On the Politics Show, Sunday 10 February 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Michael Wills Minister, Ministry of Justice
JON SOPEL: I'm joined now by the Minister responsible, Michael Wills thank you for coming to the Politics Show. When are we going to have this statement of Britishness by.
MICHAEL WILLS: We're going to launch the process before Easter and we expect it to be concluded by around this time next year; so if there is going to be a statement, if the Citizen's Summit decides that there will be a statement, we should see it going to parliament within the next year.
JON SOPEL: If.
MICHAEL WILLS: Well, we believe there should be one. We, the government believe there should be one, but we have deliberately given this process of decision making over to the British people, then to be decided finally by parliament, cos we think that's the best of doing something like this.
JON SOPEL: And what are we going to do with this statement once we've got it.
MICHAEL WILLS: Well, that's one of the questions that the summit will decide upon. They will be looking at four things: firstly, should there be such a statement and we, the government believe that there should be. But it's for them to decide finally. If there should be, what it should be, how it should be expressed and then very importantly, what it should be used for.
JON SOPEL: We could have it printed on the back of our ID cards.
MICHAEL WILLS: Well, as I say, the Summit is going to decide on all these important questions and I'd be very interested to see what they do in fact decide.
JON SOPEL: It sounds a bit amorphous if you don't mind my saying, just listening to kind of, it's up to the Citizen's Summit whether they have it, what it has, what we do with it.
MICHAEL WILLS: No, I don't think there's anything amorphous about this. This is a policy of you know, of how we formulate this particular policy in this area. It is innovative - it's not the usual way that these things are done, but this is such an important part of our national identity, or potentially such an important part of it, we think it right the British people themselves should decide it.
JON SOPEL: Why can't the government be more directive about it. I mean you know, we had a couple of French girls in the film there, talking about you know, Big Ben. In France it's very clear - if you're a member of the Republic, you fly the flag on every public building. There are no religious symbols in schools because you are a citizen, you are a child of the Republic rather than representing any one group.
MICHAEL WILLS: Because any statement of who we are, any statement celebrates who we are, as a nation, has to be owned by the British people as a whole. It can't be directed by the government. It must be owned by them. So we are setting up a process by which they can express and celebrate what is best about being British, but it's not for us to dictate it and it would be quite wrong.
JON SOPEL: Isn't one of the paradoxes of this, is that the British hate that sort of thing, this self-promotion that we have got ourselves a logo, or we - this is what it is in a kernel to be British.
MICHAEL WILLS: Well, they may well decide it is not British to assert our identity in a very strident way, there may be other ways in which we can celebrate what's best about being British, but the mere fact is that people want to talk about it and that's what is important about this.
We are setting up a whole series of forums in which this can be discussed and deliberated upon and then decided upon. What is important is that we have a process by which we can celebrate what is best about being British. I think that's very valuable, I think the British people will welcome it, and it's going to be a very interesting year ahead.
JON SOPEL: I mean when I fly to America, you get the cabin services director coming on the plane saying, for goodness sake, on the form, don't put it down that you're English or Scottish or Welsh - that you are British and you're from the UK. Because actually, don't we all think of ourselves as either English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish.
MICHAEL WILLS: Well all, all of us have many different identities. We have identities that come from our relationship with our loved ones, with our families, with our neighbourhoods. You know and also with our regions and also with being English or Scottish or Cornish, Geordie, whatever. But actually, there is an over-arching identity we have which overwhelmingly in surveys, people say is important to them and that is being British.
JON SOPEL: Okay. And how British is it for the British Olympic Association to say to our athletes, you can't comment on the human rights situation when we're a country that believes in free speech where ever we are.
MICHAEL WILLS: Well. What you're referring to is a specific agreement between the Olympic authorities in this country and the athletes. As a nation, this government believes that human rights are very important, we continue to make representations to the Chinese about them and we shall go on doing so. And it is (interjection)
JON SOPEL: Should the athletes be able to speak freely.
MICHAEL WILLS: Well, I think what is very important about this is to understand the role of the government and the role of the Olympic Authorities. We have said to the Chinese Government on many occasions, the importance we attach to human rights. Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister, went to China and secured agreement from the Chinese authority for much freer movement of journalists for example. And this sort of process will continue.
JON SOPEL: And very quickly, let me get your thoughts on the Archbishop of Canterbury. Do you think he should be considering his position following his comments and contribution to the debate on Britishness, with his comments on Sharia law.
MICHAEL WILLS: No. I don't think he was, I don't think he was making a contribution to that. He was making a contribution to a different debate. Look, it's quite clear, there is no debate about the fact that there is one law in this country and it's a law to which we are all subject. That's the position.
JON SOPEL: Okay. Michael Wills, thank you very much indeed for being with us.
END OF INTERVIW WITH MICHAEL WILLS
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The Politics Show Sunday 10 February 2008 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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