Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. First, I commend my hon. Friend Phil Wilson on his maiden speech. I know that there are many more excellent contributions to come from him in the future.
It is a great honour and privilege to be elected to the House, to represent the people of Ealing, Southall and to speak in this historic Chamber. Almost 115 years ago, Dadabhai Naoroji, Member of the House for Finsbury Central, delivered his maiden speech. Today, as one of his ardent admirers, I have the privilege of making my own. Times in the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 21st century are very dissimilar, but it is nevertheless a great tribute to the great democratic tradition of this great country that both of us, having been born in India under totally different circumstances, were sent by all the electors of our respective constituencies to this House. He delivered a message of hope, justice and fair play for all, irrespective of colour, creed or station in life. In my own humble way, I intend to do the same on behalf of all my constituents.
Thirty-nine years ago, when I came to this country, I brought with me the secular and non-violent tradition acquired from my father's involvement in the Indian freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi. In this great country, my reception was mixed, and my aspirations marked by the limitations that I felt around in those yesteryears. Ealing, Southall is a constituency with a lot of people from the Indian subcontinent who had great ambition and drive to drop anchor here and contribute to the economic and social life of this great metropolis of ours.
Following the traditions of the House, I would also like to pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, the late Mr. Piara Singh Khabra, whose sad death in June of this year caused the by-election that resulted in my being elected to this House. In 1992, I was pleased to see him elected as the first Asian MP for Ealing, Southall. I stand in his place, though not, out of humility, in his shoes, given his great service to my constituents. He was a tireless campaigner on behalf of his constituents, and he and his wife Beulah gave 15 years dedicated service to the people of Ealing, Southall. His was a lifetime of service to the community, fighting injustice and intolerance. He will be long remembered for his hard work in the constituency that helped many individuals and also unified the many different communities in harmonious and peaceful co-existence. He will be a hard act to follow.
My election in July was the first message that the British people gave to the Prime Minister of their resounding confidence in his ability and the courage of his convictions to lead our country in these difficult times to greater heights and to implement his vision for change. I identify fully with his efforts to connect to people's aspirations, problems and concerns directly and raise once again the profile of Britain as a moral leader in a peaceful world.
In introducing my constituency to hon. Members, I am aware that many of them visited Ealing, Southall during the recent by-election campaign, so I recognise that some are already well acquainted with the unique place that is Ealing, Southall—the Leader of the Opposition seemed to like my constituency so much that he visited it no fewer than five times during the campaign. To all who visited Ealing, Southall, I say thank you, and to all those hon. Members who helped in my campaign I say a personal and special thank you.
For those who did not have the pleasure of visiting Ealing, Southall during the by-election, we are in west London, bounded in the east by Ealing common, the north circular road and the District and Piccadilly tube lines, and in the west by the Grand Union canal, almost reaching the Hayes bypass and close to the Heathrow airport. The southern part of the constituency, just north of the A4 and M4, includes south Ealing, Northfield and Norwood Green, where I have had the privilege of representing local people as a councillor for more than 25 years. To the north we are bounded by the Ruislip road and the pleasant environs of Greenford. Bisecting the constituency and linking Ealing, West Ealing, Hanwell and Southall from east to west is the Uxbridge road, the route of the 207 bus, on which I once plied my trade as a bus conductor.
The constituency has a proud history, with many historic buildings and institutions. They include Ealing and Southall town halls; Ealing studios, home to the Ealing comedies and today providing a state-of-the-art facility for film and media companies; Pitzhanger manor, home to the famous architect Sir John Soane and next to Walpole park, where the excellent Ealing jazz festival takes place each summer; and the Wharncliffe viaduct in Hanwell, built in 1844 by Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel and jealously referred to by my hon. Friend Stephen Pound in his glorious maiden speech; as well as the three bridges and numerous magnificent churches, mosques, Sikh and Hindu temples, including the largest Sikh gurdwara in Europe, in Havelock road, Southall.
The constituency is also rich in culture, with Questors theatre providing west end-quality performances in the queen of the suburbs and the Dominion centre in Southall showcasing so many diverse cultural performances and exhibitions. Ealing, Southall is also a tourist destination, with film buffs visiting locations used for many classic films, and, as many hon. Members discovered in the by-election, culinary experts visiting Southall for its wonderful food, especially its world-famous curries.
What I am most proud of, however, is my constituency's great tradition and history of welcoming new arrivals, as well as the community cohesion that exists, as numerous communities from all over the world live together in harmony and peace. The Government's recent report on community cohesion, led by Darra Singh, the chief executive of Ealing council, was able to draw on many valuable lessons learned in my constituency. More than half the population is from an ethnic minority, the overwhelming majority coming from an Asian background, mostly Punjabi. There are significant Hindu and Muslim populations, but the Sikh community is the largest in the area, and in 2008 the third Sikh faith school in the UK will open in the constituency.
Being a Member of this House who was born in India and who represents a constituency with large numbers of constituents either of Indian birth or descent, I would like to conclude with my reflections on the positive partnership between Britain and India and on how it will benefit all my constituents, regardless of where they come from, and indeed all peoples of both countries. As in Ealing, Southall, the two countries are at ease with each other. For Britain, India is a natural partner for business and culture. Ealing, Southall is a gateway for much of that trade and culture to pass through, in either direction. Our countries also share the belief that education, especially higher education, is the most important factor in a successful life. Harnessing those forces and common beliefs will lead to prosperity for all.
Once again, I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to give my maiden speech and I thank the House for listening to me.