In this contribution Lord Bilimoria discusses the positive impact of various different cultural groups and faiths on the UK, in particular he notes the Zoroastrian Parsees and their contribution and presence in the UK and India. He also discusses the rise in prejudice and hatred against foreigners which he feels is a direct result of the June 2016 referendum which he feels is not the UK he knows. He argues against the current classification of foreign students studying in the UK as immigrants by the Government. He suggests that there is a need for integration and argues for integrity in the UK which cannot be practised without wholeness.
National Life: Shared Values and Public Policy Priorities
02 December 2016
Moved by: The Archbishop of Canterbury
That this House takes note of the shared values underpinning our national life and their role in shaping public policy priorities. He also notes the recent rise in prejudice and hatred against perceived foreigners since the June 2016 referendum and argues the referendum caused these feelings to become more public.
My Lords, when I came to this country as a 19 year-old from India for my higher education in the early 1980s, Britain was referred to as the sick man of Europe—a country that had had an empire but was then a has-been. The City of London, where I qualified as a chartered accountant at what is today Ernst & Young was a closed shop and prejudice was rife. In fact, I was told by my family and friends in India, “If you decide to work in Britain after your studies you will not get to the top, as you will not be allowed to. There will be a glass ceiling for you as a foreigner”. Three decades ago, I am ashamed to say that my family was absolutely right.
I have seen Britain transformed in front of my eyes over the past three decades, from the sick man of Europe into the envy of Europe. I have seen that glass ceiling well and truly shattered, with a country that is aspirational and meritocratic—where anyone can get as far as their aspirations, talent and hard work will get them regardless of race, religion or background, as the noble Lord, Lord McInnes, said in his excellent maiden speech. London today is the most cosmopolitan city in the world.
In 2012, I led a debate on the 150th anniversary on the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, of which I am proud to be patron. The ZTFE is the oldest of the Asian voluntary faith-based organisations in Britain, founded in 1861. Dadabhai Naoroji, who became in 1892 the first Indian Member of Parliament at Westminster, was one of the founding members. The topic of my debate was the contribution made by minority ethnic and religious communities to the cultural life and economy of the UK. If your Lordships read the Hansard report of that debate you will see that without the contribution of these communities and immigrants over the decades, Britain would not be where it is today. My tiny community the Zoroastrian Parsees number less than 57,000 out of a population of 1.25 billion in India and less than 6,000 out of 65 million over here in the UK. I am proud to say that it has achieved so much and put back into the community wherever we have been. They say that our per capita rate of achievement is the highest in the world. The Tatas who own Jaguar Land Rover, Freddie Mercury from Queen and the conductor Zubin Mehta are or were all Zoroastrian Parsees.
I thank the most reverend Primate for initiating this debate at this crucial time and for his excellent speech. In more than three decades of being in this country, I have never faced racial discrimination or hate crime of any sort here in London or at Cambridge, where I studied. However this year, 2016, I have before and since the referendum been the recipient of numerous tweets, e-mails and letters. People can hide behind tweets and e-mails can be sent anonymously, but I have received letters, some of them five pages long—and with full names, signatures and addresses—filled with hatred. I cannot quote the tweets and e-mails—that would not be appropriate in this Chamber—but let me quote from one or two of the letters: “If you are unhappy, why you don’t go back to your country of origin? We don’t want you here mithering all the time. Go man go, I say good riddance”. Another one said: “This country did okay before you and your like came over here in your multitudes”.
This is what this wretched referendum has unleased. It appears we are undoing three decades of all the good we have done where Britain moved on from tolerating diversity to celebrating diversity, benefiting from diversity and thriving from diversity, be it in business, where the most successful business people in this country are Indians, or in sports where, with 1% of population, we came second in the world in the Olympics and Paralympics—and look at the amazing diversity of our athletes. I am the proud chancellor of the University of Birmingham and chairman of the advisory board of Cambridge Judge Business School, and 30% of our academics at Birmingham and Cambridge are foreign. We have international students, whom the Government still insist on categorising as immigrants when the public categorically say they do not look upon them as immigrants.
In the referendum, one of the major issues was immigration. Migrants were seen as the problem, putting strain on our public services. Where is the logic in this? We have the lowest level of unemployment—less than 5%—and the highest level of employment in living memory in spite of having more than 3 million people from the EU and people from outside the EU living and working here. How on earth would we have managed to make this economy the sixth largest in the world without these migrants? As I highlighted in my recent speech on the effect of the EU referendum on the NHS and the care sector, there are 130,000 people from the EU working in the NHS and the care sector and more than 30% of our doctors are foreign. Far from being a burden on our public services, our public services would collapse without our migrant workforce. Far from being a burden, EU migrants put five times more into this economy than they take. I admire individuals from the EU, including those from eastern Europe, who come here, leaving their families thousands of miles away, not knowing the language or the culture, and work hard, contribute to our economy and pay taxes that we benefit from. Far from us being grateful for this, they are vilified, seen as a problem and discriminated against.
What is happening to our wonderful nation? Britain as a country has been renowned for being fair and just, a country that evolved over the past decades from prejudice, from being a closed, inward-looking, insular country to an open, welcoming, vibrant country and economy. My friend Ed Smith, the pro-chancellor of the University of Birmingham and former chairman of the UK board of trustees of the World Wide Fund for Nature told me that its money does not come from people donating millions of pounds. The vast majority of the millions raised by the WWF comes from individuals donating £5 or £10 each for causes in countries that they may never visit. That is the spirit and generosity of this wonderful country.
Perhaps in encouraging multiculturalism, we did not encourage integration enough, as the most reverend Primate said. After all, there is a difference between assimilation and integration. My father, the late Lieutenant-General Bilimoria, told me when I left India, “Son, wherever you live in the world, integrate to the best of your abilities but never forget your roots”. I am so proud to be a Zoroastrian Parsee, I am so proud to be an Indian, I am so proud to be an Asian in Britain and I am really proud to be British. We have to nip this in the bud and get back on the path that has made this tiny country, with 1% of the world’s population and no empire—not a super power but a global power—respected around the world. This country is now breaking away from the EU; it is looking not outwards but inwards; it is not open but protectionist and is, as the most reverend Primate said resisting inwards. This is the result of that wretched referendum. In a country that has been celebrated for its cosmopolitanism and diversity, the referendum has unleashed hate crime, prejudice against immigrants and racism. This is not the Britain that I know and love.
Britain has always been a country with integrity. The best definition of integrity that I have ever heard was when the most reverend Primate’s predecessor, the noble and right reverend Lord Williams, visited the Zoroastrian centre in Harrow, of which I am patron. I made the welcoming speech and the noble and right reverend Lord said, “Lord Bilimoria has mentioned the word ‘integrity’ twice. The Zoroastrian community is renowned for its integrity”. He said that the word integrity comes from the Latin word “integritas”, which means wholeness. You cannot practice integrity if you are fragmented in front of the light. You can practice integrity only if you are whole and complete. Britain needs to retain its wholeness and completeness so that we can always practice integrity.
I will conclude with my favourite poem. It is relevant to the current time. It is by the Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake”.