Minority Ethnic and Religious Communities: Cultural and Economic Contribution — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:32 pm on 24 May 2012.

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Photo of Lord Ahmed Lord Ahmed Labour 12:32, 24 May 2012

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.