HL Deb 05 July 1999 vol 603 cc582-4

2.59 p.m.

Lord Paul asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the current state of relations within the Asian community in England.

Lord Burlison

My Lords, relations within the Asian community in England are excellent. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary received a delegation of South Asian High Commissioners on 10th June. They praised the Government, the police and the community for their efforts in the wake of the recent bombings. They also reassured the Home Secretary that, whatever difficulties might arise between their own countries, they are determined to ensure that communities here live in peace and harmony.

Lord Paul

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. I should like to say that the Asian community in Britain—that is, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and others—live in great friendship and harmony. They are law-abiding citizens and are very proud of being British and good citizens of this country. Although they may sometimes fail the "Tebbit test" when supporting the cricket teams from their countries of origin, they pass the test of good citizenship. This was evident at the India v Pakistan World Cup Cricket match at Old Trafford and the final contest at Lord's where, despite predictions of disorder, the behaviour of the community was exemplary. Can my noble friend tell me whether Her Majesty's Government have commended this good behaviour?

However, attempts are made by various groups from the sub-continent to export their domestic politics to the south-east Asian community in Britain with, it would appear, the intention of causing unnecessary discord. Can my noble friend confirm that Her Majesty's Government rigorously discourage such action?

Lord Burlison

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments. I note his support for the cricket teams and their recent activities. I believe that many people were very surprised at the harmonious way that certain teams competed; and, certainly, at the support that was given by various individuals. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister attended a Muslim Council of Britain reception, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary also spoke at a special lunch which it organised last December. Both my right honourable friends attended recent celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the Sikh Khalsa in London and Birmingham. My right honourable friends applauded the vital contributions made by the Moslem and Sikh communities to our multi-cultural nation. They honoured their traditions based on shared values of tolerance, decency and justice.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the Government will do everything possible to make clear to the media that most Moslems and Hindus in this country—and, for that matter, in the rest of the world—are not extremists or fundamentalists but people who share most of the beliefs of those of us who are Christians? Incidentally, this was confirmed for myself and for some other noble Lords this morning at a memorial service in St. Paul's when a passage from the holy Koran was read.

Lord Burlison

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I agree with what he said. Indeed, I believe that most fair-minded people in Britain would also agree with his remarks. The Government's proposals for new UK-wide counter-terrorist legislation, published in a consultation document on 17th December, proposed a new definition which would enable serious violence by so-called "domestic" terrorist groups to be treated as terrorism. These are areas and aspects that I think we all agree need to be tackled in the future. I am sure that this Government, like any fair-minded government, will wish to tackle these issues and aspects in as positive a fashion as possible.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I welcome the Question tabled by the noble, Lord, Lord Paul. Although I agree with much of the sentiment he expressed, I cannot support him on the cricket because I support England. However, is the Minister aware of the concern of the Asian community in this country about the recent events in Kashmir? Is he also aware that ethnic minority newspapers report such news in a substantial manner? Therefore, when debates are held in your Lordships' House would it not be appropriate for him to take this into account and ensure that great care is exercised so as not to destabilise the situation among the Asian community, especially as regards exaggerated claims?

Lord Burlison

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the point he has made. I know how difficult it is for each of us to deal with issues concerning countries abroad, especially the circumstances surrounding Kashmir. This Government have been totally even-handed in their approach. That will be the position that they will pursue in the future.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, notwithstanding the very good practices of this House, can my noble friend the Minister explain what is being done by the Government to encourage more women, especially Asian women, into playing prominent roles in public life?

Lord Burlison

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her question. I should like to make it clear that young Asian women in Britain today are excelling in education, both at school and at university, and, indeed, in business and in professional life. However, we recognise that it can be hard for maturing Asian women to access the opportunities for a fulfilling career or participation in public life. We would welcome any ideas that my noble friend, or any noble Lords, may have on this particular issue for consideration in the future.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister comment on what success is being achieved in recruiting more police officers from the Asian community than has been the case in the past? This is clearly an issue which needs desperately to be tackled.

Lord Burlison

My Lords, as far as concerns this Government, attracting able young people from ethnic minorities into public services is a priority. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is setting targets for the Home Office and all its services to ensure that they visibly represent the communities that they serve. Some of the services, like the police and the Prison Service, are predominantly white, male institutions. So we are keen to see more women entering the service; and, indeed, more people from the ethnic groups. I believe that, only today, the Home Secretary issued a statement on this issue.

Forward to