Skip to main content

First World War Commemorations

Volume 579: debated on Thursday 1 May 2014

3. What steps he is taking to ensure that the contribution of people from black and minority ethnic communities in the first world war is appropriately commemorated. (903798)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the significant contribution of ethnic minority soldiers to Britain’s war effort. He may be interested to know that just last week I made a private visit to Ypres; I went to the Menin gate memorial remembrance service and saw for myself that among the names of soldiers whose graves are unknown, there were many from the Indian subcontinent.

I thank the Minister for Equalities for that answer and welcome him to his position. More than 1 million people from ethnic minorities served our country in the first world war, and 12 soldiers from the Indian subcontinent have been awarded the Victoria Cross for valour. What are the Government doing to ensure that Victoria Cross recipients from minority communities born in other countries are properly commemorated?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point, and I am pleased to tell him that recipients of the Victoria Cross who were born abroad will be commemorated not only in their country of birth, but here in Britain.

I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. This is the first time in the history of this country that a majority of Ministers in a Department are from the ethnic minority communities—all with different hairstyles, but all appointed on merit. I strongly support what the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) said. Could we have a physical representation of that, and may I offer Leicester as a city in which a monument could be put up to those who served in the war?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his warm words, despite his comments about my excellent hairstyle. He makes an important point about a monument—I cannot think why he picked Leicester—and that is certainly worth looking at.

My great-grandfather fought in the great war, a fact that I became aware of only in the past decade. May I impress on my right hon. Friend that as well as a written record of history, there is often an oral history of acts of great bravery in the Indian and, specifically, Sikh regiments?

I thank my hon. Friend for the question, and for the contribution his family made to the great war—as did, obviously, many other families, but especially, as he highlighted, people of ethnic minority backgrounds. He has made an important point, and I will certainly look at that.

The Commonwealth contribution to the first world war was significant. In particular, one in 10 people who served came from undivided India. In Northern Ireland we have a very large Indian community. What discussions has the Minister had with the bodies responsible in Northern Ireland to ensure that the community’s significant contribution is commemorated?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. He will know that more than 70,000 soldiers from the Indian army made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of Britain in the great war. With respect to Northern Ireland, I have not had any discussions so far in my new role, but I will certainly raise the matter at the earliest opportunity.