(Maiden Speech) My Lords, I would like to thank all noble Lords on all sides of the House and the staff of this House for their immense kindness and friendliness in making me so welcome to this honourable establishment, navigating me through the protocols and giving me advice and guidance to enable me to fulfill my new role in this House. In particular, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude and thanks to my supporters, my noble friends Lord Popat and Lord Leigh of Hurley, for introducing me to your Lordships’ House.
Little did I know back in 1974 when I emigrated from Kenya to the UK that I would be bestowed with this great honour to work alongside your Lordships to continue contributing towards building a cohesive multicultural society in this country. I am humbled to join this House and family, which strives to represent the diversity of the population in this great nation. I am the second turbaned Sikh who has been elevated to the upper House. This great British institution has taken a praiseworthy step by bringing into its fold people of different faiths.
I have spent all my working life as a businessman, with a career that started in Kenya as an importer of educational supplies. This was the start of my liaisons with United Kingdom, dealing with long-established British publishers. In 1974, having decided to migrate with my family to the United Kingdom, I pursued my business ambitions and challenged myself to a new business venture. I decided to enter into the fashion accessories trade, and much to my disbelief I encountered a harsh reality not previously experienced. The estate agents who offered me business premises to rent strongly advised me not to be the front man in a fashion accessories boutique as customers would not be forthcoming. Instead, my wife was recruited and she ran our boutique full time while I ventured onwards looking for further trading opportunities.
We were determined to stand on our own feet and to earn our living without committing to the state for benefits. In 1977, I established a wholesale fashion jewelry and accessories business, and through its success I built up a sound property portfolio. The company is still trading strongly.
Through my selfless and entrepreneurial approach to business, I have always remained actively involved with many charities, social action projects and social initiatives. This is in keeping with my firm belief that people should contribute back to society to help others in less fortunate positions. Service to charitable and voluntary works has always been deeply rooted in my ethos on life. Service to mankind and praying for the welfare of all is one of the principal pillars of the Sikh religion.
I have been treading on this noble road to serve others from a very young age. Over the years I have championed community work and have held postsincluding justice of the peace, general commissioner of income tax, serving on the Middlesex Probation Committee and the Home Office Advisory Council on Race Relations, being a member of the board of visitors of HM Prison Pentonville and mentor to the Prince’s Trust youth business trust.
I thank my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield for putting down the Motion for today’s debate on the importance of mental health care provision. Good mental health, as well as good physical health, is essential in enabling us to contribute to the socioeconomics of society. The relevance of today’s debate endorses over five decades of my contributing to the community, voluntary services and charities, starting in Kenya and continued in Britain with unremitting devotion.
During my involvement as a voluntary associate at HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, prior to commencing my voluntary career in probation and magistracy, it was evident that poor mental health and the lack of mental health care provision hindered people from making the journey to recovery. I would like to share with your Lordships aparticular case where I supported a fellow Sikh who was imprisoned for having committed murder. This individual, who I will call Tej, which is not his real name, was further isolated in this environment through lack of communication, as he was not literate and unable to converse in English. Tej was fluent in his mother tongue Punjabi, which limited his interactions and intensified his isolation and sense of hopelessness, contributing to his depression and placing him at a high risk of suicide.
Through my weekly visits, we established a rapport. Over time, Tej was persuaded to join literacy classes in the prison, which reduced some of the isolation and frequency of suicidal thoughts. Through continual support, Tej was transferred to a prison nearer to his home town in order to rebuild his relationship with his family, who had severed all links with him.
My work within the prison environment led me to visiting the young people at Feltham young offender institution. These young men were institutionalised as a result of their criminal activities, with an outlook of further poor outcomes in the future, and once again the state of their mental health contributed to the sense of despair and low aspirations. It could be said that the young people were like tender green shoots waiting to be trained along a framework that would build on their aspirations. They would acquire new skills and knowledge through education, which would be utilised in a productive way to reduce the cost to society.
It has been important to me to have put my business skills into the field and mentored young people through the Prince’s Trust youth business trust, sharing my knowledge and experience of starting businesses, thereby giving them the tools to take the first steps in building a new life and contributing to their community but also to the economy of the country.
Education has a multidimensional impact on every member of society and should be for all to take on board as a lifelong journey of learning, discovery and character building. In 1956, I had the privilege of meeting the President of the Republic of India at that time, Mr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was visiting Kenya to open the Mahatma Gandhi academy. In his speech, he emphasized that, although he was an academic, philosopher and statesman, he still considered that the world was his school. This analogy has influenced my thinking on education, which has brought me here today. I am sure that the provision of mental health services will remain high on the agenda of this House.