National Life: Shared Values and Public Policy Priorities Debate - 02 December 2016
My Lords, I too thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for initiating today’s important and timely debate.
I am very proud to be British. This is a great country, one that I love with all my heart. The reason for my love is quite simple—the values of Great Britain. I agree with the most reverend Primate that most of these values come from the Christian faith. Many consider our values to be Britain’s finest exports and imports—the importance of democracy, the rule of law, equality and tolerance are all British values, as is the need to speak English. Moving to this country and not speaking the language is, I believe, breaking one of the social contracts that bind us together.
When putting together my notes for this debate, what struck me most were the differences between various communities living in Britain, how they define Britishness, and what constitutes shared values. This debate should be about bringing communities together through our shared values of love and loyalty to this great country. However, it is also vital to address the issues which prevent some communities integrating as well as others. That is, after all, in this country’s interest as well as their own.
The British Indian community is one of the most successful communities in Britain today, both socially and economically. The secret behind our community’s success is our commitment to integration. Many of the values that guide our community are the same as those which so often dictate our work in your Lordships’ House—the need for a good education; the importance of trade and entrepreneurship; the desire to own, and pride in owning, our own home; caring for one’s family and community; looking after those less fortunate than ourselves; and working to give the next generation more than we had ourselves. These values are promoted from the very top in the Hindu community through this country’s greatest Hindu institutions such as the Bhaktivedanta Manor in Elstree and the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden, one of London’s most iconic buildings, which my noble friend the Minister visited in the summer. Both these institutions promote integration by taking part, and being at the forefront of, great British landmarks, including welcoming the Olympic torch for the London 2012 Olympic Games, celebrating Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee, taking part in Remembrance Sunday services every year, and holding vegan-style Great British Bake Offs.
I sometimes fear for the future of this country when I find that other communities in Britain do not have the same level of commitment to promoting our shared values. Simple things such as ensuring that events are held in English, ensuring gender equality within communities, promoting national events and encouraging engagement in the political process can have a tremendous impact on communities. We should encourage all immigrant communities who have moved to the UK to take these simple steps. This helps to support integration and creates good will.
I will touch on two areas where we have not quite met our own high standards. The first is a loss of politeness in our political discussions. Nobody has a monopoly on the truth—none of us is right all the time. All of us have a duty to listen, even when we disagree. The referendum this year brought out the very worst in political debate, from all sides. Gone were the sensible discussions in which people politely disagree; in their place came a disgraceful attitude towards open and informative debate.
The other topic I am concerned about is the segmentation of political discussions. It is important to remember that we are one nation. That integration, and seeing ourselves as something bigger than ourselves, is vital for building a strong nation. Instead, all we are doing is posturing or inflaming a sense of “us and them”. When the Hindu Forum of Britain chose its slogan a number of years ago, it decided that “Proud to be British, Proud to be a Hindu” was the most appropriate. It shows that first and foremost, we are British. We all have our own identity and religion as well, but our primary role is as supporters of this great country. This morning I was pleased to read on the front page of the Times that a large number of people in the Muslim community are equally as patriotic as the Hindus.
Britain is now home to people from many different backgrounds, with different religions, communities and languages, but that makes it all the more important to promote the history and values of this great nation and ensure that we are united by a shared set of customs. There is simply no excuse for people and communities to remain isolated or to live by a different set of rules. It is divisive and, frankly, not British.
I started by saying that the importance of democracy is a great British value. It is, and we should treasure and protect it. I wish only to say that I was forced out of the country of my birth because of my skin colour. I was beaten and tortured there. I saw what a collapsing democracy and an intolerant nation look like. Britain in 2016 is far from it.
The full debate can be read through the following link: