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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): As the Punjabi language is probably the second most spoken in this country—it is the first language for many people—is it not important to give people in that community access to radio? The Minister is not responsible for that issue, but perhaps she will pass on to her colleagues in another Department the Punjabi community's eagerness to use the new access radio licences to provide radio through the medium of Punjabi. That would enable it to use radio licences to reinforce and develop the language.

John McDonnell: I am grateful for that intervention, and shall make a plea to the Government on the subject.

The all-party group suggests that we assist in a survey of local education authorities to ascertain what support is provided for teaching Punjabi where parents request that facility. My hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) is correct: with 1.3 million Punjabi speakers in Britain, Punjabi has become this country's second language. That wealth of Punjabi speakers is a real asset in a globalised economy, and I agree that the scale of Punjabi speaking in this country should be reflected in the support given to cultural outlets available to the Punjabi-speaking community.

The best example is the limited number of radio stations broadcasting in Punjabi. Most are on short-term licences associated with the celebration of the Versaikhi period, but several excellent applications are being prepared by the Punjabi community. Last year the all-party group organised a seminar on radio licensing, and we believe that we might have facilitated the approach to the Government that will enable them to award new licences to Punjabi-speaking community organisations.

Greater recognition is also needed to preserve and promote Punjabi sport—kabbadi, for example, which is a form of what I can only describe as high-speed wrestling, or rugby without the ball. One day someone might explain the rules of kabbadi, which are complicated and brutal. The UK kabbadi federation is not even recognised by the visa office, and teams are often prevented from travelling to the UK from the Indian sub-continent. Many MPs have had to intervene on several occasions just to secure a player's entry to this country.

An understanding of the history of the Punjab, especially the Sikh Khalsa, is critical to the maintenance of Punjabi culture. The recent celebration of the 300th anniversary of Versaikhi by institutions such as the Victoria and Albert museum did a great deal to promote a greater appreciation of that culture among both Sikhs and the general population. This year we will witness the celebration of the bicentenary of Maharajah Ranjeet Singh, and this month the V&A has organised a seminar on "Preserving the Sikh Heritage". The Sikh material heritage ranges from simple pieces produced in homage to Sikh gurus to precious art works and gems in museums and royal collections. The Koh-i-noor diamond, which is part of the Crown jewels, is a Sikh artefact given to Queen Victoria—some say under duress—by the last Maharajah Duleep Singh.

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The all-party group is anxious to encourage a discussion of how this unique heritage can be preserved for future generations and made more accessible to the current generation. This is not an attempt to repatriate these objects, as with the Elgin marbles—the Queen can rest assured for the time being. Instead, we need to examine how co-operation between Governments and community organisations can best assist in preserving and holding in trust these priceless objects for the worldwide Sikh community.

Another key agenda issue for the all-party group for the coming period is the development of economic links between Britain and the Punjab. Later this year, the group aims to host a seminar on the potential for economic development initiatives, which could be of mutual benefit, bringing together Government agencies, Punjab state bodies and private sector representatives from Britain and the Punjab. The objective is to examine what assistance can be provided to Punjabi commerce and agriculture, especially through enhanced opportunities for inward investment and for export via increased airport capacity. They also need help to tackle the increasing problem of water scarcity and diversion, and cropping policies in the Punjab.

We remain interested in human rights issues. Undoubtedly, there are concerns about the Indian Government's failure to allow United Nations rapporteurs to enter the country and go to the Punjab. We will continue to press the matter until we secure a truth commission—or at least an extension of the remit of the Indian Human Rights Commission—to investigate the disappearance of large numbers of people throughout the 1980s during the crisis in the Punjab.

That is a substantial agenda for an industrious all-party group, and we are addressing many other issues on behalf of the Punjabi community in Britain. We can succeed with that agenda only with the support of the Punjabi community, and the continuing support of the Government, which we are pleased to have received throughout their previous term of office and hope to receive throughout their present period of office.

10.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Angela Eagle): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) for securing, for the second consecutive year, a debate on the Punjabi community in Britain. We still face many challenges on race relations. It is right to highlight the success of our many and varied communities. I thank my hon. Friend for reminding us of the significant contribution that the Punjabi community makes to the economic and cultural life of this country.

These debates provide an important opportunity for us to be reminded at first hand of community concerns, and my hon. Friend has set those out clearly. Last year, the difficulties that many members of the Punjabi community face in travelling to Delhi to apply for a visa were explained. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) said in reply to last year's debate, the Government were aware of suggestions that there should be more visa issuing offices in the sub-continent and were examining the matter. As my hon.

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Friend was happy to report, in December we asked the Indian Government for their agreement to open visa liaison offices in Jalandhar in the Punjab and a similar office in Ahmadabad in Gujarat.

We continue to press the Indian Government for approval for the offices, at which point we can begin to recruit and train locally employed staff. This matter was raised with the Indian Government on 21 June by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw). I am happy to discuss with the all-party group the issue of visas and work permits, to see how we can make the system more user-friendly. I am glad to have my hon. Friend's support on the registration of some of the legal advisers, which is going ahead as a result of legislation passed recently.

Human rights in the Punjab were mentioned. The situation has improved greatly since the troubles ended some eight years ago, and we recognise the need to ensure that all allegations of abuses are investigated. Ministers and officials have made clear to the Indian authorities the importance of investigating abuses and bringing wrongdoers to justice, and we have consistently urged those authorities to allow access to India for international human rights groups, including the United Nations rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial executions.

We have also been trying to work with the authorities in a practical way. Through our high commission in New Delhi, we have been able to engage in some human rights project work in the Punjab that aims to improve police skills. Projects have involved co-operation between UK and Indian experts and the Punjabi police training college and have focused on child-friendly policing, policing for vulnerable groups and co-operation with youth clubs and children's groups.

I agree with my hon. Friend that promoting an understanding between different cultures to tackle racism is central to our policy. We firmly believe in the importance of teaching young people the value of diversity and of a proper sense of society and their place in it. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary introduced citizenship education to the national curriculum when he was Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

The programme for the study of citizenship in secondary schools will be introduced as part of the national curriculum in September 2002. It is already in the primary curriculum, as part of personal social and health education. For the first time all pupils will be taught about the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the UK, and about the need for mutual respect and understanding.

I will convey to the appropriate Department what my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said about Punjabi language radio licences.

We believe that the measures we are introducing in schools will help to ensure that future generations grow up with a clear concept of citizenship—an understanding of the value of diversity, and a respect for individuals from different cultures and backgrounds. I know that those values are shared by the Punjabi community.

We must ensure that communities have the skills and knowledge to make their views known. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes

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and Harlington, for example, the local authority has secured nearly £180,000 over three years to run a community development project under the community networks support programme of the Home Office "connecting communities" grant. The money will be used to establish a consortium of minority ethnic community organisations, which will act as advocates on behalf of member organisations and the communities they represent.


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