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Gujarati Community in the UK

– in Westminster Hall at 4:28 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 4:28 pm, 30th October 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the contribution of the Gujarati community to the UK.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir Christopher. I am deeply grateful to the Chairman of Ways and Means for allowing the debate; I believe that the House of Commons has not debated the subject before, although the House of Lords has. I welcome the Minister to his place, congratulate him on his appointment and look forward to his speech. I also welcome hon. Members present, who probably have substantial Gujarati communities in their constituencies and will no doubt wish to participate.

The reality is that the Gujarati community in the UK is sizeable but at the moment we have a severe shortage of data to measure both the size of the community and the contribution that it makes. One of the asks that I have of my hon. Friend the Minister is whether we can start to compile some of that data in future, so that we can measure what the Gujarati community provide. It is important that we recognise their contribution. However, we can say without question that over about two and a half generations the Gujarati community have integrated fully into the host community.

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate, on a subject that has so far been missing in the Commons debate structure. Does he agree that although we do not have much data, in our constituencies and our local communities we can identify Gujarati individuals, as well as the Gujarati community at large, contributing effectively in different spheres in our society, and that we should respect that?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is the chair of the Indo-British all-party parliamentary group, for his intervention. As the chair of that group, he would naturally raise such a subject and I also know full well how much work he does in his constituency to integrate the various different communities, and I recognise what he has said.

The Gujarati community has integrated so well in Britain because of their religious/spiritual leanings and their ethos of hard work and networking across the community, which we should celebrate.

Most of the Gujaratis in the UK—not all, but most of them—are of Hindu origin and practice Hinduism. All of us who celebrated Diwali last Sunday know that it lasts from about 1 September to 31 January, given the celebrations that go on over that period, but of course last Sunday was the holy day. And we just celebrated the Hindu new year on Monday, so a new year gives us a new opportunity to celebrate what Gujaratis have done here. I wish all those who have been celebrating, “Noutan Varshna Abhinandan”, which is Gujarati for “happy new year”.

First, perhaps, we should consider the state of Gujarat. It is obviously a state in India, which is located on the western coast, near the Arabian sea and bordering the south- eastern tip of Pakistan. It is comprised of 33 districts, it covers just under 76,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 69 million people.

The state, as we know it now, came into being in 1960, when the state of Bombay was revised, and then divided into Gujarat and Maharashtra. So it is a relatively young state in India. The capital city is Gandhinagar. The city of Ahmedabad, which is also in the state, is clearly one of the economic powerhouses of India right now. It is a major population centre and, of course, among the most crucial textile hubs in India.

Figures from the relevant Indian ministry suggest that Gujarat produces 7.69% of the entire GDP of India, so that Gujarat is ranked fifth of the 33 states and union territories of India in that regard. In terms of religious breakdown, which I mentioned earlier, the latest figures show that about 89% of the population are Hindu, 9% are Muslim, 1% follow Jainism, 0.5% follow Christianity, 0.2% follow Sikhism and 0.1% follow Buddhism.

It is fair to say that when Gujarat was created as a state, it was very run-down; in fact, it was a desert. It did not have the economic power that it now has. In fact, it is now recognised as being the economic powerhouse of India, not least because its chief minister between 2001 and 2014 was none other than Narendra Modi, who went on to become the Prime Minister of India and is now delivering for the whole of India what he delivered previously for the state of Gujarat. Under Modhi’s premiership in Gujarat, the finances and wellbeing of the state were rapidly improved, in terms of the economy, the lifestyle enjoyed by its citizens and the other indicators that show Gujarat is a vibrant state. And clearly he is doing the same thing for India as a whole.

Most of the Gujaratis in the UK came here in the 1970s; there were Gujaratis who came here before that, but in general Gujaratis came here from east Africa in the 1970s. That started when Idi Amin became dictator in Uganda. Although the Gujarati community in Uganda were delivering the economic benefits of the Gujarati people to the country, Amin took against them. That was because, as a despot, he persecuted ethnic, religious and political groups with whom he did not agree. He deliberately went after the Asian and European communities in Uganda, and approximately 80,000 Asians who had come to Uganda, who were mainly Gujaratis, became the prime target of his blitz on minorities.

Of those 80,000, around 30,000 moved to the UK. I am very proud of the fact that when Idi Amin decided to evict the Gujaratis and other Indians from Uganda, it was Ted Heath, a Conservative Prime Minister, who took those people in and welcomed them. At the same time, Indira Gandhi, who was the Prime Minister of India, refused to take them back. I think that demonstrates how this country has always welcomed immigrants who will participate fully in our country.

Nevertheless, we should remember how some in Britain welcomed those people who came here. In particular, I think of Leicester City Council, which chose to put adverts in the Ugandan newspapers, saying, “Please don’t come to Leicester”. The result is that the Gujarati population now in Leicester is about 15,000, so that advertising was clearly not very effective. And good on the Gujaratis who went there, despite what they were being told.

I was at school when the first of those people arrived and I remember that most of those I met were—I have to say—a bit disorientated. They arrived in snow, which they were not used to. However, they had better English than we had, they were better educated than we were and they were very smart. But they were bewildered. None the less, many of those people I met then are still my friends today. That demonstrates how they came in, participated in the work of the UK and moved ahead straightaway.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he agree that the decision by Idi Amin was certainly his country’s loss and our country’s gain? At the time, people would often criticise and even abuse Gujaratis for being shop owners. However, the reality is that they not only contributed to the economy, looked after their families and paid taxes, but had a significant impact on the rest of society, by bringing about the changes to the trading laws—particularly the Sunday trading laws—that we all now enjoy.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Remember, when these people were expelled from Uganda, they were told to leave everything behind; all they had was literally what they could carry and about £50 in their pockets. They were not coming here with riches and they were not necessarily able to enjoy the fruits of their labour in Uganda. Equally, this movement of people happened not only in Uganda but in Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and other parts of east Africa, where people recognised that such treatment was going to happen.

When Gujaratis arrived here, the host communities were not always welcoming; I have already mentioned Leicester. However—this demonstrates one of the great characteristics of Gujaratis—they spotted an opportunity. If people remember, back in the 1970s our shops would open at 9 am, they would shut at 5 pm or 6 pm, they would close early on Wednesdays, and they were certainly not open on Sundays. Those Gujaratis clearly saw that there was an opportunity, and they went in and bought those shops, borrowing money to do so, and they ran them from about 6 am until 11 pm. They worked hard and they saved money. They wanted to save that money so that their children would have a better life than they had, which is another of the great characteristics of this community, which we have in our presence and do not recognise enough.

That work also meant that the Gujarati community very quickly got to learn the language. If they were not abreast of English already, they certainly came up to speed quickly. That meant that they could provide, as an extended family, a home for their brothers, sisters, wives, children and so on within one home and continue that process. I am glad that the process continues to this day. One of the key characteristics of the Gujarati community is their extended family ties.

I will go through what I consider to be some of the great characteristics of the Gujarati community. They believe in hard work and effort. In other words, they do not rely on state benefits; they get on with the hard work, earn their money and then use it for their families and communities. They believe in enterprise and free-market thinking. It does not get much more free-market than taking over a corner shop and turning it into an outrageous success, which has happened for a number of UK businesses.

I mentioned integration. Gujaratis have ultimate respect for authority, as we can see from their obedience to the rule of the law. According to the latest statistics, released at the end of March 2018, only 343 Hindus were in prison—Gujaratis are predominantly Hindus—out of a total prison population of nearly 83,000. That demonstrates that Gujaratis are far more likely to be victims of crime than criminals. It is their obedience to the law that often means that their contribution to the community goes unnoticed.

Gujaratis also have a great habit of looking after mum and dad. Rather than putting them in a home or saying, “Sorry, we can’t cope,” they will look after them in their own home and ensure that they are looked after in their old age. The whole of society can learn from that. Around 37% of my constituents are from the Gujarati community. Often when I am going about, particularly during the daytime, the grandparents will be looking after the children while mum and dad are at work. That is a great symbol of the extended family and how it helps mums, dad, grandparents and children to stay together as one big family.

I mentioned the desire for education and how important that is. It is very clear that where there are Gujarati families the standard of education in schools shoots up, because they are demanding. They insist that their children get the best possible education. Equally, where Hindu and other faith schools have been set up, demands for improved education are made.

The Gujarati community add value to our community at large, and I am delighted that they have done so, but often they do not speak up enough. My one criticism is whether they have learned the lessons from their forefathers and foremothers of what happened in east Africa, where their positions were taken for granted and ignored. I often say, “You must speak up and speak out for the contribution that you make, and make sure that your hard work achieves recognition.”

We should also pay tribute to the number of Hindu temples—mandirs—that have been created by the Gujarati community in the UK. At the last count, there were some 150 mandirs in the UK. I am pleased that in my short time in politics I not only was able to attend the foundation stone laying of Neasden temple, but enabled the community to buy the site for the Ealing Road temple. I was present at the inauguration of both those fantastic UK mandirs. I have also been to many other mandirs that have been set up over the past 30 years. It is important to recognise that the mandir is not just a place of worship, but a community facility where the whole community come together to learn about religion and to celebrate it.

There are enormous numbers of Hindu festivals throughout the year—hon. Members will know that because we get invited to them, and we celebrate with the community. It is important that during those times the community is warm and welcoming, and brings people in. That is a message for all religions across the country. If they are welcoming, people will understand their religion, and that will end the myths that often build up about particular religions.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman is making some excellent points. I do not know whether he has yet had the pleasure of coming to the Glasgow Hindu mandir, which recently had a celebration that epitomised what he was saying. Worshippers were celebrating in Kelvingrove Park, with the bands and drums, really bringing people in to enjoy it and embrace it. Does he welcome that kind of community activity?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I do. The hon. Lady may not know that there is a bagpipe band that celebrates and is normally present at the Kingsbury mandir. It comes to a range of functions. In fact, I was with Mr Sharma only recently where that band led the parade.

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman has raised one aspect of the community. The community also includes very skilled craftsmen and women who bring their professions into better repute. As he said, there is a focus on education, and families encourage their children to go into professions such as accountancy, medicine and the law. However, the community are not only in Wembley or Harrow; the hon. Gentleman has visited temples in my constituency to see the services that they provide and the community centres that they have set up. Those temples are not only for worshiping deities; they have an integration aspect, with different cultures brought together to provide services to society—social services. He mentioned some of those services, but does he agree that temples provide other social services too?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I do. It is clear that the first generation had to do the difficult jobs of taking on the economy and building up their family economies. Subsequently, all the families I have come across want their sons and daughters to be doctors, dentists, accountants or lawyers. They want their children to be professionals and to go on and succeed in life—and, in the main, they do. Gujaratis have become some of the most successful businesspeople across the United Kingdom, and some of the most important professionals, be it in our national health service or in other guises.

I will also mention the Gujarati community’s contribution to charity. All the mandirs and community centres are created through voluntary contributions. If they borrow money, they pay it back, but they do not depend on taxpayer money for the creation of any of those centres. That is another thing for which we can be grateful to the Gujarati community. They do not demand money and they do not expect it, but, boy oh boy, do they manage to raise it in their communities.

Let me end with a couple of questions for the Minister. I mentioned that we need a clear way to capture data to measure the immense contribution made not only by the Guajarati community, but by others. There have been debates in this place on the Sikh community and others, and we must ensure that we capture the data in an appropriate way. Several of us have campaigned to get Gujarati as a language retained on the national curriculum for those people who want it. Having that data enables us to demonstrate the importance of having that language in our schools, if people want to raise that point. Equally, retaining Gujarati as an A-level and GCSE qualification is important to that process.

The Gujarati community can be used as a prime example of how a community can come to this country and integrate. We should highlight the contribution it has made, possibly to show other communities that this is the way that they can not only come to this country and make a success of it, but organise appropriately; to have their own religion and celebrate their culture, but still integrate within the host community. The Gujarati community is a shining example to all communities that they can do so. In his reply, could the Minister shed some light on how we can use their example as a means of saying to different communities who come to this country and make it their home that this is an ideal way of doing so, and how we can celebrate what those people have done and the contribution they make?

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party 4:51 pm, 30th October 2019

I find myself in the unusual situation of agreeing with most of Bob Blackman’s contribution. It is a most uncomfortable experience.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I am sure it will not last beyond today.

On behalf of the Gujarati community that I am proud to represent, I wanted to add to the list of requests made of the Minister. The first is about flight links to Gujarat. There is a direct flight from Heathrow to Gujarat, but given the scale of the travel needs of Gujaratis in the UK—as I understand it, we are the third largest home for the Gujarati diaspora worldwide—anything that the UK Government could do, perhaps on the back of discussions about the third runway, to encourage more direct flights to Gujarat would be extremely helpful to many of my constituents.

Turning to the issue of visas, many of my constituents still experience difficulties helping their relatives who want to visit, particularly at Diwali. Perhaps the consulate in Ahmedabad could offer advice sessions to the family members of our Gujarati community about what they need to do to have a decent chance of their applications being processed. The last figures I saw suggested that over 60,000 applications for visas from India were being turned down, and given the size of the Gujarati community, I suspect that many of those—the vast bulk of them— are from people hoping to come from Gujarat to visit relatives here.

The hon. Member for Harrow East mentioned the teaching of Gujarati. It is time that we considered providing some funding, through Government or lottery sources, to support the many Saturday schools that are key for those children who take Gujarati at GCSE and, crucially, A-level; relatively speaking, A-level Gujarati has a very small number of applicants. Many of the mandirs that the hon. Gentleman mentioned facilitate those Saturday schools at considerable expense, but other community organisations often have to provide the teaching, and in these hard times, it is increasingly expensive to provide that teaching and book the facilities for it.

The last of my main asks is this: I do not understand why there are not more trade missions to Gujarat, to take advantage of our substantial business links with it. Gujarat is the economic powerhouse of India, and we should not be frightened of turning to the talents of British Gujaratis to unlock further business opportunities for our country in Gujarat.

I was disappointed at the Government’s unwillingness to support the campaign for Diwali, and indeed Eid, to be recognised as a national holiday. If the Government are not willing to reconsider their opposition to making those days public holidays, they should, at the very least, have conversations with business organisations to encourage businesses to be sympathetic to requests for time off on those days. Those are the most important spiritual days for the Gujarati community, so that would be extremely helpful. As the Minister may know, the Jains and Zoroastrians who form part of the Gujarati community in the UK do not get proper recognition on the census. Both have been running campaigns to get those faiths on to the 2021 census, so that their religion can be properly respected, and it would be good if the Minister would use his influence to unlock a more common- sense response from the Office for National Statistics.

I view the Gujaratis in my community through the businesses and services that they provide, beginning with the garage directly opposite my office, which is run by the Halai family, who came over from east Africa but had a home in the Kutch area of Gujarat. They have provided jobs to people in my constituency and provide a much-appreciated service through their garage. They are active in the Shree Kutch Leva Patel Community, which does so much in north-west London; I wish its premises were based in my constituency, but sadly, they are in Northolt. The SKLPC has secured planning permission for a fantastic new India Gardens project, and I wish its trustees well in turning their vision into a reality.

Also linked to SKLPC are the Vekaria family, who run the Vascroft business—contractors that build temples, hotels and many other things. They employ huge numbers of people and are well known in the building community. That business was set up by two brothers from east Africa, but again with huge links to Gujarat, in January 1977. It is a family business still; it has great values, and it is based in Park Royal. All us Members from north-west London have constituents who work for Vascroft.

There is also Sandip Ruparelia, who has links to the International Siddhashram Shakti Centre in Harrow—which, I suppose, is my home temple in my constituency—and to the ISKCON Foundation at Bhaktivedanta Manor. His family, too, was originally based in Tanzania, but had strong links to Gujarat. He arrived in the UK in March 1980, and now runs a huge business, providing banqueting facilities among other things. Perhaps crucially, in the context of the debate about the future of our public services that we will have over the course of the next six weeks, he also runs an important care home service, providing much-valued services to the elderly in my constituency and beyond. He employs 2,500 staff and generates substantial tax revenues for our economy. He is another example of a member of the Gujarati community who recognises his responsibilities to the country in which he lives, but has also kept his links to Gujarat and is hugely proud of them.

The Dhamecha family are part of the Lohana community. Again, they have strong links to Gujarat and have helped the Lohana community in the UK, which is part of the Gujarati diaspora, to set up two centres, both of which, I am pleased to say, are in my constituency. That is much appreciated. Pradip Dhamecha and his family run a huge cash and carry business, which generates substantial tax revenues for the UK economy.

The Solanki family are a north-west London Gujarati family who originally came from east Africa. The father, Mr Solanki, came over in 1964. They run the Asian Media Group. The business is now run by the second generation, with a third generation of Gujaratis actively involved in taking that successful media business forward. All the individuals I have referenced are fiercely proud of their Hindu faith and have links to many of the mandirs, be they part of the Swaminarayan family or other temples in the area.

I also acknowledge the contribution of Gujarati Muslims in my constituency. The superb Dr Merali, a local GP and entrepreneur, is a trustee of the Mahfil Ali mosque in north Harrow. He provides hugely important public services as a GP and through his work with nurseries. He is also engaged with a series of other fundraising projects to support those in need in the UK and back home in Gujarat.

I am privileged to host the headquarters of the Zoroastrian community in the UK in Rayners Lane in my constituency. It is hugely proud of its links to Gujarat, and the fact that the first MP from an ethnic minority background was a Gujarati Parsi. Again, we should acknowledge the huge contribution that the Zoroastrians have made, as part of the Gujarati community, to life in the UK.

All those Gujaratis, in different ways, support my seven reasonable asks of the Government, which I hope the Minister will take seriously in his response.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

We will start the wind-ups at 10 past, so I hope that the next two speakers are suitably brief.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough 5:02 pm, 30th October 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Bob Blackman in the warmest terms on securing the first ever debate in the Commons about the role of Gujaratis. The story of the Gujarati community in Britain is inspirational. He has already mentioned the Gujaratis’ incredible get-up-and-go enterprising qualities. Many of them, particularly in my constituency, fled here from the murderous Idi Amin with nothing but the shirts on their backs, and they have built incredible businesses and transformed the local economy. If I were to name all of them in my constituency, we would be here for days.

The Gujaratis have made an incredible social contribution to our area—they are social entrepreneurs. As part of the wider Indian community in my constituency, they run countless voluntary groups, community groups and charities, with a particular emphasis on helping and caring for older people. It is always wonderful, when I go to Gujarati homes, to see the grandma and grandpa seated with great respect at the end of the table. That is a wonderful part of the culture that we could all learn from.

The Gujarati community is a patriotic community that has become integrated and part of the great tapestry of this country. I enjoy the cultural contribution that it has made to my constituency; there have been huge Diwali celebrations in recent weeks in Leicestershire. I particularly enjoyed dancing at the Navratri celebrations at Gartree High School in my constituency. As hon. Members might imagine, I am a terrible dancer, but it is a warm and forgiving community, so it was wonderful to be there.

Photo of Jonathan Lord Jonathan Lord Conservative, Woking

I pay tribute to the Surrey Hindu Cultural Association, which is based in Woking. It is not a huge community, but it puts on the most amazing Diwali festival every year, for which all the citizens of Woking are grateful. That also takes place across many other constituencies, and we pay tribute to the community for that.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough

That is extremely nice to hear.

What more can we do? I am always working to make sure that everybody is looked after in our community, which is one reason I support drives to get more tissue and blood donations, which we are desperately short of, from Gujarati and other Indian communities. I also work to improve community life and relationships between the different communities in my constituency, which is why I am pressing my local councils to try to find space for a Hindu community centre. We have lots of churches, a great mosque and a wonderful gurdwara, but people still have to go into the city to go to a temple. I would love to find something to house all those wonderful voluntary groups in my constituency.

To summarise, the story of the Gujaratis in Britain is a story of enterprise, strong family life, charity and strong voluntary commitments. It is a story about a group of patriotic people who have come to this great country and put down deep roots.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 5:06 pm, 30th October 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. Like my hon. Friend Gareth Thomas, it is unusual for me to agree with Bob Blackman, but I thank him for securing this timely debate.

I have a small, minority Gujarati community in my constituency, predominantly of Muslim heritage. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of the Gujarati community to my constituency, and to associate myself with the comments about the community’s contribution, regardless of faith, to Great Britain. As the hon. Gentleman said, there are lots of inspirational stories about the community from across the country, and it is no different in Bradford West. The community makes up almost half the Indian community by size; it is diverse in religious belief, but united by language, heritage and history.

Many of the Gujarati community came to the UK as migrants from not just India but east Africa. Some were tragically forced out of countries such as Uganda by the likes of Idi Amin. Many overcame struggles and challenges on their journey to the UK, as well as the racism that was often faced by first-generation Gujaratis on their arrival, to become leaders in our community. Many hon. Members have mentioned the huge economic contribution that the community makes. Its long history in trading was transformed into entrepreneurial efforts, as we have heard. There was a revolution in the way that Gujaratis turned corner shops into empires, and built on that success to become business leaders in the UK.

Second and third-generation Gujaratis treat our ill in hospitals, teach our young people in schools and work at the highest levels of the public and private sectors, which shows just how important a contribution the community makes to the UK. Whether Hindus, Sikhs, Khojas, Ismailis, Dawoodi Bohras or Sunnis, they have often been at the forefront of charitable work across the UK, especially to support those most in need in the cold winter months.

Leadership and the fight against struggles are attributes woven into the rich history of Gujarati communities. Two of the most prominent leaders who fought British colonialism in India—Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, and Mahatma Gandhi—have roots connected to Gujarat.

Gujaratis in the UK have held firmly to the lessons of standing up to injustice. One of the best examples of that is from my aunties in the Gujarati community, Jayaben Desai and Yasu Patel, also known as the “strikers in saris”. In 1976, in the face of inequality, poor working conditions and low wages at the Grunwick film processing factory, they took to the streets. When even those who were meant to be supporting their cause had abandoned them, they led a campaign joined by almost 20,000 people.

Jayaben Desai quit her post in the factory in solidarity with her sacked colleague. As she left—I love this bit—the line manager compared her and her colleagues with chattering monkeys. She replied, “What you are running here is not a factory; it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips; others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr Manager.”

Like those lions, many of us have fought within the Labour movement to make the Labour party the vehicle of change that we see today. I want to show my gratitude to the Gujarati community, because their contribution to the UK makes it a better place for all across this great nation. I particularly thank the Khalifa Centre, which always welcomes me, and the communities in the Quba mosque in my constituency for their contribution to not just business, but faith, humanity and wider society. We are better for it.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:10 pm, 30th October 2019

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Christopher. I pay huge tribute to Bob Blackman for again bringing us a debate that allows us to think about the many cultures that bring us together as a society, and about their contribution and the special place that each of them has. I thank him very much for his efforts to do that. He set out very well the contribution that the Gujarati community have made and the challenges they have faced.

It was also good to hear from Gareth Thomas—we are stuck between Harrow East and Harrow West in this debate—and Neil O'Brien, who spoke about the Gujarati community’s social and economic contribution. We had a beautiful contribution from Naz Shah, who spoke so nicely and powerfully about lions of the women’s movement in her part of the world—it was a very interesting and profound story of the contribution that women have made, because that is often not recognised well enough among the good contribution made by the Gujarati community. She also reminded us of their mixed Muslim and Hindu heritage.

Gujaratis are a small but significant part of the communities in Scotland. The 2011 census showed that there were only 878 Gujarati speakers in Scotland, but we value each and every one of them. Some perhaps did not complete the census last time—when we get the new census, it will be interesting to see whether that has changed and whether there are issues of language, as other hon. Members mentioned, and whether there are issues where we have to support the community more to ensure that the younger and older generations do not lose their links with their past and to their original countries of origin, be it east India or parts of Africa from which they fled in the 1970s or came earlier in the 1950s and 1960s, because they are incredibly important in allowing those communities to tell their own stories of where they have come from.

The Gujarati people have made an invaluable contribution to life in Scotland and the UK. We must remember, as Bob Blackman mentioned, the challenges that the community faced in coming here. The Gujaratis came at a time when the UK economy was faltering and provided a significant boost to the economy. It certainly undermines any myth that the UK was doing them a favour by allowing them to come here. In fact, it is the other way around—the Gujarati community, and the many communities that make up the UK, have actually done us a huge honour and favour by choosing this country as their home, or by coming here if they had to. We welcome them and say that this is their home. We look forward to future generations building on the great success that the original generation had made.

The hon. Member for Harrow West mentioned visas, which is a huge issue in my constituency. I have many constituents who struggle to get visitor visas, spousal visas or visas to stay if they have come to study. It is a huge issue, and I urge the Minister to look in more detail at the impact that has on community relations and on the way Britain is perceived in the world. Although Scotland has no choice about our immigration system, we are bound by it. We are done down by it, because we cannot welcome people as we would want to. The hostile environment is a huge issue for many of my constituents, who turn up at my constituency surgeries in tears week in, week out, because they cannot get their granny to come and visit, or they cannot have family members come and stay for a while so that they can show off the place they now call home and say, “This is Scotland; come and visit.” It is a huge disappointment every time that happens.

The hon. Member for Harrow West also mentioned the important links to Gujarat and the importance of having flights and facilitating travel the other way as well. As I mentioned in my intervention, the wider Indian community in my Glasgow constituency is growing and vibrant. They are very keen to do things such as have cricket contests in the west end. They had me out playing cricket, which was terrible—I really should not do that, because I am not very good at it. They were very encouraging of that. They had women’s and men’s teams, and they had all kinds of people involved. It is really positive on the whole, and it is good to see such a vibrant community.

I particularly want to mention Piush Patel of the Gujarati Society of Glasgow, which is a non-profit organisation run entirely by volunteers. There was originally a Gujarati Society in the 1970s, but that committee retired and the new generation have picked it up. They have held a Dandiya celebration for the past seven years, and Navratri is one of their biggest festivals. They said that, during the nine days of Navratri, each night was celebrated with prayers and dancing. Their Facebook page has pictures showing some of those celebrations, which look like a lot of fun. I hope to join them at some point soon, if we are not going to be here so much. The committee has been holding such events and has had a huge turnout. Despite it being a small community, they have sold out, with 250 to 300 tickets for each night when they run the event. They could probably get more people in if they had a bigger hall in which to hold the events.

The influx and number of Gujaratis in Scotland is significant, and they feel as though more people are coming and joining the community. They feel that they have a huge contribution to make, and that having these celebrations is also a good way to reach out to teach people about Gujarati culture, the festivals and, of course, to enjoy the food when they come together.

I welcome the debate that the hon. Member for Harrow East has introduced, and I hope that the Minister will pick up on some of the concerns that have been raised.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning) 5:16 pm, 30th October 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir Christopher. I congratulate Bob Blackman on securing this really important debate. I also thank him for giving me one last opportunity to respond to a debate from Labour’s Front Bench.

It is really a pleasure to speak to the importance of recognising the contribution that the Gujarati community makes to the UK. I had an opportunity to see this for myself last year when I visited the community of my hon. Friend Mr Sharma. We had an absolutely wonderful experience, and I thank him and his constituents again for that. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, including my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah), for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) and for Ealing, Southall. They spoke so passionately on behalf of their Gujarati constituents.

As has been said, our country and Gujarat state in India have close historical connections. Almost half of the Indian community who now live in the UK are from Gujarat—a population of around 600,000. As we have heard, the journey to the UK for many Gujarati families has not, historically, always been easy or direct. Some Gujaratis came directly from India in the 1950s and 1960s, but most came from east Africa in the 1970s and 1980s, as a response to the terrible events that took place in Uganda and their expulsion. They came here for a better and safer way of life. It is interesting that they settled in a number of places of opportunity in the UK: Leicester, Coventry—the midlands—northern textile towns and here in Greater London.

It is hugely important to recognise the contribution that the Gujarati community has made to the UK in all manners of life—cultural, social and economic. Although the community is diverse and vibrant, with many different traditions and faith backgrounds, including Hindus, Muslims and Jains, they have brought great diversity to our own culture in the realms of music, festivals, dance, quizzing, dress and architecture. Autumn festivals such as Navaratri, which have just passed, bring vibrancy and vigour to our communities, and festivals such as Diwali, which many in the Gujarati community take part in, have become a staple in the British calendar. Gujarati cuisine, with its fantastic use of spices and range of vegetarian dishes, has enriched the shops of many UK high streets.

Buildings such as the Neasden temple—Europe’s first traditional Hindu stone temple, painstakingly carved in Gujarat by more than 1,000 dedicated craftsmen and built by a team of international volunteers in London—have brought a magnificent diversity, too, to our architecture. They have also brought much to our economy and industry and, as has been said, they are well known for their entrepreneurial spirit.

I have heard it said many times that Gujaratis have contributed greatly to the revolution of the British corner shop. That entrepreneurial success is even more commendable when one considers the often severe racism that many migrant communities faced in the 1970s and ’80s. Dr Offord made that point well.

At a local level, Gujarati mosque and Hindu temple networks continue to contribute to the UK’s charitable sector. Gujaratis and people of Gujarati descent continue to achieve great success in all manner of industries, from film and television to sports and politics. Picking just a few prominent people of Gujarati descent in the UK highlights the great breadth of the impact that they have had. They include: Jayaben Desai, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West said, led the strikes in the 1970s against the working conditions of south Asian women in the Grunwick factory, and was chosen for the “Woman’s Hour” power list in 2016; the actor Dev Patel; the cricketer Sameer Patel; and, of course, people here and in the House of Lords with specialisms in political theory and economics. We are very well served. It is paramount that we recognise the unique and special contribution that the Gujarati community makes to this country.

In concluding, I want to raise some quick points with the Minister. We clearly need more information and data about the community, and much better documentation of its positive impact and huge contribution to this country. We also need to solve some of the problems that Gujaratis face in travelling and getting visas for their families.

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:21 pm, 30th October 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. In particular, I thank my hon. Friend Bob Blackman for securing the debate and giving me the opportunity to reflect on the significant social, economic, political and cultural contribution made by the Gujarati community in the United Kingdom. Nobody in this House has been a more tireless advocate for the Gujarati community than him. It takes only a visit to his office to see the accolades and gifts of thanks from the community in acknowledgement of his hard work on their behalf in his near decade as a Member of Parliament. I offer him my sincere thanks.

I want to take this opportunity to send my best wishes to everyone who celebrated Diwali on Sunday. The festival of light is a special time for all to come together, to share gifts, food and memories, and to draw confidence from the knowledge that, ultimately, good will triumph over evil. That is a message for all time, and Diwali’s enduring values of duty and service resonate with people of all faiths and none.

It is a huge privilege to represent the Government in this debate. There has been such consensus about the issues facing the community and its contribution to British society. It has been fascinating to learn so much from hon. Members. The Gujarati community is renowned for possessing some of the most prized qualities in British society: a formidable work ethic, a strong sense of charity and an unbreakable bond of community. I am delighted to be celebrating its great achievements and contributions to our country.

The Gujarati community has had a long history with Britain, dating back to the 17th century. Trade between Britain and the Gujarat region stretches back centuries, and I am sure it will continue to flourish and strengthen in the decades ahead. The Gujarati community is also responsible for a phenomenal degree of trade within the United Kingdom. Throughout the country, the Gujarati community can be found running businesses at all levels, from hotels to tech start-ups and international conglomerates, but it is at the most local level that the Gujarati community has had its biggest effect on UK business, through many thousands of local shop owners. I remember from my time working in retail, from leaving school to coming to this House, the phenomenal impact that that famous work ethic had on changing opening hours around consumer need in many retail businesses. It helped to transform a quite old-fashioned set of retail laws in this country forever.

Away from the world of numbers and money, it is important to acknowledge the community’s impact on injecting colour and vibrancy into our country. Consider how much duller our country would be without the kind of celebrations that we have seen in recent weeks at Diwali, or the festival of colour. The Gujarati community has helped to transform our social lives and our community through fashion, music and, predominantly, as Dr Blackman-Woods said, food. There are 10,000 restaurants in England and Wales alone that serve Indian and Gujarati food. That accounts for two thirds of all the dining experiences in the United Kingdom, so it is hugely important to acknowledge that contribution. I agree with what the hon. Lady said about vegan and vegetarian food. The community has injected some spice and diversity into food in this country.

It is important to acknowledge the immense contribution of the Gujarati community, which goes far beyond its cultural flair and entrepreneurial spirit, and extends to the world of charity, as a number of hon. Members have acknowledged. The Shree Prajapati Association is a charity that grew up in east Africa, and when its members were forced to flee because of political oppression, it came to the UK and was re-established here. It now has 13 branches that support causes in India, as well as UK charities such as Breast Cancer Now and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It is strongly dependent on the amazing support of the Gujarati community in Britain. Sangaam, a charity in north London that many Members will be familiar with, is dedicated to supporting Gujaratis and non-Gujaratis alike with issues such as domestic violence, and it provides legal advice and counselling. Some 6,000 people went through its doors last year alone.

It is also important to acknowledge that the impact of this community is felt not just at a social level. Some individuals have changed our way of life, and arguably even our world. The towering figure in UK-Gujarati history is, of course, Mahatma Gandhi—a man who employed non-violent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence, and who has been held up as a role model for civil rights leaders.

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

We have recognised the Gujarati community’s contribution to business, education and charity work, but it has also contributed to the public life of this country. It is a pleasure to say that the current Home Secretary comes from a Gujarati background.

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I completely agree. The Home Secretary is, of course, the first ethnic minority woman to hold one of the great offices of state, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to put that on the record. The even more famous members of UK society with Gujarati descent are, of course, our royal family, who were shown by recent DNA testing to have Gujarati ancestry. It is important to put that on the record.

There have been a number of points raised in the debate. I fear that I may not have time to address them all, but I will touch on a couple. First, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and a number of other hon. Members raised the issue of data capture and the importance of ensuring that we have the right information to demonstrate the Gujarati community’s contribution. The Government published statistics on Monday detailing the experiences of people from the Indian ethnic community in the UK. This is the first time that that data has been published. Although it focuses on the Indian community as a whole, it provides a valuable insight into the achievements, attainments and contributions of the community. I am very happy to take my hon. Friend’s suggestion away and look at what more can be done.

Gareth Thomas raised, I think, seven suggestions that he would like me to take away and look at. Because of the time, I will commit to write to him on all seven, but he made some valid points.

In conclusion—I am giving my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East very little time to respond—I want to put on the record my thanks, and the thanks of the whole Government and of my Department, to the Gujarati community for its work and its huge contribution to British society and British life.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 5:29 pm, 30th October 2019

I thank Members from across the House for participating in this celebration. It is very rare that we get the chance to end a Parliament with such as celebration, so that is what we should do. I will end with this anecdote. People who go into a temple—a mandir—can sometimes see a multimillionaire cleaning the statues and the floors, but they will not know that he is a multimillionaire, because he will show no sign of that. I think that is symbolic of the Gujarati community.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the contribution of the Gujarati community to the UK.

Sitting adjourned.