I beg to move,
That this House commemorates the 40th anniversary of the arrival in Britain of Asians expelled from Uganda, notes their contribution to Britain and welcomes their integration into the fabric of the nation.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee warmly for allowing me to have this debate. It was originally due to take place last Thursday, but was postponed because of the need for the Prime Minister to make a statement on the Leveson inquiry.
On 4 August 1972, the Sandhurst-educated President of Uganda, General Idi Amin, informed troops he was addressing in Karamoja in east Uganda that he had had a dream in which God had appeared to him and told him that he had to deal very quickly with the problem of the Ugandan Asians. This referred specifically to some 57,000 Ugandan Asians who held British passports. The problem, if it can be called a problem, was that they numbered 1% of the population but controlled approximately 90% of the country’s economy.
The response from Idi Amin was brutal and swift. He said that they had 90 days in which to leave the country, and during those 90 days they had to carry red identity cards at all times. He made it absolutely clear that if any of them remained in the country after the stipulated 90 days, they would be rounded up and thrown into concentration camps. Churchill described Uganda as the pearl of Africa, yet, with such a pronouncement, a climate of fear and desperation fell upon the Ugandan Asians. The sense of desperation was eloquently summed up by the late Manubhai Madhvani in his autobiography, “Tide of Fortune”, in which he described the atmosphere at the time and his own imprisonment in a military prison from which few people returned.
As for the response in Britain, there was clearly a fair amount of hostility, both in Parliament and the country at large. Some of it was based on basic prejudice, but there was also genuine concern in areas with high unemployment, in areas with long waiting lists for social housing and in areas with large immigrant populations already settled, such as Leicester. Leicester city council certainly took no chances, because it took out adverts in Uganda telling people not to come here, especially to Leicester, because they were not welcome.
Credit must be given to the Government of the time, led by Edward Heath, who took a courageous decision.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. He mentioned Leicester, so I thought I ought to spring to my feet. It should be remembered that not all councillors on Leicester city council in the ’70s agreed with the council’s decision. In fact, the current Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, as a young councillor, voted against it. It should be said that Leicester today is a much stronger, more confident and more vibrant city because of the contribution of the Ugandan Asians.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is absolutely right that not everyone was hostile. Indeed, Sir Peter Soulsby—until recently a colleague of ours—said that Leicester was a stronger place because of the Ugandan Asians.
Edward Heath rightly took the decision that both morally and legally Britain had an obligation to take in the refugees. The position was best summed up in a statement in Parliament on 7 August 1972, when Alec Douglas-Home, the then Foreign Secretary, said:
“We accept a special obligation for these people who are British passport holders”.—[Official Report, 7 August 1972; Vol. 842, c. 1261.]
There was, of course, a fair amount of frantic international diplomacy on Britain’s part, and we managed to persuade 29 other countries to take some of the people concerned. Those countries included the United States, Canada, Australia, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, some Scandinavian countries and some Latin American countries.
As always, my hon. Friend makes an apt intervention that enlightens the debate.
As a consequence of so many countries agreeing to take refugees, Britain ended up with 28,000 people—28,000 British passport holders who came here frightened, homeless, penniless and with only the clothes on their backs. They arrived at Stansted airport, and some at Heathrow airport, and were met by demonstrators holding placards saying, “Go home! You’re not welcome here.” The fact that they were British passport holders and had no home to go to was by the bye as far as the demonstrators were concerned.
Britain hastily set up the Uganda resettlement board, whose job was to give immediate assistance to the refugees, find them homes and jobs and, importantly, ensure they were resettled in the community at large. To start off with, they settled in 16 resettlement centres scattered throughout the country—former military bases that were mostly bleak and isolated. But this was a time when Britain was at its best. Having accepted responsibility for these refugees, voluntary groups, church groups, charity groups and ordinary citizens came out to help them. They showed their warmth, their compassion and their care for their fellow human beings. Many of the indigenous population did not have much themselves, but what little they had they were happy to share with the newcomers, giving them food and shelter.
Councils throughout the country also responded. In south Wales, Pontardawe rural council offered three council homes, Aylesbury rural district council offered six and Peterborough city council—I represent part of Peterborough—helped too: the then leader of the council, Councillor Charles Swift, went to Tonfanau resettlement centre in Wales with local employers and offered 50 council houses, provided the people agreed to take on the jobs offered by those with him. For his efforts, Councillor Swift received hate mail and death threats, and for a while required a police escort to take him to work as a railway driver.
This was also a time when individuals opened their doors. Some had only one room spare in their house and took in one individual, but others had more space and took in whole families. This was the British character at its best—but there was a little humour as well. There was the incident of two refugees in a resettlement centre being quite miserable, but suddenly finding that in Britain the shops closed at 5 o’clock and during the weekends. They smiled, and one said to the other, “We’re going to be rich.”
Very soon the refugees moved from the resettlement centres into the mainstream community. Rather than seeing the expulsion as life-destroying, they looked at it as a setback. They picked themselves up and started all over again. They took whatever jobs were available, worked long hours, made a success of their jobs and their lives and built a better future for their families; and now, many of those people employ hundreds and thousands of our fellow citizens. One such example is Mr Shabbir Damani in Peterborough, who came here penniless but now has nine pharmacies employing 100 full-time staff and another 100 or so on an ad hoc basis. There are many other such examples.
There were successes not only in business but in the professions, the military, the police, politics, media and entertainment, charities, sport and so on. There is also the case of Dr Mumtaz Kassam, who was expelled at the age of 16 and went to a resettlement centre in Leamington Spa, but ended up being, until recently, deputy high commissioner for Uganda serving in Britain—serving the country that had once expelled her as a teenager. The precise contribution made by the Ugandan Asians is difficult to quantify in economic terms, but it is generally felt that the south Asian community—or those with origins there but who are now settled in Britain—number 2.5% of the population, but are responsible for 10% of our national output.
I was a student when Edward Heath and the Government of the day bravely decided to respond positively. If ever there was an example of how a policy can help people in their hour of need and understand that foreigners—although there was a strong British link—can be an asset not a disadvantage, this is it. We would do well to continue to learn that lesson, as we address the inevitable plight of other people who might look to us for help when, through no fault of their own, their Governments turn on them as minorities and oppress them, as the Amin Government did to the Ugandan Asians.
My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Ugandan Asian community is a case study of a minority group who were persecuted, came here but did not seek to rely on the state, instead picking themselves up and becoming self-reliant.
Many, many success stories are recorded in the media, but we must not forget that not all those 28,000 people became millionaires: many simply got on with their everyday lives, in whatever trade or job they had, and became model citizens in their own way, doing their bit for the greater good of the country as a whole. It is important to record that. There can be no doubt that the community as a whole has punched above its weight in Britain—it has done more than its fair share for mainstream Britain.
I am reminded of the Parsee community, who were persecuted in Persia—now Iran—more than 1,000 years ago: because of their faith, Zoroastrianism, they had to leave Persia. They left in their ships and went to the shores of the state of Gujarat in India. The leader of the Parsees sent an emissary to the Maharajah of the state of Gujarat to say, “We have been persecuted and we ask that you give us refuge in your country.” The Maharajah sent the emissary back, saying, “I’m sorry, I cannot take you and your people. My own land is too populated, and, besides, you have a different religion and culture. But I will give you this shipload of provisions: food, water, milk, honey—anything you need to take with you to another place where you might find a home.” The leader of the Parsees took a cup of milk from the provisions that were sent and some sugar. He put the teaspoon of sugar in the milk, stirred it around, sent for the emissary and said, “Tell the Maharajah of the state: ‘In the same way as the sugar has blended and integrated with the milk, so too, if you give my people refuge in your country, will we integrate.’”
The Parsees were allowed to stay in the state of Gujarat, and they stuck to their word. They became model citizens and are leaders in various aspects of Indian life—the military, academia, business, entertainment, and so on. One such individual is Ratan Tata, of the Tata group. Not only does he employ thousands of people in India, but the Tata group employs more than 50,000 people in Britain, including more than 700 in my constituency, one of the group’s companies being Diligenta Ltd. The position was summed up eloquently by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when I asked him a question recently in Prime Minister’s questions. Referring to the Ugandan Asians, he said that they had made a
“fantastic contribution to our national life.”—[Official Report, 28 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 224.]
The Ugandan Asians who have settled here in the past 40 years have truly settled and truly integrated, becoming part of the fabric of our nation.
I am proud to have supported the request for this debate in a meeting of the Backbench Business Committee. It is an important debate, but I slightly regret its title on the Order Paper, which should refer to the “Anniversary of the expulsion of British nationals of Asian origin from Uganda”, as it was only because this group of people shared a passport with other British citizens who were born in Britain that they were accepted here when they sought entry to the UK after expulsion from Uganda.
Permission to enter was not given easily. I have talked to some of those who were queuing desperately outside the British high commission, panicking and in fear of Amin’s henchmen. They reminded me that it was not until Canada decided to admit 6,000 refugees and Amin started rounding up white Britons that Edward Heath agreed to act. Indeed, Himat Lakhani, whose family were expelled and who himself helped to welcome people here, tells me that the Canadians handed out water and provided them with chairs to sit on. He suggested that they managed to encourage the cream of those who fled Uganda to go to Canada as a result of that positive treatment.
A few years before, in a similar process of Africanisation, British people of Asian descent were being squeezed out of Kenya. That led to one of the most shameful acts of a Labour Government, agreed to by this House: the hasty passage of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968, which created a racial divide in UK citizenship between those who had an ancestor born in Britain and other family members who were citizens of the UK and colonies. My predecessor as MP for Slough opposed that Act. I praise her and other rebels who joined her in opposing it, one of whom is still a Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick). I would like to put on record my praise for him.
Following the 1968 Act, the Government announced the creation of the special quota voucher scheme to admit a small number of British national heads of household who were under pressure to leave Kenya, and later Uganda. When the Uganda expulsion took place, the scheme was insufficient, but it continued for years and led the European Commission of Human Rights to find the UK guilty of “inhuman and degrading treatment”. The scheme discriminated against women who were not heads of households but who held UK and colonies citizenship. The waiting time for the issue of quota vouchers in India reached eight years in the mid-1980s—I remember that because I was trying to help people in the queue. Of course, Amin’s action meant that the quota voucher system could not cope. Praise is due to Ted Heath for ignoring those such as Enoch Powell and the dockers who argued that we did not have a responsibility to those people. He recognised that we did.
The refugees came here facing cold weather, dismal conditions in the ex-military camps to which they were sent and a nation determined to keep them out of places where they knew people and had relatives, as we have heard. Leicester council even took out newspaper advertisements trying to keep them away. It is interesting to speak to people who were part of that. They tell of the fear they felt in Uganda and of how they arrived with nothing but the clothes on their backs, which were inadequate for British weather. They were fed ham sandwiches in those Royal Air Force camps, even if they were Muslims. They had to share beds. It was often not the warm welcome that we sometimes like to remind ourselves of, although there were individual families who provided the warmest of welcomes.
Himat, along with Mary Dines, formed the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants—for which I later had the privilege of working—and set up a co-ordinating committee to support those who wanted to go to the “red areas” that the Government were trying to keep them out of. He became a social worker in Southwark. In that role he dealt with 30 families who were the last to leave the camps—those with a disabled member or some other substantial disadvantage. He told me last night that nearly every one of those 30 families, welcomed into a council house, now owns their own home; so this is a story of success, but also one with some lessons for us in Britain.
The first thing we should do is celebrate those such as the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara), whose ancestry is from the Uganda Asian community, together with other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) and Shriti Vadera—the right hon. Baroness Vadera in the other place, who was formerly a Minister. Those people have all contributed enormously to our civic, economic and general life in Britain.
While celebrating those achievements, however, we should not forget that the history of our legislation and our rules has not always been one to be celebrated. Just months after we had accepted the Ugandan Asians, in February 1973, this House debated new immigration rules that further downgraded the citizenship of that community. British citizens were given a lower level of priority than Commonwealth citizens who had a grandparental link to the United Kingdom. The creation of that racial divide has been a slur on our immigration policy for years.
The history of this process contains lessons for us as legislators and for Ministers. I was in the House in March 2002 when, in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), a Home Office Minister announced, without any consultation whatever, the abolition of the special quota voucher scheme, saying that it had become irrelevant and was no longer necessary. That sent out an important signal. The people concerned held British overseas citizenship passports, and we continued to have an obligation to them.
It is no accident that one of the first actions that Hitler took against the Jews was to remove their citizenship. Citizenship is key to creating a person’s identity. By excluding people, a state can entrench social exclusion. I know that that Labour Minister was acting innocently on the basis of bogus briefing by civil servants, but we as Members of Parliament need to stand against that kind of injustice. I was glad that, because I knew the history and had been involved in campaigning for so long, I was able to brief the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), and, within a month, ask him a question to which he responded that he agreed in principle to look again at the matter. By July of that year, the next Minister of State at the Home Office was able to announce that:
“British Overseas Citizens who currently do not hold, and have never given up another nationality will be given an entitlement to register as British citizens.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2002; Vol. 371, c. 525W.]
The Home Secretary described the people concerned as having
“a deep commitment to this country and a heritage linked with it.”—[Official Report, 24 April 2002; Vol. 384, c. 354.]
He was quite right.
We are today recognising the fantastic contribution that these Britons—and let us call them that—have made to the country of their citizenship. The fact that they have done so well is largely due to their commitment to education. I represent a racially diverse town, and I know that all sorts of migrants bring energy, courage and a commitment to learning. Anyone who starts a new life and builds up their family thousands of miles away from the place where they were born and brought up has to have the qualities of courage and imagination. One of the reasons why the United Kingdom is a vibrant and dynamic economic and cultural leader, as well as an exciting place to live, is the contribution of those and other migrant communities.
We also need to use this debate as an opportunity to remind Ministers to treat advice with scepticism. The same civil servants who had told that Home Office Minister that the special quota voucher scheme was irrelevant and no longer necessary were, within a month or two, briefing the Home Secretary that if the change that I was proposing were to be adopted, hundreds of thousands of people would pour into Britain. They did not do so. Both those bits of advice were, frankly, spurious.
There is another lesson for us. The moral panic that led to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 and to places such as Leicester saying “We’re full up; stay away” is very similar to some of the things that we hear today about asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants. We need to show the courage that was shown by Sir Peter Soulsby, Joan Lestor and others. We need to say, “We are not going to go down that road. We are not going to be moved by the likes of the Daily Mail to say that this is a problem to be opposed.” We must stand up for what is right, and for matters of principle. We must resist the siren calls of hatred. We must tell people that Britain is a successful country because it is a tolerant country and because we have so many different races and traditions that are able to contribute so well to our success and our future.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) on securing the debate, which celebrates all that is good about Britain.
I grew up in Wembley, and I well remember being at school in the autumn of 1972 when some very young, bewildered and bedraggled individuals suddenly arrived. They did not talk about what had happened to them. They were dressed in second-hand clothes. They spoke brilliant English. Indeed, their English was far better than that of most of the people already at the school. They had clearly had a great education when they arrived, but they did not say much about their experiences. However, as the autumn turned into winter, they found themselves in rather a different environment from the one they had known before.
Those people changed our neighbourhood. We had always had a multi-racial community in Wembley, but it had consisted mostly of what we would now call white UK citizens and West Indians. To that melting pot was added a new group of people. They brought with them wonderful exotic food that none of us had ever experienced before. We became friends with them, but when we visited their houses, we found that they were very different from ours. Every room was used as a bedroom: the kitchen, the dining room, even the bathroom. They lived in a very different environment from that of the rest of us who lived in the area.
It was difficult for many of those families to combat the prejudice that they encountered on a daily basis. We should remember the hatred that was shown towards those people who had arrived in this country, through no fault of their own, wanting a much better life. When I think back to conversations that I had with people who are now family friends, I realise what they went through. They did not talk about it at the time. They also did not talk about their background in Uganda, which we should remember was a British colony between 1894 and 1962, when it was given its independence by a Conservative Government. It was then set up and run as a modern, democratic country. The people we now call Ugandan Asians controlled 90% of the business in Uganda at the time. They were driving the economy of the country forward and making commerce a reality for a whole spectrum of people.
Then, sadly, Idi Amin came to power. We should remember what kind of person he was. He called those people who were bringing prosperity to Uganda “bloodsuckers”. He labelled them “dukawallahs”, casting a deliberate slur on people who were of a slightly different ethnic origin. He encouraged the troops to engage in theft and physical assault on the people who were running the country’s commerce. He encouraged them to use sexual violence, particularly against women, with impunity, and the people who did this were never punished. He then pronounced, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire mentioned, that he was going to expel every single Asian who held a British passport.
After the expulsion, all those businesses were handed over to Idi Amin’s supporters. It is interesting to note that the economy went to rack and ruin as a result of his deliberate decision to force the people who were generating the economy out of that country. Of the people expelled, Britain took around 27,200 citizens arriving in this country; 6,000 went to Canada; only 4,500 ended up in India; and 2,500 went to Kenya to continue their lives in east Africa. Some 5,655 firms in Uganda, along with ranches, farms and agricultural estates, were all reallocated—taken from the people who owned them and ran them for the benefit of the local economy. They were reallocated on an ad hoc basis to the people who had forced them out. Cars, homes, household goods, clothes and worldly possessions were all just passed over.
Let us imagine the scenario of what happened to those poor people, and then what happened here. We have already heard that in this very Chamber people said, “We don’t want them here.” Councils up and down the country said “We don’t want them here.” The British dockers and the trade unions tried to stop people who were British citizens from coming here. If the people who did that are still alive, they should apologise for their hatred towards those British people.
It would have been natural for many of the people arriving to feel sorry for themselves and to think, “Our life has ended; what are we in now?” Their reaction, however, was not to rely on the state. They needed some help, of course, but they did not rely on the state. They had existed in Uganda by their own commerce and their own activities, so they set about starting their own businesses in corner shops, seeing the opportunities that Britain offered. They set about employing people, getting loans from the banks where they could, and setting up new industries—and they thrived. After all, these people who arrived some 40 years ago have at their heart the very British view of wanting to work for a living and not rely on the state. They believed in the extended family looking after one another, and looking after the elderly and the young ones—encapsulating everything that is good about Britain.
Forty years on, we are now seeing the third or possibly fourth generation of individuals who came to this country. They are leaders in business and commerce, they are great employers, and they generate valuable resources for this country. They have brought other things, too. We have in this country some of the greatest temples outside India, and they have been built by the people who were expelled from Uganda and other parts of east Africa. I am proud to be associated with many of those temples, and encourage people to celebrate their religion. Of course, these are often the people who most believe in law and order. There are fewer Hindus in our prisons than people of any other religion. They believe in law and order, they obey this country’s rules and they swear allegiance to the Queen and everything we hold dear.
As for education, these families all wanted better for their children, and it is unusual to find such a family that does not have within its ranks a doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant or other professional. I well remember that what they brought to my school and my area was their cultural roots and their celebrations of their culture. They still celebrate those things today—and quite rightly, too. They also assisted our sporting legacy. Indeed, at my school, our hockey team dramatically improved when they arrived, as did the cricket team. It is true that we can still celebrate that contribution today.
In my constituency today, 40% of the residents have a heritage stemming from Gujarat, from east Africa or from Uganda in particular. In this melting pot of an area in Harrow, people live in peace and harmony. They celebrate their religion; they celebrate their culture; they celebrate their background. The people who came here have generated business, commerce and wealth for this country and for their families, and they have established a heritage here, which we celebrate. Their belief in family values and law and order is an example to us all. I think we can truly say that Uganda’s loss was Britain’s gain.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) on securing today’s debate. I apologise to him and other Members as I shall shortly have to leave the Chamber to attend the fisheries debate in Westminster Hall. I am pleased that, after last week’s postponement, we have found time to mark the 40th anniversary in today’s debate. We should not forget what happened in Uganda in the early 1970s, especially in a world where protection of human rights remains such a pressing challenge.
Today’s debate provides me with an opportunity to pay tribute to a constituent and friend of mine, Vinay Ruparelia, who came to Scotland as a young man, having been expelled from Uganda along with thousands of other Ugandan Asians. Just a few weeks ago, Vinay retired from a successful pharmacy business that he had run with his wife Teresa in Banff and Portsoy for the last 34 years. The public service he has provided and the jobs he has created in the local community over the years are, in themselves, no small achievement.
It is fair to say that running the business has sometimes seemed like a sideline compared to Vinay’s efforts on behalf of the community of which he became a part. Vinay is a very well kent face around the north-east of Scotland because of his long-standing involvement in a number of local and international charities. As a former president of the Banff rotary club, which celebrated its 60th anniversary this year, Vinay has played an important role in a range of educational and health initiatives at home and overseas. He is currently a director of Books Abroad, a local charity that sends quality second-hand books to schools overseas. Having visited schools in parts of Africa where there is only one textbook for 200 children, I know the difference that that can make to the quality of education and the quality of life for children in developing countries.
Similarly, when earthquakes and other humanitarian disasters strike anywhere in the world, Vinay’s shop has always been a place where donations could be made for global relief efforts. On more than one occasion, I have found him making up kits of essential supplies from his own stockroom.
Vinay has also given up his time very generously to causes much closer to home, and served as chair of the board of Turning Point Scotland, which is a national charity that supports some of the people in our society with the most complex needs, notably those with significant learning disabilities and those recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. Vinay brought the same energy, compassion and entrepreneurial flair to Turning Point that he brought to his business activities. He also exhibited another characteristic talent at getting other people involved. In fact, prior to my election here, he persuaded me to get involved on Turning Point’s board.
When we read about asylum seekers and refugees in the press, we often get the impression that the generosity is one way, and that it is all ours, but exceptional citizens such as Vinay and so many others—some of whom we have heard about this afternoon—have given far more to our society than they have ever received from it. Vinay was the first person I ever knew who had been a refugee. Undoubtedly, as a youngster, learning the story of how he had ended up in north-east Scotland and how thousands of people like him were forced to leave their homes and livelihoods, coloured my understanding of why we have a duty to protect those who seek asylum and why the international conventions that protect human rights are so important.
Above all, today’s debate is a salutary reminder of the sorts of the circumstances that give rise to people becoming refugees and asylum seekers, and it brings home to me why it is so important that we continue to honour our obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers under international law. Ugandan Asians faced unimaginable circumstances with great resilience and courage, so it is fitting that we have had an opportunity to pay tribute to them today.
I am happy to do that, Mr Deputy Speaker. I shall make just a few short comments.
First, let me thank our hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) for his timely and persistent attempts to secure the debate. He naturally wanted to ensure that it took take place, but the rest of us are happy to associate ourselves with his wish.
Although she has left the Chamber, I also want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart). She worked for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants for a long time, and did a very reputable and important job in that organisation. Her continuing commitment to the cause of immigrants to this country, and to others who have not come here but may wish to do so—and have a claim to do so—deserves to be put on record. She paid tribute to others, and I think that she deserves a tribute herself.
The backdrop to today’s debate is the legislation of the 1960s, which was not our country’s most glorious hour, and the mercifully much better response to that terrible “90 days” threat to an entire community, the entrepreneurial heartbeat of Uganda, in 1972. Thank God we responded as we did and other countries in the Commonwealth and elsewhere responded as they did, and thank God there were enlightened local authorities in Britain which, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire, were positive in their response.
It was not easy for the people who came here in 1972. The weather, as I recall, was grim, and, as we have been reminded, conditions were often grim as well. Those people had a very difficult start. Not only did they come with, literally, the clothes that they could take from their homes and the suitcases that they could pack—often with no finances, and with young children in tow—but they then went into pretty grim accommodation, which we provided in various parts of the country at short notice. The fact that their conditions were made much better was due solely to the wonderful volunteering spirit of members of the community who offered their help, as well as the work of those for whom it was a statutory duty.
On 15 August 2005 an article was published by Martin Wainwright, describing how our former colleague Richard Wainwright, who was Member of Parliament for Colne Valley, took in one of these families. That description gives life to what Members are saying today.
I knew that, and, as my hon. Friend would expect, I know Martin Wainwright well: he is Richard Wainwright’s son. Many others did the same.
My constituency has a proud association with Uganda, because King Freddie of Buganda settled there and made it his home, thanks to the generosity of, in particular, the Carr-Gomm family. It was Richard Carr-Gomm, a former Liberal MP for Rotherhithe, who set up the Carr-Gomm Society and the Abbeyfield Society. In what was, in those days, a very white Bermondsey, hospitality and recognition were given to King Freddie and his family, and that spirit has continued through the ages. What happened then changed the cultural mood of a community, transforming white docklands London into the wonderfully multicultural community that we have now.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) on raising this important issue.
I was one of the constituents of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) and worked in his constituency, and, as he may well know, I was an immigrant myself. Many immigrants come to this country, and it should be proud of attracting people who will contribute to society, whether they are refugees or not.
My hon. Friend was the chair of the local Conservative party, if I am not mistaken. Little did I imagine in those days, when Tory candidates stood against me and got 2%, 3%, 4% or 5% of the vote, that I would end up in a coalition Government with him. “Never rule anything out” should be a political adage for us always to follow.
I entirely associate myself with what my hon. Friend has said. I represent very few east African Asian constituents, for no reason other than the fact that they have not settled principally in Southwark, although a significant number run shops and businesses. However, in London as a whole and more widely, the contribution made to, in particular, education, the professions and business in Britain by not just Ugandan Asians but east African Asians in general has been phenomenal. We would not be the successful country that we are now, at home and abroad, were it not for that contribution.
Let me give a microcosmic example. When I was first elected, I observed that the undergraduates entering the medical and dental schools at Guy’s hospital were predominantly white men whose dads and mums, mainly dads, had been doctors before them. The undergraduates who are starting courses this year at Guy’s and Tommy’s medical and dental school, which is part of King’s college, are predominantly women, and a significant number have Asian backgrounds. Their families are east African Asians, or people from elsewhere in Asia, whose professional parents may have been driven out of countries such as Uganda, or may have left in adverse circumstances. It is a phenomenal transformation.
We have had other glorious days. For instance, we eventually behaved better than we might have towards the Hong Kong Chinese who were threatened at the end of Britain’s time in charge of Hong Kong. However, the less glorious days are not over yet. There are still some legacy groups whom we must try to help and support. My noble Friend Lord Avebury and I have been trying to assist a small group of Malay Chinese who have British overseas citizens’ passports but are still in limbo. I hope that the Minister will ensure that Home Office Ministers are reminded that their future has not been sorted out between our Government and the Government of Malaysia. I do not blame our Government, but the situation must be resolved, because that group of people are completely stuck. We have a particular responsibility for those who come from other Commonwealth realms and from British overseas territories.
The hon. Member for Slough and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire issued a plea to the House, urging us to remember that we in this country have an obligation to stand up for people who come here seeking asylum honestly and properly. We are a rich country: we are one of the richest countries in the world, even during the current period of economic difficulty. We are also one of the most diverse, multicultural and multifaith countries in the world. We co-wrote documents such as the European convention on human rights and the United Nations declaration of civil and political rights. If we cannot, in their moment of need, be here for people who are fleeing from persecution—either as individuals or as a group—because of their colour, faith, background, sexuality or gender, we cannot expect others to do the same in the world as a whole.
We must never allow the unintelligent and prejudiced media to confuse asylum seekers with immigrants in general. Those are separate issues, and subjects for separate debates. Of course we need an immigration policy, and of course we need to control the number of people who come here. We cannot have an “open border” policy. However, we must also have a sane, civilised and respectable policy in relation to asylum seekers. We must honour our obligations. We must try to ensure that the rest of the world knows that we will not close the door to people in their time of need and say no. We will say yes, and we will learn the good lessons of the wonderful experience of making the right decision 40 years ago, to the great benefit of Britain and those families in particular, and to the benefit of the wider world.
It is a huge pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes).
I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) on securing the debate, and on having assiduously visited many Members to persuade them to support it. I also pay tribute to the co-ordination between him and another Ugandan Asian’s son who is in the House of Lords, Lord Popat of Harrow. I understand that at 2.30 pm today the other place will also debate these important issues.
We should acknowledge that, although she was not born in Uganda, the hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) is the product of Ugandan Asian parents. The House of Commons has its fair share of representation of those whose families came from Uganda and settled in this country, although the other House has probably done slightly better in that regard.
My speech has two purposes: to recognise the perseverance and hard work of the Ugandan Asians who came to live in my constituency, and to celebrate the next generation. As we have heard, in 1972 28,000 Ugandan Asians came to Britain, and 10,000—a third of them—settled in Leicester. Let me start by saying the Ugandan Asian community has undoubtedly transformed the city of Leicester. In the early 1970s, Leicester was facing an economic crisis. The shrinking of the manufacturing sector, and in particular the hosiery industry, presented a real challenge to the city, but the Ugandan Asians came and rebuilt Leicester. They have transformed the city, and also the country. It has become fashionable to denigrate and criticise immigrants, but the same media outlets that used to say immigrants have come here to live off state benefits now celebrate their achievements.
In order to understand Leicester’s transformation, we must understand the journey of the Ugandan Asians. As the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire said, the contribution of the Ugandan Asians to Africa was profound. They transformed, and helped shape, Uganda. As well as holding the great festivals that we now also celebrate here, in a real sense they were the economic heart of Uganda—the doctors, the teachers, the business people.
My constituent, Nisha Popat, was born in Jinja, Uganda. Her father, Manu Lakhani, observed:
“Life in Uganda, I would say, was really, really wonderful because there was no tension. People were all friendly.”
He added that the Ugandan Asians made a great contribution to the country. My wife was born in east Africa, and she, too, has told me about how the east African Asians helped that continent.
We have heard about what Idi Amin did. The Ugandan Asians had to leave their homes and businesses—their money, friends and properties. That is a matter of record. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) described them queuing up, emotionally scarred by the experience of having to get their passports and come here.
Many arrived in Leicester with just a single bag, and they faced enormous hostility. Marches through Leicester were organised by the National Front, whose membership rocketed. We have also heard about what representatives on Leicester city council said, with some honourable exceptions, including Sir Peter Soulsby. An advertisement was placed—in the Uganda Argus, not the Leicester Mercury—telling people not to come:
“In your own interests and those of your family you should not come to Leicester.”
They came anyway, and soon Leicester will be the first city in Europe with a majority ethnic population. That is a source of great civic pride, which I and my parliamentary colleagues from Leicester, my hon. Friends the Members for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) and for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), share.
Although we in Leicester have, of course, been remembering this 40th anniversary over recent weeks, we have also been remembering my right hon. Friend’s 25 years as a Leicester Member of Parliament—and we all look forward to his next 25 years. Does he agree that today Leicester is a tremendously harmonious city, and that that is in large part thanks to the great work done by the city council over many years, and also to the mosques, gurdwaras, temples and churches, as well as to all the other organisations such as the Federation of Muslim Organisations and the Gujarat Hindu Association? They have all worked very hard on this matter and continue to do so.
As usual, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he has given a name-check to some of the more prominent organisations, although there are many others.
The new arrivals settled in Highfields, Spinney Hill and Belgrave in my constituency, and in Rushey Mead. Ila Radia described her situation, as did Jitubhen Radia, who remembered of her arrival:
“It was very cold as we had no heating. I used to go to bed with my coat on.”
Aruna Badiani commented that
“my parents used to really suffer, because we struggled in the cold weather, with no central heating”,
and they were very isolated.
The new arrivals worked for companies including British United Shoe Machinery, Corah, Imperial Typewriters, GE Lighting, and Walkers Crisps. Bala Thakrar recalls her first days at school in England:
“I suppose going into the school was frightening. I went to a school where there weren’t many other Asian or African children so that for me was the biggest shock”
because all the children seemed so different. A teacher at the time, Mrs Gordon, said about the enthusiastic Ugandan Asian children:
“Sometimes a bit too keen, you know; they all wanted to be brain surgeons and doctors, but you got used to that.”
At that stage, of course, none of them wanted to be what the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire became: a Member of Parliament.
The new arrivals worked hard. They rebuilt their lives and held on to their values and culture. They were determined to create a new life for themselves, and made a truly significant impact on Leicester’s economy. One estimate suggests that the 10,000 who came to Leicester have created 30,000 jobs in the city. Those people included Bhagwanji Lakhani who set up the world-famous Bobby’s restaurant in my constituency, and Jayanti Chandarana, who bought his first petrol station in the 1970s.
Today the Ugandan Asian community is a part of the Leicester landscape. To see that we just have to walk down the Belgrave road in my constituency. I know the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) loves his constituency and area as much as I love mine, but if there were a competition, the Belgrave road would probably beat the Ealing road. On the Belgrave road is our “golden mile” as it is popularly known, because it boasts a range of shops and enterprises run by Ugandan Asians. I know that today a television screen has been set up in the Belgrave neighbourhood centre, and the community has gathered to watch this debate.
There are businesses such as Ram Jewellers and Kampala Jewellers and the great sari shop, Sheetals, as well as restaurants and caterers such as Mirch Masala, Sanjay Foods and Sharmilee. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South is granted a visa to enter Leicester East to eat at these establishments. He might also choose to pop into the shop of the world-famous photographer, Maz Mashru, who has won the Kodak gold award for his amazing pictures.
Their contribution has not gone unrecognised by a grateful city. The local newspaper, the Leicester Mercury, dedicated pages to the achievements of the Ugandan Asians who came here. An exhibition was staged at the New Walk museum to celebrate their accomplishments. Such was its success that it will have a permanent home in the spring at the Newarke Houses museum.
We have heard from Members representing Slough, Harrow, Southwark and even Banff and Buchan, and we will hear later from a Member representing Wolverhampton. That illustrates that the Ugandan Asians have gone all over the country. I am particularly focused on the next generation, however. Those of us who came here as first-generation immigrants—I came here at the age of nine, and from Yemen, not east Africa—have opened the doors. The next generation will be the golden generation, because of the contribution they can make not as first-generation immigrants, but as equal citizens of this country.
That is true of the Ugandan Asians, and also of all the other communities who come here. Questions are nowadays asked about whether multiculturalism is a fad of the past. It is, in fact, very important. It is what won us the Olympics. Team GB was a mirror of Britain. Athletes from different backgrounds won us gold medals, and silvers and bronzes, because of the work they have done as equal citizens.
I have great ambitions and hopes for the next generation of Ugandan Asians. They have huge ambition themselves, and great talent and amazing capabilities. Perhaps one day a Ugandan Asian will be speaking not from the Back Benches, but from the Treasury Bench, winding up for the Government in important debates such as this one. I hope I am a Member long enough to see that.
I thank the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire for enabling us to debate this important subject, and I say to the Ugandan Asians, both in the Belgrave neighbourhood centre in Leicester and throughout the country, who are watching our debate, “The best is yet to come. What you’ve gone through, no community has had to go through. The best is yet to come for you, for the people of Leicester, and for the people of this great country.”
The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) reminds me that I try to end most speeches by saying that we can look with affection to the past, with admiration to the present and with confidence to the future. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) has managed to secure this debate, as I have learned a lot from those who have spoken.
My grandmother took in a Russian after the great war; my parents, when I moved out of my bedroom, took in a Hungarian refugee after the uprising; and my wife and I were delighted to go to an RAF camp in Kent to collect Razia and Roshan Jetha, who came to live with us for a year and a half. We learned a great deal from them, and I was also grateful for the £5 a week they gave us, which helped with the housekeeping.
The key point about the Ugandan resettlement is that within two years the resettlement board had produced its final report and almost none of the evacuees were out of work. We cannot say that all the problems had been solved, but the job had been done. If people look at the record of the Adjournment debate that David Lane, the then MP for Cambridge, had on 29 July 1974, which was responded to by Alex Lyon, they will see those who helped to contribute to that—the voluntary groups, the Churches and the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, among others.
Nationality is one of the issues in this debate, which must be seen in the context of the see-saw in Britain between justice and racialism, both of which we have had and perhaps still have. J. B. Priestley, during the war, asked us to name our eight great-grandparents. Most of us cannot do that, so we cannot actually know precisely who we are. Dorothy Sayers, in an essay or talk she wrote during the war called “The Mysterious English”, which was published in “Unpopular Opinions”, one of Victor Gollancz’s yellow-covered books, tried to explain to people what it was to be English. She said that we were “a nation” rather than “a race”, but to go into her argument would take up more time than I have available. It is worth remembering that when Idi Amin went mad it was in the context of Kenya and Tanzania doing the same kind of thing as he was doing and when the UK was in the middle of passing a succession of immigration laws in 1962, 1968 and 1971. In 1968, James Callaghan openly said that in these sorts of circumstances, which he would not have foreseen directly, we would take in the people of British nationality. As it happened, Idi Amin wanted to get rid of the 23,000 Asians who had Ugandan nationality as well, so we are not particularly talking about those who had chosen one kind of passport rather than another.
I pay tribute to Sir Charles Cunningham and the resettlement board, because they managed to bring the resources together. They asked for help, they provided it and they brought in the evacuees at £70 a head for each flight. As well as taking the offers from other parts of the world, they provided the basis for letting the Asians from Uganda join in our community in a way that was just regarded as natural by most who met them. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) referred to King Freddie, and two of my children were at school with King Freddie’s children or nephews and nieces. It was perfectly normal and natural; although everyone has backgrounds, some happier than others, some grander than others, at that age people accept each other as they are. That is one of the contributions that the Ugandan Asians have made, and the same can be said of the Kenyan Asians and the Tanzanian Asians.
We ought to try once a year to have a debate on inclusiveness. Others might think of it as “diversity” but I think it is inclusiveness; it is about how we give people the chance to make a contribution to their own lives, to their communities and to the nation. If we can do that, we can be proud of being on the right side of the see-saw: on the side of British justice rather than racialism.
I end with some words about a man I first knew when he was the vicar of Tulse Hill—after other jobs, he later became the Archbishop of York. I turn around words that he had once used in my hearing by saying, “They came, they saw and they stuck to it.” He put it as “Veni, vidi, velcro.”
First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) for securing this debate. As protocol, we refer to those on our Benches as hon. Friends, but I am happy to say that he is a personal friend. Interestingly, just as I am about to speak two other personal friends seem to have joined me. I am taking a bit of a risk in speaking without any notes or having preparing for the debate. I am not sure whether they are here to see me fall flat on my face, but I think their interests are benign.
Why am I here? I am of east African descent. My father came to this country from Kenya in 1961. He had less than £5 in his pocket and no idea of where he was going to sleep that night. He took that risk because he wanted to live in a country that had choice, freedom and opportunity. For my father, it was not too bad, but my uncle’s situation and story were slightly different. In Cusumo we ran a small electrical business and from the mid to late ’60s life was made very uncomfortable for my uncle.
In Kenya. In essence, my uncle left with just the shirt on his back and the opportunity to come to the UK. He followed my father and came here. He was driven by those same principles of wanting to live in a country where he had opportunity, choice and freedom. That story was replicated by many thousands of people, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for raising an issue that has been highlighted so often: in early 1968, in what Andrew Marr described as one of the most shameful periods of British politics, more than 40,000 Kenyan Asians were made stateless. It is important to put things in perspective, and what is so good about these Back-Bench debates is the quality of the debate. There is an attempt to be non-partisan, but it is sometimes important for us to have an honest and cathartic debate to recognise where shortfalls have occurred.
I was born in the UK and went to school here. When I think back to those early days, I recall that often between shutting the front door and getting to school I was told to go home on about half a dozen occasions. I was not sure where home was really. Home for me was a small two up, two down in Smethwick, where eight or 10 of us would sit around of an evening having a meal. What I encountered did not stop when I reached school. I am not going to embellish things and I can assure the House that this next story is a true one. In one of my technical drawing lessons when I was probably about 11 years old, the deputy head master was asking the students what we were going to do that evening and he asked—I will tone this down—whether anyone was going out bashing Asian people. I remember my spine getting very stiff. I was attempting to draw a straight line as he said that, but it wobbled as those last few words came out.
This debate, and the way in which it has been conducted, has brought back so many memories, and that is why I wanted to speak in it. I am now the Member for Wolverhampton South West, which was represented by Enoch Powell between 1950 and 1974, so therein lies another story. When Enoch Powell first won the seat in 1950 he had a majority of 691, as did I when I won my seat in 2010. If I feel a compulsion to make a radical speech in 16 years’ time in a Midland hotel, please feel free, my most respected friends, to hold me back and stop me—although I suspect that is unlikely.
I return to the main point of today’s debate and what we are, in essence, talking about. I picked up on one sentence from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire: he said that this period showed Britain at its best. I know that the Minister and the shadow Minister are anxious to speak on this issue, so I will not delay them for too long. However, I think one thing encapsulates this period of British history more than anything else. I was listening recently to a chaplain from RAF Cosford talking about an experience that he had had. The term “concentration camp” has been used today, and he was speaking about his experience when visiting such a camp. I am not sure whether it was Auschwitz-Birkenau, but from the images he saw he was struck by one thing. He said, “If you have two rooms, one full of light and one full of darkness and you open the door to the one that has light, the light will spread into the darkness.” In this period of history we can look at the British role and at British politicians as spreading light into a time of darkness. It is important for us to remember that, especially as we take this issue forward.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz): the best days are ahead of us for the east African Asian community. Its contribution has been phenomenal. It is cathartic for me to stand in this wonderful Chamber and speak about these issues, especially as I have mentioned the history of growing up as a small boy in Smethwick, walking to school and having to face those experiences. I dare say that my father will be watching this speech—or perhaps even taping it, as even though he is retired he seems to be busier than I am. That is very much the ethos of so many east African Asians. He came here to work and he still does; he embodies the best that is British.
I have a Christian first name and a Sikh surname. I have always tried to live by the ethos of trying to combine the best of my British values with my traditional Indian values. I am not alone in that. All east African Asians who have come to this country—and many other migrants, if we are honest—have tried to adopt it. They enrich their host culture and the indigenous communities with which they mix. When we have that combination, we have a formula for success.
I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) for securing the debate. The 40th anniversary of the arrival in Britain of the Asians who were expelled from Uganda is a wonderful occasion that allows us to pay tribute to those who left so much and suffered so much on the way, but who have now contributed so much to Britain.
I want to add a few words to the moving speeches made by so many hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal). The range of contributions on and references to places across Uganda shows that the voice of the Ugandan Asians has spread across this country. We have seen their contribution in areas far and wide as well as in constituencies such as mine.
I was born in Britain and I am a British Asian. Although my family did not come directly from east Africa, members of my extended family did. They hid so well the suffering and sacrifice they had to make from the next generation that I never knew until I was much older what had happened and how the community had supported itself and stayed strong in times of great hardship on arrival. I want to mention someone who was very dear to me but who died a year ago, just before my election: Mr Jagpal founded the Vedic Cultural Society, which makes a strong contribution to our community in Hounslow and brings people together in faith as well as in cultural activities. He was a true example of the role of those individuals. They resettled their families and their children at new schools and started new jobs, in which often they had had no experience, simply to make ends meet; and, in the amazing tradition of parents under stress, created a better life for the next generation, ensuring that those who came after did not face the same suffering as they did but went on to play a huge part in their nation.
I am incredibly proud of Britain. That time is marked out in our recent British history as a time of great compassion, of great welcome to those from abroad and of when we saw the diverse fabric of Britain at its very best. It absorbed those people within the nation and made Britain the diverse nation it is. We have seen the value of that this year in our winning the Olympics. Indians took part in the opening and closing ceremonies and showed that we have managed as Asians in Britain to become a strong part of the fabric of this country. We maintain links with our separate histories, but do so in a way that makes Britain even stronger in the world.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire for securing the debate and pay tribute to all those in my community who, through businesses, schools and their community contributions, play such a huge part in our public life in Britain.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate from the Front Bench, as what started out as a humanitarian catastrophe has turned into an amazing human success story. This has been a celebratory debate, which we do not often have in this Chamber, and it has united the whole House this afternoon. We have heard a number of very moving speeches, but I want to pay particular tribute, as others have already, to the hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) for his tenacity in securing the debate. As we know, it was replaced by the discussion on the Leveson inquiry and I am pleased that he persevered and succeeded in bringing the issue before us this afternoon.
We have also heard passionate and heart-warming contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), the hon. Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford), the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal). It is a mark of how far we have come that the hon. Gentleman represents the seat that was once represented by Enoch Powell.
Despite my youthful appearance, I remember the terrible events of 1972, when General Idi Amin decided to expel the Asian Ugandans after, I think, the British refused to provide financial support. I heard a documentary earlier this year that reported that Idi Amin had subsequently apologised for that decision—rather late, it must be said. One of the consequences of that decision was that it was catastrophic for the Ugandan economy. It had a damaging impact on Uganda, and perhaps that was one of the reasons Idi Amin recognised the error of his ways and apologised for his actions.
Edward Heath’s Government tried to negotiate with Idi Amin, but unfortunately did not get anywhere. As we have heard, the Ugandan Asians were told they would be imprisoned in concentration camps if they did not leave the country within 90 days. After the events of the second world war, which were relatively recent history, it was appalling to hear about concentration camps and putting people into them. We were faced with a humanitarian crisis. The Heath Government looked to settle people in other countries but they found that very difficult, as many refused, so they offered the Ugandan Asians the opportunity to come to Britain. It has to be said that that was one of Ted Heath’s finest hours.
The Ugandan Asians who came to Britain had few, if any, possessions, and many were robbed by the Ugandan authorities. Those immigrants went through a terribly traumatic experience. We have heard that the mass migration was very controversial at the time, and it came just a few years after Enoch Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood” speech. Edward Heath was worried about Enoch Powell and that that speech could increase racial tensions. We know that that led to the introduction of a new immigration Act, whereby the right to British citizenship for Indians in other countries, such as Kenya, was revoked.
On arrival in the UK many Ugandan Asians were bussed to Strandishall in Suffolk and put into temporary accommodation until they could be settled across the country. The migrants subsequently relocated to various parts of the UK, as we have heard today. The legacy of that migration has been extremely positive. Again, we have heard many examples this afternoon. Many of the Ugandan Asians were skilled and educated workers and so were able to integrate into society successfully. It is worth acknowledging that although Leicester city council at the time took out advertisements, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East pointed out, urging Ugandan Asians not to settle in Leicester, a third of the Ugandan Asians did settle there and have made a huge and positive contribution. Leicester is now an exemplar of how a diverse and cohesive community can form over time.
The story of Britain’s response to the plight of the Ugandan Asians is an illustration of what makes Britain such a great country. It illustrates the sort of actions that make all of us in the Chamber today and, I am sure, the rest of the nation proud to be British.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Mr Vara) not only on securing the debate but on the passion with which he spoke. It is a great pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government in this commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians, welcoming the contribution they have made to Britain and their integration into the fabric of the nation. Like the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), I am delighted that it has been a celebratory debate, uniting the whole House.
I am grateful for the contributions of all Members to the debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) reminded us of the constant need to point to the huge contribution that many immigrants have made to the life of this country and that in relation to asylum seekers this must be a country that, in times of need, will not close its doors. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) echoed such views and spoke of the contribution of immigrants to many different aspects of life in this country, not least to our vibrant cultural life. She also rightly pointed to lessons to be learned and cited examples of legislation that did not show us at our most tolerant.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—as he said, from the melting pot of Harrow East—praised those who came wanting to get on with it, encapsulating what is great about Britain. He reminded us of the contribution that many of the Ugandan Asians made in sports such as cricket and hockey. Above all, he made it clear, as did the hon. Member for Derby North, that Uganda’s loss was Britain’s gain.
My hon. Friend makes his point in his usual eloquent way. I certainly support his remarks.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) celebrated the contribution of one of her constituents, Vinay, who used his energy, compassion and entrepreneurial skills for the benefit of the local community. I thank her for that example. As she pointed out, he, like many others who came, gave far more to our society than they ever received from us.
The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) made his usual powerful contribution. As we celebrate his 25 years in this place, he celebrated the contribution of Ugandan Asians, not only the first generation but now the next generation—the golden generation, as he described them—to rebuilding and transforming the city of Leicester, and what they are doing and have done since that time. As he said, and I am sure he is right, the best is yet to come.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) paid tribute to the one body that has not been mentioned other than by him, the resettlement board, which certainly deserves our praise for the work it did.
I thank the Minister for his kind comments, but the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), has been in the House longer than I have, and we have not had his celebration yet.
This debate is about a celebration of 40 years. Sometimes when new communities arrive, there is a tendency to criticise them and what they do when they first arrive. Is there not a lesson about the way in which we use language when new communities arrive? I am thinking about the east European community, which, over the past eight years since accession, has made such a great contribution to this country, but there are still criticisms of it. We need to be careful because at the end of the day, the contribution can be seen.
I absolutely agree. A similar point was made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) described his own family’s experience coming here, wanting choice, freedom and opportunity, and pointed out that when they got here they used them to full advantage, making, as he described it, a phenomenal contribution. The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) described the ongoing contribution that Ugandan Asians are making in her constituency, and her pride in Britain’s compassion and the welcome that was given then and which we continue to give to incoming immigrants.
Looking back over the past 40 years to those fateful months in 1972, we know that the United Kingdom acted swiftly. Idi Amin announced on 4 August 1972 that there was no room in Uganda for British Asians. By 18 September the first 193 British Asians from Uganda arrived at Stansted airport, and in the first year, 1972-73, a total of 38,500 Ugandans Asians came to Britain. Even in that initial period we saw the seeds of the ongoing success of the British Ugandan Asians. By mid-November 1972 more than 1,000 employers had already offered jobs to the newcomers.
Many people have been praised today but we should not forget the work of Praful Patel, then secretary of the all-party committee on United Kingdom citizenship and now a key organiser of the 40th anniversary events this year, who, following the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians, became a member of the Uganda resettlement board, which has been mentioned, and was involved at an individual level, helping thousands of families to mend separated and broken lives. There are success stories everywhere. The hon. Member for North West Cambridgeshire is one of them, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). Lata Patel was the mayor of Brent back in 1996, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a well respected journalist and author, Rupal Rajani is a BBC journalist. Mohammed Asif Din played cricket for Warwickshire, and Tarique Ghaffur CBE QPM was an assistant Commissioner at the Met police. There are many others who could be mentioned.
Only a day ago I had a letter from a successful British Ugandan Asian who wrote:
“The lessons learnt show that with compassion, decency and understanding an impoverished community can come to the UK and grow, thrive and in time be big contributors to UK society and the UK economy.”
I want to acknowledge the immense courage of the former Prime Minister Edward Heath and his Government back in 1972. I must mention, of course, the generous response that the British people made to help Ugandan Asian refugees as they settled in the United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire said, it was a time when Britain was at its best.
I want briefly to put the debate in the context of this Government’s work on integration or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West would prefer to call it, inclusiveness. We are doing what we can to live up to our responsibility to create greater confidence among those who come to this country, encouraging greater responsibility, promoting more activities and opportunities for personal and social development and at the same time giving help, support and guidance. We are running some 30-odd projects to assist in that area to promote social mobility—for example, working with leading figures in the British Asian cuisine industry to offer young people chef scholarships.
We are also working with private sector partners in the business world to inspire young people through our enterprise challenge and industrial cadet projects. To promote participation in our communities and responsibility to each other and society, we are supporting Youth United so that over 10,000 more young people from all backgrounds can come together as part of national movements such as the scouts and the police cadets. We continue to provide support for English language tuition.
In 1997, recognising the vitality lost to Uganda, President Museveni invited Ugandan Asians to return home. Some families returned, but most chose to remain in Britain. Those families have integrated into UK life and are one of this country’s biggest integration success stories. Later this year and next year a number of commemorative events will take place, including a thanksgiving event at Leicester cathedral and various dinners in London.
I end by praising my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire for securing the debate, which has allowed us to remember properly the events of 1972, recognise the contribution of British Ugandan Asians and welcome their integration into the fabric of the nation. A number of commemorative events are still to be held over the next few months, and I urge all Members of the House to participate in them enthusiastically.
With the leave of the House, may I say that when the House debates people coming to this country there are often negative overtones, but it has been a pleasure—I think that all Members agree—to see today that the House is united in commemorating the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the Ugandan Asians, who have British passports and the majority of whom were of Indian origin. I thank all Members who have contributed to the debate by telling us about their personal experiences or those of their constituents. In so doing, we have finally recorded, 40 years on, the enormous contribution that this relatively small number of people—28,000—have made to the United Kingdom and the fact that Britain really was at its best. It showed its true character, its warmth, generosity and ability to care for those in need. To paraphrase a famous quote: they came, they saw, they integrated.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House commemorates the 40th Anniversary of the arrival in Britain of Asians expelled from Uganda, notes their contribution to Britain and welcomes their integration into the fabric of the nation.