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April - May 2005


Labour Friends of India

The Labour Friends of India held their annual lunch at the Cafe Royal. Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s Speech dominated the entire proceedings. Here is a summarised version of his speech:

“I'd like to say a warm word of welcome to the High Commissioner obviously, those from the Indian Chamber of Commerce, to the many members of Parliament and, members of the House of Lords, all of whom have a very keen interest in our relationship with India, and also to many people from different communities in different parts of the country.

I am immensely proud that it was under a Labour Government that India secured her independence, and I am also immensely proud that nearly 60 years on, the relationship between our two countries today is probably as strong as it has been in all of those almost 60 years and thank you for that. That is obviously in part as a result of what we try to do as a Government but in reality the biggest part of it goes to the emergence of India as a country that's undergone an extraordinary change in modernisation. It's the world's largest democracy of course, but it's become respected and admired throughout the world not just because of its democratic credentials, but increasingly because of its economy, its dynamism, its sense of innovation and adventure, and I think it's an immensely exciting place.

When I visited the south of India a few years ago I thought: 'here is a country that is supposedly behind us economically and yet they are starting to develop a whole infrastructure of university provision that we in this country, if we want to keep up with them in the future, are going to have to emulate'.

Now, different countries find different ways of doing it, but I remember sitting down in Bangalore with a group of women who were in the biotechnology industry, and them telling me about the changes they were making industrially and about the absolutely vital necessity of developing a world class, highly educated work-force, and it so conflicted with some of the things I had thought about and been taught about India over the years, and it was like a revelation to me. And I remember going back and speaking to some of my Cabinet colleagues and saying: 'Look, the future, has got to be in developing this type of work-force here and making sure we stay ahead of the game. Otherwise we're going to find that very very swiftly there is a new and emerging power of an enormous size, that we will running very hard to keep up with.

Now, we've both, I hope, made strides over the last few years, but there's no doubt at all, that the way that India has taken in its own hands the running and dynamism of its economy, has been something of extraordinary impact in India and right throughout the world.

India's culture too has impacted world wide. Bollywood films, seen all over the world, in arts and music and literature, they're recognised frankly here now almost as much as in India. We of course have huge historical and cultural ties. But I think the reason why our relationship today is strong is because we're sharing a global vision and democratic values.

We both play a pro-active role in international affairs, and on such bodies as the UN, WTO and Commonwealth. We're natural partners, and I believe that our relations can and will over the coming years intensify even further. Last September I had the pleasure of welcoming the new Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, to Downing Street. It was an important meeting where we re-affirmed our commitment to the new strategic partnership between our two countries that the High Commissioner referred to. This builds not just on close links in many traditional vital areas, but in education and training, science and technology, defence, tackling terrorism, environmental protection and development, in all of these areas we are now marching forward hand-in-hand together and that is I think both exciting and immensely welcome. And thank you High Commissioner for all you are doing to help us make progress in that regard.

There is the EU-India summit, which is being held in India later this year, and that will be an important part of the United Kingdom's presidency of the European Union. But I also hope for the G8 at Gleneagles later this year, we find a way of bringing India into the dialogue and issues such as climate change in Africa, which is going to be the focal point of the meeting.

The close links on trade and investment are well known. The India-British Partnership has seen bilateral trade and investment increase dramatically since its creation 12 years ago. We are India's second largest trading partner and cumulatively the number one investment in India, and I want to carry on building on that strong foundation for your business and for our business also.…However, we don't forget and you don't forget that there are still many millions of people in India who live below the international poverty line, and no country could be expected to tackle poverty on this scale on its own. So we're working in partnership with India's government also, and charities, to help tackle both poverty and its causes. India is now, I am pleased to say, our biggest bilateral development programme. In the last five years the funding has doubled for it, we aim to increase this still further, and our funding is allocated according to a strategy agreed with the government of India and includes spending on health and education and on improving and getting access to services for those who need them most.

And the reason we do that is because we know that as India develops, India will be so important for us, that it is our people that will also develop from the development of India as well as Indian people themselves, living in India. So there are reasons, yes, of common solidarity, but there are also reasons frankly of self-interest too.

The strongest link however, is the one between our peoples. The Indian community makes an immensely important and invaluable contribution to the life and economy and culture of this country. Thank you.

There's been debate as you might have noticed in recent weeks in this country, over immigration and asylum, and we need of course to ensure that there are proper controls in place to make sure that only people who abide by the rules come here and that they contribute to our society and economy. But whilst that debate is taking place, I hope we never forget the immense contribution that people who've migrated into our country make to the daily life of our society, our culture and our economy.

I think that probably the single most important thing that keeps a country going and moving forward, is the dynamism and potential of its people today. We have more than one million people of Indian origin who now live in Britain and I know because I've seen it in different parts of the country that I've visited, the contribution those people have made not just within their own communities, but to the dynamism and innovation of our economy is incalculable.

I was opening a school this morning and I was reflecting on educational attainment. It's true also that in the number of young people of Indian origin going on to further and higher education is increasing every year. School results for Indian children are above the national average and keep improving. Last week the Department for Education and Skills published figures showing that two-thirds of children of Indian origin now achieve five or more good GCSEs, so well done parents, and children, but this is a tremendous testimony not just to the strength of individual children and parents, but to the values of the community.

This is one of the contributions, Mr High Commissioner, that the Indian community make to our country. From the community, we get values, that believe in the importance of the family and the importance of helping other people, but also there is an incredibly strong dynamic within the Indian community here, which then reflects itself in the wider British community, that can celebrate ambition and doing well for yourself, with a sense of obligation and social compassion and respect of other people.

And it's an immensely valuable thing for the whole of British life that that is so. Young people of Indian origin are making an interesting, important impact on the workplace, we're seeing it in a greater representation in the professions, in the growing number of successful Indian businessmen and women and entrepreneurs. We're also, as we keep modernising our public services, seeing in those public services, a whole series of contributions from people, whether it's teachers of doctors or nurses, people from Indian origin in our public services, and we can see too in the greater diversity, in the recruitment, promotion and the work that people do, that it is reflecting a change that's happening in the whole of our society.

So, I am delighted that your community is playing such an increasingly important role in politics and public life, but we need to do more, frankly, to improve the involvement and representation of your community, indeed all ethnic minority communities in politics and public life. Like the Labour Party, now has 12 members of Parliament from ethnic minority communities. Now, that's better than the other two but, it's not good enough.

We hope, and expect to increase this representation still further at the next election. As we celebrate the successes of the Indian community in Britain, we can't ignore however the obstacles that many British Asians still face everyday. Prejudice still exists. We also know that in recent years minority communities have faced prejudice based on their faith as much as their race or ethnicity. And we know that it is not only Muslim communities that face this prejudice, but that it is a problem also suffered by Hindus, Sikhs and other minority faith communities.

Let me make one thing clear. This Government will not tolerate any prejudice or threat to your communities based on either race or faith. We've introduced legislation to tackle hate crimes. We've made racially and religiously motivated violence a specific criminal offence, and we'll also support the victims of these senseless and unprovoked attacks. We've extended protection against racial discrimination across the public sector to include for the first time the police and immigration service. We've introduced protection against religious discrimination in employment, and are extending this now to the provision of goods and services.

And we are also, if I may say in the face of some opposition from the other parties, seeking to introduce legislation prohibiting the stirring-up of incitement of religious hatred. Let me dispel some myths however about this legislation, that some of you will have read about. This is not legislation dreamt up by Government, it's been requested by key leaders in all the major faith communities. It is not going to stop comedians telling their jokes and us having a laugh at the differences between the different races and cultures. However, what it will do is stop people quite deliberately stirring up religious hatred against people of another faith, and I believe that to be right.

The full version of this article is available in the print edition.

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