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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:10 pm on 24th May 2012.

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Photo of Lord Gold Lord Gold Conservative 1:10 pm, 24th May 2012

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, for introducing the debate. I congratulate the Zoroastrian Parsee community on its 150th anniversary and on making a true contribution to every society in which it occupies a place.

The British Isles comprise a wonderful mix of people from all over the world who have chosen to make their lives here. Generally, all races and religions have been welcomed. However, it has not been without difficulty. For example, the Jews came over with William the Conqueror, but they were thrown out in 1290 by Edward I and only allowed back 350 years later at the time of Oliver Cromwell. Of course, from time to time, Protestants and Catholics have had their problems and we have recently seen an unwelcome rise of Islamophobia. However, overall, as my noble friend Lord Popat said, Britain has a worthy tradition of tolerance for minorities. It has been a safe haven for the oppressed.

Generally, we have welcomed immigrants here to our mutual benefit. We benefit as a country from the rich cultural contribution made by those who have come here. Others have spoken eloquently of their contributions to the arts, sciences, professions, business, sport and even to politics. Individually we have benefitted, too, by learning about and experiencing different cultures. The culture that I also had thought about-perhaps because we are speaking at lunchtime-was food, rather like my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Lords, Lord Singh and Lord Janner. However, the noble Lord, Lord Janner, and I must disagree because, as I understood the position, fried fish came here with the Spanish and Portuguese community in 1700. We may have to debate this afterwards.

It is very important that the traditions that have been brought into the UK by minority groups are maintained, not least so that we may all learn from their example and adopt the very best of what has come in. It is also important that, while maintaining their own traditions, everyone also becomes part of the fabric of British society; that there is one nation; that there is true integration. That is what we want. We want British citizens, from wherever, speaking English and playing a full part in the life of the community while also maintaining their traditions. Those Members of this House who come within the classification of the title of this debate have ably demonstrated that they are doing just that. They are setting a great example to the groups with whom they are associated.

While I welcome the debate, it saddens me that we single out any group to speak of its contribution to our society. I fully understand why this has been done and why there is a need to do so, but if we truly had integration here and crushed the prejudices that exist, this debate would not be necessary.

The media has a role. Why do newspapers find it necessary to point out the religion or background of people they write about? I am afraid that it is mostly when the individuals seem to be in some trouble. How can we expect minority groups to feel part of the fabric of our country if persistently we remind them that they are different? Maybe I am being somewhat naïve to crave this nirvana but it is an aspiration that we should strive for. I hope this debate moves us along the road to achieving it.