Ethnic Minorities Debate - 6 Jul 2015
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Berridge on securing this important and timely debate.
Britain is a beacon of light for millions of people around the globe. People come here—and many more want to—because our country upholds values that appeal to people of every race, creed and faith. Britain is a free and fair country. We have the rule of law, stability and democracy. We are a tolerant nation where religious freedom is valued and discrimination outlawed. We are a nation of opportunities: if you are willing to work hard and take opportunities, nobody will stand in your way.
My favourite speech to make when I am invited to events is centred around that list: what Britain means to us, how it has given those of us fortunate to move here so many opportunities. It is perhaps a reminder that the reverse of this Question for Short Debate—what contribution the United Kingdom has made to Britain’s ethnic minorities—is something we should also remember. Indeed, as someone who arrived here as a refugee and who feels that he owes this country more than can ever be repaid, I feel that it is particularly important that we acknowledge that there is another side of this debate.
At a time when immigration, identity and faith are never far from our minds, it is vital that we state clearly that this is not a one-way street: that the values of this country have allowed Britain’s ethnic minorities and many faith communities to prosper. Those who abuse our values and tolerance, such as the individuals who have travelled to Syria in support of murderous terrorists, should lose their rights in this nation. British citizenship is a privilege that comes with responsibilities, ones that the overwhelming majority of minorities in this country take very seriously. I ask the Minister to encourage the Home Secretary to go further than the powers afforded to her office through the Immigration Act 2014 and ensure that those individuals have their citizenship revoked. It is incumbent on all of us who love this nation to express its rich history and encourage the continued upholding of its values. That way, our national identity will continue to thrive.
My faith is an integral part of who I am. I am particularly proud that, at my urging, the Hindu Forum adopted the slogan, “Proud to be British and proud to be Hindu”, a few years ago. I felt that that was a strong statement of our modern identity: our faith is important, but is secondary to the place we call home.
My faith and my patriotism are mutually beneficial. The only time I have ever experienced a conflict was during consideration in your Lordships’ House last year of an amendment adding caste discrimination to a list of discriminatory factors under the Equality Act 2010. This was a hugely unpopular move in the British Hindu community. Caste is an outdated notion that has been left behind by the vast majority of our community. It was a rare moment in this House when division was favoured over unity.
I have also been privileged to have been involved in a number of interfaith organisations. This work has allowed me to appreciate the commonalities our faiths have. The increasing role that so many faith communities play in caring for the elderly, the sick and the disadvantaged is as inspirational as it is essential. The most pleasing element of that interfaith work has been the realisation that we all share a passion for British values. When researching this debate, I was drawn, as I so often am, to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. During his brilliant speech in September 2011, he suggested that,
“all Britain’s faith communities should be invited to make a voluntary covenant with Britain articulating our responsibilities to others and to the nation as a whole, so that we can be true to our faith while being a blessing to others regardless of theirs”.—[
The idea has stayed with me since I first heard it. It is simple and yet profoundly important. I very much encourage our faith communities and the Government to work together on such a covenant: it would be a tremendous statement about
The greatest contribution that Britain’s ethnic minorities and faith communities have made and can make is embracing the values that have helped this nation to prosper for centuries. We all have to play a role in upholding the values that made the country so appealing to us in the first place.