. That is a very fine ambition indeed. The signposts towards identity suggested by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, were ones with which Members on these Benches would agree: parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, culture, language, history and, most recently, a new emphasis on faith. We need to look at all those issues in this context.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, spoke powerfully of how difficult it is to speak of Britishness as an abstract construct, and of the need to align British citizenship alongside a frank appraisal of our history as well as our ambitions for the future. My noble friend Lord Thomson brought out a long-standing commitment to the European Union, and juxtaposed it with the benefits of devolution and how that has been enriched by inward migration from abroad. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, reminded us that democracy is above all about participation and that we too often tend to treat people as spectators. He also reminded us that the history of empire must be explained in its particular, contextual setting, a point with which we agree.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley touched with great expertise on citizenship education. She sees it as a bit of an afterthought—I agree. What is needed, as she put it, is to roll it out across subjects—to mainstream it, as the jargon would have it. Again, active participation would be much enhanced with the reduction in the voting age. My noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton spoke of the diminution of that other side of democracy, accountability. That is much diminished, which ultimately results in disengagement, where the state becomes more and more distant from the citizen. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, brought a uniquely Scottish perspective to the debate. I should remind the House that, as Linda Colley said in her book, Britons, his ancestors were "active" Scottish citizens in the Jacobite rebellion.
The difference in this debate is that in our time, while the issues may not be new to us, the context in which we find ourselves is much changed. This country, as the Guardian observed in producing an atlas of multicultural Britain, is undergoing a second great wave of immigration. The figures are stark. In 1997 63,000 work-permit holders and their dependants came here. By 2003 it was almost double that. Between 1991 and 2001 the UK population increased by 2.2 million, of which 1.14 million were born abroad. This was before EU enlargement in 2004, which has seen large numbers of eastern Europeans come to these shores.
I do not come to these figures with any sense of alarm. I think that globalisation has been a force for good. I see the movement of labour as a corollary to the movement of capital and of goods. But I can understand that there is a role for the state in managing the immediate effects of that level of diversity. I will not dwell on the provision of public services, although that is a significant part of the equation. I will dwell on the role of the state in the broader question of the compatibility of what some call intrinsically British values.
Some noble Lords will recall that only earlier this week we had a Question here in the Chamber about the fact that 20 per cent of mothers are now foreign-born. I should immediately confess that I am a mother who is foreign-born. But how foreign do you feel when you grow up with a father who fought for a British king in the Second World War, in the Indian army in distant Burma, and who was injured and mentioned in citations? How foreign do you feel when you think in the foreign language, because you learnt it at your mother's knee, or when you identify with people around you who may be racially different but are your friends and neighbours?
My answer is that you do not feel particularly foreign at all. I reassure noble Lords that the increase in foreign-born people should not necessarily be something to worry about. In looking around the Chamber, I reckon that I have spotted at least four foreign-born people just in the debate today. This illustrates, to pick up the points made so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that identity is a multi-faceted thing. It does not necessarily have definable characteristics that politicians should agree on and roll out as a construct that we as citizens need to sign up to.
In my first-hand experience of communities—and I have lived in seven or eight countries in the past 30 years—people evolve into their skin, in terms of character, in different ways and at different speeds. A lot of this is subliminal. Much of it can be acquired, but ultimately it comes down to belonging. Most of us seek to belong wherever we fetch up. I am not talking only of immigrants here, but of more established communities.
That brings me to the definition of Britishness used by the Chancellor in his Fabian speech a few weeks ago. We on these Benches agree with the prioritising of liberty on his list of British values but the problem is that, if liberty is to be the linchpin of a new identity, it must be respected by government as much as by citizens. Under this Government, alas, that ancient and historic right has come under repeated threat. The list is long: the assault on civil liberties through successive terrorism legislation and law and order Bills; the attempts at curtailment of free speech through Bills such as the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill; and the explosion of new law so recently criticised by Sir Roger Toulson, chairman of the Law Commission.
Fairness is another intrinsic value of Britishness with which we would not disagree, but, in new Labour-speak, fairness is often confused with equality—or egalitarianism, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, would have it. While egalitarianism is a value in itself, it is not a substitute for justice, an abiding human concern over history. In recent times that concept of justice has been somewhat tarnished in terms of our policy, where this country's record of proud internationalism has been diminished by neo-imperialistic undertakings, such as the Iraq war.
As a Briton who has worked around the world, I find that the concept of fair play is what most people abroad think of in terms of the UK—not necessarily egalitarianism, particularly where our society has considerable economic inequality. Where clear-cut rules are absent, fair play becomes all the more important, and people know when the right outcome has emerged. The words "fair play" are so much an English virtue that they have been incorporated into the German language, which has no comparable words. To Germans, the phrase describes decent behaviour while engaging in competition, be it in financial markets or on the sports ground.
While most of us would agree with many of the values described by the Chancellor, the central difficulty of this endeavour is that a sense of identity is something so nebulous that it cannot be defined by the state, beyond the wide parameters of a nationalistic discourse. As individuals, we are often the product of where we come from. Our identity evolves in subtle and complex ways, although we imbibe and retain values that are common, yet at the same time distinct from others. That is right, and, unless it conflicts with the rights of others, it is nothing we should seek to mould into a more uniform cultural construct. However, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Howell, so powerfully pointed out, the state should not stand by in the face of discrimination, which has been, and still is, the experience of some ethnic minority communities in this country.
To end on a positive note, that same Guardian atlas of multicultural Britain made the point that while we are absorbing more people from every part of the world, our attitudes to that have changed sufficiently, 50 years on, that this change is met with no outcry or rise in racism, but on the whole with a mature acceptance of a new context. This is the epitome of what self-confident societies should be, and what Britain can do when she is at her best.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for initiating this debate, although I confess that I looked forward to the occasion without much enthusiasm. That is partly because I always found citizenship a paralysingly boring subject at school—that was probably because it was badly taught—and I much preferred history, and partly because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that one does not feel very warm towards the concept of Britishness. One feels even cooler towards the current trendy obsession with the subject, as instanced by diverse conferences organised by think-tanks, BBC producers, and the faintly absurd and patronising comments made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day.
The act of being concerned with Britishness is quite a shallow business. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, made that point very clearly. It is also rather an offshore subject in the sense that it is an idea that is vigorously discussed outside this country, and is a silhouette visible or interesting only when seen from afar and in comparison with other nations' cultures and customs. In short, it is amusing to discuss on the cosy overseas weekend conference circuit, but I do not believe that it is a serious subject to which we should give very much time here.
Having made those rather unhelpful remarks, I acknowledge that we have a debate, and I want to add a few thoughts to it. First, surely the most obvious symbol of our country, nationhood and character is where we are now standing and sitting—our Parliament. If we want to concentrate on the health and cohesion of our country—it is perfectly reasonable that we should be concerned by it—we could do no better than put Parliament, and the respect that it commands and ought to command, at the centre of our efforts. It is interesting also—this has come up in your Lordships' debate—that we still have to decide as a nation, and, indeed, as a Parliament, whether we are a Parliament of the Union in a unitary state or a Parliament within a federal, devolved kingdom. The issue has not been worked out yet. Some people may think that it is manageable, but the rumbling and continuing West Lothian question tells us that it has not been resolved. In due course that issue will explode at a certain point in our future political history, and it will be interesting to see how we all deal with it.
Pollsters tell us that there has been a huge decline in public trust in Parliament. However, that is a suspect conclusion. I sense that the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said that as well. The decline may certainly apply to politicians, parties, governments, TV interviewers and the like, but I still insist on believing—I have seen no evidence to the contrary—that Parliament is loved and respected by the British, not least because, for all its unfortunate moments, it works rather well. It works rather well because we have two Chambers, one entirely democratically elected—sometimes it is magnificent and there are some golden and brilliant moments in the other place, but inevitably it is highly vulnerable to all the short-term fashions, fears, panics and impulses of a popular assembly. The other Chamber is a most successful cooling Chamber that can insist on second thoughts and delays, and does, as recent days have shown all too clearly.
I do not want, any more than anyone else, to turn this into yet another debate on Lords reform or the constitution, so let me pass from those thoughts to a second subject. It is one that invariably comes up when questions of national identity are discussed and when Britishness is on the menu; that is, immigration and the fear that the whole concept of Britishness has been or could be captured by the far Right and the flag-waving insular mentality. In fact we are all immigrants. Britain today has been made almost throughout its history by wave after wave of immigrant peoples—Saxons, Danes, Norse, Norman, Mediterranean, Irish, French, Spanish, Huguenots, Jews, Muslims, Indians and Pakistanis.
We are a nation of immigrants and we have largely imported tastes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, reminded us in her marvellous speech. Some historians like romanticising the Celts, the pure Brits supposed to have been here before the Romans came. I suspect this is probably mythology put together around the beginning of the 19th century, when Napoleon was the enemy and the thought that we might all have been originally French or Norman was too awful to contemplate. We could not bear the idea that history began in 1066, so we invented a lot of stuff before that. The heart of the matter is that Britain has always been a melting pot. We are not a narrow racial group, and I suspect that the melting-pot character is the source from which much of our so-called national character comes, and certainly much of our dynamism—which, when we care to mobilise it, is considerable.
The issue of melting pots leads to another issue which has again come up in the debate—multiculturalism, which has been a bit of a fashion and much taken up by Ministers. In my view, this was wrong-headed thinking from the start and it has been rightly panned. I strongly agree with Trevor Phillips, chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, that this kind of thinking leads not to cohesion, national unity and a sense of community, but to isolation, alienation and even hostile communities. The prospect always seemed ridiculous that people welcomed into our country, whom we wished to live with and to be at ease, should not adapt to the country. It was a simplistic proposition and bound not to bring cultures together but to set them on conflicting paths. To some extent that is what it has done, and we have heard instances of that this afternoon.
The trend was worsened, not helped, by one of the conclusions of the Parekh report. Here I am afraid I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, though I agreed with everything else that she said. I read the report extremely carefully several times, and it comes near to arguing that Britain itself was a racist concept. That view showed a worrying ignorance of the true melting-pot nature of first England and later Britain from its earliest existence.
Finally, there is my most deep-felt and important proposition in this whole sphere. Quite simply, a nation's internal health, cohesion and its sense of purpose are largely determined by that nation's external stance, by its international status and the way it defines, protects and promotes its interests and interprets them. In other words, a clear exposition of our foreign policy purposes helps us mightily to define ourselves within. I feel this so strongly that I recently had the temerity to publish a pamphlet on these matters, which nobody took the slightest notice of. In that pamphlet I tried to explain why I am far from satisfied that Britain's foreign policy today fulfils these essential conditions. Those who want to subcontract our foreign policy, for instance to the European Union, do not begin to understand this point. On the contrary, the belief that our foreign policy is about "working with our European partners"—the sort of mantra of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—leads up highly negative avenues. If there is to be a loyalty and pride for this country from all the groups and minorities within it, Britain must be a cause worth loving, respecting and working for.
Everyone has a need to have a country and to love it, however unfashionable it may have been to say so in recent years. People, like plants, need soil in which to send down their roots. Those who say we can all do nowadays without a country or content ourselves with trendy notions of the post-modern state, the international community or even some higher European loyalty, are just mistaken. Love of country is not a vague principle—it is an everyday necessity.
Of course we need lots of partners; it is a totally interdependent world. For me, "sovereignty and independent foreign policy" does not mean very much at all. Are our European neighbours the right partners? I cannot understand why we do not place our Commonwealth connections much more at the centre of our foreign policy, not least because the Commonwealth now contains several of the world's richest and most dynamic and fast-rising countries. Nothing would do more to bind in and encourage the Commonwealth within—I mean the internal microcosm of the Commonwealth inside our nation—than to recognise that fact.
If we want our country to be strong and unified, and if we want a growing sense of pride in what Britain can do to help the world and of pride in our national story, planting Union Jacks in the garden is frankly not the answer. The answer is to replace our enfeebled foreign policy with one that people admire, with which they can identify, and which lets them feel that we are making our maximum contribution to the stability and prosperity of the globe. If we must talk about Britishness and identity, that is the way, above all, to provide it.
My Lords, it has been a privilege to listen to this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, on initiating it and all other noble Lords who have spoken. This debate will very much merit rereading. I will come back at the end of my observations to the particular suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, made about how we might take these issues forward, because they are important. They are not straightforward, and the different slants which noble Lords have brought to this debate and the different aspects which have seemed important to the speakers are an indication of the difficulties.
The debate has been wide-ranging; sometimes it has been a bit further ranging than I am personally prepared to go. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, raised some important issues about democracy and the state of governance. He will not be surprised to hear that I disagreed profoundly with much of what he said, but they were interesting observations. The noble Earl gave us an important set of questions to do with Scotland that were soundly based in history, but they raise spectres for the future that I am certainly not prepared to envisage just at the moment. I will leave those alone for the moment. If not unanimity, there was a wide degree of consensus on a number of the issues that have been raised this afternoon. If anything, the debate has been broadly characterised by a consensus approach, although that is not entirely true of what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said in opening. I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Soley said about the Respect Action Plan. He made one or two other sideswipes against new Labour; at least he levelled those with a sideswipe or two against the Conservatives as well, so honours are even in that respect.
What did we see by way of consensus? We saw quite a wide consensus that whatever Britishness means it is not about narrow national origins. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, made it very clear that one can be both Scottish and British; Welsh and British; or Cornish, English and British, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said. I hope I am right in understanding that that is what my noble friend Lord Giddens was getting at when he said that talking about Britishness might be part of the problem. One should perhaps be looking more at what the essence of being British is, rather than some other concept. I will come back to that too.
We also had consensus in the House on the importance of recognising that if tolerance and inclusiveness are part of the hallmarks of being British today, that has sadly not always been the case. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, made that clear. My noble friend Lady Howells, in a moving and sobering address, made that extremely clear as well. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, may have been lucky to feel the way he did when he first came to this country. There are, therefore, important issues of what multiculturalism means.
There has been a degree of consensus that being British is not simply about symbols or institutions, still less about institutions that are unchanged and unchangeable. That is not to deny, contrary to the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that there may still be importance and merit in the recognition of symbols as a part of British identity.
There has been a wide measure of agreement, if not consensus, that when we look at what we mean by being British and by citizenship, we are looking for something to do with the relationship of people to one another. When my noble friend Lady Massey made that point it received wide support throughout the House and I very much agree with her. Another important issue is the fact that there may be elements of faith in this area. It was good that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, was able to participate in this debate. I am not sure that I agree with him that complaining is the best indication of British identity, if that is what his amusing anecdote was designed to mean—but I am sure that it was not.
Has there also been a consensus in the debate that government have a role to play in promoting citizenship? I believe that that is what noble Lords have largely said. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, takes a different view about the significance of being British. I hope he will forgive me if I point out that the view he expressed was not the same as that expressed by the leader of his party, who in a recent speech asking whether Britishness matters said that it used to be unfashionable to say so, but now he believed it was right to say so. Well, this is not the House in which one draws attention to changes in policy, nor asks what happened to the proposition that there was not such a thing as society.
I turn to what the Government believe is their responsibility to promote citizenship and what they have been doing. An important starting point is that we are proud of today's multicultural society. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that it would be wrong to see this country as having a narrow, single racial base. He is absolutely right on that. We also believe strongly in building a society with opportunities for all. Equality is important and equality of opportunity is important. It is now just over a year since we published the Government's strategy to improve race equality and build community cohesion—Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society— which brings together practical measures across government to improve opportunities for all in Britain, helping to ensure that a person's ethnicity and race are not barriers to their success.
Against that background, we must look to where concepts of citizenship and belonging fit. National cohesion will depend upon a sense of inclusiveness in the concept of Britishness, something which is accessible to everyone in our society and encourages each individual to play his or her part and to respect others. It rests with all citizens, both children and adults and both new and existing citizens. With that in mind, our strategy has been to look at each of those strands. For example, to achieve the goal of a cohesive Britain it is vital that young people from different communities grow up with a sense of common belonging. We must improve opportunities for young people from all backgrounds to learn and socialise together to develop an inclusive sense of British identity alongside their other cultural identities. That is why the programme of citizenship as a statutory subject in all schools is important. My noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to that and gave accurate descriptions of the Government's programme. When one looks at the criticisms of where the programme has got, it is right to remember that this is the first time and these are early days. All pupils will be taught about the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities; the need for mutual respect and understanding; and the other areas to which both noble Baronesses referred.
The Government are conscious of the concerns that have been expressed about how well the subject is being taught. We take those very seriously and measures are being taken to address them. We want to improve the cadre of specialist teachers for citizenship. The measures include increasing the number of places available this year on the training programme for specialist citizenship teachers and a major initiative launched by the Department for Education and Skills on promoting professional development activities in citizenship education—including a new citizenship handbook, a pilot for a CPD certificate in citizenship teaching and a school self-evaluation tool. I will certainly ensure that the points made by both noble Baronesses and others are brought to the attention of my colleagues in the DfES. I am sure that they will confirm that we are strongly committed to making this work and that measures are in place to do that.
I should like to touch again on the issue of the Respect Action Plan. I do not agree with the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. The Respect Action Plan is only part of the Government's overall package. However, what does the plan do? It includes a concentration on parenting and helping with parenting. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soley; that that is extremely important if we want to bring up children who respect these values and other citizens. It gives local communities new powers—the power to trigger action so that they can take responsibility for their own communities. It includes taking pride in local communities. Those are important aspects of citizenship, as are the powers which are taken to deal with those who break the rules that all of us need to respect.
We also believe that promoting citizenship in all its aspects does not stop when someone leaves full-time education. That is why we are also piloting Active Learning for Active Citizenship, an action research programme which runs until March of this year. The Government are serious about it. The present scheme is enabling groups excluded from public life to learn how to make their presence felt. The West Midlands Women Impact Group and the Exeter Support for People with Learning Disabilities are just two examples of organisations which have benefited from the pilot. A longer-term concrete product of the programme will be the development and publication, in June 2006, of a national learning framework for active learning for active citizenship which we believe will provide practical guidance aimed at providers, funders and potential learners. I agree with the comments made on the importance of participation in both these areas. The Government accept and agree with that.
I turn from the education of those already settled in the United Kingdom to say a word about what is being done to encourage the integration of new citizens—a topic touched on by a number of noble Lords—so that they can make an active contribution to British society from the outset.
We need to develop a society in which people feel welcome. We therefore need to define it by a spirit of mutual understanding and accommodation where there are clear expectations of all citizens, residents old and new. We therefore also need to equip newcomers with the skills they need to make their contribution, culturally and economically. That is why the Government have been promoting a sense of civic citizenship in new migrants through their two-part strategy: the language and citizenship knowledge for new citizens alongside citizenship ceremonies for immigrants granted British citizenship. Noble Lords have not said a great deal about the language and knowledge tests although the subject has been touched on in Questions in the House before. It is hoped that this will help to equip migrants with the information they need to become full and active participants in United Kingdom society. We are not complacent. We will do everything we can to ensure that the tests and the learning behind them meet their combined objectives of not being too onerous and not providing unnecessary obstacles while providing meaningful proof that applicants have made a genuine effort to become aware of UK society.
I strongly support citizenship ceremonies. I heard what noble Lords said about them. I first saw a citizenship ceremony in the United Sates a few years ago and was deeply moved by watching people take the oath. I was particularly moved by the fact that they were being watched by their families, who were so proud to see the achievement. I welcome the introduction of something along the same lines over here. That is being done by treating ceremonies as both family and community occasions. Local authorities are being encouraged to consider how they can include local flavour in the ceremonies by inviting local community and cultural groups and local dignitaries—people of importance in the community—to participate in the ceremonies.
For the same reason, we have piloted "Citizens' Day" in four areas. That is part of a pledge originally outlined in Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society. Many "Citizens' Day" events focused on volunteering as a key theme, which brings me to a further reason for our interest in citizenship which has been touched on in this debate—the link between the promotion of citizenship and active democratic participation. One of the key programmes is "Together We Can", the Government's action plan for civil renewal launched in June 2005. I invite attention to that programme. It sits alongside the respect agenda and is part of the programme for placing the responsibility on every citizen to behave in a respectful way and to support the community around them in doing the same.
It is clear that citizenship is not only about developing a programme of education for young people and adults, although that is key to our approach, but is much broader than that. Today there has been a degree of consensus, if not unanimity, that we look to find a sense of Britishness and British identity more in shared values than in narrow national origins or geographical origins or even particular institutions. That was the thrust of the important speech by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer which looked at whether there is a common vision and sense of belonging for all communities. That vision is defined by common opportunities and mutual expectations of all citizens.
The challenge facing us is how to consider Britishness and citizenship in a way that encompasses the collective contribution that diverse communities make to the country. It is fundamentally important that citizens should not need to choose between their British identity and other cultural identities but that they can and should be proud of both—or perhaps even all three in the case of the Cornish example that I gave before. I hope that my noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids will find that that commitment and that view are a satisfactory answer to her probing question at the end of her important contribution.
The Life in the United Kingdom Advisory Group said:
"To be British seems to us 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 specific 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 common culture so that original identities are lost".
We have not had unanimity today about exactly what all those elements are. I think, with respect, that the issue is much broader than foreign policy. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, will not be surprised to hear that I profoundly disagreed with some of her opening and middle remarks. We have previously debated certain aspects of our foreign policy and whether the Government are striking the right balance between national security, freedom for all citizens and the civil liberties of others, and I am not going to go back into that today.
I believe that there is a role for government, but it is not for government alone, to find what Britishness is and to promote citizenship. That needs to be done through discussions, debates and action in schools, educational institutions and communities of all sorts across the country. Citizenship and civic participation must be at the heart of that debate. That is why I welcomed the main thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said in a very powerful speech on seeking a constructive cross-party approach to these issues. He referred particularly to a sessional committee of this House, but there may well be other suggestions. I invite him perhaps to formulate his ideas a little further and I will ensure that they are considered. I recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and others have said, that groups, think-tanks and others have touched on the subject. We need to look to see that we can do something that adds value to the debate. I welcome the suggestion and look forward to considering further details.
My Lords, I thank all those who contributed to the debate and in particular the Attorney-General for a thoughtful and constructive response. We all have our own partisan and personal differences on this subject but we nevertheless have to try to find common ground. The purpose of the debate was to take up what has been said in a number of speeches, including what I regard as the Chancellor of the Exchequer's very useful and substantial speeches, which have said that we should be looking for a cross-party consensus. I am happy to think further on how best we might achieve it, either through a sessional committee or through some other means. I think that we need to take the matter further.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the Conservative Party that I regret that we did not have much Conservative participation in the debate. I found David Cameron's speech very much less substantial than what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said. The Conservative Party has some confusion about whether it is an English party or a United Kingdom party. Its foreign policy is desperately confused about Britain and Europe. I recall the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying that part of the problem about being confused about Britishness is that we are therefore confused about our relationship with Europe. We hear from the Conservative Party much confusion about whether one should allow the flying of only one flag or of several in Britain. So there are a lot of issues that we all need to discuss.
However, without being in any sense more partisan, I return to where I started. We need to find common ground among all parties and none and among all members of our diverse national community. Let us talk on that front. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.