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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:06 pm on 24th May 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Prashar Baroness Prashar Crossbench 1:06 pm, 24th May 2012

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.