Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the contribution made by minority ethnic and religious communities to the cultural life and economy of the United Kingdom, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe.
My Lords, more than 1,000 years ago, a group of Zoroastrian refugees fleeing religious persecution in Iran arrived in India in what is now the state of Gujarat. The Zoroastrians asked the local king for refuge but he said there was no space for them in his land. One of the Zoroastrian priests asked the king for a cup of milk filled to the brim. The priest gently took a teaspoon of sugar and stirred it into the milk without spilling a drop. He then said to the king, “If you take us into your kingdom, we will be like the sugar in the milk: we will blend in with you but we will also make your kingdom sweeter”. The king allowed them to stay and that group of refugees, and others who followed, flourished to become India’s Zoroastrian Parsee community.
Fast-forward over 1,000 years and the Zoroastrian community is still tiny: only 69,000 people, less than 0.006% of India’s population of 1.2 billion people, and yet wherever you go in India, everyone knows who a Parsee is. Moreover, what makes me so proud as a Zoroastrian Parsee is the reputation of our community within India. When I took over as UK chairman of the Indo-British Partnership, now the UK India Business Council, of which I am president, my Indian counterpart Narayana Murthy, one of India’s most respected business leaders, said to me, “I have never met a bad Parsee”. Mahatma Gandhi said:
“In numbers, Parsees are beneath contempt, but in contribution, beyond compare”.
Over the centuries, the Zoroastrian Parsee community has excelled in every field. Today, both the Chief Justice of India and the Solicitor-General of India are Parsees. Maestro Zubin Mehta, the world-famous conductor; the late Freddie Mercury of Queen; Farokh Engineer, the great cricketer—all Zoroastrian Parsees. I could go on. In fact, I could go so far as to say that in achievement per capita, the Zoroastrian community is the most successful in the world by far. However, the community has not only looked after its own but has always put back into the wider community. It exemplifies one of my favourite sayings: “It is not good enough to be the best in the world, you also have to be the best for the world”.
The Zoroastrian faith was brought to the world by the prophet Zoroaster in around 1500 BC. It is said to be one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions, if not the oldest, with a god, a supreme being, and the concepts of good and evil and heaven and hell. This was the religion of the largest of the ancient empires, the Persian Empire. This was the religion of the Emperors Xerxes, Darius and Cyrus the Great.
The Emperor Cyrus is of course credited with writing the world’s first Bill of Rights, the Cyrus cylinder, which is far older than our own Magna Carta, whose 800th anniversary we will soon be celebrating. The basis of Zoroastrian faith is three words: “Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta”—good thoughts, good words, good deeds. I was the founding chair of the World Zoroastrian Chamber of Commerce in the UK. Our motto is: “Industry and Integrity”. When the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury visited the Zoroastrian Centre recently, he explained that the word “integrity” comes from the Latin word “integrum”, which means wholeness. In order to practise integrity, you need to feel complete and whole.
During our 150th anniversary, when His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh visited the Zoroastrian Centre in Harrow—a grade 2 listed building—he arrived in a Land Rover. When I greeted him, I said: “Sir, thank you for arriving in a Tata-mobile!”. Jaguar Land Rover is, of course, now owned by one of India’s largest conglomerates, the Tata Group, a Zoroastrian Parsee company. When Jamsetji Tata, the founder, set up Tata Steel over 100 years ago in the jungles of what was then part of the state of Bihar, where our company, Molson Coors Cobra, now owns the only brewery in the state, a British civil servant at the time dismissed the idea of an Indian ever owning a steel factory and said he would eat every bar of steel that came out of that factory. He has certainly had to eat his words. Now, a century later, Tata Steel owns British Steel—Corus—and is one of the largest steel manufacturers in the world.
I am proud to be the first Zoroastrian Parsee to sit in your Lordships’ House. Before I made my maiden speech, the first thing I did was to read the maiden speech of the first Indian to be elected to Westminster. Dadabhai Naoroji entered the House of Commons as a Liberal in 1892, against all odds. In fact, the then Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, said that no British person would ever accept a “black man” as their MP. In 1895, just three years later, the second Indian, Mancherjee Bhownagree, also a Zoroastrian Parsee, was elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative. In 1922, the third—and the only one of the three Indians elected to the other place before India’s independence—was Shapurji Saklatvala, or “Comrade Sak”, who was elected as a Communist with Labour support. All three were Zoroastrian Parsees—one a Liberal, one a Conservative and one Labour. I now sit, as a Zoroastrian Parsee, as an independent Cross-Bench Peer. We have squared the circle.
The Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe was founded in 1861 and is now celebrating its 150th anniversary. Dadabhai Naoroji himself served as president of the ZTFE from 1863 to 1908. During this time, ZTFE functions were attended by young barristers and professionals, including none other than Mahatma Gandhi.
Earlier this year, my friend Maurice Ostro presented Her Majesty the Queen, on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, with a specially made necklace with symbols from the nine recognised faiths of the United Kingdom—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Baha’i and Zoroastrian. These nine faiths are represented by the Inter Faith Network, which has been enormously successful.
The Zoroastrian community has made an enormous contribution to the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, with my own family as an example. My late father, Lieutenant-General Bilimoria, was commissioned into the Indian army. His father, Brigadier Bilimoria, was commissioned from Sandhurst. My father’s cousin, Lieutenant-General Jungoo Satarawalla, from my father’s regiment, the 5th Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force), was awarded the Military Cross in the Second World War, as was India’s first Field Marshal, Sam Manekshaw, also a Zoroastrian. My maternal grandfather, JD Italia, served as a squadron leader in the Royal Indian Air Force during the Second World War. I could go on with a long list of Zoroastrian Parsees who have served in the British Armed Forces. However, I am disappointed that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has not yet allowed the Zoroastrian community to be represented at the annual Cenotaph ceremony each Remembrance Day. Can the Minister ask her Cabinet colleagues to rectify this anomaly?
I mentioned the Gurkhas. What an amazing contribution they have made to Britain over the centuries. My father’s battalion, the 5th Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force), was awarded three Victoria Crosses in the Second World War. I am so happy that the previous Government eventually recognised this contribution, allowing retired Gurkhas to settle in this country should they so wish.
When I came to this country 30 years ago as a student from India, I was told by my family and friends to remember that if I decided to stay on and work in Britain I would never be allowed to get to the top, because, as a foreigner, there is a glass ceiling. They were absolutely right 30 years ago. Today, they would be absolutely wrong, because I have seen before my eyes this country being transformed over the past few decades into a country of meritocracy where there is opportunity for all, regardless of race, religion or background. The glass ceiling has well and truly been shattered and the ethnic minority and religious communities are now reaching the very top in every field, whether it is in sport, academia, the Civil Service or politics—just look around your Lordships’ House at the speakers in this debate who come from so many minority communities, having reached the very top in their respective fields. I am so proud of them and so looking forward to the wide-ranging perspectives that will be reflected in this debate, and the high quality of debate and contributions that I know my colleagues will bring to this discussion.
Indeed, yesterday there was a photograph taken in Westminster Hall to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the election of the first four ethnic minority MPs since the war, in 1987. From just four MPs 25 years ago, we now have 69 ethnic minority MPs and Peers at Westminster and in Parliament. This is the progress that I have been talking about. In fact, I believe strongly that in my lifetime we will see a member of the ethnic minority community become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Immigrants from all ethnic minorities and religions have been the making of the “Great” in Great Britain. They have been crucial to Britain’s success, contributing enormously to the economic and cultural life of Britain and enriching it in every way by punching far above our weight. One example is the Asian community, which makes up just 4% of the population of Britain yet contributes double that percentage to our economy. Yet the Government have brought in the immigration cap—a madcap idea, and a crude and blunt instrument. Foreign students bring up to £8 billion a year in revenue into our country, both direct and indirect, yet potential foreign students are asking themselves, “Does Britain really want us?”.
I know from my experience as a member of the advisory board of the Cambridge, Cranfield and Birmingham business schools that we have seen the number of applications from Indian students, for example, plummet. This is so short-sighted when student numbers should not be included in immigration figures to start off with. Would the Minister ask her Cabinet colleagues to once again look into removing students from immigration figures? Yes, the Government need to crack down on phoney students and, yes, they need to crack down on bogus colleges, but why tar everyone with the same brush? Furthermore, foreign students bring generation-long links between Britain and their own countries. I know this, coming from a family that has been educated in Britain for three generations.
The immigration cap is also affecting business. My own business, Cobra Beer, supplies 98% of the UK’s Indian restaurants. Well over two-thirds of the country’s Indian restaurants are actually owned and run by Bangladeshis, and the Bangladesh Caterers Association does tremendous work supporting this industry. Because of the immigration cap, the industry is unable to bring in the skilled staff—the chefs—which it so desperately requires.
This industry has been an inspiration to me. It is made up of pioneering entrepreneurs who have gone to every corner of Great Britain, opened up restaurants on every high street, won customers and made friends, put back into their local communities and made Indian food a part of the British way of life. They deserve our support and our gratitude, and we must do all we can to help them. I know that the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, has mooted a curry college. It is a great idea to train British people in the industry but it will take time. The restaurants are suffering. They need the staff and have the skills shortages. Can the Minister look into this with her Cabinet colleagues and see what can be done to help this important industry in the mean time?
I am often asked to express what Asian values are and I summarise them as the importance of hard work, family and education. Britain prides itself on being a secular and multicultural society where all religions are allowed to be practised and where all races, communities and cultures co-exist side by side. There is a word, however, that I do not like: tolerance. I believe not that all this should be tolerated but that it should be celebrated. It should be about mutual trust and mutual respect. I have spoken a great deal about the inspirational achievements of the minority and religious communities in Great Britain, but none of this would have been possible without the great opportunities that this great country has given us.
In this country, renowned around the world for its sense of fairness and opportunity for all and where the glass ceiling has been shattered, the wonderful thing is that when people from minority ethnic and religious communities do well they reach the top. Their achievement creates inspiration, which creates aspiration, which in turn leads to achievement, and the virtuous circle continues. That is the magnifying, multiplying and inspiring power of minority ethnic and religious communities succeeding in Britain. We are a tiny nation, yet we are still one of the 10 largest economies in the world, with hardly any natural resources. The one resource that we have is our people and among our people it is the minority, ethnic and religious communities who punch far above their weight. Without their contribution, Britain would not be where it is today.
The Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen talks about identity. He says that each one of us has not just one identity but several identities—religious, ethnic, professional and national. When I came to this country, my father gave me some great advice. He said, “Son, you are going to study abroad. You may stay on in Britain. You may live in another part of the world. Wherever you live, integrate with the community that you are in to the best of your abilities, but never forget your roots”. I am so proud to be a Zoroastrian Parsee. I am so proud to be an Indian. I am so proud to be an Asian in Britain, and most importantly I am so proud to be British.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for tabling this timely debate and for his truly enlightening speech. It is a testament to the value of this House that so many Peers are able to represent and speak on behalf of different minority interests here today, a strength I fear the current proposals for Lords reform may eradicate forever if carried out without very careful consideration. Somewhere in our system we must preserve a means by which the voiceless can have a voice.
In the interests of time, I will speak primarily on the contribution played in British society by ethnic Chinese. In this, I declare an interest as the only active parliamentarian of Chinese origin, as chair of the APPG for East Asian Business and an adviser to several organisations involved in trade between the UK and Asia. The Chinese in Britain represent the third largest ethnic minority group and also the fastest growing one. From 2001 to 2007 the number in Britain grew 9.9% annually according to the Office for National Statistics. The population is estimated to be about 700,000, excluding tertiary students and tourists from China.
There are many diaspora Chinese, from all over the world. There are the Hong Kong Chinese, such as my parents. Many of them came in the 1960s through to 1997. There are the British-born Chinese, such as myself. There are the Taiwanese Chinese, the Singaporean Chinese, such as the late Michael Chan—the much-loved physician who served in this House—the Malaysian Chinese, the Vietnamese Chinese, the Mauritian Chinese and the mainland Chinese, including those who have recently arrived and who are often highly educated and affluent.
Without their necessarily having shouted about it from the hills, it is important to recognise that the Chinese who live, study and visit here contribute a huge amount to the UK. That might be in the Chinese catering industry, which employs in excess of 100,000 people and contributes £4.9 billion to the economy; or in the 200,000-odd students who, during and after university, contribute to our economy through educational fees; or the many professionals of Chinese origin who work in the City and around the country. Whether in the large numbers of wealthy tourists who come to purchase British goods and services, or in the networks of diaspora investors and their firms who are investing billions in our economy and creating thousands of jobs, or in their general law-abiding contribution to our cultural life, the role of the Chinese in British society cannot be ignored.
There are more opportunities for the Chinese to play an even bigger role in British society. First, I and others would like to help train more up-and-coming Chinese living and visiting these isles to develop socially entrepreneurial skills so as to take up a more visible and integrated role in British society. I would like them to be more engaged in informed political debate and to come up with solutions to the issues that the community faces. These can help create jobs, tackle ignorance, and address social ills for other groups and the public at large.
Secondly, there is a significant untapped opportunity for the Chinese to help positively to influence the British education system, not only because they often perform well at school, but also because of more British people’s hunger to learn about Chinese language and culture.
Thirdly, given the significant numbers of Chinese involved in the professions and in trade with east Asia, there is a role for the British Chinese in helping British and Chinese firms connect and do business together across the cultural and linguistic divide, whether as workers, or on management, or on boards. That will create jobs and prosperity at a time when we most need it. To grasp these opportunities fully, we will need the help and understanding of parliamentarians, the public and government.
In closing, I shall ask the Minister, whose work in this area I greatly respect and admire, the following questions which I know matter in our particular community. What can we do to keep policy on immigration and visas balanced so that we can continue to trade with and access talent and skills from the East while rightly protecting our borders? What is being done to help to tackle ongoing prejudice and fear towards Chinese people in the media and at large? What is being done to harness local British Chinese in building trade with east Asia? How can we harness Chinese learning methods and speakers more in our education system? What can we do to help to mentor the next generation of Chinese British leaders to be more involved in our public life and party-political system when many are underrepresented at present due to the widely dispersed nature of the Chinese across the British Isles?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, made a superb speech. Like him, I am proud to live in a country that has diversity at its very core. The hands that built this country have come from every faith, every continent and every culture. Some of those who helped lay the foundations were members of the Zoroastrian faith—those who used their faith as a tool for good in the world. They are a creative, courageous, entrepreneurial, industrious people who have made, and continue to make, a huge impact on our lives. I pay particular tribute to one, Zerbanoo Gifford, a tireless campaigner for justice and human rights and a passionate advocate for democracy and women’s empowerment. She is the founder of the Asha Centre in the Forest of Dean. “Asha” means “hope”. It is a place of many faiths and cultures, a haven of peace and beauty where people, especially young people, from Britain, the European Union and the rest of the world come together to learn about conflict resolution. Arab and Jewish Israeli young people spend time with each other then go home united rather than divided. It promotes volunteering. The centre fosters community participation through a programme of projects, arts and working on the land encouraging young people to celebrate their similarities, not their differences. Young people, united by the strength of their common endeavour, work together for a better future in which we celebrate our differences as well as our similarities.
I believe that politics and democracy have a huge role to play in ensuring greater community cohesion. Sadly, a certain breed of politics thrives on tearing communities apart. The politics of division are not the politics of progress; they are the politics of fear and political expediency. Democracy must be nurtured by political participation, but that participation depends on trust, communication, a sense of hope and the breaking down of barriers and prejudices within our communities. I am alarmed and ashamed that only 30% of our electors thought it worth voting in the recent local elections. It was a real indictment of all political parties. They must reach out, be more inclusive and not be afraid to address difficult issues, such as immigration, that are of real concern to all communities, including minorities, and they must address issues such as visas for foreign students. I endorse the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria.
There are many terrific initiatives up and down the country which are building trust between and within communities. I am proud to be an ambassador for UpRising, a charity which fosters the leadership qualities of young community leaders and ensures that they nurture understanding between their communities. I pay special tribute to the Speaker’s parliamentary placements scheme, which ensures that interns from all backgrounds have an opportunity to work within the Houses of Parliament. The myriad initiatives are often inspired or run by religious communities, and they pave the way for an even more diverse culture and an end to tribalism and the prejudices of the past.
However, barriers still remain. They are sometimes real, sometimes perceived, a consequence of fear rather than fact. While campaigning during the recent elections in the tower blocks of Westminster North, I ran into a group of young people in the stairwell wearing hoodies. I talked with them quite happily, but as I walked into the street I was stopped by someone who asked me what on earth I was doing chatting to those dangerous young people. That was someone choosing fear over hope, not hope over fear. For too many people, hope is lacking and without hope, people put up protective barriers.
We all have a responsibility to break down these barriers, including the Government. The big society is not enough; economic growth, jobs and the dignity that comes from work are an integral part of ensuring a diverse and harmonious society. With work comes confidence to reach across and into other communities. Without work the health of individuals and communities suffer. When communities wither and die, a vacuum is created, and in that vacuum extremism spreads.
The voluntary sector is a key part of a thriving community, but as the cuts in local government finance bite and the state withdraws from some of its responsibilities, we rely ever more strongly on the voluntary sector and charities, many of which are faith-based. Notwithstanding their ever-increasing burdens but diminishing budgets, they manage to provide a safety net for many of our citizens and sustain local communities, but they can be stretched only so far.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for this debate. The Zoroastrian community is small, yet has made a significant contribution towards the economic development of the countries in which it has settled. Its members have also excelled in other diverse areas of our civic life. Their diversity, supplemented by their culture and faith, has added richness to our multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multicultural society.
History throws an interesting light on the Zoroastrian community, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has spelt this out. We now know that there are around 250,000 individual Parsees worldwide, and some 5,000 in the UK. Zoroastrians are a small but significant minority, setting an example of tolerance and diversity. We have long cherished and considered the development of a value-driven society as a core goal. Over the years, there has been a confused debate about multiculturalism in Britain. We often shelter under expressions like, “community cohesion”, a concept which, to my mind, lacks strategic thought. Some argue that it is important to articulate a shared sense of national identity in contemporary conditions of flux and change. If so, how can we reconcile this with diversity, openness and pluralism of belief and practice?
We should look no further. The Zoroastrian community is an example we could all follow. Fixed notions of shared identity, even if they could be agreed on, are less necessary than promoting individual identity, pluralism and genuine multiculturalism. We should be proud of Britain's record in race and community relations. It is now a few decades since the establishment of the Race Relations Act 1965. We have been at the forefront of legislative and other machinery to establish equality of opportunity for all our citizens with a strong emphasis on disability, gender, age, faith and sexual orientation.
We now need to move to the next stage. We need to examine changing patterns within all our communities. True multiculturalism is proactive and means that equality and diversity is at the core of everything we do, from government to individual responsibility. We need to take a much more pro-active stance towards combating racism and discrimination, really tackling inequality in all aspects of our society in social and economic matters and in civic participation, positively valuing—not merely tolerating—the contribution of different cultures and perspectives, and treating them with respect.
Increasingly, the globalisation of the economy relies on the skills of people wherever they are available, and international migration is a key feature of ensuring that Britain benefits from the phenomenon. We have seen a steady development of the concept of human rights and the very positive step of incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998. For too long we have simply assumed that our liberties are protected by a set of traditions and customary activities assisted by a general consensus within our society about the liberty of individuals. The Zoroastrian community demonstrated that common values cannot and should not be assumed in a multicultural society. The cosy assumptions of a homogeneous consensus in which we rooted our liberties simply will not do. Cultures do not remain static. Communities change. Conflict often occurs of matters of gender, generations, religion, language and the community's relationship with the wider society.
There is nothing to be frightened about. We are already witnessing fusion in music, arts and fashion. These new emerging cultures will be exciting. Equally, the emerging third, fourth and fifth generations are British to the core. Let us accept this. In years to come, we shall ask the question, “What was all that fuss about multiculturalism?”.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Bilimoria for securing this debate and for the fine speech with which he opened it. I declare an interest as the chairman of both the British-Irish Association and the Anglo-Israel Association. I will speak briefly under both headings.
It is easy to make a case for the Irish contribution to the cultural and economic life of the United Kingdom, particularly in this Chamber, where two of the great Paintings, Daniel Maclise’s “Spirit of Justice” and “Spirit of Chivalry”, look down upon us. Of course, the two great Paintings in the Royal Gallery are also the work of Daniel Maclise from Country Cork.
It is well known in this House that no medium-sized city in Europe has produced as many Nobel prize-winners in literature as Dublin. These things are widely understood. Perhaps less widely understood is the role of Ireland now in the economic life of the United Kingdom. We now have significant Irish employers such as Glen Dimplex, Kerrygold and Greencore, which all play a significant role in the employment opportunities of this island. When the two economies are so deeply intertwined at this moment of peril, it is worth stressing the positive contribution that Irish employers make to the United Kingdom.
I turn briefly to the Jewish community, which owes so much to King Cyrus, who was mentioned in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. It is appropriate to turn to that community. Ever since Perry Anderson published his famous article Components of the National Culture 40 years ago, there has been widespread understanding of the incredibly important influence of the Jewish community on the intellectual, artistic and scientific life of this country. The role of the Jewish community is widely understood. I refer briefly to a historic figure, Sir Montague Burton, who endowed so many chairs in my own field of study as an act of generosity.
I lead on to say that it is tremendously important to understand the scale of the philanthropic activities of the Jewish community today, particularly in the treatment of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The role of the Jewish community in raising money for research in this area is absolutely remarkable, and in a debate of this sort it is worth drawing attention to such a development.
I conclude by referring briefly to one of the United Kingdom’s oldest Muslim communities, the Ahmadiyya, and to something that many in your Lordships’ House will have noticed in recent days—the remarkable, huge sponsored charity walk that the Ahmadiyya held in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee. It is a remarkable indication, yet again, of this country’s ability to inspire that sense of citizenship and generosity, which we are so fortunate to experience.
My Lords, I offer just a few quick thoughts in my role as one of the two co-chairs of the Inter Faith Network. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for his gracious affirmation of the work of the network, which serves the great faith communities and those interested in relations between them by doing two things. It invites people to work together and appreciate one another and encourages us to work together for the common good. A recent manifestation of the fruits of that work is the development of Inter Faith Week, which will be in November. The Government have generously supported us by making that happen. I hope that the Minister might reassure us about a continuing commitment to enabling that manifestation of the riches of faith communities working together for the common good. It is lovely to see some of our colleagues from the Inter Faith Network in the Gallery.
The Zoroastrian community makes an outstanding contribution to this work of interfaith relations and service to our communities. When the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury visited the community, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned, he explored very creatively the way in which the Zoroastrian community, although small in number, has had, as he said, a vocation throughout history to help different perspectives, cultures and religions interpret themselves to one another. That is part of the power of the noble Lord’s nice image of the sugar and the milk. It is true in Iranian and Indian contexts, and I can testify to the Zoroastrian community’s contribution in our own context today, helping that sweetness and improving the quality of relationships. The community is small in number but very effective.
Those of us who are privileged to lead Prayers in this place often receive requests for the Psalm that begins:
“I will lift up mine eyes”.
That indicates to me a deep instinct in all of us, with varying degrees and various sources of faith, for a recognition that there is something in our hearts that seeks what we would call “the transcendent”—a greater horizon and a greater possibility than we can grab, tangibly, in this life. Yet it motivates us to set out as the noble Lord described in the foundation of Zoroastrianism and the way in which it has developed.
We need to take seriously that faith and desire for a greater horizon, a greater connectedness, as deep in all human hearts. I hope that the Government will continue to recognise the importance of faith in that spirit and the bigger horizon that it offers, and continue to support organisations, such as the Inter Faith Network, which seek to encourage that spirit in which there is a hopefulness and a trustfulness that our world so badly needs when division is so magnified and so destructive.
I thank the noble Lord very much for sponsoring and introducing this debate, and for his very powerful and helpful speech. I congratulate him on this wonderful 150th anniversary.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on initiating this debate. He has chosen to hold this debate on the 150th anniversary of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe. One of the earliest patrons and founder of the funds was also the first Asian Member of the House of Commons— Dr Dadabhai Naoroji was elected in 1892. He, along with Sir Mancherjee Bhownagree, elected in 1895, and Shapurji Saklatvala, elected in 1922, are known as the original trio of British MPs of Indian origin, and they all followed the Zoroastrian faith.
Today, we have a number of British parliamentarians from the ethnic minorities and, yesterday, a photograph was taken of them in Westminster Hall. We would of course like to see our numbers augmented. The contributions made by ethnic and religious minority communities are evident all around us in every facet of our lives. Perhaps one of the most obvious cultural examples is in our modern-day choice of food. Asian food has become a staple part of the British diet and numerous surveys have reported Chinese and Indian dishes as becoming the most frequently cooked meals in the United Kingdom. The first Indian restaurant in the UK was opened in 1812 here in London and seemingly began a culinary revolution.
In terms of our media, Bhangra music, originating from the Punjab region of India, has become increasingly popular in the United Kingdom over the past 20 years. I may add that the late Freddie Mercury of the rock band Queen was born in Zanzibar and belonged to the Zoroastrian faith. In sport, Prince Ranjitsinhji of India has become one of the most enduring names in English cricket. In 1899, he became the first cricketer to score more than 3,000 runs in one year and was the first Indian to play Test cricket. Today, there are stars from various ethnic backgrounds in our national games and sports.
One of the more important contributions that the minorities have made to our country has been to the medical profession, both in research and as doctors on the front line. Some 19% of our doctors are of Asian or British Asian origin and more than 10% of our doctors were qualified in India. In addition to the medical profession, people from the ethnic minority communities have excelled in a number of other professions.
In regard to the economy, the ethnic minorities have been successful in the business world. The UK’s rich list includes a number of persons of foreign extraction, including people in the manufacturing, retailing and service industries. In addition to multimillionaires, there are of course persons who are owners of SMEs. They have all created wealth, employed staff and paid taxes. I have a close connection with the City of London where I know people of ethnic minorities who are doing extremely well in the square mile.
I also want to pay particular tribute to the contribution of our minorities to our Armed Forces and the police service. These communities made significant contributions fighting for our country through two world wars. Today we see them in the military and the police at senior levels, developing and maintaining our security on an everyday basis. I maintain close links with the Armed Forces Muslim Association and have been assured by its patron, Sir David Richards, that promotions in the Armed Forces will be based purely on merit.
We celebrate religious freedom in this country. There are now hundreds of mosques, temples, gurdwaras and synagogues in the UK, which I think evidences just how entrenched our minority communities are in the country. Our tolerance and diversity is a flagship characteristic of our country’s heritage and the envy of much of the world, and long may it continue.
My Lords, this was a brilliant idea for a debate, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, conveys the congratulations of this House to those shouldering responsibility for the Zoroastrian Trust Funds as they go on to their next 150 years.
I came to the House this morning after counting 40 flags that we have just bought in the church of which I am a minister—they will be hanging out for the jubilee next week. There are people from 40 different nationalities in my congregation. John Wesley said that he looked on the world as his parish; the world has taken him seriously, and has come to live in his parish, and a very brilliant thing it is, too.
I say 40 nationalities, but out in the community it is more than that. In the school of which I am a governor, there is more than twice that number, because you can throw in faiths and other differences, in a diversity that is truly mind-boggling. Why do people think that this is a problem? Why do they not see it as a challenge and—if they have the stomach for it—something that will open their eyes to a dimension of life and human living that they have not known before? It is absolutely wonderful to live in a diverse country. When I go back to my native Wales now and see the same tired old faces, I want an injection from the ethnic minority groups to be liberally applied to the community that I grew up in. So this should not be a problem and, if the press portrays it that way, everybody in our Parliament should be working hard and recommitting themselves to changing the attitudes that prevail out there.
Writers from Edward Said to Homi Bhabha have shown how the British majority population has dealt with the minority peoples who have come our way—first as those who bring quaint, lovely and interesting things for us to look at, smell, see and taste. But it cannot stay there. We go on to intellectualise the matter, to catalogue the things that distinguish us from them. It is a way of othering the other and keeping them objectified, which is certainly what Edward Said said in spades. We cannot leave the matter there; we must know more about each other, but that is not what living together is all about. The vocabulary that has been generated by post-colonial literatures has been about hybridity, overlap, third space, in-betweenness, where we actually live an integrated life alongside each other, stimulating each other and enjoying each other’s company, celebrating diversity.
One thing about this debate is that I wish that every single member of a minority group who was a Member of this House were present today and sitting down and not making a speech so that they could give the opportunity to those from the majority ethnic population to congratulate them on their contribution to British life and assure them that together we can make Britain an even greater place than it has been. I certainly want my voice to be raised this morning in that sense.
As I come to the end of this gruesome, tiny 240 seconds that is afforded me, let me just say that when we process the flags, as eventually we will, we will ensure that people do not carry the flag of their own country. Our people will carry flags for each other to suggest that we belong to a multicultural country, are proud to do so and want to parade that fact for everybody to see.
My Lords, it is always an inspiration to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. He has done a great service to the House in achieving this debate. As he spoke of the good thoughts, good words and good deeds, what struck me was how clearly he was describing the importance of fundamental principle and of faith in the production of a successful community, as the Zoroastrian community and the Parsee community are and have been for such a long time.
The noble Lord, Lord Bew, like me, comes from Ireland. While listening to him, I was also struck by how some Members of your Lordships’ House might find it strange that he spoke of the Irish as an ethnic minority. I am afraid that the truth is that, in the last century, there were still posters on doors of boarding houses saying, “No Irish or blacks”. If we go back to 1828 when Daniel O’Connell was elected to the other place, he was unable to take his seat because he was a Catholic. That was changed because His Grace the Duke of Wellington, the Prime Minister, realised that it was no longer acceptable. Because the change was made for the other place, His Grace the Duke of Norfolk was able to come into this place even sooner, and that meant that Presbyterians could come into these Houses. By 1858, the Jews Relief Act meant that Jews could come into the House. The point is that once we start opening our minds to the opportunity for a multiracial, multifaith community, there should be no end to the route down which we go. As my noble friend Lord Dholakia said, it should eventually become so natural that the Irish are not considered an ethnic minority, and Catholics are not regarded as a faith minority, because we are all part of the same community.
But we need to think our way through this, because it is not quite so simple. Other countries have developed a different cultural approach by setting some of the diversity out of the public sphere. For instance, our friends in France have a culture of laïcité, which effectively says that religion should be kept out of the public space as much as possible. That is not our culture. Our culture is to value religious faith and to keep it available in the public space. From my experience in my part of the United Kingdom, I am absolutely convinced that valuing and keeping open the space for ethnic-minority groups, religious faith and other elements of our community life is important. The noble Lord, Lord Wei, mentioned Hong Kong Chinese, and of course the Northern Ireland Assembly is where the first ethnic-Chinese parliamentarian in the whole of Europe—Anna Lo—was elected, in 2007, and re-elected with an even greater majority in 2011. These are valuable developments but we should never accept the right to dismiss the human rights of others, or become tolerant of the intolerance of some cultures, or we will lose what is most valuable in our variegated society.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on having secured this important debate and on his thoughtful introduction to it. I take the opportunity afforded by the debate to draw your Lordships’ attention to the important contributions made by healthcare workers and doctors from the Indian subcontinent to the delivery of healthcare in our country. In so doing, I declare my own interest as consultant surgeon at University College Hospital in London and professor of surgery at UCL.
It is well recognised that, since its inception in 1948, the National Health Service has been dependent on the dedicated service and contribution of a wide range of communities, many from overseas, to ensure that healthcare can be sustained and delivered to all parts of the country. It is clear that, without those important contributions, not only the delivery of everyday care but many important advances in biomedical research and developments in our healthcare system would not have been possible.
I am the son of two doctors who completed their medical education in India and came here to the United Kingdom to complete their further education and training in 1961. They were able to come here because of a long-held national consensus that has welcomed those from a diverse range of communities who are prepared to come here, integrate and make a contribution to society more broadly. In return they were given opportunities to advance themselves. My mother continued to practise as an anaesthetist. My father was a professor of surgery and undertook fundamental research to identify the problem of thrombosis blood clots that occur in patients after surgery. He developed methods of preventing post-operative thrombosis that have changed clinical practice and saved the lives of many hundreds of thousands of patients around the world.
Contributions have been made in many other areas. Many from the Indian subcontinent made a contribution by going into general practice in difficult and deprived areas and delivering dedicated service. One of the great challenges our healthcare system now faces as these practitioners retire is how we continue to ensure that universal healthcare is provided in all parts of our country.
However, many people went back home to India and other parts of the Commonwealth where they made important contributions. What they learnt in our country drove them to adopt systems, technologies and outputs from the United Kingdom. Therefore, our life sciences and healthcare industries had a huge influence in the Commonwealth and the Indian subcontinent as a result of the training that those young doctors received in our country. As our national gaze turns more to the European Union, what arrangements will be made to continue to encourage medical trainees from the Indian subcontinent and the Commonwealth to come and complete their training here? How will we ensure that those opportunities are not lost so that those trainees go back to their countries fully understanding the great contributions that our own country has made to healthcare and promoting our life sciences industries in their countries? How will we ensure that the broad diaspora of doctors and other healthcare professionals from the Indian subcontinent are able fully to engage and promote our healthcare and life sciences industries in India and other parts of the Commonwealth? We should not forget that some 44,000 out of 240,000 registered doctors in the United Kingdom declare themselves Asian or British Asian—some 19%. It is vital that the resources which these fellow citizens bring are fully engaged to promote opportunities for British healthcare around the world.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I do so on three fronts. First, I congratulate him on initiating this most vital debate which celebrates the contribution of all communities to Britain. Secondly, I congratulate him on the 150th anniversary of the Zoroastrian trust funds and, like other noble Lords, I congratulate the Zoroastrian community on that achievement. Thirdly, I congratulate the noble Lord on his personal contribution not just to this Chamber but to the country and business community at large. I assure him that I speak on a factual basis when I say that he is an inspiration to many youngsters from all communities and backgrounds in our country.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, if you glance at the list of speakers, you will see that there are speakers not just from some defined minority communities but from all communities. That is what Britain represents today. The strength of our diversity is evident. A speaker who is to follow me shares my surname and another comes from Wimbledon, like me. Noble Lords speaking today are testament to the dedication, devotion and commitment shown by many communities throughout the country, and indeed by former generations such as people of my parents’ generation who made Britain their home and were willing to work hard. To my mind the most important point is that their success truly reflects the incredible country in which we live.
As we celebrate and recognise the contributions of different communities, particularly the Zoroastrian community, and the contribution that faith has made to Britain, we should also pay tribute and recognise the fact that our country is one where opportunity, progress and perseverance are rewarded, where freedom of religion is not just protected but promoted, and where the strength of our country is evident in the diversity of what Britain is today.
I wish briefly to focus on two elements—first, in terms of my professional background in business and the City. Glass ceilings, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, have been broken. Look around the Square Mile and you will see the diversity of our nation in the people who work in that most important of London areas— not through regulated quotas but by an evolution in our society, a meritocracy and sheer hard work.
Secondly, as a Muslim in Britain, I consider Islam to be under the microscope, and often headlines are made because of the work of splinter and radical elements who present Islam in a negative and erroneous way. It clear that there are many Muslim communities in Britain—including my own, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community—that demonstrate not through words alone but through actions that they are not just law-abiding citizens but active and productive contributors to the economy and welfare of our society. Therefore, as we rightly condemn those who burn flags on the return of our brave troops, we should also recognise the efforts of Muslim communities such as mine, whose youth groups have raised thousands of pounds through poppy appeals and, indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said, have most recently celebrated Her Majesty’s Jubilee by raising a quarter of a million pounds for British-based charities.
Like other Peers, I recognise that all communities serve actively on the front line. They serve their Queen and country. Today, as the world focuses on London, with Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and the arrival of the Olympics, from churches to synagogues, from mosques to temples, and from gurdwaras to community centres—indeed, in every street in every home across Britain—let us raise a glass, say a prayer, or in some cases both, to celebrate these two historic occasions, and also our country and people who make Britain the absolutely incredible place that it is.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for providing us with the opportunity to speak in this debate. I join the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in praising the work of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, particularly his distinguished career and successful business story, and for making a huge contribution to our economy and Exchequer. I am grateful for the contribution made by the Zoroastrian Parsee community from India to the UK.
It is unfortunate that much of what we hear about ethnic minorities is of a negative connotation. Some tabloid newspapers have a habit of focusing on the bad and rarely mention the good. But then they say, “Bad news sells”.
There is no doubt in my mind that Great Britain is one of the greatest nations in the world, and the prefix “Great” is there for a reason. Britain takes great pride in the way it treats its citizens and the equal opportunities it provides to them all. However, it is important to mention that my father’s generation and many who came to the UK in the early 1950s and 1960s did so for a particular reason—it was an interdependent relationship. Britain was in urgent need of a labour force to rebuild its post-war economy and labourers needed an excuse to come to the motherland. However, there is one outstanding fact that is seldom mentioned; most of these labourers came from provinces that had played an instrumental role during the two world wars.
My knowledge of history has improved tremendously thanks to military historian Jahan Mahmood, who has conducted an in-depth study of the contribution of Muslims from the British colony of India since 1914. I am grateful to him. At the beginning of the First World War, the only regular army available to Britain was the British Indian Army. Over a period of four years, the Indian Army expanded from an organisation of 155,000 soldiers to become a colossal 1.2 million-man force. By the end of the war, Muslims constituted a third of the overall army, and the Punjabi Muslims forged the largest single ethnic class within its ranks. To be exact, there were 136,126 Punjabi Muslims, 88,925 Sikhs, and 55,589 Gurkhas. The remainder of the Indian Army consisted of Hindu soldiers numbering around 300,000, followed by minority groups, including Christian Indians and Parsees, among many others. India’s material and financial contribution to the war is placed at a staggering £479 million.
Similarly, during the Second World War, 2.5 million south Asian soldiers participated. The ethnic composition was as follows: 700,000 Muslims, 900 000 Hindus, 150,000 Sikhs, 120,000 Gurkhas and 90,000 Indian Christians. The financial contribution is estimated to be £1.3 billion and the human cost was 80,000 men.
I now turn to the present-day contributions. I do not have the latest figures, but, according to a speech in 2008 by the former Home Secretary, the right honourable Jacqui Smith, the Muslim contribution to our economy was over £31 billion pounds per annum and there were more than 10,000 millionaires who contributed to our Exchequer. I would be obliged if the Minister in her reply could state the latest figures in relation to the contribution made by the Muslim community—£4 billion from the curry industry alone. It is also estimated that 23% of employees in the National Health Service are of Asian origin. There are many more figures, but time does not allow me to give them.
My Lords, I thank my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for initiating this debate, which is very important and highlights the contributions of the minority ethnic communities in the United Kingdom.
Let me start by saying that yesterday I took part in a photograph session in Westminster Hall. There were 40 Peers and MPs from both Houses. As noble Lords have already heard from the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Sheikh, there were only four such Members 25 years ago. I am sure your Lordships’ House will agree with me that that in itself is a testimony to the huge contributions made by the people of ethnic minority origin in this country.
Ethnic minorities, found in all walks of life, have integrated into the society in which they live by taking opportunities, utilising their skills and making their own mark on society. Here I might add that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, is an example of one of those who has made his own mark, in his own way, on his own Parsee community, with which he is involved.
Contributions have been made in every sector from religion, business and professions such as the law, accountancy, medicine, and of course philanthropy and politics. As we are restricted to speak for a short time in this debate, it is not possible for me to talk about all those sectors. However, I would like to make a point on business. There are many people who contribute, from those on news stands and in small corner shops to multinational corporations. Examples are my local shop, which is run by a Gujarati, and the Tata Group, which owns Jaguar Land Rover, Tetley Tea, TSC, Corus, and many other businesses. The benefits enjoyed from gainful employment and remuneration are enormous, and aid the growth of the economy.
I, too, have contributed in a small way through my own company, Rinku Group. Here, I wish to declare an interest. My company started in 1964 from a market stall in the market town, Widnes, with only me and my wife, and is now a respectable fashion business with more than 300 concession retail outlets employing some 400 staff in this country. It is hard work, but at same time the opportunities offered by this country are tremendous in promoting and helping people to start up businesses that can grow to provide employment and security, as well as contribute to the communities that they are involved with through charitable giving.
However, this progressive assimilation of minority ethnic people is a wealth that is measured not in pounds and pennies but in enrichment, enlightenment, integration and a uniting of different cultures within the local community in which they live and work. This is a solid foundation on which to move forward, taking with it a new generation, who, shaped by this evolution, can surely bring further advances and benefits to the cultural life and economy of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Bilimoria on securing this debate, as well as on his brilliant and inspiring speech.
I begin with a brief personal comment that illustrates the rapid rise of our different faith communities in Britain. I grew up in a part of the Midlands where we were the only non-white family. The same area is now home to substantial minorities of different faiths and cultures.
Many will recall that in the 1950s and 1960s shopping hours were rigid and limited, and customers would receive hostile looks if they entered a shop just before closing time. Then suddenly, thanks to the enterprise of new faith communities, everything changed and we had corner shops open until late at night, well stocked to meet the needs of those who worked unsocial hours, or those who suddenly discovered that they had run out of milk or bread. I remember one shop where a young lad would do his homework between serving customers. He is now a university professor. Inherent business skills also began to flourish, with corner shops giving way to large wholesalers, supermarkets, hotels and even hotel chains, and the growing popularity of Indian cuisine has added spice to an otherwise staid British diet.
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Parsee or Zoroastrian community in this country, we reflect with admiration that some of the most important innovators are members of that highly enterprising community. The Tatas are significant players in steel, car production and much else. Among many others, we have the Cobra Group of my noble friend Lord Bilimoria, which is doing much to quench the nation’s thirst.
Turning to my own community, Sikhs have become one of the wealthiest and most successful communities in Britain, with the average household income being second only to that of the Jews. The contribution of the community has spread to many different activities. If you look on the back of a bus or travel by tube train, you can hardly fail to notice the advertisements for Vitabiotics, a vitamin supplement company owned by a Sikh, Dr Kartar Lalvani. In sport, we have the Olympic torch bearer, Fauja Singh, who is 99 years old, and Monty Panesar and Ravi Bopara regularly make it into the England team.
The one area in which Sikhs have not made the contribution that I believe we should have made is in furthering interfaith understanding. Perhaps I may explain myself. To my mind, interfaith dialogue in this country has lost some of its momentum, with representatives of different communities being superficially nice to each other but not doing more to enhance understanding and social cohesion. The difficulty in moving to constructive engagement lies in the balance between reaching out to other communities with different beliefs while preserving our own distinct religious integrity. I believe that Sikhs are ideally equipped to revive the momentum. A religion that includes the writings of Hindu and Muslim saints in its holy scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, to show that no one faith has a monopoly of truth, can and should be playing an important part in reconciling different faiths and cultures. While Sikhs can count successes in other fields, our report card here reads, “Can and should do better”.
In conclusion, my hope and belief is that our different communities will build on their achievements and make Britain a showcase for the world in enterprise, tolerance and understanding.
My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Bilimoria for calling this timely debate on the 150th anniversary of the formation of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe. In a recession of this gravity, it is right to look at the inspirational leadership that ethnic and religious minority communities have shown, particularly in establishing vital public institutions. I listened particularly closely to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, when she spoke of the ASHA Centre, established by a Zoroastrian Parsee. I also remembered that the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, in her report on women in custody, noted the important work that the ASHA Centre did in allowing mothers to keep in touch with their children, rather than being removed into the secure estate.
I wish that my father could be in his place today. As the last Secretary of State for India and Burma, as a Minister for the colonies at that time and as the last Governor-General of Ghana, I am sure that he would have taken particular pleasure and interest in our debate today.
I should declare my interest as a trustee of the Michael Sieff Foundation and as a patron of the Who Cares? Trust, YoungMinds, and Volunteer Reading Help. I am also an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children, chaired by Edward Timpson MP.
I should like to speak of a minority and how its needs have too often been overlooked, with appalling consequences for that minority group, and how the foundation of a new institution might secure the group’s future. The minority I am speaking about are the 4,040 children in children’s homes in this country, 1,300 of whom are girls. The need that has too often been overlooked has been their need for the most expert and nurturing care. The appalling consequences have been the historical abuse of children by staff in children’s homes and the current apparent failure of some children’s homes to protect girls as young as 12 and 13 in their care from predatory men. The Times of Wednesday 9 May had local authorities recording 631 incidents of girls from children’s homes being sold for sex during the past five years, including 187 in the past 10 months.
The new institution that might secure their future is a centre for excellence for looked-after children. The Scots established such an institution several years ago. Set in the University of Strathclyde, the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children, formerly the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care, provides training and research, and influences policy. It is currently funded to the tune of £3 million per annum by the Scottish Government.
I suggest that those of us who are particularly concerned with the welfare of children might assist in establishing a similar institution in this country, following the example of the Zoroastrian Parsee and other minority communities in establishing such important institutions. Some £100,000 has already been offered towards securing such an endowment to a university. Will the Minister take back to her colleagues this suggestion of establishing such an institution in one of our universities, dedicated to residential childcare and to supporting foster care and funded jointly by endowment and government investment?
Important improvements have been made by successive Governments in building capacity in children’s homes and in strengthening regulation. In recent years, Ofsted has reported improving quality in the care provided. However, those of us who know the sector know that the fundamental problem has not been addressed. The most vulnerable and challenging children in this country are cared for by workers who too often lack appropriate professional development and are often poorly paid. Research by Professor Pat Petrie and Professor Claire Cameron at the Thomas Coram Research Unit found that staff on the continent are far more highly professionally equipped, yet they also deal with children with far lower levels of need.
I have spoken for too long, but I hope that the Minister will take back these concerns to Tim Loughton MP, the Minister responsible in this area, and I look forward to her response to the debate.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for bringing this debate before the House. I start by paying tribute to the Zoroastrian community, both in the UK and elsewhere, for its enduring values. In India, it is an incredibly well respected community, living peacefully side by side with other faiths. There are many parallels between Zoroastrianism and Hinduism—my own faith—and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, is one of many Zoroastrians that I am fortunate to call a friend.
I wake up every day and consider myself fortunate to be British. Forty years ago those of us forced to flee Uganda had a choice: to be Ugandan, Indian or British. Most of us chose to be British. Britain’s tolerance played a big part in that decision. While this country historically has not always been tolerant of other religions, the successful integration of so many faiths into the fabric of modern Britain—without, in my opinion, losing the distinctive elements which make Britain so superb—is an underappreciated truth.
In Britain today there are just under 1 million Hindus living—almost unanimously—peacefully and very happily. Our new British-born Hindus are succeeding in education, with huge numbers at top universities and going on to work in the professions. We are statistically more likely to be self-employed and less likely to be unemployed than, I believe, any other religion in Britain. We also have the lowest prison population of any religion and, like many faiths, take very seriously the need to give back to our local communities and carry out our civic duties.
However, I do not wish to deliver a marketing pitch for my faith; rather I want to focus on the modern approach to Hinduism. The Hindu Forum of Britain recently adopted a slogan: Proud to be British and Proud to be Hindu. We are proud of our country. My inbox is overflowing with invitations from Hindu organisations up and down the country looking forward to celebrating the forthcoming Diamond Jubilee.
Modern British Hindus are also hugely respectful of other faiths. Recently the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and I helped to launch the Hindu Christian Forum, one of many interfaith organisations that Hindus are involved in and help to increase understanding.
Finally, but by no means least, we are very grateful. Britain is undoubtedly stronger because of the contributions of its religious communities, but it is easy to forget how being a person of faith in other countries can lead to persecution and even death. While we celebrate the contribution of religious groups to Britain, let us not forget the freedom that Britain has given to all of us.
My Lords, I am delighted to speak in this debate proposed by my great and brilliant noble friend Lord Bilimoria. It celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Zoroastrian Trust Fund, when the Parsees established their own community outside Mumbai, or Bombay, from where they originated. However, I also want to recognise other minorities who have also put their mark on this great country. We in Britain should be very proud of our country’s diversity. Every town, city and region has both ethnic and religious communities that bring their culture to the places where they live. Just looking at the Houses of Parliament, especially in the House of Lords, we can see all different faiths and minorities working together. I am pleased to be a Member of one of them.
When I was Member of Parliament for a part of Leicester, it truly was—and continues to be—a very distinctive city. Although Christianity is the most practised religion in Leicester, there is a very large population of Indian origin, with more residents who are practising Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims in comparison with almost all of our other cities. There are also small, thriving Jewish and Buddhist communities. Each minority brings its own values and cultures to this city and to British traditions.
I have dedicated much of my life to the importance of ensuring that minorities are treated and respected with equality, because without understanding and respect, we have only got ignorance. I am proud to have founded the Coexistence Trust with Prince Hassan of Jordan, which is now chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell. It is an organisation that identifies and promotes trust and understanding for the growing Jewish and Muslim communities, emphasising our cultural and traditional similarities.
The contribution made by minority ethnic and religious communities to our culture and economy is outstanding and we should recognise and praise their input to this country. Were it not for the Indian community, we would not have one of our most famous cuisines in the UK. The famous British fish and chips were first introduced by eastern European Jewish immigrants, like my family, so we have made a contribution to this country. We must all recognise and celebrate our true diversity, continue to work with all our minorities in our fine country, and keep Britain a truly unique and wonderful place in which to live.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord for securing this important debate, as it gives us an opportunity to celebrate unsung heroes of culturally diverse backgrounds who have made outstanding contributions to our society, making this great country rich, diverse and vibrant.
One such unsung hero is the British composer known as the “black Mahler”—Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who was born in London in 1875. He was one of the few mixed-race children in Victorian times. He was regarded by his contemporaries—Elgar, Mahler—and Vaughan Williams as the most talented composer of his generation, both in Britain and America. His best known work, “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast”, became a worldwide sensation that captured the public’s imagination. For years it was the centrepiece of the Royal Albert Hall’s summer programme. The lavish productions were performed to packed audiences, including the Royal Family. At the time, it was more popular than Handel’s “Messiah”. Coleridge-Taylor became a cultural icon in America and was the first black man to conduct the band of the US Marines.
Interestingly, the only copy of the manuscript of his violin concerto went down with the “Titanic” on its way to America—for use in a concert—in 1912, so he had to rewrite it from memory in a very short time just before he died. His immense talent was never truly given the status that he deserved as a major composer here in Britain. He died tragically at the age of 37, a broken man who passed away sitting up in bed, conducting an imaginary symphony after being attacked by racists thugs on West Croydon station. Happily for his fans, his lost opera “Thelma” was found in the British Library recently, just in time to be performed this year, on the centenary of his death.
In more recent times, Caribbeans who came to Britain brought with them their style, flair and culture. Their music transformed and influenced the British music scene. Ska, bluebeat, rocksteady and reggae are now part of British musical heritage. Carnival, calypso and steel pan music were brought to these shores by people from Trinidad and Tobago, who celebrate their 50th anniversary of independence this year. Steel pan music—which uses the only musical instrument created in the 20th century—also played its part in creating a musical extravaganza. It has become a well established and much loved instrument played by many British school children today.
Calypso music was introduced to London by the arrival in 1948 of two “Empire Windrush” passengers, Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner, who wrote and sang calypsos about the Caribbean immigrants’ experiences here in Britain at that time, with songs such as “London Is the Place for Me” and “Cricket lovely Cricket”. It was Lord Kitchener who led an impromptu, Trinidad carnival-style musical parade around Hyde Park and down Piccadilly towards Eros, much to the amazement of onlookers. Carnival was embraced, and perhaps this marked the moment when a new, distinctively Caribbean spirit and rhythm started to infiltrate our national culture. The carnival celebrations, fostered by Claudia Jones, became an annual event in 1959, first in St Pancras Town Hall and then in Notting Hill from 1964, where they evolved into the world famous Notting Hill Carnival, the largest in Europe, which attracts millions of visitors every year.
For centuries, this country absorbed into its fabric a melting pot of cultures, religions and races, creating the rich tapestry of our nation; but sadly, the contributions made by black, Asian and Chinese people are often absent from our cultural history. For the sake of our children we need to rectify this, and to create and stimulate national pride and unity among all people. We need to appreciate, celebrate and be proud of all that makes Britain unique and great in the 21st century. Surely this should be the overriding mission of government. I will be interested to hear from my noble friend how the Government intend to encourage these principles.
My Lords, there is an old tradition that the Magi—the wise men from the East—were Zoroastrians. My noble friend Lord Bilimoria demonstrated today, 2,000 years later, that Zoroastrians still have great wisdom and precious gifts to share with the rest of us. However, those gifts are not universally recognised. In the recent report of the United States commission on religious liberty, Zoroastrians were listed among the many religious minorities who face persecution, discrimination and imprisonment, not least in Iran. Many noble Lords heard the exchange at Question Time today about the continued abuses of human rights in that country for a variety of reasons.
Two weeks ago I delivered the annual Tyburn lecture. In penal times, Tyburn—today’s Marble Arch—was where 105 Catholic men and women were executed for their faith. Among them were Edmund Campion, a distinguished Oxford scholar, and the poet Robert Southwell, a cousin of William Shakespeare. I reflected during the lecture that Tyburn’s disturbing and poignant story is one of immense cruelty and barbarism. It is the story of a perverted legal system, and reminds us to what intolerance, mutual persecution, the crushing of conscience and what Thomas More called the breaking of the unity of life inexorably lead. Parliamentarians even brought forward measures to remove children over the age of seven from their families if their Catholic parents did not conform.
The story of Tyburn does not call for revenge and should not be used for the stoking of old hatreds. However, it is instructive and has applications today. It reminds us that the struggle for religious freedom is intrinsic to the struggle for democracy and freedom itself. This debate is timely and should remind us that we should appreciate the privileges that we have and be aware of the sacrifices that were made to secure them and committed to speak up for the millions of people who suffered or died for their faith in previous generations so that we could enjoy the freedoms that we have today.
I am a Catholic and am proud of my British and Irish antecedents. My mother was an immigrant from the west of Ireland. Her first language was Irish, not English. She married my late father, who was a Desert Rat, in the East End of London. I hold British and Irish passports, as do my children. I have always taught them that you do not hate one country because you love another. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said about holding on to the preciousness of your roots while integrating and playing your part in the nation where you live.
During my time in another place, where I was Irish affairs spokesman for many years—the day after I was elected to the House of Commons, Airey Neave was blown up in its precincts—I heard interminable Statements about tragedies both in Britain and in Ireland. Today there are 6.6 million Catholics in this country—10% of our population—and 600,000 people in England were born in Ireland. Ireland has been the largest source of immigrants to this country for more than 200 years. It is estimated that as many as 6 million people in the United Kingdom have at least one Irish grandparent. Surely it is worth reflecting, exactly a year after Her Majesty the Queen visited the Republic of Ireland, that we have made extraordinary progress despite 800 years of history and mutual hatred.
On the economic issues raised by my noble friend Lord Bilimoria and the noble Lord, Lord Bew, it is worth mentioning, especially in these troubled times, that last year €13.6 billion-worth of UK goods were sold to Ireland, and that British trade with Ireland is still greater than its business with the huge emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China combined.
Today is a day for celebrating our nation’s diversity—the whole world in one country. It is an important moment to insist that along with respect for difference and minorities must come a commitment by us all to do all we can, using all our energy, to promote the unity, democracy, freedom and justice that we treasure in this nation. They are precious gifts worthy of the Zoroastrian Magi.
My Lords, when I saw that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, had secured this debate, I, too, was reminded of the story that he told about the Zoroastrians coming to the shores of India, and about milk and sugar. History has borne out the fact that wherever the Zoroastrians emigrated to, they sweetened the country. Here in the UK, diverse immigration has not only sweetened Britain but spiced it up.
We heard about the many contributions made over centuries by different communities that settled in the UK, and about the diverse society we have now. Of course, this diversity has enriched us and has built a vibrant Britain. We also heard about the contributions made by minorities in all walks of life. It is a tribute to this country, and also to the resilience and ingenuity of those who came to settle here.
We should applaud and celebrate the contributions that different communities have made, but we must not forget that there are still issues that deserve serious and concerted attention. I draw the House’s attention to the report, Creating the Conditions for Integration, published in February this year by the Department for Communities and Local Government. The aspirations and sentiments expressed in the report are fine. It states that core values and experience must hold us together and that we should robustly promote British values such as democracy, the rule of law, equality of opportunity and treatment, freedom of speech and the right of all to live without persecution. It states that these values must be underpinned by the opportunity to succeed and a strong sense of personal and social responsibility.
No one would disagree with that. However, the document provides very few solutions on how to foster these values and integration. Furthermore, the comments made by Mr Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State, focused on how it would promote British values. These values have been seized on as a way of building a cohesive society. Integration is seen as a one-way process, pluralism as divisive. However, diversity and pluralism do not threaten cohesiveness: inequality does. As we heard, pluralism is our strength. For a plural and cohesive society to be successful we need a shared respect for, and loyalty to, the law of the land. However, integration does not secure loyalty to a set of values; it is about one’s view of society and one’s place in it.
The document does not address the issue of the existence of deep-seated inequalities that need to be tackled. As I listened to the debate, I wondered what unemployed youths in Brixton and Bradford feel about the issues we are debating. Programmes such as the Big Lunch and community music days are worthy, but encouraging local authorities in particular to take responsibility does not amount to a strategy to create the conditions for integration.
The report also downplays earlier approaches that dealt with the challenges of integration by focusing on legal rights, equality, discrimination and hate crime. Those of us who have been involved in this area not for years but for decades have always argued that strategies to deal with inequality and discrimination must be supported by wider initiatives such as those in the document. To ignore the issues of discrimination and inequality and just focus on inculcating British values is a flawed approach. Therefore, it would be very helpful if the noble Baroness would tell the House what strategies have been put in place to tackle the issues of discrimination and entrenched inequality.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for introducing the debate. I congratulate the Zoroastrian Parsee community on its 150th anniversary and on making a true contribution to every society in which it occupies a place.
The British Isles comprise a wonderful mix of people from all over the world who have chosen to make their lives here. Generally, all races and religions have been welcomed. However, it has not been without difficulty. For example, the Jews came over with William the Conqueror, but they were thrown out in 1290 by Edward I and only allowed back 350 years later at the time of Oliver Cromwell. Of course, from time to time, Protestants and Catholics have had their problems and we have recently seen an unwelcome rise of Islamophobia. However, overall, as my noble friend Lord Popat said, Britain has a worthy tradition of tolerance for minorities. It has been a safe haven for the oppressed.
Generally, we have welcomed immigrants here to our mutual benefit. We benefit as a country from the rich cultural contribution made by those who have come here. Others have spoken eloquently of their contributions to the arts, sciences, professions, business, sport and even to politics. Individually we have benefited, too, by learning about and experiencing different cultures. The culture that I also had thought about—perhaps because we are speaking at lunchtime—was food, rather like my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Lords, Lord Singh and Lord Janner. However, the noble Lord, Lord Janner, and I must disagree because, as I understood the position, fried fish came here with the Spanish and Portuguese community in 1700. We may have to debate this afterwards.
It is very important that the traditions that have been brought into the UK by minority groups are maintained, not least so that we may all learn from their example and adopt the very best of what has come in. It is also important that, while maintaining their own traditions, everyone also becomes part of the fabric of British society; that there is one nation; that there is true integration. That is what we want. We want British citizens, from wherever, speaking English and playing a full part in the life of the community while also maintaining their traditions. Those Members of this House who come within the classification of the title of this debate have ably demonstrated that they are doing just that. They are setting a great example to the groups with whom they are associated.
While I welcome the debate, it saddens me that we single out any group to speak of its contribution to our society. I fully understand why this has been done and why there is a need to do so, but if we truly had integration here and crushed the prejudices that exist, this debate would not be necessary.
The media have a role. Why do newspapers find it necessary to point out the religion or background of people they write about? I am afraid that it is mostly when the individuals seem to be in some trouble. How can we expect minority groups to feel part of the fabric of our country if persistently we remind them that they are different? Maybe I am being somewhat naive to crave this nirvana but it is an aspiration that we should strive for. I hope this debate moves us along the road to achieving it.
My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to this debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on securing it.
The contributions of many of today’s speakers—not only to the debate but through their own life stories—bear testimony to the many varied and vital contributions the religious and ethnic minority communities make to this country. The huge part played by immigrant communities in Britain’s economic and social development since the Second World War is now widely recognised. Their role in creating a more diverse and tolerant society is indisputable.
I echo the question to the Minister of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on international students. Our key competitor nations—the USA, Australia and Canada—all class international students as temporary migrants and exclude them from the calculation of net migration. Why cannot the UK do the same?
In 21st century Britain, we live in a truly multiracial society. Estimates updating the latest census figures suggest that ethnic minorities now make up some 12 per cent of the population in England and Wales. London, our capital, is one of the most ethnically diverse cities on earth, with over 300 languages spoken. In particular, the creative industries, which have been among the fastest growing and most important to the capital’s economy, owe much to London’s cultural diversity. The capability of London’s businesses to communicate in many languages across cultures means that London’s creative industries can flourish on a global scale.
Over the next 10 years, ethnic minorities will account for more than half the growth in the working-age population. Nowhere is this more evident than in my home town of Bradford. Bradford has the youngest, fastest-growing population outside London. Some 22% are of British-Asian origin.
As a former textile capital of the world, Bradford has a long history of immigration and, as a result, has become enriched as one of the north’s most culturally and ethnically diverse cities. The German merchants who settled there in the 19th century were followed by Italians and eastern Europeans, then by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, particularly Pakistan, who came to work in the mills. As the textile industry declined, the workforce moved to other sectors of the economy so that today the city has a thriving Asian business community. Engineering, printing and packaging, chemical, financial, banking and export industries, as well as high technology and the media industries, are all part of the local economy.
Culturally, it is buzzing. Its National Media Museum is the most visited museum outside London. It was the first of the two UNESCO Cities of Film. It has the world’s first Fairtrade café. It has the internationally renowned Hockney Gallery in Salt’s Mill, where I try to make an annual pilgrimage. The Bradford Mela—which, back in 1988, was the first such festival in Europe and is now the biggest of its kind outside Asia—takes place in a couple of weeks. It attracts thousands every year, who come together to share and celebrate their cultures.
Other speakers have lauded the work of ethnic chefs. Bradford is also, of course, famous for being home to some of the best curry houses in the country and was last year crowned Curry Capital of Britain.
I could continue with my ode to Bradford but I simply urge noble Lords to visit and enjoy it for themselves.
With my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port I happily acknowledge the talent, entrepreneurialism and creativity that ethnic and religious minorities give to our country. I add my congratulations to those of others on the 150th anniversary of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, celebrated with such passion and warmth by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria.
My Lords, I apologise for being slightly late because of transport problems and for not being here at the beginning of the debate. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for securing it.
Britain owes its place in the world to the contributions of many people, of all races, colours and creeds, who have settled in the United Kingdom from various parts of the world. They have contributed to the economic growth and well-being of the nation. I work with many of them.
Owing to the limited time for today’s debate, I shall focus on the Muslim community, many of whose members migrated from the Indian subcontinent for economic reasons. Most of them were invited to work in our manufacturing industries in the 1950s and 1960s. They arrived almost empty handed. According to the Guardian of 28 January 2011, the Muslim population in the UK is now more than 2.8 million. Over the years, these communities not only carried out some of the tedious and physically demanding jobs that were hard to fill but contributed enormously in many sectors.
I will quote a few examples. According to the Muslim Council of Britain, Dr Mahmood Adil, the Deputy Regional Director of Public Health for NHS North West, has made a substantial contribution through his clinical, public health, academic and senior Civil Service roles, notably the development of the Diabetes National Service Framework and the preparation of the Department of Health’s toolkit to support good practice in international humanitarian and health work.
Professor Waqar Ahmed is deputy vice-chancellor of research and enterprise at Middlesex University. His previous academic career was at the University of Leeds as a professor and director of the Centre for Research in Primary Care, and at the Universities of Bradford and York. For three years, he was the chief social scientist in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, where he launched the ODPM/ESRC Fellowship and Studentship Scheme and the ODPM research networks.
According to the London Chambers of Commerce report of December 2001, one in 10 businesses in London is owned by people of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin. A good example of entrepreneurship is Sir Anwar Pervez, who came to Britain aged 21 and became a bus conductor in Bradford, before opening a corner shop in London in 1962. He launched the Bestway cash and carry firm in 1976. According to the Female Entrepreneur Association in September 2011, the company is now worth over £500 million, employing 5,000 people in the UK and many more abroad.
The online newspaper Muslim View wrote on 23 May 2012 that Britain has more than 10,000 Muslim millionaires, including 53 billionaires. According to the Salaam Portal website, there are 100 charities in the UK run by Muslims. The list of Muslim contributions to contemporary Britain goes on. If the time allowed, I could have given similar examples of contributions made to our society by the Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and other communities.
Finally, I ask the coalition Government, when they are assessing immigration policy, to learn from history in order to implement policies that will benefit everyone in all communities in Britain.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Bilimoria for introducing this debate with great verve. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, I approached the debate from the direction of British Muslims. It is not always recognised that this community is far from monolithic—on the contrary, ethnic, cultural and even theological divisions abound. That is why it is not easy for all Muslims to speak with one voice, and why official and unofficial agencies sometimes find it difficult to approach Islamic communities.
I declare a non-financial interest as a founder-trustee of the English charity Forward Thinking. Since 2004, it has worked in a facilitating role to increase understanding and confidence between the very diverse local Muslim communities and wider society in the UK, including the media and established institutions. We seek to assist local community development without the fear that individuals and families will lose their faith identity. We therefore work in partnership with many culturally and religiously diverse Muslim groups in addressing local needs and community concerns.
The aim is to retain a strong faith identity while the partners live as full British citizens. To achieve this, we provide capacity-building support to a number of Muslim charitable or non-profit organisations, both local and national. Thanks to the trust established and our unique access, we have been able to arrange exchange visits between senior government officials and local community organisers. Our programmes are delivered mainly by British Muslims, including regular meetings for journalists and broadcasters.
More work of this kind is needed wherever there are local Muslim populations, some long-standing but others who have arrived more recently. I am confident that it will pay huge dividends in mutual understanding, crime reduction, development of employability and careers, and civic cohesion in general. Forward Thinking is a sensitive exercise in bridge-building. It welcomes dialogue about its work in England and its wider concerns, mainly located in the Middle East.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Bilimoria on initiating this timely debate, and his excellent speech.
The Zoroastrian community has always been a minority community in whatever country it has existed. But by its conduct and its contribution, it has without exception been a model of good citizenship, holding its members to the highest standards of ethical behaviour. At a time when grievances are often provoked and expressed by violence, this approach has been a lesson for us all. As Mahatma Gandhi said:
“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind”.
I now move to the larger implications of the noble Lord’s Motion: the contribution made by minority ethnic and religious communities to the United Kingdom. Too often, minorities are viewed by significant parts of the majority as takers and not givers. Of course, this is palpably wrong, as is evident from the minority involvement in every field of endeavour: from public life to commercial enterprise, from the arts to sport, from education to government services. Minority involvement is growing and is now irreversible.
I do not need to remind your Lordships that this has been somewhat slow in coming, not because minorities were reluctant or unqualified but because barriers were placed in their way. Recent times have seen these formal and informal obstructions being dismantled. We must continue these efforts and guard against any reversal and, in doing so, open up avenues of advancement to higher positions, a situation in which recent studies have shown there is considerable inadequacy.
People are not born with discrimination in their blood. They are socialised into it, as I know well. I visit London Zoo as often I can because it is partly a memorial to my infant daughter. I well recall how, 46 years ago, her last tragic months were brightened by regular visits there and by being with other children of all communities. When London Zoo was in danger of closure in the 1990s, I was delighted to step in and help. My delight today is to see how children of various ethnic communities mingle freely and enjoy companionship without any regard to racial, religious or other backgrounds. In this camaraderie, small children have many lessons for their parents.
I have been, and am, chancellor of two British universities: the University of Wolverhampton and the University of Westminster. Both have overseas branches and consequently a sizeable student body representing a number of nationalities. It must be remembered that when these overseas students return to their countries, they continue to make a great contribution as ambassadors for Britain.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, succeeded me as chancellor of the University of West London. He will confirm that a majority of younger students is far less concerned with ethnic and religious differences than with joint activities. These are the very people who, as they grow into full adulthood, can harbour prejudices that are of much concern in this country. Responsibility for enlightenment cannot be left to the individuals alone. That is why I urge the Government to make every effort to encourage the expansion of educational curricula to include more information and analysis of minority contributions.
These are difficult days in community relations, and economic distress often makes them more difficult as retrenchment takes place that often affects minority communities first. However, whatever areas are drawn down, that should not include cuts in the minority-related programmes. Small economic gains must never be at the expense of the social fabric of the nation.
In common with the majority of Members of this House, I have over the years been pleased to serve on a number of charitable, government and non-government bodies, including the NSPCC, the Prince’s Trust, the RNIB, the Royal Albert Hall and London 2012. I chaired the Indo-British Round Table—
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on his excellent contribution today, first in managing to secure the opportunity for us to debate this very important subject and on his very inspirational speech. He is an illustrious role model for all of us and makes an enormous contribution, as indeed do all Members who have spoken today, particularly those who have been successful within the minority-ethnic and religious communities in this country, in providing inspiration for others, as he rightly said in his introduction, to follow. I am most grateful to all that he does for us in this House as well as in the wider society here and for businesses in India.
It is important, having acknowledged all the achievements that minorities have made in this country and contribute to Britain, that we also recognise some of the pain that goes with that. Minority-ethnic communities have made a substantial contribution, as we have heard to a substantial extent already today. London is the most culturally diverse city in the world. As someone who has travelled to many other cities from time to time, I marvel at what we have and enjoy, notwithstanding the fact that many who live in this great city are suffering disadvantage and deprivation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, very excitingly told us about all the contributions that African-Caribbean people have brought to this country. It is quite important, as we listen to the history in the various contributions, to recognise the value of that particular contribution. However, there was a reference to the glass ceiling being broken. For those who have been successful, it has been; but for a lot of other people it still remains. We hear daily from many people from minority backgrounds who are highly qualified and also highly professionalised about their failure to make the breakthrough and get access to those opportunities that we know are available. In the Metropolitan Police Service, many black and ethnic minority officers came very close to getting to the top—but where are they now? That is just one simple example.
We talk about “our” country, as noble Lords have—quite rightly—today, but there are many minority-ethnic communities in this country where people do not feel they belong. We have a very important role to help people feel that they do belong. If Britishness encapsulates a variety of ethnicities, religions, cultures and heritages, then we owe it to those who feel disaffected to help them feel they belong to the notion of being British and being part of Britain, make their contribution, and go on to be who they think they are and what they want to become.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, mentioned that we need to have an open mind. We are able to do so in a place such as your Lordships’ House but we have to work harder to open the minds of many more people so that we can bring those who feel disaffected into the fold to see the value and the benefits of being part of this great society.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on this debate and his notable introduction, reminding us of the long contribution of the Zoroastrians and of the rich and diverse contribution made by a wealth of minority ethnic and religious communities to all our lives, our culture, our history and, I believe, our future. In his words, one of the strengths of those groups was to blend in with us. That is what we celebrate today.
I also, along with others, pay tribute to the work of the Zoroastrian community in the UK, particularly on interfaith issues, about which I have heard from the Member of Parliament for Harrow West, Gareth Thomas, in whose constituency they are headquartered.
Born outside the UK, and from a Welsh heritage, I have always felt a bit of an outsider to what may be called “mainstream” English culture. However, I was horrified some years ago, cleaning out a very old filing cabinet, when I found a programme for a 1960s university debate where I had seconded the motion: “Immigration threatens our way of life”. I cannot tell you how sick and ill I felt. I had a cup of tea—of chai—but nevertheless went on clearing out the mass of paper, of which I collect rather a lot. It was some hours later before I was enormously relieved when I found my speaking notes. I had completely forgotten that the teenage Hayter had extolled and rejoiced in the threat to our way of life, especially the threat to our stuffy society. I went on to praise the aromatics of the food and the break from meat and two veg, which the noble Lord, Lord Singh, and others have mentioned, the music, the different voices and the colour of swirling clothes.
I was young and apologise to one and all that it was the food, including the salt beef bagels, and fashion rather than medicine, the City or military records, that attracted me first to the richness and variety of the worlds I experienced in London: for me, at that time, the very Mecca of internationalism. I still remember the absolute joy of walking past newsagents near Bayswater Road with newspapers in languages whose alphabet I could not even then begin to recognise. It began a serious love affair with “abroad”, whether that was here or away. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, it opened my eyes. Slowly, of course, I learnt more of the religions, language, histories and culture of distant parts, and revelled in the contribution these made to our own daily life.
Neil MacGregor’s BBC series, “A History of the World in 100 Objects”, has been a stunning reminder of our intertwined heritages, although even that failed to document how our own economy and culture have adopted and absorbed titbits, or indeed sometimes great swathes, from the groups who moved here to live: the Huguenots, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, the lace-makers, printers, chefs, academics, medics, playwrights, jazz singers, Italian opera lovers, rappers, violinists, designers and tailors, Chinese seafarers, Vietnamese chefs, Italian cooks, Polish miners and Irish builders, writers and students, scientists and politicians, as well as synagogue, temple and mosque builders, and, of course, the Pugin family. It is in Pugin’s masterpiece that we speak today.
Many of our own religious groups are of course themselves minorities, such as the Methodists whose million pennies in 1912 built the iconic Central Hall on the other side of Parliament Square, but many of those who moved to our shores came to escape persecution or poverty. Some came as prisoners of war and stayed, some came as children, some came in groups. However, all brought with them a history, a language, a religious faith, their music or their craft, from which we have taken, learnt and benefited. Indeed, our language as much as our food today reflects the influence of immigration across the centuries.
Immigrants also help to teach us the importance of human rights. It was their suffering in other countries that spurred us to work for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I have to confess that it was only today that I learnt from the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, a rather longer history of human rights development. It was the poverty from which some escaped that spurred our efforts in Make Poverty History, although we should acknowledge that these immigrants’ own remittances to their own countries, where they retain their roots, far outweigh our own donations. One of the measures of a civilised society is its tolerance of those of other faiths and none. A report by Demos has demonstrated that people who belong to a religious organisation are more likely to practise philanthropy but also to value equality over individual freedom and less likely to have a negative association to living next door to immigrants.
On Tuesday, we will have a debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, on how Her Majesty’s Government have recognised and supported the role and contribution of faith communities in Britain and in the Commonwealth. I give notice to the Minister that I will be asking why the Government have disbanded, without consultation, the Faith Communities Consultative Council and what is proposed to be put in its place. As my noble friend Lady Royall mentioned, the Government have spoken of the big society and the role of communities in strengthening themselves. However, I would like to hear the same urgency from this Government about the scar of youth unemployment. I feel no anger from the Government on this and no fear of what the threat posed by youth unemployment will do to growing communities, whether in Brixton or Bradford, as have been mentioned, particularly its potential to increase racism.
Finally, may I be forgiven for saying a word about the Labour Party and the role of religion and minority communities in our own history? The churches were absolutely crucial in our development. In 1906, virtually the whole of the inaugural PLP came into politics through the church. Since then, other faiths and communities have been particularly involved, such as: Poale Zion, now the Jewish Labour Movement, founded in the UK in 1906 and affiliated to the party since 1920; the Christian Socialist Movement; Muslims for Labour; Sikhs for Labour; the Labour Party Irish Society; and Labour’s latest affiliate, Chinese for Labour.
I should declare an interest as I think I am probably an honorary member or president of all of those, but the interest is non-pecuniary. It is wonderful to see their development, not just historically but currently. Despite sharing none of these faiths, or indeed any other, it might therefore be easier for me to acknowledge and cherish the amazing contribution that faith groups and minority ethnic groups have brought to our shores and which we celebrate today. Many are represented in this House and to all of them we simply say thank you.
My Lords, I am delighted to be here today to reply to this fascinating debate on behalf of the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, is a noted entrepreneur and a great speaker, as we heard earlier today. He is a great businessman; Cobra Beer, which he founded, has celebrated a 5,000-mile journey from Bangalore to Burton, spanning 25 years. I am pleased to say that it is now fully brewed and distributed from the flagship Molson Coors brewery in Burton, the UK’s biggest brewery. The noble Lord is renowned for his philanthropy and I can therefore think of no fitter person to initiate this debate. He is respected as an adviser both to previous Governments here and to the Government of India.
I am also pleased to take this opportunity to congratulate the Zoroastrian or Parsee community on celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe. It is a community just a few thousand strong but one that punches well above its weight. It is a community noted as much for its musicians such as Zubin Mehta and Freddie Mercury as for running businesses—not least Tata Motors, which has been referred to and whose Jaguar Land Rover enterprise employs over 19,000 people in this country. The Zoroastrian community has surely set an example for us all.
As we have heard from a number of noble Lords today, Britain’s black and minority ethnic communities make a huge contribution to our economic, social and political life. You need only look at the bustling high streets, pick up a newspaper or switch on the television to see how much richer our society is because of these minority communities. My noble friend Lord Sheikh referred to their influence on food and the culinary delights of this country are now so immense, as I remind myself every time I hit the treadmill. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, reminded us that we owe even the very British fish and chips to the eastern European Jewish community, although my noble friend Lord Gold corrected him, suggesting that it is possibly the Spanish or Portuguese. Whoever it was, I am glad they did.
The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, spoke about the economic contribution that Britain’s black and minority ethnic communities make. There are hundreds and thousands of ethnic minority-led small and medium-sized enterprises in the United Kingdom, contributing an estimated £25 billion to the UK economy per year. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in BME communities and is needed in these difficult times more than ever.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred specifically to immigration and students. I can say categorically that there is no limit or cap on tier 4 student visas. This country will always remain open for genuine students who are coming here to study a genuine course at a genuine university. However, I am sure that many in this House would agree that if this country is open and welcoming for students coming to it to study, it should not follow that it must be an automatic right that they can remain here for ever. He also raised the catering industry, specifically in the Bangladeshi community. The Government are taking necessary steps to train British people to fill the gap in the Asian restaurant business as part of the wider skills for sustainable growth strategy. While I accept the huge contribution made by chefs who have come in from overseas, I am sure that your Lordships will acknowledge that sometimes it is in the very communities where these businesses come from that we see the worst rates of unemployment. Surely we must target the youth in those communities to be trained to do the very jobs for which we think that we can bring in only people from overseas. As my noble friend Lord Wei said, we must strike the right balance.
We have a huge economic advantage. We have a diaspora community that links us with many growing economies: the powerhouses in India, China, Pakistan and Africa. My noble friend Lord Hussain was quite right to highlight the contribution and achievements of many in this diaspora community, some of them from the Muslim community, who came to these shores with very little and have made such great contributions.
Many of your Lordships spoke about the political contribution that Britain’s black and minority ethnic communities make. A record-breaking 27 individuals of African, Asian or Caribbean heritage were elected to the other place during the last general election in 2010. Sixteen of them were Labour and 11 were Conservatives. I am pleased that 10 of the 27 were women. However, we must do more and I must congratulate the party opposite on having achieved many of the milestones in relation to black and minority-ethnic parliamentarians many years ago. I am glad that the Conservative Party followed in 2010 by having its first Asian elected in Priti Patel and its first black woman elected in Helen Grant. This is indeed the greatest number and percentage increase ever seen in British politics, but I think we would all acknowledge that we must do more.
Greater black and minority-ethnic representation and greater involvement from all communities in the political process will only enhance our democracy. We are all aware of the positive contribution that black and minority-ethnic Peers, many of whom we heard from today, make to the work of this House. We are reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, about the Zoroastrian community’s fine history in the Houses of Parliament in his references to Dadabhai Naoroji and Shapurji Saklatvala who were elected many years ago. Political parties indeed have a role in engaging with various communities. I know of the work that my noble friend Lord Wei is doing in relation to the Chinese community. I also know of the work done by the Labour Party. We saw in Bradford West that we must never take for granted the votes of these minority communities. They can turn quickly and we realise that by not listening and engaging extensively with them electoral losses can come about.
The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, spoke about the vital role that Britain’s black and minority-ethnic communities make in our public services and have made in the past, especially in the Armed Forces. The research and work of Jahan Mahmood, to whom he refers, is truly fascinating. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, referred to the work of the Asian community in medicine, specifically to his contribution and that of his family and members of the Asian community to the National Health Service. Over a number of recent years, there has been less reliance on securing staff who have been trained overseas. The reformed education and training system is designed further to improve planning and to track progress and ensure that there are enough trainees in the National Health Service to create a workforce that meets the changing needs of patients.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, spoke about the cultural contribution that Britain’s black and minority-ethnic communities make, specifically that of the Caribbean community, in referring to the culture of carnival. In the arts, there are so many talented individuals that one could mention contributing to our rich cultural life: visual artists such as Chris Ofili, writers such as Monica Ali and Zadie Smith, musicians such as Tinie Tempah, Dizzee Rascal and still one of our biggest musical exports Sade. The noble Baroness herself played an enormous role in my life. Her presence on that iconic children’s programme, “Playschool”, formed the aspirations of many a non-white child. In fashion and clothes we can see further contributions. I was asked by one of my colleagues whether my outfit this morning was a nod to the debate that I was to going to close on behalf of the Government. I said that it was simply hot and too stuffy to wear a suit.
The noble Lord, Lord Paul, spoke of the contribution of black and minority-ethnic communities to sport. In football we have 66 black players who have represented England over the years. A little, unknown story behind that of the black footballer Fabrice Muamba, whom we saw collapse on the pitch, is that the doctor who came to his aid is Shabaaz Mughal, a British Pakistani. In cricket, we have Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood. In many ways, with cricketers like these maybe there is no further need for the famous cricket test. In rugby league and rugby union, we have black and minority-ethnic communities providing some of the best and most recognisable personalities, such as Martin Offiah, Jason Robinson, Jeremy Guscott and Ikram Butt. In boxing we all recognise Amir Khan and Lennox Lewis and in motor racing our very own Lewis Hamilton.
Diversity was a key reason why London, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, was chosen to host the Olympic Games. The London Organising Committee is making diversity and inclusion the key aspect of our Games, celebrating the many differences among the cultures and communities of the United Kingdom. That is not just about our athletes. It is about the suppliers, the competitors, the officials and the spectators—in fact, everyone connected with the Games, from the security guards to the bus drivers. With just 64 days to the Olympics, I would like to take this opportunity, and I am sure noble Lords will too, to congratulate a member of this House who has been a huge driving force behind this event, the noble Lord, Lord Coe.
My noble friend Lord Popat spoke about the charitable contribution that Britain’s BME and faith communities make, specifically the Hindu community. I also congratulate the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hilton, and of Forward Thinking, who do much to create better understanding between communities. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, spoke about the Government needing to do more in relation to social action in the voluntary sector. The Government are doing all that they can to open up more public services being delivered by the voluntary sector, not because the Government are shrinking from their responsibility but because the voluntary sector is invariably better at delivering them.
In relation to charities and faith organisations, I have rarely come across a church, mosque, temple, synagogue, gurdwara or any other place of worship that has looked holy within that did not want to take care of its neighbours, no matter if they had a different faith or indeed none. Some 31,000 religious charities are now registered in England and Wales, as well as many that draw their inspiration from faith. Six hundred and sixty-two new religious charities were registered between October of last year and March of this year, a quarter of all newly registered charities during this period. Religious charities have a combined annual income of over £7.5 billion and spend over £7 billion each year. Many of the best known charities have faith origins and are linked to particular denominations, including Christian Aid, Muslim Aid, Islamic Relief and Jewish Care. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, was right to refer to the contribution of the Jewish community in charitable work. The Children’s Society, Save the World, World Vision and Tear Point and many charities which are now secular had faith origins, such as Oxfam.
This Government are on their side. As I said at the Anglican Bishops’ Conference, that is why as a Government we do God. I assure the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Derby that I will do all I can to continue to support initiatives such as Inter Faith Week and I hope that he gets some comfort from the Government’s decision to enter into a three-year funding programme for the Inter Faith Network. We are keen, however, to see different faith groups link up to pool expertise and resources so that their impact is increased.
In conclusion, there is still much to do. Opportunity is the cornerstone and it is right that as well as the positives about which we heard this morning we remain committed to and aware of the reality of some as detailed by the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley. There are still many who feel that they do not have that opportunity.
I congratulate the work of UpRising, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. They are the leaders of the next generation and they do some tremendous work. In relation to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on representation of the Zoroastrian community at the Cenotaph, I will ensure that I raise this with the Secretary of State. If he so wishes, I will also facilitate a meeting between him and officials at the department to take that forward. I agree wholeheartedly with some of the sentiments of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, but I do not believe that British values and integration is a one-way street. British values are made of the values of everybody who is on these shores. When he visited a Muslim family with whom he spent time in Birmingham, the Prime Minister said that the value of looking after your elders, which he saw so starkly and strongly within the Muslim community, is a British value that we can all sign up to.
What are the opportunities in relation to entrenched inequalities? I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that most fundamentally it boils down to opportunity and opportunity through schooling. The Government’s programme of reform and investment in schools, in relation to academies and free schools, many of which have been opened in the most deprived communities, will be that first opportunity for those children to have a better life.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, referred to work on tackling discrimination. He has a long and commendable history in this work. I congratulate him on continuing on it. He asks, “What is all the fuss about multiculturalism?”, a question that I find interesting. It sounds like the title of a very good paper which I am sure that the noble Lord could write.
We have been here before. We were reminded of this by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and I support his comments on keeping the public space open for religious opportunity. We are not like the French. I welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. Politicians are not great historians. Every time I read British Catholic history, I see lessons that we can learn for challenges which are personal to me as a British Muslim.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to the recent case of children in care, specifically girls in care. I will take his comments back and ensure that the Minister responsible for this, who I know is looking into this case, makes contact. The noble Earl may be aware of the comments I made last week in relation to that case.
Discrimination wherever it occurs and whoever instigates it must be spoken out against. Vulnerability can come in many forms. It is not just about the colour of a person’s skin. We must also celebrate. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, was right to refer to celebrating each other’s cultures by carrying each other’s flags. I would go further and say that it is about speaking out for each other. It is when I, a Muslim, can speak out against anti-Semitism and my Jewish friend can speak out against Islamophobia that we are making true progress.
I was pleased to see my right honourable friend the Communities Secretary celebrate alongside the Ahmadiyya community on the recent charity walk. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, on all the work he does in relation to that community.
There is a tapestry in what we have seen this morning and in what we have seen in this debate. It is a tapestry that influences each and every aspect of our lives. I know that when I wake up in the morning and listen to the tones of the noble Lord, Lord Singh of Wimbledon, on “Thought for the Day” it sets me up for the rest of the day. I acknowledge that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, said, we can all continue to learn. I know that in this job, I have the privilege of doing that every single day.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that excellent summing up and for her positive response to a superb wide-ranging debate. We heard Peers from a range of minority religions and communities speaking from experience. I have been genuinely inspired and touched by what has been said and by noble Lords’ kind words about the Zoroastrian community. I have been considering forming an all-party parliamentary group on Zoroastrians, and this debate has convinced me that I have got to get on with it in this 150th anniversary year.
I thank noble Lords very much. The debate has shown that Britain is a Great Britain thanks to the contribution of minority ethnic and religious communities. As I said in my opening remarks, I hope that this debate sends out a message of recognition, encouragement and gratitude to the minority religious and ethnic communities for the amazing contributions that they have brought the past, bring today and will always continue to bring to Britain in the many years to come.