House of Lords, Speeches

Minority Ethnic and Religious Communities: Cultural and Economic Contribution

Posted by LordSheikh

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.

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